Cheltenham College Ground: Gloucestershire’s pride

Written by Mayukh Ghosh
The glorious sons of Gloucestershire have played magnificent cricket on this ground.
Cheltenham College Ground
Cheltenham College Ground
The early days
In 1841, two residents of Cheltenham town in Gloucestershire, GS Harcourt and JS Iredell, founded the Cheltenham College. The aim was to give proper education to the children of the gentlemen living in that area. Within a few years it gained prosperity and, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was widely regarded as one of the best public schools in England.
The college was always one step ahead of most others when it came to sports. The students were encouraged to pursue as many sports as possible, but cricket was the most widely popular.
Since the 1850s, the college team regularly played competitive matches against the cricket teams of other schools and colleges.
In 1871, they played a match against Worcestershire, a representative county team. This otherwise ordinary match helped the ground to garner the attention of the top tier of English cricket.
Taste of top level cricket
The first First-class match on this ground took place soon after in 1872. In that match against Surrey, Gloucestershire fielded the famous “three Graces”. The most famous of them took 12 wickets in the match, giving them an innings victory.
This match also initiated the Cheltenham Cricket Week, which would go on to become the world’s longest running cricket festival on an out ground. No other cricket festival has lasted for so long on a particular ground and none of them lasts for so many days (around three weeks) in every edition. This tradition was the brainchild of James Lillywhite, the then cricket coach at Cheltenham.
W.G. Grace often emerged as the star performer in matches played on this ground. Gloucestershire depended heavily on the Graces, and they left no stones unturned to grace the ground with delightful cricket.
Yorkshire were at the receiving end when he scored the first triple-century of First-class cricket in 1876. He followed this superlative performance with a 17-wicket haul against Nottinghamshire in the very next year.
In an 1893 match against Somerset, Gloucestrian WH Brain achieved the unique feat of a hat-trick of stumping, off the bowling of Charlie Townsend.
This ground also witnessed one of the darkest days in the history of Gloucestershire cricket. They were dismissed for a paltry total of 17 against the visiting Australians in 1896. A batting line featuring the likes of Grace and Jessop crumbled badly against the bowling of McKibbin and Trumble.
The 1902 Australians also played at Cheltenham and once again won by an innings. The crowd witnessed true cricketing genius at its best: Victor Trumper scored a century when everyone else struggled to score.
The venue always hosted matches when Haverford College came to the British Isles from the USA to play cricket.
The heydays
The Great War loomed large over all of Britain, and this ground was no exception. As soon as the horrible war ended, First-class cricket resumed. The all-conquering Australians were there in 1921 and won the match rather comfortably. Bardsley and Macartney scored centuries and then, in the home team’s second innings, Arthur Mailey took all 10 wickets. His bowling figures (10 for 66) led to him calling his autobiography ’10 for 66 and All That’. A young man named Walter Hammond scored 0 & 1 in this match.
In 1928, the same man took 10 catches in a match against Surrey at this ground. Moreover, he scored centuries in both innings.
Cheltenham College Ground started losing importance in the 1930s as Gloucestershire started to favour others grounds for important fixtures. Nevertheless, the Indians played in 1936 and lost comprehensively against the magical batting of Hammond.
In 1947, Gloucestershire faced Middlesex in the title-decider. It was an intense affair in which Tom Goddard took 15 wickets, yet could not save his team from ceding the match to Middlesex.
The later years
In 1950, the home team surrendered against the batting of Walcott and Weekes, and the spin of Ramadhin and Valentine, the famous spin twins. From then on, the ground had to be satisfied with matches against second tier teams like India and Pakistan. They never got that match against Australia again.
In 1977, Zaheer Abbas scored a century and a double century in a match against Sussex, remaining undefeated both times.
In 1979, Mike Procter took a hat-trick of lbw dismissals against Yorkshire.
Since the start of the 1970s, this ground hosted John Player League matches every year. In a 2002 match, Chris Gayle scored a breezy 80-odd before Ryan Hinds, of all people, took 6 wickets to hand Gloucestershire a defeat against the West Indies A side.
In 2005, this ground hosted a Women’s ODI match that went on to become a thriller. The Aussies scored 222 batting first. England countered quite splendidly, Arran Brindle and Claire Taylor leading the charge. After their wickets fell, though, the Aussie bowling attack, led by Cathryn Fitzpatrick, prevailed by 12 runs.
This ground has lost some of the importance it enjoyed during its heydays before the Second World War. It is still chugging along as the carrier of an important and glorious tradition in British cricket.