The 'Phillies' in England in 1908
The Gentlemen of Philadelphia cricketers (the ) toured England in July and August 1908. It was the first and last tour to England by an American team. But we live in hope there will be another. After all, if Afghanistan can make test status, why not the USA?
The tour was patchy but had some high points and revealed that the USA had one of the world's most exciting cricketers - their captain Bart King.
Tourists to England customarily start with a gentle match against Worcestershire under the tall spire of Worcester cathedral, one of the most beautiful cricket grounds in the world. Worcestershire were a decent side that included Simpson-Hayward the famous underarm bowler. Behind on first innings, the stormed to victory by 95 runs, dismissing Worcestershire for 129 in their second innings, Bart King the author of their demise with 8-88 in the match.
The lost their second match badly by an innings against a Hampshire team including Phil Mead. King, opening the batting as well as the bowling, scored 52 and 25 and took 5-110 in Hampshire's 463.
Next was Middlesex at Lord's, where the lost by 7 wickets. Middlesex had Patsy Hendren and Albert Trott, two of the greatest English players of the day. Hendren was dismissed for a pair by King. King failed with the bat twice but took 6-30 in the match. Trott took 9 wickets and the obviously suffered in a low-scoring game in which they were bowled out for 55 and 58.
The lost to Northants by 5 wickets. King took 6-102 in a match that saw the take a narrow first innings lead. Against Surrey at The Oval the again got a narrow first innings lead only to lose by 122 runs despite King taking 6-47 and 3-63.
Ireland's batsmen had no answer to King's devastating swing bowling in the next game at Dublin. King was unplayable, taking 7-40 and 7-23 on a pitch on which the , winning by an innings and 7 runs, managed a respectable 171.
While Ireland may not have been a strong team, the same cannot have been true of the MCC in the next game at Lord's, given that MCC were captained by JWHT ('Johnny Won't Hit Today') Douglas. King's contribution was critical. A useful 31 batting in first innings, 3-43 including Douglas' wicket in first innings, followed by a match-winning 4-91, including the MCC's three highest scorers as the held off their run chase by 25 runs. It must have been a really exciting match. Douglas had little chance to hit even if he were inclined to - he was dismissed for 4 and 0! Almost unbelievably, the had beaten the MCC at the game HQ! How they must have celebrated.
In the next game at Derby the mauled Derbyshire by 9 wickets, dismissing them for 78 in the first innings (King 7-28) and 185 in the second (King 5-88). The required just 17 to win the match. Nottinghamshire, though, were a different proposition, playing George Gunn, J Hardstaff snr, and Iremonger. Still Notts, suffered a first innings deficit of 1 having been dismissed for 139, King taking his 4th 7-wicket haul, bowling right through for 7-78 in 19.5 overs. Despite a 5th 7-wicket haul by King in the second innings (7-58) the collapsed to 74 all out in their second knock, and a 125-run defeat.
Against Kent, including Frank Woolley, in the final game, things went well for the at first as they scored 188 (Woolley 7-78) then dismissed Kent for just 102, King taking 5-34. The collapsed for 37 all out onwhat was presumably a very sticky wicket in their second knock, Fairservice, whom they had encountered in the MCC game, taking 6-12. Even King with his tour-worst return of 1-40 was unable to stop Kent winning by 4 wickets. Woolley, mainly known as an attractive batsman, had scored 5 and 12.
Overall in terms of first class recognized games, the won 4 and lost 6. They won most of their games overall. They performed as a lower than average but still respectable county side. Unfortunately most countries fielded inferior teams against them, probably underestimating their strength. Remember they were representing Philadelphia not the USA. Great players such as Hendren (who had good cause to acknowledge King's quality as a fat bowler) paid tribute to King as one of the very best quick bowlers ever seen in England, including Barnes, Lohmann, Hirst and Spofforth. As the democratic balance shifted to baseball, the chances of the US becoming a good test team slipped away, but imagine what might have been. They were, to hazard a guess, probably almost, if a national team could have been produced, at the level of South Africa or India or New Zealand at that time. In other words not great but having potential to challenge England and Australia. With King as a potential match-winner, they might have been very dangerous in low-scoring games. The clearly had not enough batting strength, but perhaps other US teams had what was needed, I don't know.
Still the US did play the first ever international match v Canada in 1844, long before England and Australia began their epochal Ashes series. The future is something else, but this side of the pond we are still hoping - see 'Nederland' by Joseph O'Neill.