The Name of the Googly

The delivery known in cricket today as the “googly” – a ball that looks like a leg-break when delivered but turns like an off-break – was devised at some point in the 1890s by an amateur cricketer called Bernard Bosanquet. Although several bowlers – often accidentally but perhaps a few with an element of design – had bowled a similar delivery before Bosanquet, he was the first to identify that this effect could be achieved deliberately. Once he began to achieve success with it, other cricketers, journalists and spectators realised that it was possible to deliver this disguised off-break. The name “googly” quickly became associated with Bosanquet’s new delivery. But where that name came from has always been something of a mystery. Because, perhaps a little surprisingly, the name of the googly is older than the delivery itself.

First, it is worth looking at the inventor – or perhaps more accurately, the discoverer. In 1925, Bosanquet wrote an article which outlined how he developed the googly . This article was prompted, he wrote, by a friend: “Last year a great pal of mine, with whom I have played a lot of cricket, said at a dinner-table: I know old Bose invented the Googly and that sort of thing, but did he ever get any wickets?” The answer is yes, and with some distinction. With modest but obvious pride, Bosanquet, in that 1925 article, outlined some of his successes; and there were several.

Bosanquet bowling his leg-break, 1905 (Image: George Beldam and C. B. Fry, Great Bowlers and Fielders: Their Methods at a Glance)

Last time, we saw how he refined the googly through a game which involved bouncing a tennis ball on a table and progressed to using it in matches. By 1901, he had already begun to attract attention and, as we saw, the writer of an article in the 1902 edition of Wisden picked up on his ability to bowl an off-break with no change in action. At the end of the season, he went on two more tours after those of his previous winters: he took a team to America himself then toured the West Indies as part of another. The 1902 season brought more success, including one performance against Nottinghamshire in which he took seven second-innings wickets to really establish his bowling as an innovative force. His batting was respectable, although in both these years, he did not strike form until the latter part of the season.

Bosanquet toured Australia and New Zealand with Warner in 1902-03, taking quite a few wickets, including that of the world’s best batsman Victor Trumper with what Bosanquet claimed was the “first googly ever bowled in Australia”, although this was contradicted by Warner in his account of the tour. However, the tour was more notable when Bosanquet was involved in a huge controversy in a match in New Zealand. Against Canterbury, having bowled somewhat loosely (and when his new delivery was attracting a great deal of notice), Bosanquet thought he had bowled an opposing batsman, who was given not out. Bosanquet and other players surrounded the umpire, and Bosanquet said to the non-striker: “You’re a nice cheat. I bowled him round his legs. Anybody could see that.” There was an outcry in the press and Bosanquet was forced to apologise in writing.

Better form with the bat in 1903, and 63 wickets with his still-erratic bowling, meant that Bosanquet was chosen to play for the Gentlemen against the Players at Lord’s, an honour practically equivalent to Test match selection at this time. He was also part of a Middlesex team that won the County Championship.

Bosanquet pictured in Australia
(Image: State Library of Australia
[PRG 280/1/15/893]

Nevertheless, it was a surprise when Bosanquet was picked for the MCC tour of Australia under Warner’s captaincy in 1903-04. Writing about Bosanquet in his account of the 1903-04 tour, Warner goes to some lengths to defend himself against charges of favouritism towards his own county. He emphasises how dangerous Bosanquet’s disguised off-break (he does not use the term “googly” in his book except in quoting C. B. Fry, but more on that later) was when pitched on a good length – but observed throughout the book that his length was often extremely erratic and as a result he was often very expensive. This is a common theme.

The Wisden summary of the tour said of him: “Bosanquet’s value with the ball cannot be judged from the averages, as on his bad days he is, as everyone knows, one of the most expensive of living bowlers. When he was in form the Australians thought him far more difficult on hard wickets than any of the other bowlers, Clement Hill saying, without any qualification, that his presence in the eleven won the rubber.”

If this seems a harsh comment from Wisden, Bosanquet’s inaccuracy was notorious, and in truth he was never fully in control of his invention. This is unsurprising as, having discovered the googly, he had to learn how to bowl an accurate leg-break to complement it. Furthermore, he had only just taken to slow bowling a few seasons before and even during the 1902-03 tour of Australia and New Zealand, he alternated between his former fast-medium style and slow googlies. Such constant change would have made it hard to develop a consistent length. But even with his lack of accuracy, Bosanquet was a match-winner when he got it right. He bowled England to victory in the decisive fourth Test by taking six for 51 in the final innings.

What of Bosanquet’s batting? Warner discusses how he had become one of Middlesex’s most reliable batsmen. He describes Bosanquet as “decidedly stiff and awkward-looking”, and lacking the typical Etonian “grace of style” but that he was likely to “make fifty or a hundred runs at any time against any bowling on any kind of wicket”. Even so, he often seemed to stab at the ball in a cramped manner. Perhaps most intriguingly, Warner has this to say:

“He possesses one attribute which the great Napoleon said was the only one he envied our nation, and that is that he never knows when he is beaten. Unkind people have called this attribute by a harder name before now, but confidence in one’s own abilities founded on past performance is a very different thing from conceit – and on the cricket field confidence plus skill is half the battle. Bosanquet has both.”

Was Bosanquet arrogant? Brash confidence was hardly unknown among former public schoolboys, so for Warner to feel the need to defend him suggests that Bosanquet may have crossed the line slightly into arrogance. The controversy he caused by his loss of temper on the previous winter’s tour of New Zealand would make fairly strong evidence for the prosecution. Despite his own jovial writings on the subject, it must have taken a rare confidence to persist with his googly in the face of ridicule in the early days, and to be comfortable with breaking all precedent. Perhaps, as he wrote, his laziness and disinclination for hard work on hot days was part of his motivation. But maybe it was arrogance that drove him in the end, despite the disarming humour with which he wrote about his bowling in later years.

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Bosanquet in action, batting and bowling

If this winning Ashes tour was Bosanquet’s finest hour as a cricketer, he was not quite finished. A glowing profile featured in Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game (19 May 1904) after his tour success (although it spent as much time discussing the various ways people pronounced his name – without giving the definitive version – as it did the intricacies of his bowling). His performances in the 1904 season earned him the recognition of being one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year. In 1905, he bowled England to victory once more, in the first Test at Nottingham (his first in England), with figures of eight for 107 in the fourth innings. Two Tests later he was dropped after bowling poorly, and never played for England again. His bowling was ineffective for the rest of 1905, and after that season he rarely bowled at all, and later wrote that he hardly took any wickets with googlies after 1905 and “one over subsequently bowled at Harrow elicited about a quarter of a column of ribald comment in a newspaper, which finished the Googly so far as I am concerned.”

His Middlesex career continued sporadically, playing only as a batsman, until 1919. He finished with very respectable first-class batting and bowling figures. His brother wrote in a letter to the Times in 1936 (14 October) that Bosanquet “certainly developed a form of athlete’s heart, which was the main cause of his comparatively early retirement, and which affected him far more than even his friends appreciated, as he never talked about it and would not do anything for it. It was this neglect which undoubtedly caused his untimely death.”

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Reginald Bosanquet

His son Reginald Bosanquet, who was a popular if occasionally controversial newsreader for ITN in the 1960s and 1970s, in his interview with the People (25 April 1976), recalled some other things about his father. He was “a man of immense charm. That, plus his natural idleness, provided him with an ideal life in which, quite literally, he did not have to do a single day’s work. He just became a permanent guest at country houses, playing in house-party cricket matches and winning a little money at billiards or snooker.” His fame as a Test cricketer meant that invitations were not in short supply.

This is backed up in a search for Bosanquet on the census. He is absent from the 1901 census – although it is not clear why – but in 1911 his residence, along with 46 others, is at Major Talbot’s Sport’s Club, 8 St James’ Square, London. Under “occupation”, he simply lists “independent means”; in other words, he did not need to work. During the war, he served as a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps; the records of the Royal Aero Club record him in the pages of their album of aviators certificates: he has aeronaut’s certificate number 130, recording that Second Lieutenant Bosanquet received his flying licence on 13 August 1917.

