Bishop Cotton Challenge Cup
Rugby School vs. Marlborough College Annual Cricket Match, 1 – 2 July 2009
This fixture has a long and illustrious history and was first played in1855. It was instigated by our founder, Bishop George Edward Lynch Cotton, who had been Housemaster at Rugby and became Master of Marlborough College in 1852. He established it through engagement with the MCC and it was played at Lord’s Cricket Ground, in London, until 1972. Thereafter it has been played at Marlborough or Rugby alternately each year.
It has been played 101 times at Lord’s, 3 times at the Oval and once at the Middlesex ground in Islington, in London. There were no matches in 1858, 1859 and 1861 because of the perceived ‘weakness of Marlborough’s Cricket’ and none during the Great War, 1915 – 1918, for fear of Zeppelin attacks. No match was played in 1940 either because of the impending invasion and fear of air attack and the match in 1947 was cancelled due to an outbreak of Polio at Rugby School.
Rugby had the better of the earlier encounters but the contest gradually became more even. The tendency of the last three decades has been for more drawn games; both the 100th and 150th anniversary matches ended in a draw. Rugby are slightly ahead in the total of number of wins, with a slender lead of 6.
The Pavilion on the opening morning
The Bishop Cotton Challenge Cup
The weather forecast for this years match was very promising and so it turned out with both days being clear, sunny and hot. The match began at about the same time as the Chapel Service, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of our founding, so most of us missed the morning session. Rugby won the toss, elected to bat, and were going well at lunch. They reached a score of 121 before losing their 2nd wicket and looked set for a big total. However the dismissal of their captain, J Moxham for 55, brought on a significant batting collapse and they were bowled out for a total score of 161.
Marlborough began very cautiously as they could see they had a great opportunity to win but Rugby kept the bowling tight. Marlborough lost only 1 wicket during the rest of the day, to a spectacular mid-air catch at point, but their run rate was rather slow and by stumps they had still not overhauled the Rugby total.
First Innings – Rugby Fielding
Bishop Cotton had set a tradition for dinner on the first evening to be hosted by either the Master of Marlborough or Headmaster of Rugby, in order to engender a feeling of kinship and a spirit of camaraderie between the players. It was held on the lawns of the Master’s house on perfectly balmy summer evening. The teams dined together and visiting parents and staff were invited, but only a handful of OC’s remained as the majority had left after the end of the first day’s play. It was a sublime occasion with excellent food and wonderful company; it was heart-warming to see the boys socialise so well after battling all day on the field. The evening ended, again traditionally, with a speech and vote of thanks from the visiting captain.
Marlborough began the second day’s play in the same manner as they had finished the first – carefully. Their captain, U Qureshi, duly scored a century but a draw looked increasingly likely as the day wore on. They lost only 2 more wickets till tea when they eventually declared at 281 for 3, a lead of 120 runs. This left Rugby to bat out the last session or collapse again and hand Marlborough the Cup. They batted with great confidence, however, and scored quite quickly; by the time 10 overs of play were left they had reached the safety of 119 for 1 with G Mackenzie 55 not out. A positive result was now clearly impossible and the game was called off.
There had been much discussion amongst OC’s, the day before, about what should be done in the event of a draw. There was a view that the Cup should go to Marlborough as they had been the winners when there last was a result. It was strongly felt, however, that the trophy should be won rather than just awarded; if the game was drawn then Marlborough should keep the Cup, but as it’s custodians, until it was properly won by one or other team. It had also been realised the night before that none of the other guests would be able to stay till the end of the match, except for me as a Rugby parent, so it was left to me to make the presentation.
It was particularly poignant for me personally to be at Marlborough, celebrating our sesquicentennial and with my son playing for Rugby in the match. I felt extremely honoured, therefore, in the presence of the Master, parents, staff and coaches, to award the trophy to both captains. I exhorted them to compete fiercely for the Cup in future, but to play with honour, in the best traditions set by Bishop Cotton and in the true spirit of the game of cricket.
Dr J M S Aulakh