John Kerr's first century for Greenock

This article is not intended to be a history of John Kerr, that would require something of a much bigger scope to do any sort of justice to the career of someone who is undoubtedly one of the finest, if not the finest, amateur player in the history of the Club. Rather it is a report of the match in which at the age of 18 he scored the first of 41 centuries for his beloved club. However, some details of his career need to be laid out to give some context to this article.

John Kerr, born on 8th April 1885, made his debut for Greenock's 1st XI at the age of 15 against Uddingston at Glenpark on 1st September 1900, although he was not required to bat or bowl. He played sufficient games in the following season to enable him to finish at the top of the batting averages and he repeated that feat in 1902 which was his first full season in the team.

He was a student at the Collegiate School, whose building can still be seen today, situated almost directly opposite the entrance to Glenpark, where he came under the wing of Arthur Graham, a very fine all-rounder for Greenock and a master at the school. His influence on John Kerr, together with that of William Jenner, the Club's long-serving professional, was instrumental in Kerr's somewhat precocious entrance into senior cricket. The influence of his father, Dan, who had himself been a prominent player for the Club in the late 19th century, also cannot be discounted.

Greenock win inviting toss

Saturday 20th June 1903 saw Greenock welcome Clydesdale to Glenpark for an important league match. The two teams had met earlier in the season at Glenpark in a friendly which the Glasgow side had won most convincingly. Since that match, Greenock had improved considerably and stood atop the league table. Aitken Ballantine won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to bat first on what looked to be a hard and fast pitch.

Greenock's openers, Kerr and the skipper's brother, John Ballantine, set the tone for Greenock's batting from the very start and put on 70 for the first wicket before Ballantine was caught. Jenner did not last long but there followed a most profitable partnership between the pupil and the master, Kerr and Graham. It is not known exactly how many runs the pair put on but it was certainly into three figures before Graham was dismissed for a fine and speedy 60.

John Kerr continued to his century in the company of his elder brother Jim, and when he was finally bowled by Jowett for 110, he was accorded a rousing ovation from the large crowd in attendance. The Scottish Referee, which was published twice weekly in the years leading up to the First World War and is fount of information on all sports Scottish for that time, stated that "The Kerrs did yeoman service for the Glenpark men on Saturday, and the hero of the day was young John, who, by as pretty cricket as has been witnessed at Glenpark, compiled the handsome total of 110 runs".

Kerr's offside dominance

His innings had lasted just over two hours and a feature of it was his use of the cut shot. John Kerr was not a tall man, being just 5 foot and 6 inches in height, and in the early part of his career he favoured the off side and the use of the square and late cut. As bowlers became aware of this and set their field accordingly, Kerr was forced to adapt to bring the leg side into play, using quick footwork to get into position, although this did lead to him being susceptible to being trapped in front of his stumps.

Greenock declared on 288 for 6, a total which had been made in just two hours and thirty-five minutes and a formidable target for Clydesdale to chase. They commenced their reply at twenty minutes to six and it was agreed that play would continue to eight o'clock if either side had a chance of victory, otherwise play would stop at the usual time of half past seven. The Glasgow side made an effort to get the runs although they did lose some early wickets. Just after seven o'clock, only four wickets had fallen with Murray and Anderson forming a useful partnership and a draw looked inevitable.

Greenock win with four minutes to spare

But Anderson's dismissal was followed by three quick wickets, with Graham's catch from Bayley being particularly memorable and at half past seven, with excitement on the rise, Greenock claimed the extra half-hour. Campbell did not last long but last man Coghill joined Murray and the two of them took the attack to Greenock. Frequent bowling changes failed to separate them until with four minutes remaining, the combination of Graham and John Kerr struck to give Greenock the victory amidst great enthusiasm, Kerr accepting the chance given by Coghill.

In a match that was very much a batsman's affair, JH Gordon claimed 7 for 67 for Greenock, the only bowler to emerge with credit from the game. Murray carried his bat for Clydesdale, a fine innings of 76 almost saving his team from defeat.

John Kerr's outstanding achievements

John Kerr's 110 was the first of his 41 centuries for Greenock in a career which stretched to 1940 before he retired, appropriately hitting a half-century at Whitehaugh in his final game. He scored over 21,000 runs for his club at an average of over 40, and for a good part of his career was widely regarded as the leading batsman in Scotland. He played in 32 first-class internationals for Scotland, nearly half of them as captain, and a further 9 matches which were not regarded as first-class. Included in that latter number is his most famous innings, 147 against Warwick Armstrong's all-conquering Australians in 1921 and the first century by a Scottish player against an Aussie side.

Greenock went on to share the league in 1903 with Uddingston, although they drew all their games after their win over Clydesdale. There were only five teams in the league, Drumpellier having been thrown out the day before the Clydesdale match for fielding a player deemed to be incorrectly reinstated as an amateur, on the proposal of Greenock, seconded by Clydesdale.

From the scorecard shown below, it can be seen that every player bar John Kerr, other than the professionals, are shown with their initials (the poor old pros were not accorded such limited familiarity), John Kerr however is accorded his full first name and this is how he was depicted throughout his career, not just in the local press but in the national papers such as the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman and is perhaps an indication of how he was regarded in the game throughout Scotland.



John Kerr   b Jowett 110
JH Ballantine c Young b Henderson 34
Jenner   b Henderson 12
AL Graham c Young b Jowett 60
A Ballantine *   b Henderson 5
JM Kerr not out 39
R Kerr c Campbell b Henderson 17
WO Lang not out 0
JH McLean      
JH Gordon      
DG Ramsay +      
Extras     11
TOTAL      288 for 6
Bowler O M R W  
W Henderson 24 1 110 4    
W Jowett 22 5 74 2  
Inglis 10 2 41 0  
DM Young 5 0 30 0  
GP Coghill 5 0 22 0  
R Murray not out 76
DM Young   b Gordon 0
Inglis   b Gordon 11
A Clark c Jenner b Gordon 6
MBS Hutchison c JM Kerr b J Kerr 8
JM Anderson c Graham b Gordon 20
W Jowett c A Ballantine b Gordon 8
FD Bayley c Graham b Gordon 3
W Henderson   b Gordon 6
RG Campbell c Gordon b Jenner 5
GP Coghill c J Kerr b Graham 14
Extras     15
TOTAL      172 all out
Bowler O M R W  
JH Gordon 22 5 67 7    
Jenner 18 2 45 1  
AL Graham 4.3 1 13 1  
John Kerr 3 0 24 1  
JH McLean 3 1 2 0  
A Ballantine 5 0 6 0