Although you’ve probably seen it.
It sits in the trophy cabinet at the University Grandstand, an impressive silver cup, 27 inches high, crafted by silversmiths in Sheffield – a dimly-remembered relic of the first attempt to create a systematic club cricket competition in Sydney.
Club cricket began in Sydney some time in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Matches were originally played between two clubs for a stake, with enthusiastic support from gamblers. Sydney University played its first recorded match in 1854, and around that time a number of other clubs formed – especially Warwick, Albert and Carlton – who attracted the majority of Sydney’s leading players. And yet there was no structured competition. By common consent, the cricket season began at the end of September and, if the weather was good enough, it could linger on until the start of June. During those months, the “senior” clubs, as they became known, scheduled matches against each other on a casual basis, but no-one thought of forming a league or playing for points. In 1870, the New South Wales Cricket Association donated a “Challenge Cup” for competition between the leading clubs, but contests for this trophy (which University held briefly in 1871-72) failed to attract lasting interest.
In September 1881, however, Holdsworth & Gardyne, a firm of ironmongers based in George Street, donated a trophy “to be competed for by the senior clubs, to be retained by the club winning it in three successive seasons”. This compelled the NSWCA to do something it had never done before, which was to draw up a schedule for a competition. This wasn’t a hugely complicated task, as there were only four clubs to accommodate, and the Association published a schedule which called for each team to play the other twice, home and away, between October 1881 and April 1882.
The competition did not begin well for University. Drawn against the Carlton club, it spent the whole of the first day in the field, as Carlton compiled 8 for 264. Charles Bannerman, who had scored 165 in the very first Test match four years earlier, was dismissed for only 17, but his brother Alick, another Test opener, batted for most of the day for 117. Carlton pressed on to reach 301 on the second day, but this was a strong University side, which contained three Test players (Sam Jones, Tom Garrett and Reg Allen) and five others who at some time appeared in first-class cricket (Richard Teece, Joseph Coates, Dr William Wilkinson, Theodore Powell and Monty Faithfull). Jones, a brilliant attacking batsman, hit a rapid century and University took a first-innings lead of 53. After Carlton succumbed cheaply in its second innings, University completed a comfortable victory.
University performed a similar escape act in its second match, against the powerful Albert Club. The early stages of the game were dominated by Dave Gregory, Australia’s first ever Test captain (and also, just once, a University player). Gregory hit 71 and took 6-44 as University was forced to follow on, 116 runs behind on the first innings. But Jones blasted another century, and Reg Allen hit one of his own – the pair shared an opening stand of 231. University left Albert with 212 to win, and took the match by 71 runs.
These games provided enthralling cricket, and were well-supported by the public. But the shambolic nature of the competition was soon exposed. The NSWCA had provided for each match to occupy two weeks; but, as they were played to a finish over four innings, both the Carlton and Warwick matches extended over four days. Nor had it occurred to the Association to establish any means of scoring points. Even though the entire competition consisted of only 12 matches (six for each of the clubs), it was not completed during the season, and in September 1882, the Association announced that the return match between University and Albert, which would decide the winner of the trophy for 1881-82, was to be played in October. Albert won that match, which left the Association with a problem – as each of Albert and University had won the same number of matches, and there was no points system to separate them, the trophy was still without a winner. As a result, although teams had already begun their matches in the 1882-83 competition, a final was scheduled to decide the winner for the previous season. It was played at the Association Ground (now the Sydney Cricket Ground) and Albert was boosted by the appearance of the legendary fast bowler Fred Spofforth, recently returned from taking 14 wickets in Australia’s thrilling victory (by seven runs) at The Oval. Spofforth was expensive in his opening spell, as Sam Jones and Tom Garrett (both of whom had also played at The Oval) cracked 38 runs from his first six overs, after which Reg Allen hit a half-century. The game lasted for four days, but University forced Albert to follow on and eventually cruised to victory by eight wickets – a task made easier by the fact that Spofforth could not be bothered to turn up for the last day of the game. One third of the way into the 1882-83 season, University won the Holdsworth-Gardyne Trophy for 1881-82.
In February 1883, the Association announced what everyone else already knew - that the “rules of the competition were very defective” – and formed a committee to improve them. It was decided that, if University retained the trophy in the new season, it would become its permanent holder. And, in the event, University had little trouble retaining the trophy. This was one of the strongest University teams ever assembled, including four Test players – Garrett, Jones, Allen and Roley Pope – two of whom (Garrett and Jones) were the most effective all-rounders in New South Wales. But its trump card was Monty Faithfull, a lawyer who sported extravagant whiskers and bowled at a lively fast-medium pace. Faithfull received only two opportunities in first-class cricket, although he performed well: in his second and last match, he helped to defeat Victoria by taking three for 16 from 27 overs. But at club level he was devastating: his 619 recorded wickets for University cost him only nine runs each. Faithfull took 4-11 and 5-49 to help Tom Garrett (5-41 and 5-43) rout Warwick. Then, when University managed only 136 against Carlton, and appeared to be headed for defeat, Faithfull triggered a collapse. After taking a first innings lead, University amassed 356 in its second attempt.
Now only the Albert Club stood between University and the trophy. University began uncertainly, losing its first four wickets for only 18 runs, before Roley Pope’s 55 pushed the total up to 155. That appeared modest enough when Albert reached two for 84; but Theo Powell, who seldom bowled, snatched 6-14 as Albert’s last eight wickets tumbled for only 26 runs. University then produced a collapse of its own, losing its first six wickets for 19 before a few slogs from Faithfull lifted the score to 56. Albert needed 102 to win, but Sammy Jones decided the game with a masterful spell of medium-paced bowling, taking 5-33 to dismiss his opponents for only 71.
That brought the competition to a close, permanently. There was a tangible sense of relief within the Cricket Association when the trophy was delivered, forever, into the custody of the University club. Another ten years would pass before the Association dared to attempt another structured competition – and, this time, Sydney University was the only one of the old “senior” clubs to survive. The new participants were clubs newly formed to represent districts, and the competition, known at first as “Electorate Cricket”, still exists, in essentially the same form, as Premier Cricket. And the Holdsworth-Gardyne trophy sits on its plinth in the Grandstand, a reminder of the fact that Sydney University is the one club in Sydney that successfully bridged the old form of club cricket and the new.