The legends: Lionel Palairet – “The most beautiful batsman of all time”

Marcus Trescothick reached his third century of the season this week. A reason to celebrate after a torrid 2013. But it was the first three of those 100 runs which had statisticians excitedly reaching to update the record books. For when Trescothick took a single off the second ball of Glenn Chapple’s fifth over, he moved past Lionel Palairet’s record of 7,228 first class runs scored at Taunton.

Those not familiar with the club’s long history may not know Palairet’s name, but he played a key role in the early years of Somerset’s life as a first-class county.

In fact his runs in the 1890 season were a key part in Somerset’s achievements that year which led to them being awarded county championship status in 1891.

Over the first decade of Somerset’s life as a first-class county, Lionel was one of the leading amateur batsmen in England. Recognised for his graceful, attractive batting style, he was also equally effective in making big scores. He passed 1,000 first-class runs in a season on seven occasions, and hit two double centuries. His highest score, 292 runs against Hampshire in 1895, remained a record for a Somerset batsman until it was broken by Harold Gimblett in 1948 and is still the ninth highest innings of all time for the county.

Palairet 3He sometimes opened the batting for his brother Richard, but most regularly with Herbie Hewett. In 1892, they shared a partnership of 346 for the first wicket, an opening stand that set a record for the County Championship and remains Somerset’s highest first-wicket partnership to this day. In that season, Palairet was named as one of the “Five Batsmen of the Year” by Wisden.

Lionel was in fact born a Lancastrian in Grange-over-Sands in 1870, eldest son of Henry Hamilton Palairet, English national archery champion who had played two first-class matches for the MCC. Keen to give his sons an extra competitive edge, Henry paid the professionals Frederick Martin and William Attewell, both later Wisden Cricketers of the Year, to bowl to Lionel and Richard during the Easter holidays, to help them prepare for the upcoming cricket seasons.

Although Lionel was born in Lancashire, the Palairets hailed from the West Country. Cattistock in Dorset was the family home, and it was Reverend S. Cornish’s School in Clevedon, Somerset, where the young Lionel was sent to school and once showed his growing cricketing talents by taking seven wickets in seven balls.

Lionel finished his schooling at the prestigious Repton School where he developed a reputation as an all-round sportsman, breaking the school’s running records in the two-mile, mile and half-mile distances, and playing cricket in the school’s first eleven from 1886 to 1889, captaining the team in his final two years. In 1889, he was adjudged the school’s second best sportsman, behind one C. B. Fry.

In 1889, Lionel made his first appearances for Somerset County Cricket Club, still a second-class county, before beginning his studies at Oriel College, Oxford. There he achieved his cricketing Blue in each of his four years at Oxford, and captained the side in 1892 and 1893.

In addition to his long career with Somerset, he played representative cricket on a number of occasions, including the prestigious Gentlemen against the Players matches.

He played just two Test matches for England, both in 1902, making just 49 runs in four innings against one of the strongest Australian sides prior to the Second World War.

After 1904, he appeared infrequently for Somerset, though he played a full season in 1907 when he was chosen to captain the county. He retired from first-class cricket in 1909, having scored 15,777 runs at 33.63, including 27 centuries, and taken 143 wickets at a bowling average of 33.91, a true legend of Somerset County Cricket Club.

Palairet 1Some highlights of his career:

