Sydney Barnes: The Demon Bowler

In the current situation where there is little cricket and many people are restricted in their movement, a fad of selecting all-time XIs and the like has taken hold. In such selection there is no doubt that everyone who is not actually perverse would list Bradman first. After all he was the greatest batsman ever. But what of bowlers? Opinions of course vary. But in truth the name of Sydney Barnes should go down as automatically as Bradman’s, because he was the greatest bowler ever. However, whereas Bradman’s career, interrupted by World War II, ended in 1948, Barnes’ first class career and the whole of his test career occurred mainly before World War I, and most of his career was not actually in first-class cricket. The case for Barnes needs a bit of explaining, but it is nonetheless a powerful one. It is, in the first place, difficult to judge players who lived so distantly from our own times that almost every criterion of greatness is hard to apply. Statistics? Well, bowlers genera

Captain Courageous: The of Porbandar

As everybody knows, there are two theories of how captains should be selected. The Australian theory is that you pick your team and choose the captain from amongst those selected. The English theory is that you choose the best captain then select the team around him. Looking at India in 1932 one might be forgiven for thinking, given the selection of the Maharaja of Porbandar to lead the first Indian test tour to England, that the Indian theory was to pick the team and then find an unqualified royal person to appoint as captain. The Maharaja, or to give him his full title, Lieutenant-Colonel  Maharaja   Rana   Shri   Sir  Natwarsinhji Bhavsinhji  Sahib   Bahadur ,  KCSI , then aged 31, had limited experience playing cricket, and was qualified only by the fact that it was thought a royal person was needed to maintain order amongst a team of mixed abilities and mixed religions. In the measured and somewhat generous tones of Wisden: For reasons apart from cricket the necessity existed of

Cricket v Baseball, England v USA …

One of the world’s great puzzles is why the Americans abandoned the great game of cricket to play the inferior game of baseball. Imagine also how it might have been if cricket had spread from the US to Japan and Mexico in baseball’s stead? Writing about the tour of the ‘Gentlemen of Philadelphia’ (the ‘Phillies’) to England in 1908 I realised that if England and the Yankees themselves had taken American cricket seriously, the US would have without doubt become a power in cricket, excelling probably South Africa and New Zealand at least and maybe even challenging England, Australia and India. They would have had the benefit of large diasporae – English, Indian, Pakistani, West Indian, Australian, South African – and the resources to produce really good teams as they once did in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. My verdict on the Phillies was this: “Overall in terms of first class recognized games, the Phillies won 4 and lost 6. They won most of their games overall. They pe

Fatso: The Big guys of Cricket

In every generation there have been cricketers who were overweight. Until recent decades fitness was not even regarded as strictly needed for the game, even at the highest level, and we have all played in teams with a fat guy fielding at slip or else ‘hidden’ in the field. But have we gone too far in our demands? Would some of the best cricketers of the past not have made it under current fitness regimes? In recent years, overweight players have increasingly come under criticism. It was not too pleasant when Jos Buttler body-shamed Vernon Philander in the 2 nd test earlier in 2020, referring to his ‘fat gut’. Rishabh Pant has been referred to on field in the same way. Philander was noticeably perhaps, but not very, overweight, but it did not prevent him being one of the very finest medium-fast bowlers of recent years with a record that speaks for itself. Fitness became an issue in the early 1960s. On their way to Australia in 1962 the England cricketers encountered the runner Gordon

Laker’s Match, and a Record That May Never be Broken

At Manchester in 1956 the England off-spin bowler Jim Laker took 19 wickets for 90 runs as Australia crumbled to an innings defeat. It remains statistically the best set of match figures in the history of the game. Nobody has ever taken 18 wickets. Syd Barnes took 17 against South Africa in 1913. England and Australia went to Manchester for the fourth test match with the series level at one-all with one draw. England won the toss (what a good toss to win, as it turned out) and batted well, making 459, with Richardson and Sheppard scoring centuries and Cowdrey 80. Australia’s first innings was an extraordinary affair. By dint of some careful batting by McDonald and Burke, they had reached 48 in 80 minutes before the first of Laker’s 19 wickets, that of McDonald, fell. Burke followed at 62, after which the innings collapsed in a terrible heap, the last 8 wickets falling for only 22 runs, Laker taking 9 for 37. One oddity of this match is that Tony Lock, the other member of the infamo

Johnny Briggs: Lancashire's Popular 19th Century Hero

Was ever a cricketer more loved than Johnny Briggs? There may, I suppose, have been a few, but at his funeral in 1902, no less than 25,000 people turned out to honour a man who may be counted one of the first great left-arm spinners, and who filled a career of more than 20 years with cleverly taken wickets, carelessly acquired runs, and numerous quotes from Shakespeare. Despite his tragic early demise at 39, his achievement was great. He was the first man to take 100 test wickets, and he held the title of taker of most test wickets in 1895 and then from 1898-1904. Even now he is the taker of most wickets ever for Lancashire except for Brian Statham. With more than 2,000 wickets and 14,000 runs, having scored ten first class centuries, including one in his second test match against Australia, he was also the greatest allrounder ever produced by Lancashire. Johnny Briggs was born in Nottinghamshire in 1862, the very year in which overarm bowling was finally legalised. He was short, c

The Extraordinary Career of Wilfred Rhodes

A bit over 100 years ago it was said in Yorkshire that we don’t know who the world’s best all-rounder is, but it is certain that he bowls left-handed, bats right-handed, and comes from Kirkheaton. The joke was that this description, astonishingly, applied to two players – Wilfrid Rhodes and George Hirst. Rhodes, famously, batted at every position for England, from 11 to 1 (more or less in that order); and nobody would dispute that he was the best slow left arm bowler in the world between about 1899 and 1907. Hirst also had excellent claims, although he was more famous in Yorkshire than wider afield. In all other ways Hirst and Rhodes were dissimilar. Hirst was a kind of erstwhile Wasim Akram, a master of left-arm-over swing bowling (in fact he invented it), and an aggressive late middle order batsman. Rhodes was a canny left-arm spinner and an obdurate middle order or opening batsman. There is no modern equivalent to Rhodes, for reasons which will become apparent, but in effect he wa