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From the Archive: Somerset's First Test Player

It’s time to look back through the Somerset archives again and this week we are going a long way back!

Today we shine the spotlight on a remarkable man who was the first Somerset player to feature for England in a Test match.

He also played football for England.

In 1894 a Somerset player represented England in a Test for the very first time. That man was Major Leslie Hewitt Gay.

Born in Brighton on March 24, 1871 he was educated at Marlborough, Brighton College and Clare College, Cambridge.

He kept wicket for Cambridge University between 1891 and 1893 before moving to Somerset in 1894. It was during his time in the West Country that his cricketing career reached its peak when he was selected by England to tour Australia.

The England team was captained by Andrew Stoddart and the gruelling tour was made up of 24 matches in total and included a warm up match against Ceylon in Columbo on October 16th before the squad arrived in Australia in November.

Gay featured in six of the eight warm up matches, impressing behind the stumps with a number of catches and stumpings. He also top scored with 49 against Toowoomba just nine days before the first Test.

His performances clearly impressed the management and he made his Test debut for his country at the Sydney Cricket Ground on December 14th.

Australia won the toss, elected to bat and scored a formidable 586 all out. Half centuries from Albert Ward and John Briggs plus 33 from Gay couldn’t prevent England from being dismissed for 325. Australia then enforced the follow-on and England posted 437 in their second innings. Needing just 177 to win the first Test, Australia were all out for 166 as England recorded a remarkable victory. Gay played his part in the win by claiming three catches and a stumping.

Sadly, that first England Test appearance was to be his last as the more experienced Hylton Philipson took over the gloves for the remaining four Tests. However, Gay did appear in the majority of the other tour matches.

England eventually won the series 3-2 after claiming victory in the final Test.

Gay then disappeared from First Class cricket until 1900 when he took to the field for Hampshire on nine occasions.

Another four-year break from the game followed before he made his final First Class appearance for the MCC against London County at Lord’s.

In total he played four First Class matches for Somerset in which he scored 71 runs, took four catches and secured two stumpings.

As a footballer he represented Cambridge University as a goalkeeper against Oxford University in 1892 and appeared for England against Scotland in 1893 and 1894, and against Wales in 1894. in 1900 he joined Southampton as reserve to fellow England goalkeeper Jack Robinson but never featured for the first team.

During his football career he was described as follows by Lloyd’s Weekly News: “Tall, and with long reach, Gay is in addition substantially built. His huge kicks off from goal display the power he possesses, and are the delight of the crowd.”

An exceptional all-round sportsman, he also represented Devon at golf.

Gay’s cousin, Kingsmill Key, captained Surrey in the 1890s.

He died at Sidmouth on November 1, 1949 aged 78.

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