  • 1891 – his average for Somerset in ten matches was 31.11, placing him among the top ten batsmen in the County Championship. Scored his debut century in first-class cricket, making 100 against Gloucestershire.
  • 1892 – His university performances earned him selection for the Gentlemen against the Players fixtures for the first time. Shared a then first-class record opening partnership of 346 with Hewitt for Somerset, suprassing W.G. Grace and Bransby Cooper’s previous 1869 record of 283 in the process.
  • 1893 – None less than W.G. Grace said that Palairet had moved to “the front rank of amateur batsmen.” Played for Arthur Shrewsbury’s England XI against Australia, and scored 71 runs in an English innings victory.
  • 1894 – Made a big score against his former university, making 181 runs in Somerset’s second innings, the highest first-class score of his career to date. Fell just short of 1,000 first-class runs; though two half-centuries scored against the touring South Africans in matches not considered first-class would have taken him past that milestone.
  • 1895 – Finished fourth in the national batting averages, having scored 1,313 runs at 46.89. Scored three centuries including one carrying his bat against Middlesex.
  • 1896 – Passed a thousand runs again, maintaining a batting average in excess of 40 and reaching his highest total in first-class cricket, scoring 292 runs against Hampshire, his first double century, and the highest score by any Somerset batsman in first-class cricket at that time. Shared a 249-run partnership with his brother against Sussex at Taunton, scoring 154 runs himself.
  • 1897 – Played just 12 first-class matches, but still led the county batting averages in the County Championship.
  • 1898 – Scored more than 1,000 first-class runs for the third season out of four. Hit 179 not out against Gloucestershire in Bristol, and later in the season, also against Gloucestershire, captained Somerset for the first time, leading them to victory by an innings and 169 runs.
  • 1899 – Missed the season through appendicitis; Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes suggested that but for this he might have appeared for England against Australia that summer.
  • 1900 – Returned to cricket, scoring 947 runs at an average of 35.07, scoring just one century.
  • 1901 – Returned to form in a year which was, statistically, his best. He trailed only Fry and Ranjitsinhji in the national batting averages, and drew particular acclaim for his innings of 173 against reigning county champions Yorkshire. The match at Headingly was the only game which Yorkshire lost that year. Scored five centuries in total, including 182 against Lancashire and 194 against Sussex, and eleven half-centuries, averaging 57.75 for his 1,906 runs—the highest season’s total of his career.
  • 1902 – Although a very wet summer made batting difficult, Palairet still scored more than 1,000 runs, although he did not score a first-class century. For the second successive year, Somerset were the only side to beat Yorkshire in the County Championship. Scored 39 and 44 for the MCC against the touring Australians. Made his only two Test match appearances in that summer’s Ashes. Scored 44 and 90 against Australia in their tour game against Somerset at Taunton.
  • 1903 – Played just eleven first-class matches, making 637 runs and scoring one century, 114 against Surrey.
  • 1904 – Scored 1,000 first-class runs in a season for the final time. Opened the season with a century against Gloucestershire, scoring 166. Scored 111 during the Bath cricket festival, sharing an opening partnership of 161 with Braund against Lancashire. Scored the second, and final, first-class double century of his career against Worcestershire.
  • 1905 and 1906 – Missed most of Somerset’s cricket during this time to focus on his work as a land agent for the Earl of Devon. Played just three times in 1905 and once in 1906. Despite this he was appointed as Somerset’s captain for the 1907 season, following the retirement of Woods who had captained Somerset since 1894.
  • 1907 – Played in all of Somerset’s County Championship matches, and also appeared against the touring South African side. A disappointing year for the club who struggled to find eleven eligible players for some of their matches, and for Palairet personally whose batting average of 21.33 was the lowest in any season in which he played ten or more matches. Scored the final century of his first-class career when he made 116 against Kent at Tonbridge. Resigned the captaincy at the end of the season.
  • 1908 and 1909 – Made only eight further appearances in first-class cricket, his final match being in 1909 for Somerset against Kent at Taunton.

Palairet 2After his retirement from cricket, Palairet became a prominent golfer in the south-west. He was the first chairman of the Devon County Golf Union upon its formation in 1911, captained Devon at golf either side of the First World War, from 1914 until 1926, and was also president of the Union from 1923 until 1932. He developed the idea of an inter-club team championship within Devon, and donated the prize, which remains named the Palairet Trophy.

During the First World War, he commanded a Remount Depot at Powderham.

He died in Exmouth on 27 March 1933, aged 62. The Times said of him in its obituary, that he was “the most beautiful batsman of all time”.

Marcus “honour” in breaking Palairet’s record

Speaking after he had broken Palairet’s record, Trescothick told the club website: “It’s really nice to hear that I have broken that record, although I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about it until somebody told me just now.

“I had no idea what the situation was but it is quite a nice honour to think that you have scored more first-class runs here at Taunton than anybody else who has played the game in the history of Somerset.

“I am walking in the shadows of people who have played here over the years, the greats of the game, so to think you are matching up and scoring more runs than those legends means a lot to me.

“What is interesting to me is that my runs have come from a similar number of matches to the previous record holder.

“I had no idea about it and only just found out as I was on my way out of the pavilion on my way home after a nice cold bath! Now I just have to try to make it a few more and keep it going!”

The next five highest run scorers at the County Ground are:

  • Peter Roebuck 6414
  • Harold Gimblett 5669
  • Viv Richards 5631
  • James Hildreth 5510
  • Peter Bowler with 5200