This week I posted a wonderful article on facebook about the achievements of amateur cricketer and GP Dr Neil Metcalfe, http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10508018.national_award_for_York_medic/ I wonder how he compares as a cricketer and doctor to the most famous doctoring amateur cricketer Dr W.G. Grace.
During his lifetime Dr Grace’s medical career was seen as a bit of a joke by many of his contemporaries. The popular prejudice was that he did not take his medical career seriously, placing cricket (and the money he made from it) far above his patients. Certainly his cricketing career seems to have interfered with his qualifying as a doctor, it took him well over a decade when 4 years was the normal time it took in this period. As Simon Rae points out in his biography of Grace, he spent… “a longer period as a medical student than it took him to score his first fifty centuries”. Even then his qualification might have been delayed further if the weather hadn’t intervened, he was due to play a match at Lord’s on the day of his final exams, luckily the start of the match was delayed by rain allowing him to take his exam in the morning and play in the afternoon, but if it hadn’t have rained who knows which commitment he would have chosen to sacrifice.
Once qualified as a doctor, at the age of 31, the popular perception may well have been incorrect as his biographers seem to agree that he was actually a good GP. They give several examples of his dedication and his kindness and generosity to poorer patients. Bernard Darwin asserts that he worked hard all winter and once “during a match in which he made two hundreds, he did not go to bed at all throughout one night but sat up with a poor woman whom he had promised to see through her confinement”
When cricket did take him away he hired an assistant to cover his duties. He was even given an allowance by Gloucester CC to cover this expense. So hopefully the cartoon above isn’t accurate and no one actually died because he abandoned them for cricket!
He was very popular with his patients. Whether that was to do with his celebrity rather than his skill though we may never know. It must certainly have been a strange experience for them asking him to check a nasty rash etc., he was the most famous sportsman of his age – I imagine it would be a bit like going to the doctors with and being treated by David Beckham or perhaps Sachin Tendulkar! Grace’s mere presence was said to cheer many patients on their sick beds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he was without skill, it is said he once saved the life of a teammate.
“In 1887, he saved the life of his Gloucestershire team-mate A.C.M. Croome, who was involved in a horrific accident during a match against Lancashire at Old Trafford. Trying to cut off a four, Croome ran headlong into the railings in front of the pavilion and tore his neck so badly that he would have bled to death had not Grace rushed over and held the wound together for a full half-hour before a surgical needle and thread were found and the gash was stitched.” (Rober Low).
He was also said to have an incredible ability to identify smallpox. He claimed that if it was present in the patient he only had to walk into the room and he could smell it!
So the evidence suggests that both WG and Neil are excellent doctors, but how do they compare on the cricket field? I think it might be unfair to Neil to discuss that further! Lets call it a draw.
(For further reading try Great Lives: W.G. Grace by Bernard Darwin, W.G. Grace A Life by Simon Rae, W.G. by Robert Low – all available at the MCC library. Or you can check out what else we have in our collection on Dr Grace, or anything else, by searching our on-line catalogue at http://www.lords.org/history/ )