The Spin | Cricket's storied siblings, from missionaries to the seven Fosters

The recent ODI series saw the Curran and Pandya brothers face off but teams full of siblings used to be more common

The presence of both a pair of Pandyas and a couple of Currans on a single pitch during England’s one-day international series in India was a delicious echo of the days when a team with only two sporting siblings was practically a disappointment, with some families sending an unlikely succession of scions out of the clubhouse.

Several siblings lining up together to play first-class cricket is an appealing idea, though back when it was genuinely common it seemed gentlemen cricketers came from a very small gene pool, almost all of them having passed through one of a handful of elite schools before heading to Oxbridge. Happily there is less entrenched privilege in modern Britain and old Etonians seem no more likely to play for England than the rest of us, forcing them to make do with becoming prime minister instead.

Cricketing families from way back when included the Ashtons, who all went to Winchester and Cambridge – Gilbert went on to play for Worcestershire and Claude and Hubert for Essex, for whom another brother, Percy, made one appearance. Gilbert and Harold Gilligan, the only brothers to both captain England, and their other brother Frank, who played for Essex, all went to Dulwich College (their cricketing family extended a further generation when Harold’s daughter Virginia married then England captain Peter May in 1959).

The Lyttleton brothers Arthur, George, Edward, Robert, Charles and Alfred all went to Eton and Cambridge before playing first-class cricket, as did Charles’s son Charles, and also Charles’s son – Charles’s grandson – Charles. The seven Foster brothers who all played for Worcestershire in the first two decades of the 20th century, maxing out with four of them in the same team and earning them for a while the nickname Fostershire, went to Malvern College, though only some of them went on to Cambridge.

The Lee brothers bucked the trend in that only one of them had anything to do with storied schools, and that was as a coach at Mill Hill when he was long out of short trousers. Jack, the future coach, and Frank played for Somerset and Harry for Middlesex, the three becoming most famous for the unique moment in June 1933 when H Lee was caught by F Lee off the bowling of J Lee. “I do not believe that brothers had ever before behaved so unbrotherly in a first-class game,” Harry later complained, though he wasn’t always the one who came out worst in these battles: a few years earlier he himself had taken the wicket of Jack, and two years later, by which time he was an umpire, in a single summer he gave Jack out twice and Frank once.

An unusual net as Basil Foster, of Worcestershire, teaches Rosaline Courtneidge how to bat in a dressing room at the Savoy Theatre. (Photo by Gill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
An unusual net as Basil Foster, of Worcestershire, teaches Rosaline Courtneidge how to bat in a dressing room at the Savoy Theatre. (Photo by Gill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images) Photograph: Gill/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Then there were the Studds, a fine case of nominative determinism given that their father, Edward, was a horse breeder, who made a fortune in indigo before returning to England from India to nurture his sporting passions. Edward once came across three horses “in a wretched hovel in an out-of-the-way place in Ireland”, agreed to buy them for “a paltry sum”, and was delighted to discover that once given a bit of care and attention one of them, which he named Salamander, turned out to be quite promising. Salamander became the 40-1 winner of the 1866 Grand National and Edward apparently made £50,000 that day, the equivalent of more than £6m today.

The happy story ends there, though: the following month Salamander sustained an injury during a race in Crewkerne in Somerset held in “terrible stormy weather that rendered the ground like a mixture of soap”, according to the Sporting Chronicle, and “thus terminated the career of one of the best, if not the best steeple racer that ever crossed a country”.

Studd senior was to renounce horseracing, and the gambling with which it was intertwined, after being seduced by the often controversial American evangelists Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey. Supporters said the pair had “reduced the population of hell by a million souls” – they were said to have addressed a cumulative total of 2,500,000 people on their 1875 trip to Europe – but they were also to reduce the cricketing population of England by a couple.

Studd’s three children all captained both Eton and Cambridge, and when Australia toured England in 1882 the only match they lost all summer was to a Cambridge University team that featured George as captain and, alongside Kynaston (JEK), opening batsman, and for whom Charles (CT) scored 118 and 17 not out and took eight wickets. CT and George both played in the victorious Ashes tour that winter (a success for England but a miserable failure for George, who averaged 4.42 in four matches), and the former was considered likely to become one of England’s great all-rounders, a rival perhaps for WG Grace himself. In fact neither appeared for their country again.

To cut a long story outrageously short, George fell ill and CT, inspired by another encounter with Moody and Sankey, turned to religion. CT was to become one of the so-called Cambridge Seven, a group of expensively-educated young men with fine prospects who gave it all up to become missionaries in China, and laid down his bat at the tender age of 23. “I have never regretted retiring from first-class cricket when I did,” he later said. “I do not think God gave a man his life to knock about a piece of leather with a block of wood the whole time.” He spent nine years in China and seven in India before moving to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he died in 1931.

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George, who was described as “a remarkably attractive bat in the forward Eton style” and also “a brilliant ground fielder, especially at cover point, but completely unable to hold catches”, also left the game behind to become a missionary, spending time in India, China and Canada before settling in Los Angeles (where he stayed for a while with an old friend who had moved from Norfolk to California to establish an ostrich farm, like you do). Only Kynaston remained in England, where he ran the London Polytechnic in Regent Street – now the University of Westminster – carried the British flag at the 1908 Olympic opening ceremony, became president of the MCC, Lord Mayor of London and a prominent freemason, holding at various times the positions of senior grand deacon, junior grand warden and provincial grand master for Cambridgeshire. And so, to summarise, the Curran kids have still got some work to do before they join the list of cricket’s most exceptional siblings.

• This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe, just visit this page and follow the instructions.

• This article was amended on 31 March 2021. The archive photo of Basil Foster was cropped to remove actors irrelevant to the article, one of whom was dressed in a manner now recognised as offensive.

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Simon Burnton

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