World War One: Impact on first-class cricket

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As we all pause and remember the outbreak of World War One a hundred years ago, we must not forget the impact that the war had on the game of cricket in this country and particularly the many first-class cricketers who perished fighting for their country.

When war broke out in 1914 the English county season was in full swing but it had to be curtailed early and any international tours stopped with immediate effect. Surrey were crowned champions, despite the season not being completed, as the turmoil and mayhem on the continent took over.

Cricketers, just like any other men in society, were expected to go to war and fight for their country so cricket had to take a back seat as men, young and old, volunteered to go away from their loved ones in order to fight the enemy in what they thought would be a short, successful war.

Professional cricketers 

It was believed that out of the 278 professional cricketers at the outbreak of war 210 signed up to fight.

It was ultimately a victorious campaign but unfortunately it lasted for four long years and resulted in many, many deaths with a number of first-class cricketers being killed in action.

In all there were estimated to be 289 first-class cricketers who lost their lives in World War One, with four England Test cricketers perishing in that number.

One of the most famous cricketers to die during the war was the Kent and England left-arm orthodox bowler Colin Blythe. Blythe took over 2,500 wickets in first-class cricket, taking exactly 100 wickets in 19 Test matches, including five wickets in an innings nine times. Who knows how his career would have progressed if the war had not intervened. He was eventually killed at Passchendaele in 1917, aged 38.


Cricket grounds, despite not being used as intended, were used for the war effort in different ways. For instance Lords' lush outfield was used to keep geese whilst Old Trafford's pavilion was used as a Red Cross hospital.

Cricket eventually returned in 1919 and the game reverted back to normality, or at least as close to normality as it can given the death and destruction of the previous four years. Many cricketers had been lost to the war or had been seriously injured which ultimately ended many cricketing careers so the game was in a much poorer place in 1919. Let's also not forget the countless supporters and members of the county clubs who also died to preserve our freedom and were unable to rekindle their love of the game when matches re-commenced.

There is no greater contrast in this world than the atrocities of war and the serenity of a cricket field. Unfortunately for the game of cricket the war took over in 1914 but let's hope that a hundred years on this will never happen again and our cricketers remain just that.

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