Reginald said that his father was not a “good catch” romantically as a jobless – albeit obviously wealthy enough – former cricketer, and so he did not marry for a long time. He eventually met Mary Janet Kennedy-Jones, the daughter of a rich Member of Parliament, but the latter’s disapproval of Bosanquet delayed their marriage until 1924. Bosanquet was 44 when he finally married. Reginald was born ten years later, their only child. The money the family received on the death of his father-in-law paid for Reginald’s education; when Bosanquet’s own father died, he sold the family home and moved to Wykehurst Farm in Surrey. He died on 12 October 1936, leaving an estate valued at £2,276 0s. 4d, worth approximately £150,000 today.

As for his invention, he remained proud of his role in creating the googly. He passed on the “secret” to Reginald Schwarz, a fellow Middlesex amateur who went on to play Test cricket for South Africa. He in turn passed it on to his South African team-mates so that for several series before the First World War, South Africa’s attack contained four googly bowlers of varying style who terrorised opposing batsmen, particularly during their 1907 tour of England in which they narrowly lost an exciting Test series. Other bowlers, including R. V. Horden and Arthur Mailey, observed him from the crowd in Australia and were able to pick up the technique for themselves. These two had great success as Test bowlers and established an Australian connection with the googly that has persisted to the present day.

But to many, Bosanquet had created a monster. Arthur Shrewsbury, a leading professional batsman in the late-19th century called the delivery unfair; Archie MacLaren, an England captain, disliked it because he thought it damaged batting technique; in later years, critics blamed it for a decline in off-side stroke-play and for making batting generally less attractive. The deceit involved in bowling a googly was considered almost immoral and against cricket’s spirit. While these feelings subsided over time, English mistrust of the googly and of leg-spin in general meant that few leg-break bowlers followed Bosanquet into the England side and arguably no genuinely great, Test-class English leg-spinner ever emerged, as Justin Parkinson outlines in his Strange Death of English Leg Spin.

But if that explains where the googly came from, it does not explain where that delivery acquired its strange name.

Like the story of its creation, the googly’s name is not quite what it seems. Most dictionaries give the etymology of the word as uncertain, but that has not stopped several interesting – although unlikely – suggestions. Parkinson speculates that the word is a combination of “goo”, the sound a baby makes and denoting innocence, and “guile”. In this, he echoes the theory of the former Australian cricketer Tom Horan, who wrote for years under the pseudonym “Felix”, who had a similar explanation in 1910.

Correspondents to the Times in 1963 – in the same series to which Christopher Bosanquet and Nigel Dennis contributed – discussed where the word came from, prompted by an enquiry from Noel Boucher (3 May 1963). Among the replies, the gloriously named Dr. R. W. Cockshut, the chairman of the Cricket Society, wrote (10 May) that the word first appeared in a New Zealand newspaper: “The word means uncanny, weird, ghostly, and is supposed to be of Maori origin. There are many words with the ō or oo vowel sound associated especially with k, j, or g which express the same quality of fear and wonder. Bogey, boogey-woogey, spook, &c., and Lewis Carroll must have been aware of this when he coined the word Boojum.” A reply from T. G. Usher, based at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand (24 May) poured a little water on this theory: “Dr. Cockshut … is certainly wrong in suggesting that [the word] is of Maori origin. The Maori tongue has neither G nor L. Hasty telephonic research in cooperation with the office of the Australian High Commissioner here reveals that ‘Yooguli’ is Australian aboriginal language for ‘I rejoice!'”

The first use of the word “googly” in the English press seems to have been an open letter from C. B. Fry to Pelham Warner, printed in the Daily Express for which Fry wrote a column, on 26 September 1903 and later reproduced in part in Warner’s book on the 1903-04 tour. Fry said: “You must persuade that Bosanquet of yours to practise, practise, practise those funny ‘googlies’ of his till he is automatically certain of his length. That leg-break of his which breaks from the off might win a test match!”

But the word “googly” had been used in association with Bosanquet before this: Warner himself used it in his book Cricket Across the Seas, about the 1902-03 tour of Australia and New Zealand (in which Bosanquet was involved in trouble). He wrote how “Bosanquet’s slow ‘googlies’ as they were called in New Zealand, made me blush, for over and over again the ball pitched three or four times before reaching the batsman”. Elsewhere in the book, Warner described how Bosanquet “bowls an off-breaker with an apparent leg-break action” but did not use the word googly in association with this. This may be important, as we shall see.

According to Lynn McConnell, Warner elsewhere said that the googly had been christened in the New Zealand newspaper the Lyttleton Times. She was unable to find any such mentions when she searched in 2002.

That newspaper, and several other New Zealand newspapers, is now available to view online, and a search reveals that, while it recognised Bosanquet’s ability to turn the ball both ways at will, the Lyttleton Times did not associate him with any delivery called a googly. However, a Press Association report dated 16 January 1903 about the match between the touring team and Wellington says: “Bosanquet had a turn with slow high-twisters, commonly known as ‘googlers,’ and off him Gore was caught at square-leg.” This appeared in the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Star. Interestingly, New Zealand reports later that year about the MCC team touring Australia continued to refer to Bosanquet’s “googlers”. So Warner was correct about how the association came about, but this is not quite the whole story.

The word existed before Bosanquet developed his disguised off-break. A search of the British Newspaper Archive reveals several false positives where the poor quality of older newspaper print has confused the scanners (“gossip” and “question” are frequently what the actual word turns out to be), but in 1894 a (frankly terrible) poem appeared in Pearson’s Weekly and was reprinted in several newspapers called “Googly-Goo”, which seems to be about a little bird (and presumably the song it sings) rather than anything related to cricket. Subsequent uses of the word are associated with Bosanquet and begin to emerge in Britain from 1904 onwards. But a search of newspapers on the National Library of Australia’s Trove website is more revealing. A Melbourne newspaper called the Leader had an article in 1885 which describes a local match, and mentions a bowler called Herring, whose “googly ones” took two wickets. In 1892, a syndicated article appearing in several Australian newspapers –reporting a match played by the English touring side under W. G. Grace –talks about Johnny Briggs “keeping the batsmen quiet with his googly ones”. In a later match during the same tour, Gregor McGregor was out of a duck, and the report in the Sydney Referee said that he put “one of Cresswick’s googly’s [sic] into Johnson’s hands at mid-off.” Altogether, in the Trove archive, there are 12 mentions of “googly” in Australian newspapers (excluding false positives) in the 1890s, usually in the sense of someone bowling “a googly one” or a “googly bowler”. A rhyme in Melbourne Punch in 1899 even jokes about a batsman waiting for a delivery which he can hit for four: “He wanted something to play with / Soon that same something he got / Something grease-lightningly googly / He remaineth not!

From around 1904 and 1905, as stories emerged in England and were reprinted, Australian newspapers used the word googly in its modern sense, although the old usage still remained at times. But what did it actually mean? In August 1904, the England amateur batsman Gilbert Jessop wrote a “glossary” for a newspaper (this was reprinted in Australia, but the original publication is not given), possibly in response to a correspondent to the Daily Mail earlier that month who requested something to explain the strange terms used by cricketers. Jessop had this to say about the “googly”: “A word imported from Australia, denoting a bowler of the leg-break description. It corresponds to our term ‘donkey drops, which is generally applied to slow bowling.”

The Auckland Star (5 November 1904) in New Zealand picked up on Jessop’s article and noted: “The weirdest of these technical terms is an Australian one, the word ‘googly,’ which not very expressively denotes a high-pitched leg-break.” Tom Horan, writing as “Felix” in 1910, said that a bowler called Frank Allen was using the word thirty years before, although he could not remember whether he called it a “googly” or a “googler”. It meant “a slow ball tossed a bit high,” and “Felix” clarified that “the googlie in the days of Frank Allan is not the googlie of Bosanquet.”

