Date of Event : Tue Jun 28, 2011 9:41AM
NSW oldest living cricketer

Harold Stapleton turns 96 years and 172 days of age today (Tuesday) and becomes the longest-lived New South Wales first-class player.

Harold, who was born in Kyogle on the 7th January 1915, played just one first-class match for New South Wales. This was against South Australia in Adelaide in February 1941. He scored just a single in his only innings and although he bowled economically, 10 eight-ball overs conceding just 38 runs, he went wicket-less.

As this was the last first-class match of the season, and Harold enlisted in the AIF in April of that year, and was not discharged until January 1946, serving in New Guinea, he had little chance to improve upon his record.

Following his war service he moved to Wollongong, but his cricket was further impeded by his employment with an oil company which required substantial travel.

Harold’s first-class record is obviously unremarkable, however he was a much better cricketer than it suggests. Richie Benaud has related, on more than one occasion, that his father, Lou Benaud, himself a top class player, described Harold as a “sensational cricketer”.   

Harold also represented New South Wales at the Colts level, against Queensland, and in the second XI, against Western Australia and Victoria.

He also played for Northern New South Wales against the touring Englishmen in 1936-37 and for Southern New South Wales against the touring Indians in 1947-48.

Harold played his first-grade cricket in Sydney with St. George. A left-hand batman, he scored 2242 runs at 32.49 with three centuries and a top score of 146. A left-arm medium-pace bowler, he took 93 wickets at 17.56, with five five-wicket performances, the best being 6-15.

Harold replaces George Moore as the longest-lived New South Wales cricketer. George was born in England in 1820 and migrated to Australia in 1852, setting up a bakery and confectionary shop in Maitland.

George, and his brother James, played for New South Wales, and also for a combined New South Wales and Victoria team, against the first two English teams to tour Australia.

These matches were against H.H. Stephenson’s team in 1862 and George Parr’s team in 1864. George was the most successful bowler in the three matches he played against these teams, taking 21 wickets at 7.47 in three matches, with a best of 6-39.

The Australian sides played 22 men against the Englishmen and hence the matches were not classified as first-class.

George did not make his first-class debut until 1871, when at the age of 50 years and 325 days he played against Victoria at the Albert Ground which was situated opposite what is now Redfern Oval, but was then a swamp. It is safe to say that he will forever remain the oldest player to debut for New South Wales.

In that match Victoria batted first and Dave Gregory, later to be Australia’s first test captain, and George opened the bowling. He took 2-32 and Victoria was limited to 198.

New South Wales looked like conceding a 1st innings lead when it was 9-167. However George, described by the Melbourne Argus as “the ancient bowler”, then joined a young batsman also making his debut, Charles Bannerman.

Bannerman in six years would face the first ball in test cricket and go on and score the first test century. On this occasion, aged 19, he showed his promise and with George added 33 for the last wicket and they took New South Wales to 200 and a 1st innings lead.

This was New South Wales’ 14th first-class match and it was the first time in 25 completed innings that it had scored 200 runs. Bannerman scored 32 and George was eight not out. Their effort so delighted the New South Welshmen that ‘both were carried to the pavilion by their comrades”.

George took 3-39 in Victoria’s 2nd innings of 134. New South Wales was left needing 132 for victory.

However “owing to the now bumpy state of the ground of the pitching point, which frequently caused it [the bowling] to break in all sorts of erratic ways”, it slumped to 9-62 when George joined Monty Faithfull, the number 10.

Monty and three of his brothers had survived a shoot out with the bushranger Ben Hall and his gang some six years earlier, but he could not survive the bowling of Sam Cosstick. He was dismissed for 24, the top score of the innings, and New South Wales, dismissed for 84, lost by 48 runs. George remained four not out, the two having added 22 for the last wicket, the highest partnership of the innings. Cosstick finished with 8-21 for the innings and 11-64 for the match.     

George played a total of three first-class matches, all for New South Wales. In six innings he scored 22 runs at 7.33, with his first innings remaining his highest score. With his ‘slows’ he took 15 wickets at 12.20 with a best of 6-56 against Victoria on the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1872.

George was 52 years 324 days when he played his last first-class match, against Victoria in Sydney in March 1873. He took 1-24 and 3-17 and “dividing with [Charles] Oliver the credit for fielding” in the Victorian 2nd innings. He is the oldest player with a verifiable birth-date to play first-class cricket in Australia.

In January 1874, George played for the New South Wales XVIII against W.G. Grace’s touring English team. He did not bowl in the 1st innings, scored seven in his only innings, and in the Englishmen’s 2nd innings he took 1-10 off 14 overs. His wicket was that of G.F. (George Frederick) Grace, W.G’s brother. Again, with the Englishmen playing against odds, 18 of New South Wales, this is not classified as a first-class match.  

George died in 1916. His grandson, Charlie Macartney, had already played test cricket for Australia and would be hailed as the greatest Australian batman of his time.  

Story Courtesy Dr Colin Clowes - Cricket NSW Library

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