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17 October 2014

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Leslie M Balfour Melville

Saltire over cricket pitch
Born in 1854, Leslie Balfour-Melville can arguably be described as Scotland's greatest ever sportsman.

Educated at Edinburgh Academy, for whose former pupils he went on to play rugby, Balfour-Melville's sporting career included success in the Scottish Lawn Tennis Championships in 1879, the British Amateur Golf Championship in 1895 (at the age of 46), and a Scottish Billiards championship, in addition to winning international honours in both rugby and cricket. He was also a noted skater, curler and long-jumper.

In February 1872, at the age of 17 years and 10 months he represented Scotland (officially listed as "LM Balfour") against England in the rugby international at the Kennington Oval. Scotland lost, and Balfour-Melville was never selected again. Perhaps had Scotland played more often than the annual match against England each year, he would have been given another opportunity, but it was not to be.

Instead it was in cricket that he went on to record his greatest achievements and for which he is best remembered.

A top-class batsman and wicket-keeper, he scored 46 centuries for Grange, a tally which has only been surpassed by four others in the history of Scottish cricket to this day.

As captain, he led Scotland to victory over a touring Australian XI in 1882, a victory that was as unlikely then as it would be today. Leading from the front, Balfour-Melville scored 73 against an attack which included the legendary Australian bowler F.R “The Demon” Spofforth.

To underline the quality of the achievement, later that summer Spofforth would take seven wickets in each innings of the Oval test, as the Australians went on to win the series against England by one match to nil. That victory brought about the headlines which led to the beginnings of one of the most famous sporting rivalries of all, the Ashes, yet this was the side that had been defeated by Scotland that same summer, with Balfour-Melville to the fore.

In late Victorian times, opportunities to play international sports were limited. Therefore Balfour-Melville was restricted to 16 caps between 1874 and 1893, many of them as captain. News of his ability reached beyond Scotland and he was invited to play for the MCC and the famous touring side I Zingari.

Incredibly, at the age of 55, he was recalled to the Scotland side and gained two more caps in the annual matches against Ireland in 1909 and 1910.

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