So the googly originally seemed to mean a delivery that went very high into the air, and perhaps at a different pace to a normal delivery. In other words, a delivery designed to confuse the batsman somehow, which would explain how it came to be associated with Bosanquet.

It is quite likely that when Warner used the word “googly”, he was making a distinction between Bosanquet’s fast style of bowling, and his slower, inaccurate one; this would fit with the prior use of the word. This would mean that the word never referred specifically to his disguised off-break; maybe it came to refer to it later when people in England, unfamiliar with the word “googly” mistakenly applied it to the new delivery.

The only writer who seems to have more recently acknowledged the original use of the word before it came to mean the disguised off-break was David Runciman in the Guardian (15 November 1996) when in the “Lexicon” column he observes that:

“At that time, Australian cricketers liked to refer to any unexpected or freakish ball that caused the batsman to goggle as it flew past as a ‘googly’ or ‘toogly'”

Despite the romantic notions of where it may have come from, it seems that “googly” was simply a nonsense word used in Australian cricket that is most likely associated with the idea of making someone “goggle”.

By 1904, as Bosanquet had more and more success, the word googly was used widely in English newspapers. Athletic News called him the “googly man”. The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News even had an anecdote from A. A. Milne in which explains he confused an American lady at a cricket match by saying “These are ‘googlies'”, without indicating what he was talking about, to which she replied: “We call them umpires in the states.” On being told it was a type of delivery, she asked: “You mean when it pitches half-way and bounces twice?” The Bournemouth Daily Echo acknowledged the Australian origin of the word. However, apart from C. B. Fry’s use of the word in 1903, it was not widespread in England before that 1904 season.

That is not quite the end of the story, though. In Australia, the delivery now known as the googly took on different names, prompted perhaps, as Runciman suggested, by the need to differentiate from the traditional Australian meaning of googly. The disguised off-break began to be called the “Bosie”, after its inventor. A search of Trove, once false positives have been sifted out, indicates that the delivery was called the “Bosie” from early 1908; for example, Sydney’s The Arrow discussed the South African “Bosie” bowlers who had toured England in 1907. But the earliest reference I have found so far (there may be earlier) was when the Sunday Times of Sydney described the New South Wales bowler J. C. Barnes as coming on with his “Bosies” in December 1907. By 1909, the delivery was also being called the “wrong ‘un”, although the first mention I can find is an article by the English cricketer H. D. G. Leveson-Gower printed in The Advertiser of Adelaide in December 1909. By the time the South African googly bowlers toured Australia in the 1910-11 season, “wrong ‘un” was well-known enough for Reginald Schwarz, Bosanquet’s former team-mate, to be using the description. By the 1920s, when Arthur Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett were bowling leg-breaks and googlies for Australia, “wrong-un” seems to have been the favoured term.

But even this may not be as simple as it appears. According to Justin Parkinson, in his Strange Death of English Leg Spin, the terms “Bosie” and “Wrong ‘un” were a reaction to Bosanquet himself, and were aimed at the English ruling class. They called Bosanquet “Elsie” during the 1903-04 tour, as “a tribute to the elaborate, supposedly effeminate jumpers he wore.” Parkinson suggests that “Bosie’ was a mocking reference to Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed “Bosey”, who had a homosexual affair with Oscar Wilde. Parkinson also notes that “wrong ‘un” was slang for a criminal or homosexual.

Parkinson is correct about the nickname “Elsie” – the Sydney Morning Herald reported the story on 4 March 1904:

“Bosanquet has found a new soubriquet. It turned out to be ‘Elsie,’ and was conferred upon him the previous day because he showed up on the field in a rather pretty sweater. The cricketer did not seem at all put out at his new name.”

However, while his theory about the terms “Bosie” and “Wrong ‘un” being aimed at the English ruling class may have some merit, they do not seem to have come into common use during any tours by England teams. And as they were not coined for several years after Bosanquet’s most successful tour, they cannot have been meant for him, or have been an attempt, as Parkinson suggests, to portray him in a negative way.

Today, the delivery is universally called the googly, or in Australia the “Wrong ‘un”, but the use of “Bosie” has drifted out of fashion, ending the last obvious link with Bosanquet, the man who discovered it.

Note: Although there was general confusion during B. J. T. Bosanquet’s career about how to say his name, when Reginald Bosanquet was a newsreader, his name was pronounced “Bose-an-ket” (for example here).

“Everyone shrieked with laughter, and I was led away and locked up for the day”: How Bernard Bosanquet invented the “googly”

The googly – or as it is sometimes known in Australia, the “wrong ‘un” – is one of the most widely-known terms used in cricket. It is simply an off-break bowled using the action for a leg-break. Instead of turning one way, it unexpectedly turns the other and fools the batsman. It is frequently the subject of articles or videos explaining “What is a googly?” Among cricket followers, it is known as one of the most dangerous deliveries in terms of its potential to dismiss a batsman. Perhaps it is the ultimate delivery: one which does the unexpected and defeats a batsman by trickery, being the exact opposite of what it appears to be. But where did it actually come from?

As old cricket stories go, how the googly came to be invented is fairly well-known. Looking it up online reveals that Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet was its creator or inventor, and in some versions the man who named it. His story is trotted out, often lazily, in many reference books or works that aim to give an overview of cricket. Two recent popular works on cricket, aimed at a general audience – And God Created Cricket by Simon Hughes (2010) and Tuffer’s Alternative Guide to the Ashes (2013) – carry a once well-known story about how he thought of it while playing a game, “twist-twosti” that involved bouncing a tennis ball off a table.

Bernard Bosanquet pictured around 1905 (Image: Wikipedia)

Bosanquet was an amateur cricketer who played around the beginning of the 20th Century. He wrote an article in 1925, printed first in The Morning Post and reprinted in Wisden, which described in humorous terms how he and the googly started out in cricket. But his version – which is generally the one told – is not quite the fully story. While he was unquestionably the first to deliberately bowl the delivery which came to be called the googly, he was not the first to realise that such a ball was possible. And he emerged from a background in which bowlers suffered as batsmen mercilessly accumulated more and more runs as the 19th century turned into the 20th. Even today, some of the batting statistics from the late 1890s and early 1900s are eye-watering. As scores mounted, so bowlers looked for ways to gain some kind of respite or initiative.

Part of the problem was that both pitches and batting technique – or what was known at the time as “scientific batting” – had improved out of sight. No longer was it enough to bowl a good length, and pitches could easily negate pace and orthodox spin. One of the solutions that bowlers came up with was a return to a very old style of bowling: the leg-break delivery, namely one that turns away from the right handed batsman (it breaks from the leg-side to the off-side).

As Justin Parkinson recounts in his excellent The Strange Death of English Leg Spin, this method of spinning the ball from leg is a very old one, first used when all bowling was underarm. For example, Tom Boxall of Kent is believed by the historian David Frith to have been one of the first to bowl underarm leg spin effectively. From 1835, bowlers could bowl roundarm – overarm but with the hand not allowed to be higher than the shoulder – and this leant itself to the leg-spin style as practitioners attempted to pitch the ball outside leg where they were very hard to hit safely. W. G. Grace bowled in this style in his later career, often aiming to have batsmen caught on the legside boundary. But once the law was changed in 1864 to allow bowlers to raise their arm above shoulder height – and legalised modern overarm bowling – leg-spin drifted out of fashion as off-breaks were far easier to bowl in this style. Leg-spin was too difficult and too uncertain in terms of line and length to be a useful investment of time and practice.

A few individuals, such as A. G. Steel for Lancashire or Charlie Townsend of Gloucestershire, had success as leg-spinners but only for a few seasons before they faded as bowlers. As Parkinson outlines, theorists of the time believed that overarm leg-spin had to be bowled too slowly for it to be effective, and while it could produce occasional spectacular results, it was generally expensive.

