Born on November 13, 1860, the world bore witness to Percy Stanislaus McDonnell’s 155th birth anniversary. Blessed with outstanding footwork and hand-eye co-ordination, McDonnell was one of the finest Australian batsmen of the 19th century. His achievements may not come as extraordinary by today’s standards, but set the benchmark back then. Amit Banerjee presents 7 facts about the man.

1. English-born Australian cricketer

One of Australia’s greatest cricketers of the Victorian era was not even born in the country. He was in fact, born in London, with his parents moving to Melbourne when Percy was just four. The McDonnells did not take long to get settled Down Under, with his father Morgan getting elected to the Legislative Assembly just four years after moving to the new country.

2. The multi-talented youngster

McDonnell was said to be a prodigy in cricket as well as a fine footballer at St Patrick’s College, an independent Catholic School in East Melbourne, during his childhood. Given the furious pace at which he scored runs during that period, McDonnell eventually decided to settle for cricket for a career.

3. Duck on debut

His First-Class career was off to an inauspicious start when he was dismissed for a duck by Edwin Evans in the inter-colonial match between Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) in February, 1878. He did not score any runs in the second innings either, remaining unbeaten on 0. His debut performance was by no means an indicator of what was to come ahead.

4. 199-run stand with Alec Bannerman

During England’s tour of Australia in 1881-82, McDonnell established what turned out to be the highest partnership for any wicket in international cricket. After dismissing England out for 188 in the first innings of the third Test at Sydney, Australia were reduced to 16 for 3. McDonnell then played one of his finest knocks, putting up 147 that contained 16 fours and a six, adding 199 for the fourth wicket with opener Alec Bannerman (70). McDonnell’s knock accounted for more than half of the team’s total of 262. His knock did not go in vain in the end, as Australia pulled off a six-wicket victory.

5. First captain to elect to bowl

Winning the toss and electing to bowl in Test cricket was a concept unheard of till then, therefore the cricketing fraternity as well as followers of the sport would be abuzz with intense discussions after McDonnell chose to bowl in the first Test of England’s 1886-87 Ashes tour of Australia.

He had read it right: McDonnell entrusted debutants Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris (ahead of Fred Spofforth) as new-ball bowlers, thereby establishing one of the most lethal new-ball pairs of the 19th century. England were bowled out for 45, and Australia were eventually left to score a mere 111. Unfortunately, Billy Barnes and George Lohmann wreaked havoc, and England were skittled out for 97.

A year later he chose to bowl at SCG again: this time, too, England scored 113, but Australia collapsed to 42 and 82.

6. Greek scholar

‘Greatheart’, as he was known popularly, is perhaps the only Greek scholar to have captained Australia in cricket, and certainly one of the few Greek scholars in cricket. Who knows, McDonnell maybe even be one of the few in the world of sports, although we have had a plenty of cases of cricketers boasting quality education.

7. Tragic death

McDonnell’s stay in the mortal world came to a sudden end on September 24 in 1896 at a mere 35 in Brisbane. While McDonnell was pretty much done with his international career, having played his last Test in 1888; unfortunately, he never lived to see his children grow into adults, with his cardiac failure being the cause of his death. He was buried at the Roman Catholic section of Toowong cemetery, survived by his wife Grace as well as two sons.

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)