The Spin | Alfred Mynn: a cricketing colossus who fell foul of the amateur code

It was on this day in 1962 that the Advisory County Cricket Committee decided to scrap the distinction between amateurs and professionals and henceforth refer to all cricketers simply as “cricketers”. The tradition had long since ceased to be meaningful – the word “shamateurism” had already been in use for nearly 80 years – but that decision marked the official conclusion of the era of gentlemen and players, one that already snaked back more than 150 years and had helped to define some of the game’s greatest players and most memorable characters.

Alfred Mynn is not the most obscure of cricket’s amateurs, but he is surely among the greatest and most memorable. The tributes published after his death, almost exactly 101 years before that meeting of the ACCC, make that perfectly clear. “Not only [was he] one of the best cricketers that ever played for Kent but one of the most kindly-disposed, generous, large-hearted, noblest-formed men that ever trod the green turf so dear to cricketers,” wrote a Sporting Life correspondent. “His name will be handed down,” said the South Eastern Gazette, “not only as one of the best and worthiest cricketers, but as one of the most kindly-disposed and generous individuals that ever stepped foot on a cricketing ground.”

Mynn was, for his time, a colossus. “He was 6ft 1in in height, with massive limbs, of such vast magnitude and muscle that in good cricket condition, without one pound of superfluous flesh about him, he weighed between 18 and 19 stone, and was naturally as upright as a well-drilled Guardsman,” recorded the Sporting Life. His batting was excellent, his bowling more fearsome still – so much so that Middlesex’s Robert Grimston was said to have had a thicker, larger bat specially constructed for those days when he was due to face the Kent Goliath – and along with his county teammates Nicholas Felix – who played under a pseudonym, a tale for another day – and Fuller Pilch, among others, he formed part of one of the greatest teams in cricket history. But amateurism had its downsides, foremost among them that anyone without substantial family wealth couldn’t really afford to do it. Mynn came from a family of farmers, and so it was that in 1845 he ran out of money.

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He missed several months of the early season for now mysterious reasons, and then a match between Western Counties and MCC in Bath that August was interrupted by the arrival of four bailiffs with a warrant. They were persuaded to wait until the close of play, whereupon Mynn barricaded himself into the dressing room while a couple of friends – Robert Fookes, a brewer, and the marvellously named Harold Kynesman Mapletoft Brookes, a landowner – instigated a riot outside. “Damn your eyes, you shan’t have him!” bellowed Brookes, before getting one of the bailiffs beaten up. “He pushed me back about 20 yards from the door and into a crowd of three or four hundred people, some striking, others kicking me, the mob so closed round me that I had not power to move,” said the victim. The net result was not only that Mynn was arrested – though not for a few days – but that Fookes and Brookes were as well.

His greatest and most famous innings was played in Leicester in August 1836, and on one leg, while representing the south of England in a game against the north. He was warming up against the bowling of Leicestershire’s Samuel Dakin when he hit the ball into his own ankle (perhaps uncoincidentally, given his part in this incident, in the 1861 census Dakin described himself as a manufacturer of leg-guards). Mynn was in too much pain to play on the first, rain-shortened day and on the second came in at No 9 in the South’s first innings, scoring 21 not out. In their second innings, despite being barely able to walk, he came in at No 4 and scored a scarcely credible 125. “That was Mr Mynn’s day, that was,” Nottinghamshire’s Sam Redgate said. “It mattered not what length I bowled him – the better I bowled, the harder he hit me away.”

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A match between Sussex and Kent in 1840, in the era of the great all-rounder Alfred Mynn.

A match between Sussex and Kent in 1840, in the era of the great all-rounder Alfred Mynn. Photograph: Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo

Upon leaving the field he showed his leg to Lord Frederick Beauclerk, the MCC president, and about as different a man from Mynn as it would be possible to find (a noted gambler, Beauclerk was thrown out of London’s Army and Navy Club for being “a cheat, a pickpocket and a scoundrel” and was once described as being “cruel, unforgiving, cantankerous and bitter”), who promptly packed him off on the first coach to London – literally on it, lying on the roof, because his leg was in too bad a state to be bent. Once in the capital doctors decided the only possibly course of action was amputation, but “not only his limb but even his life [was] almost despaired of”.

He decided to keep his leg, and, slowly, he recovered. It took nearly two years for Mynn to fight his way back to some semblance of fitness, and he still sometimes had to wear “immense padding” to protect his “game leg”. Before his first game after the injury he invited Pilch to his room, where he stood, shirtless, and asked his team-mate to assess his fitness. “Why,” Pilch said later, “he looked fit to carry a church and a whole congregation around the town.”

He returned for a game of single wicket – a kind of one-man cricketing head-to-head – against Yorkshire’s James Dearman in Town Malling. Mynn scored 34 and 88; Dearman three and eight, his second dismissal being particularly emphatic. “I have a vision in my mind,” Frederick Gale wrote, “of a middle stump flying up in the air and spinning like a wheel, and perhaps if anyone will go and look for it on the Town Malling ground, it will be found spinning still.” Another cricket writer of the time, William Denison, found one positive thing to say about Dearman: “It is but justice to say that he delighted the spectators throughout by his unflinching bottom.”

Mynn played his last game in 1859, aged 42, and two years later he died, quite suddenly, of diabetes. “How perfectly grand was the advance of Mr Mynn to the wicket to deliver the ball,” the Sporting Life wrote. “The very earth seemed to tremble under his measured, manly and weighty stride as, with form upright, his vast chest expanded, ‘thud’ would come down the left foot on the sward, the right arm would shoot out and, with a majestic sweep, round, low, and as fair as law 10 itself, away shot the ball, as if propelled from a Whitworth gun, and, if straight, woe to the unlucky wicket opposite.”

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