DLA Jephson (Image: Wikipedia)

But at the turn of the century, leg-spin suddenly became fashionable again. It is often overlooked that, even before the advent of the googly, there was a renaissance in leg-spin. In the 1902 edition of Wisden contains an article called “Leg-break bowling in 1901” by D. L .A. Jephson, a 30-year-old amateur cricketer who bowled old-fashioned underarm lobs with a leg-break. After a long and florid introduction that takes up a whole page (To give a taste, it contains the words “with my stale pigments and my brushes that are all too stiff, I will make my feeble efforts to draw this picture of the leg-break bowling” and carries on in much the same style), the author states: “When the annals of our game come to be chronicled in some great book, the extraordinary growth of this leg-break bowling, or ‘tosh’ as we were wont to call it, will find a prominent place in the year of grace 1901.”

Amid the purple prose, Jephson actually makes a good case for the rise of this style. The primary bowling tactic of the period was to bowl wide of off stump and wait for the batsman to make a mistake – off theory as it was known. But the leading batsmen of the period were largely untroubled by this on good pitches. However, in that 1901 season, a collection of leg-spin bowlers caused trouble. Jephson lists several who were successful: E. E. Steel of Lancashire, Geeson, Raikes of Hampshire, Vine of Sussex. But he also says that every counties possessed at least one leg break bowler, even if some such as Jack Brown of Yorkshire only did so as a sideline. Among the others, Jephson mentions Len Braund, who later played for England as an all-rounder, but who never bowled googlies even after they became popular.

A few things stand out with hindsight. Middlesex possessed C. M. Wells, whom Jephson describes as “the finest amateur slow bowler on his day I have ever seen”. He notes that all the other leg-break bowlers spun the ball just using their fingers, mixed with the occasional straight ball. Wells bowled the ball from the palm – as would a modern leg-spin bowler – but also possessed “the off-break with but the slightest variation of action.” Remaining with the Middlesex team, Jephson notes that Albert Trott was capable of bowling big-spinning leg-breaks before moving on to discuss a third bowler. This man, unknown to Jephson, was to make the leg-break bowler feared for the next hundred years by introducing something completely new.

B. J. T. Bosanquet sometimes bowled fast, but Jephson merely observes the fact before going on to discuss his leg-breaks, and the factor that made him different to anyone who had come before: “Though his length is often eccentric he possesses the unique capability of delivering a ball with every semblance of a leg-break, which on striking the pitch turns inches from the off. Whether this can be done at will, or whether it is the gift of the blind goddess [in other words, a fluke], I cannot tell – enough, he bowls it.”

Perhaps the Middlesex bowlers were experimenting with leg-spin and with finding the ball that turned the other way undetected. As Jephson suggests that Wells do so, but in a way that could be just detected, perhaps he bowled an orthodox off-break to complement the leg-break. But Bosanquet was obviously something different, even among this resurgence. So what was going on?

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Bosanquet, standing furthest left at the back, pictured in the Eton cricket team that played Harrow at Lord’s in 1896. He scored 120 runs and took three wickets in the game.

Bosanquet seems to have been an interesting character. There has never been a full-length biography of him, although he has a good article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He was one of five children (and the older of two sons) of Bernard Tindal Bosanquet and Eva Cotton, and came from an extraordinarily distinguished family. His uncle, also called Bernard Bosanquet, was a famous philosopher; his great-grandfather was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas; his grandfather was a banker and biblical historian; his father worked for a banking firm (Bosanquet & Co), was a partner in a firm of hide, leather and fur brokers and was High Sheriff of Middlesex. Bosanquet followed the common route of the wealthy into cricket: first Eton College, then Oriel College, Oxford. His cricket at both institutions was undistinguished, but he was an all-rounder with an idiosyncratic batting style that was not the typical polished one of a public schoolboy, and a fastish bowler. He also played for Middlesex and quickly established himself as a leading amateur in terms of knowing the right people, such as Pelham Warner, and playing for the right teams, such as the Gentlemen and I Zingari. He also went on two cricket tours of America, the first with Warner in September and October 1898 and with Ranjitsinhji in 1899. His breakthrough came in 1900, when he scored his maiden first-class century, scored two centuries in one match and took 15 wickets in another.

Most of what is known about how Bosanquet came to develop the googly comes from his own writing: an article in Great Bowlers and Fielders: Their Methods at a Glance by C. B. Fry and George Beldam in 1906, and his Morning Post article from 1925. In 1925, Bosanquet wrote:

“Somewhere about the year 1897 I was playing a game with a tennis ball, known as Twisti-Twosti. The object was to bounce the ball on a table so that your opponent sitting opposite could not catch it. It soon occurred to me that if one could pitch a ball which broke in a certain direction and with more or less the same delivery make the next ball go in the opposite direction, one would mystify one’s opponent.”

According to Bosanquet, he progressed to bowling at a cricket stump with a soft ball and then with a cricket ball using the same technique to bowl two opposite breaks with the same bowling action. In 1906, he wrote that he began by bowling the delivery underarm, before progressing to an overarm version. In the same article, he dated his decision to practise the delivery properly to 1899 or 1900, and noted that he also had to learn how to bowl a standard leg-break to complement the googly. His 1925 article continued:

“About 1899 I had become a star turn for the luncheon interval during our matches at Oxford. That is, the most famous batsman on the opposing side was enticed into a net and I was brought up to bowl him two or three leg-breaks. These were followed by an off-break with more or less the same action. If this pitched on the right place it probably hit him on the knee, everyone shrieked with laughter, and I was led away and locked up for the day.”

His first big success in first-class cricket with the googly came when Samuel Coe was stumped off a googly that bounced four times (Bosanquet mis-remembered that Coe was bowled, but noted that the wicket “was rightly treated as a joke, and was the subject of ribald comment”; he modestly fails to mention that he himself scored centuries in each innings of that match). Why did he persist? He had this explanation in 1925:

“I must confess that in the beginning I persevered with the Googly chiefly because I found that the lot of an average fast-medium bowler on a county side was not a happy one. It generally meant being put on under a sweltering sun, on a plumb wicket, when the other bowlers had failed and the two batsmen were well set. If one was lucky enough to get a wicket, the original bowlers resumed, and unless the same conditions recurred one was not wanted again. If the wicket was difficult, one was never thought of. As a result, partly from a natural disinclination to work hard on hot days (how much more pleasant to walk slowly up to the wicket and gently propel the ball into the air), and partly, I hope, from a sneaking ambition to achieve greater things, I persevered with the Googly.”

However, Bosanquet’s version of how he invented the googly has been challenged, not least by members of his own family. To begin with, although hardly important, it seems the game on the billiard table was not known as “Twisti-Twosti”; there are certainly no mentions of it elsewhere under that name unless they are quoting Bosanquet’s story. But this game certainly existed, to the despair of the older establishment. An article in the Times in 1911 (31 January) laments the decline of billiards in country houses: “Men still go into the country-house billiard room, but it is a sad and solemn truth that they do not go there to make a proper use of the table. Tisty-tosty (with a lawn-tennis ball) … and other alien games are played on it by a graceless generation.” A later Times article (5 May 1919), quite possibly written by Warner, discusses the invention of the googly and says that he invented it playing “tisty-tosty” over a table with a tennis ball. And a further article a few weeks later by an anonymous correspondent (16 May 1919) recalled the variety of games played by schoolboys in his youth, noting that “Tisty-Tosty” was also known as “Fizzle-Fuzz” and “Twisty-Grab”, and discussing the rules, such as they were, and variations in this game.

But some early versions of Bosanquet’s tale omit “twist-twosti” altogether. Writing in 1905, at the height of the googly’s rise to fame, Pelham Warner said in the Westminster Gazette that the it had been discovered while Bosnaquet played “stump cricket with a tennis ball”. An article in the Times in 1914 has a subtly different version:

“He discovered the possibility of bowling an off-break with, apparently, a leg-break action quite by chance. When bowling leg-breaks for pure amusement, with a lawn-tennis ball, he found that the more break he seemed to put on the less the ball broke. Trying to put on more break than ever he found himself, to his astonishment, bowling off-breaks. Mr Bosanquet, being a born cricketer, knew that this could be no mere ‘fluke’ if it happened again and again. He practised the two breaks at the nets until he got a fair command of the ball, and then introduced googly bowling to first-class cricket.”

After his death, the family took over the tale. In 1936 (14 October), just two days after Bosanquet’s death, his brother Nicholas wrote into the Times with his version of events, contradicting the 1925 article:

“Many years ago – about 1892 – our billiard table at Claysmore was being re-covered, and we used to ‘flick’ a tennis ball across the bare slates, trying to get the maximum twist on it both ways. My brother … got bitten with the idea of evolving a new sort of ‘break’ on a cricket ball, and he used to practise hard at a game we played with a solid rubber ball and a broomstick. He never said much about it, and while he was at Eton, no one had any idea of what was then taking a definite shape. His family had no knowledge of anything beyond this, and the first public appearance of the ‘googlie’ was as much a surprise to them as to anyone else. He had very exceptionally strong fingers, which, I think, are essential to a successful ‘googlie’ bowler.”

Years later, the question of the origin of the googly was once more raised on the letters page of the Times. Christopher Bosanquet, BJT’s nephew and the son of Nicholas, wrote in (6 May 1963) with a similar version of the tale told in 1936 – that his father and BJT were trying to spin a ball off a stripped billiards table, although he dated it to “a rainy afternoon in 1890”. A week later (13 May 1963), a different Bosanquet supplied a different version. Nigel Dennis, the son of Louise Bosanquet, wrote:

“As a little girl [Louise] hero-worshipped her cousin, ‘BJT’, and paid for it in the 1890s by being made to stand at one end of a lawn for hours, retrieving his experimental googlies. A tennis ball was always used – ‘Not a billiard ball, a tennis ball’ were among my mother’s last words to me.”

These versions of the story place the game of twisti-twosti in the early 1890s, considerable earlier than in Bosanquet’s version. They also suggest that Bosanquet worked at the new delivery far longer and harder than he said in his two articles: rather than beginning around 1899, he had possibly been working on it from 1892 or earlier. He was not just having fun, he was acting in a very thorough manner. In some ways, this makes Bosanquet look even more imaginative as he could have come up with the idea before leg-breaks began fashionable again. But instead, he downplayed the length and intensity of his practice. Why? It is most likely that, as an amateur, he wanted to downplay how much he had worked at it, and wished to convey a kind of whimsical inventiveness that happened to produce a revolutionary delivery.

The final word came from Bosanquet’s son Reginald, who became famous in his own right as a newsreader. In an interview for the People in 1976 (25 April), he recounted another version of the story which looks to have been embellished a little by either father or son:

“It was perfected on a billiards table during a rowdy after-dinner game called ‘twisti-twosti’ in which two teams lined up at opposite ends of the table and tried in turn to bounce a tennis ball off the table and past their opponents. Spinning the ball was part of the game, and the more sober players watched how the ball was delivered to anticipate the direction of the spin … One evening at ‘twisti-twosti’ he [Bosanquet] worked out that he could bowl the tennis ball with a leg-break action, but use his strong fingers to make it spin the opposite way. It worked. And he spent months afterwards practising the technique and perfecting it with a cricket ball.”

If Reginald largely follows his father’s version, it is not surprising, although it is unlikely that alcohol was involved if he invented it in the early 1890s as he would have been no more than fifteen.

However Bosanquet discovered his famous delivery, it became very effective. Pelham Warner and his fellow Middlesex amateur Gregor McGregor quickly understood the potential of this delivery and they and Bosanquet tried to keep it a secret, giving the impression that it was an accident in order to prevent batsmen starting to look for the variation. But as can be seen from the Jephson article, people quickly noticed and Bosanquet and his delivery became famous.

Bosanquet freely admits that other leg-break bowlers – he names Walter Mead in 1906 and “Attewell and E. R. Wilson” in 1925 – had bowled a ball which was intended to break from leg but accidentally turned the other way. With Bosanquet’s bowling, “the sole difference was in achieving this result at will”.

There are other candidates who may have bowled a proto-googly. For example, the former Australian cricketer Tom Horan (who wrote as “Felix”) discussed the googly in a 1910 article for The Australasian (23 July) in which he remembered A. G. Steel bowling him a perfect googly in a match at Scarborough; he also said that the bowler Tom Kendall (who played for Australia in the first ever Test match) could bowl a disguised off-break, and that several others bowled one albeit with an obvious change in their bowling action and therefore not genuine googlies.

An article in the Times in 1914 (5 May) said that it was first bowled by Jim Phillips, who became more well-known as an umpire determined to weed out illegal bowling actions, but he abandoned “his invention” – and never fully mastered it – when he received little encouragement from the Middlesex authorities. The same article says that H. C. McDonell also bowled the googly, but could only do so accidentally, albeit effectively. Jack Hobbs wrote in 1935 that a former Surrey captain told him the googly was invented by an Oxford University student, Herbert Page, in the 1880s but that he only bowled it in practice and never in a first-class match. Maybe Bosanquet heard of this when he too went to Oxford.

Bosanquet does not mention the resurgence in leg-spin bowling in the early 1900s, nor the presence of Wells alongside him in the Middlesex team whom Jephson records as bowling a disguised off-break. But it seems likely that these factors, and perhaps stories about Herbert Page, could have inspired him in some way. Perhaps the Middlesex amateurs discussed the possibility of a new style of bowling, and it was just a matter of time before someone found the secret. And by 1900, Bosanquet was ready to unleash it on the world.

In his 1925 article, Bosanquet wrote: “Last year a great pal of mine, with whom I have played a lot of cricket, said at a dinner-table: I know old Bose invented the Googly and that sort of thing, but did he ever get any wickets?” Next time, we shall answer that question.

“I won’t _____ bowl for you”: Jack Newman, Cecil Parkin and misbehaving professionals

Although Bobby Peel never urinated on the pitch, despite the well-known story that this incident led to his sacking, he was publicly suspended and effectively told his career with Yorkshire was over. Peel was one of the last of those who played before the emergence of the “respectable professional”. Professionals of this period from around 1900 until the Second World War differed greatly from their mid-nineteenth-century counterparts. Although still from working class backgrounds, they were well-dressed, well-mannered and copied the standards of their amateur leaders. This type of professional was cultivated and encouraged by amateur authorities and the cricketing press. Any professionals who did not toe the line were quietly moved aside. Only a player with outstanding ability, such as Sydney Barnes, was offered a little more leeway and a route back into top-level cricket if they had opposed their amateur paymasters.

Incidents were quietly dealt with quietly by county committees or by captains. Only occasionally did details emerge. For example, in 1909 eight Surrey professionals were arrested for playing football in a Derby street at night; soon after, and possibly connected to this incident, the Surrey captain dropped two professionals for a game against the touring Australians. Surrey’s young amateur Jack Crawford fell out with the Surrey Committee over this and did not play for the county for ten years.

There were few inter-war cricketers whose careers were ended owing to disciplinary issues, and even fewer who caused a public scene similar to that of Peel. One of the few exceptions was Jack Newman, a Hampshire professional who was generally not even remotely a troublemaker. An unfortunate combination of circumstances caused an incident that had echoes of Peel’s dismissal.

The Hampshire team in 1922: Jack Newman is furthest right in the back row, Tennyson is seated in the centre of the front row.

Newman was an otherwise fairly undistinguished all-rounder, mainly a bowler, who played from 1906 until 1930 with little recognition. During that period, the bulk of the Hampshire bowling was shared between him and Alec Kennedy. Newman bowled medium-paced swing with the new ball, off-spin with the older ball and had some success with the bat. His best seasons as a bowler in English first-class cricket were 1921 when he took 177 wickets, 1910 when he took 156 and 154 in 1926. He did the double five times, all in the 1920s, and three times passed 1,400 runs: in 1926, 1927 and 1928. So he was a decent cricketer, and if he was something of a journeyman professional, he was playing at a good standard.

His moment of unfortunate fame came at the end of the 1922 season. Aged 37 at the time, he had taken over 100 wickets that year, although his batting had fallen away. His health had suffered in general since he served in India during the war, and he had a reputation for being “highly strung” according to a Yorkshire Post article which attempted to explain the incident (2 September 1922). He seems to have been particularly run down at the end of the 1922 season and in the previous match barely bowled on a pitch that would have suited him.

On the second day of Nottinghamshire and Hampshire match at Nottingham, Newman was barracked by the crowd for taking time to rearrange his field so he could bowl around the wicket. At the start the next over, he was barracked once more for taking his time; furious, Newman threw the ball down and walked away from the bowling crease (it is not quite clear if these actions took place at once, or at the end of the over). His captain, Lionel Tennyson (who had led England in the 1921 Ashes series) told him to pick up the ball but he refused. According to newspaper reports, on being ordered twice by Tennyson to continue bowling, Newman retorted “I won’t _____ bowl for you.” Tennyson then ordered him from the field; in leaving, Newman kicked over the stumps and entered the pavilion visibly distressed.

The incident made headlines in the sporting press (The Times carried the story twice in its issue of 1 September 1922, with a short item in its general news section headlined “Cricketer Ordered Off The Field”) and Tennyson told journalists that Newman had been ordered off for “objectionable language”. Overnight, Newman apologised to both Tennyson and Nottinghamshire’s captain Arthur Carr. But the Hampshire Committee may have been a little worried that Tennyson would take further action and it seems they did not want to push Newman too far. They telephoned Tennyson asking him to allow Newman to play on the third day; he did so on the third morning and was applauded by the 3,000 spectators present. He did not, however, bowl in the remainder of the Nottinghamshire innings.

Newman bore no animosity to Tennyson, writing an appreciation of him in the Hampshire Handbook for 1970. The overall reaction from the cricketing world was sympathetic, expressing disapproval of barracking. The Cricketer (9 September 1922) even wondered if Tennyson would not have been better in waiting and discreetly reporting to his Committee rather than drawing attention to the dispute between him and his bowler. A dubious later report, quoted by Martin Williamson in an article for ESPNCricinfo, suggests that Tennyson dictated two letters of apology for Newman to write, including one to himself and then gave him five pounds. Although Williamson does not remember where he found the information, it lseems to befrom Playfair Cricket Monthly in 1967; it is an unlikely tale, for all Tennyson’s general good humour and relaxed attitude to captaincy, and perhaps revealingly it is not present in either his own autobiographies or his 2001 biography Regency Buck by Alan Edwards. The latter book judges that Tennyson should have been more sympathetic to his exhausted bowler and handled the matter more sensitively.

Wisden barely mentioned the incident at the time, but when Newman died in 1973, his obituary in the almanack described his reaction to the barracking as “a most unusual display of petulance from a likeable man.”

One of the only other occasions a professional was publicly disciplined for an incident in the County Championship was the “Waddington Incident” in 1924 when Abe Waddington was criticised by the MCC for disputing the decisions of the umpires. But other than press criticism, and Waddington having to write a letter of apology, neither he nor any of the other rather ill-tempered Yorkshire team from that season were suspended or obviously punished. There are few problems recorded in the minutes of the various Yorkshire committees in the inter-war period. Possibly issues were dealt with by the captain before reaching the committee stage. There was only one obvious issue other than that of Waddington.

In June 1932, a meeting of the Yorkshire Selection Committee heard that Horace Fisher, a professional bowler on the fringes of the team, had refused to play against Middlesex at Lord’s earlier that month, which broke the terms of his agreement with the club (Yorkshire players did not have contracts but signed agreements). He had written a letter of apology and the Committee agreed that he could continue to play for the county but decided to write to remind him of the seriousness of his actions. In August of that year he took six for 11 against Leicestershire and five for 12 against Somerset in the same week; in the latter match, he took a hat-trick, all of his wickets being lbw (the umpire retorted in giving his third lbw, “As God’s my judge, that’s out, too!”). Although he never established himself fully in the first team, mainly as he was too defensive a bowler for first-class cricket, he was capped by Yorkshire in 1935.

The story was probably similar at other counties. According to Ric Sissons in The Players (1988), Lawrence Cook, the Lancashire bowler, was dismissed in 1923: “Lol Cook … was dismissed after the Manchester versus Stockport match and banned from the professionals’ dressing room and the pavilion in June 1924.” However, an enquiry to Malcolm Lorimer at Lancashire failed to find any references to this in the county records.

There are, however, more instances in League cricket. For example, the Australian Test cricketer Arthur Richardson played for Burnley from 1932 to 1934. According to Harry Pearson, in Connie: The Marvellous Life of Learie Constantine (2017), Richardson was once reprimanded for time wasting in a match against Rawtenstall when he repeatedly made numerous fielding changes to waste time in a tight finish. His team escaped with a draw when they had looked likely to lose. He was jeered from the field and the team required a police escort. According to Pearson:

“The League wrote to Richardson, explaining that while his tactics were not illegal they considered them ‘indiscreet’. Richardson responded in a robust letter which the League minutes described as ‘the most impertinent ever addressed to the League.’ He was fined, and the letter destroyed so that future generations would not be exposed to its indecency.”

Perhaps the most self-destructive cricketer in this period – and arguably the man who did more damage to his own career than anyone in the entirety of cricket history – was Cecil Parkin. He was an interesting character who played once for Yorkshire in 1906 before it was discovered that he was not actually qualified for the county. He went to the Lancashire League and played for Church Cricket Club; having subsequently qualified for Lancashire, that county gave him a trial in which he failed to impress owing to a perceived lack of stamina – a judgement that irritated Parkin for many years to come. When he finally made his Lancashire debut, he took 14 for 99 against Leicestershire. Playing when his commitments with Church allowed, Parkin appeared six times in all for Lancashire in 1914. During the war, he played in the Bradford League. 

Cecil Parkin
(Image: Wikipedia)

For 1919, Parkin signed for Rochdale, a club in the Central Lancashire League, who released him on occasion to play for in the County Championship, but in the three seasons from 1919 to 1921, he played just 28 first-class matches in England of which 15 were for Lancashire. Even so, he was a regular selection in the Gentlemen v Players match, in which he had great success (taking 40 wickets in seven games in those three seasons), was selected to tour Australia with the 1920-21 MCC touring team, and played in the 1921 Ashes Test series; all of this while largely a league cricketer.

But controversy followed Parkin around. And this is not one of those occasions when the blame can be firmly apportioned to cricket’s unsympathetic rulers. Parkin seems to have had issues with authority and an unfortunate habit of firmly putting his foot in it.

In May 1920, Parkin made the newspapers for an incident while playing for Rochdale against Littleborough on 22 May. Having twice had an appeal for lbw turned down by the same umpire, he stormed from the field. His captain persuaded him to return to the field but he remained unrepentant, being reported in the press as saying the same umpire had told him earlier in the season, in three successive matches, that a batsman could not be given lbw if he bowled round the wicket. The following week, the Burnley News (29 May) criticised Parkin for not accepting the umpire’s decision, which the writer believed was possibly justified given Parkin’s angle of attack, and that his view of the ball’s flight from round the wicket could not be as good as the umpire’s. Parkin also began suggesting that, for the good of him and the club, he might have to leave Rochdale.

In July, the Central Lancashire League Committee ruled that Parkin should be suspended unless he apologised to the Committee. Parkin refused to do so, saying that although he would apologise to Rochdale, he would reluctantly leave the Central Lancashire League rather than apologise to anyone else.

The first Rochdale game after his suspension was against Oldham; Rochdale were ready to include him in their team. The League Committee extended the deadline for Parkin to apologise, and even had a representative attend the Oldham game to give him the opportunity. No-one backed down (although it appears that the game, scheduled for 10 July never took place): Parkin wished to put his case, in person, before the League Committee, but they insisted on his apology first.

Parkin then played an afternoon game on 13 July against Castleton Moor; Rochdale’s opponents were happy for him to play and stated they would make no complaint to the Committee had Rochdale won (Parkin’s team actually lost). As a result, Rochdale were suspended by the League Committee. Rochdale, in reply, withdrew from the League for the remainder of the season and arranged alternative fixtures. It was not until September that matters were smoothed over after the intervention of the Mayor of Rochdale. In a compromise solution, Parkin wrote to the Mayor expressing “regret” for his actions; the League Committee, no doubt regretting the loss of a popular (and crowd-pulling) player, and not wanting to lose Rochdale from their competition, took this as the apology they were seeking and Parkin and Rochdale returned to the League.

Around this time, the Yorkshire Committee also made an official but unconnected complaint about Parkin’s selection for the prestigious Gentlemen v Players matches, citing a ruling at the start of the season that only players available for their counties would be considered for representative matches, an attempt to curb the growing attraction of cricket leagues. But Parkin continued to be selected after Yorkshire’s complaints. While it may seem surprising that Parkin was selected for representative cricket while controversy raged in Rochdale, the MCC paid little attention to the internal affairs of league cricket (although Rochdale had threatened to take Parkin’s case to the MCC).

Parkin was not especially grateful for his team’s support. The following season, there was more trouble when he was suspended by Rochdale for one match in 1921 for appearing in the Gentlemen v Players match at the Oval in defiance of the orders of the Rochdale Committee. His place in the team was taken by Yorkshire’s Wilfred Rhodes for one game.

Although Parkin wrote several books, including the self-justifying Cricket Triumphs and Troubles (1936), and wrote regular newspaper articles, he does not seem to have referred to these incidents. As David Foot wrote in Cricket’s Unholy Trinity (1985): “For someone who seemed to thrive on contentious behaviour and be ready to discuss it in print, Cec could be selective. I found little in his own writing about [the] unpleasant scene in 1920 when he was playing for Rochdale.”

When Parkin’s three-year contract with Rochdale expired at the end of 1921, he did not renew it. According to his autobiography, he wanted to play in the County Championship; he signed for Lancashire and played for the county for five years. But rather than keep his head down, Parkin caused an ever bigger furore, this time on the international stage. And not once, but twice.

The first occasion came in 1924. Parkin played in the first Test for England against South Africa at Birmingham. This was AER Gilligan’s first match as England captain; several players made their debut for the home team, including Herbert Sutcliffe, Roy Kilner, Maurice Tate and Percy Chapman. England scored 438 before Gilligan and Tate bowled South Africa out for 30 in 12.3 overs. Parkin did not bowl, unsurprisingly. Following on, South Africa made a much more respectable 390 and Parkin bowled 16 overs without taking a wicket.

Arthur Gilligan
Image: Wikipedia

The match finished on a Tuesday. At the time, Parkin wrote a column in the Empire News, a Sunday newspaper. According to his later account, he usually wrote the weekly article himself but sometimes asked a journalist who covered Lancashire games to compose them for him, sometimes on a particular topic. On the Sunday following the first Test, Parkin’s column appeared with the headline “Cecil Parkin Refuses to Play for England again.” In it, Parkin criticised Gilligan’s captaincy, and wrote about his humiliation and the damage to his reputation when Gilligan used him so reluctantly in South Africa’s second innings. Parkin received little support from the press (although Gilligan’s reluctance to use him had attracted some comment). Instead, there was widespread shock that any cricketer, particularly a professional dependent on the backing of the establishment, would be so indiscreet or criticise the England captain so openly. The controversy echoed for some time.

Parkin unsurprisingly never played for England again. Nor did he play any more representative cricket outside of festival games. There were a few attempts at damage limitation. Parkin wrote a letter of apology to Gilligan and England’s Board of Control, responsible for Test matches. In a press statement a few days after the article appeared, he said that his article “was not meant to convey any feeling of personal animosity against Mr Arthur Gilligan. Far from that, I have a great opinion of him as a sportsman and gentleman. My object was to protest against his policy in not asking me to bowl.” Although Gilligan sat out a potentially awkward encounter when Lancashire played his county, Sussex on 25 June, there was a public reconciliation later in the season between the two men when Lancashire next played Sussex: Gilligan and Parkin walked onto the field together, and Gilligan put his arm around Parkin’s shoulder. Although a few wondered if Parkin had been the victim of a press desire to sensationalise a story to appeal to a wider readership, there was little sympathy towards him. Press condemnation was discreet – the Times for example said: “It is a great pity that he rushed into print” – but the consensus was that, even if his concerns were legitimate, he should have dealt with the matter quietly and not made such an outburst.

Twelve years later, in Cricket Triumphs and Troubles, Parkin made an attempt to explain what happened. He claimed that he had not spoken out previously through consideration of others who were involved. The whole tone of the book is one of self-justification (he even refers to himself in the third person a few times: “As I shall show in this biography, the real Cecil Parkin is not a mere jester and never was.”) He conceded, a little reluctantly, that on the hard pitch on which the Birmingham Test of 1924 was played, Gilligan was probably right to use his bowling sparingly. Parkin wrote that he did not complain at the time when he was taken off, and that Gilligan commiserated with him at the end of the match, and hoped he got wickets in his next games. Parkin said that some spectators mocked him for his lack of bowling and that when he returned home, his Lancashire team-mates gently made fun of how little he did in the Test. He claimed, though, that none of this bothered him (although he was keen to get it into print).

Parkin then explained how the newspaper article was supposedly written. On the Friday following the Test, Lancashire were playing in Gloucester and he received a message from the Empire News requesting his article that day for their Sunday edition. Parkin, by his account, approached the Lancashire journalist who sometimes wrote his articles for him to “[put] a few lines together … because I was pushed for time.” Both the journalist and the Lancashire team travelled to Leicester overnight but Parkin thought nothing more about it and did not ask the journalist what he wrote when he saw him on the Saturday. But Parkin was shocked when he saw the final article as had neither “said nor authorised any of the things set down.” His journalist did not see any problems, thinking it was a good article, and the two men had an argument about it.

Parkin wanted to ask his captain at Lancashire, Jack Sharp, for advice, but he was a Test selector that season and was at Lord’s for a selection meeting – a meeting at which the selectors refused to even speak Parkin’s name. When he returned, he advised Parkin to write the press statement which appeared that we have already mentioned. Questioned by the Lancashire Committee, Parkin refused to give the name of the journalist who wrote the article nor would he tell the journalist’s employers but he never spoke to him again. But at the Committee’s request, he wrote to Gilligan. The latter’s response, reprinted by Parkin, expressed regret that Parkin did not take up the matter with him personally instead of writing in the press but said that there were no hard feelings. Gilligan expressed further regret that Parkin had got into trouble but suggested that the criticism had hurt him.

Parkin also claimed that he received many letters further mocking him on the subject.

David Foot, in Cricket’s Unholy Trinity, identifies Parkin’s journalist as Johnny Clegg of the Manchester Evening News. But Foot’s research, which included talking to those who knew Clegg, made him think that neither would Clegg have produced such a sensational article without substantial input from Parkin, nor would any journalist effectively end the career of a professional without his approval. Foot speculated that it was a combination of time pressure and misunderstanding, or that Parkin had indeed approved the words.

Parkin’s book contained forewords by both Gilligan and Sharp. Gilligan insisted that “Ciss and I are very good friends and will remain so till both our wickets go down for the last time”, but managed to diplomatically avoid saying if he believed Parkin’s account (“I have been most interested in reading his explanation of the unfortunate Birmingham match, and how the trouble arose.”) Sharp (who does not call him Ciss, but Cecil) backed up Parkin’s version as “accurate” and “correct” based on his inside knowledge of the affair.

Lord Hawke, c 1924
Image: History of Yorkshire County Cricket 1903-1923 (1924) by AW Pullin

That winter, the MCC toured Australia under the captaincy of Gilligan and lost by four games to one, a result which flattered Australia slightly. On 11 January 1925, shortly before the third Test began, Parkin wrote another article critical of Gilligan in the Weekly Dispatch, saying that Gilligan should stand down as captain. His preferred choice was Jack Hobbs, a professional, who he said would have been a far better captain. But conceding that a professional captain was unlikely, he suggested that Percy Chapman, another amateur in the team, should lead the team under the supervision of Hobbs. Gilligan, questioned in Australia, kept a diplomatic silence although the tour manager, Frederick Toone, expressed regret at Parkin’s words. This second attack on Gilligan led to outright condemnation of Parkin. Most famously, Lord Hawke, speaking at Yorkshire’s Annual General Meeting at the end of January, spoke on the matter. He thought Parkin’s action was “beneath contempt”, but, in words that would haunt him for the rest of his life and beyond, said: “Pray God, no professional will ever captain England. I love and admire them all, but we have always had an amateur skipper and when the day comes when we shall have no more amateurs captaining England it will be a thousand pities.” Pelham Warner thought Parkin’s remarks were in “poor taste” and “irritated the whole cricketing world.” He even went as far as to call him a “cricketing Bolshevik”.

Parkin’s second attack on Gilligan rather undermines his account blaming the journalistic ghost-writer for the Birmingham outburst. This second incident led to even more letters of complaint. Parkin maintained that it affected his 1925 benefit match as several figures who routinely subscribed to players’ benefits did not do so for him. His increasing disillusionment led to the termination of his contract by Lancashire in the middle of the following season; it was a mutual decision although Parkin claimed that Lancashire tried to persuade him to change his mind. So ended his county career; he went on to run several hotels and pubs and played in various cricket leagues until he died at the age of 57 of throat cancer in June 1943.

Pardon in Wisden believed that Parkin was justified in his view that Gilligan did not use him well, but did not agree with his actions. In discussing him and the Waddington Incident, he referred to the dismissal of Peel and Newman without naming either player, citing this as a way to deal with indiscipline.

“Pissed at the wicket”: Why was Bobby Peel really sacked in 1897?

Bobby Peel pictured in the mid-1890s (Image: Wikipedia)

Bobby Peel was an all-rounder for Yorkshire in the last decade of the nineteenth century. His record, particularly with the ball, was outstanding. He took 101 wickets in just 20 Tests, all against Australia, and his bowling average of 16.98 remains the seventh-best in Test cricket. On at least two occasions, he bowled England to victory practically single-handedly. A widely-loved player, he was a key figure in the Yorkshire team which won the County Championship in 1893 and 1896. But in 1897, he was effectively sacked by his captain, Lord Hawke, after an incident on the last day of a match at Sheffield against Middlesex. Even now, after 120 years, the events of that day are still mentioned relatively frequently in the cricketing press. Not for any recognition of Peel’s skill but because he was supposedly sacked for urinating on the pitch, mid-match, while drunk. This almost certainly never happened, no matter how many times the tale is retold. What really occurred that afternoon in Sheffield on 18 August 1897?

Peel’s sacking perhaps stuck in cricket’s consciousness for so long because, even at the time, they were a throwback to the past. Cricket in the 1890s was no longer a game for wild men who liked a drink and refused to toe the line. It was now played by the “respectable professional” who was popular with spectators while demonstrating a level of social sophistication that made him acceptable to his amateur counterparts. In other words, men like Peel’s colleague George Hirst; or his successor in the team Wilfred Rhodes; or slightly later by men such as Jack Hobbs.

But in the early days of county cricket, at a time when it was important for the sport’s amateur rulers to stamp their authority on recalcitrant professional cricketers, several men were disciplined for poor behaviour and even sacked. For example, Edward Pooley was suspended by Surrey in 1873 for not trying; Walter Wright (1886) and Frank Shacklock (1893) were suspended by Nottinghamshire. In 1887, Ted Peate was effectively sacked by Yorkshire’s autocratic captain Lord Hawke for his drinking and disruptive influence.

If Peel was by no means that first professional to meet this fate, he was perhaps the last star player before the First World War to be so publicly and irredeemably punished. And he is certainly the only one whose sacking is still talked about. His dismissal was a sensation at the time, and became a cautionary tale to be used by cricket authorities for many years to come. But as time went on, the actual facts of what happened became obscured behind the legend of how he appeared drunk on the pitch, may or may not have bowled a ball in the wrong direction and then urinated before Lord Hawke made him leave the field. And the legend is repeated with surprising frequency, even relatively recently.

For example, Pat Gibson for The Times in 2006, Bill Frindall for the BBC website in 2008, Stephen Brenkley for The Independent in 2012, Patrick Kidd for The Times in 2013 (making comparisons to the incident when England players allegedly “watered the pitch” after winning the Ashes), David Hopps for ESPNcricinfo in 2013 (making comparisons to the incident with Monty Panesar and the bouncer) Max Davidson for The Telegraph in 2014 and Simon Heffer for The Telegraph in 2016 all state as fact that Peel was sacked by Lord Hawke after urinating on the field of play. Harry Pearson in Slipless In Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket (2010) also states as fact that Peel was dismissed for urinating. These re-tellings take fragments from various sources and combine them with little consideration of their origin.

Others have been more cautious. James Cobham, in Lord Hawke: A Cricketing Legend (1990), describes it merely as a story as does Duncan Hamilton in Wisden on Yorkshire: An Anthology (2011). Derek Hodgson, in The Official History of Yorkshire County Cricket Club (1989), remarked: “I have never been convinced of this account because it has always seemed to be so much out of character for a cricketer of that time when so much stress was placed upon behaving ‘like a gentleman’ even in one’s cups.”

What actually happened to Peel is relatively straightforward and can be pieced together from contemporary newspaper reports. It was an open secret that Peel liked to have a drink or two. There was a story – covered, although with no indication of where it came from, in David Frith’s Stoddy’s Mission: The First Great Test Series 1894–1895 (1994) – that Peel had to be sobered up before the final day’s play of the first Test of the 1894-95 Australia v England Test series, whereupon he bowled out Australia on a rain-affected pitch (incidentally, the only other story about Peel that is still retold).

Peel missed several games in the 1897 season before the “incident”. Having played regularly until July, he was injured in a match against Lancashire (played on the 19-21 July); his later account in Cricket (24 May 1900) was that he was injured while batting. This is possible: he scored 48 in Yorkshire’s first innings but bowled just 9 overs out of 134 in Lancashire’s reply and was absent in Yorkshire’s second innings. He missed around a month of cricket – he claimed to have been in bed for three weeks with his injury – before returning against Middlesex at Sheffield on 16-18 August. Cricket (19 August 1897) said that Peel “to the delight of everybody, was making his first reappearance after a long illness.” The Times (17 August 1897) mentioned that he had recovered from a “severe injury.” Incidentally, neither publication mentioned anything else about Peel in that game. In Yorkshire’s first innings, Peel scored 40 out of a total of 366, then took five for 71 in Middlesex’s reply of 247.

The key events took place on the final day, 18 August, which Yorkshire began having scored 29 for one in their second innings. They declared on 182 for six at lunch, leaving Middlesex needing 302 to win with three-and-a-quarter hours remaining; Peel did not bat, despite having batted at number seven in the first innings, although this may have been because the captain, Lord Hawke, wanted to force the pace.

Yorkshire’s captain, Lord Hawke, in 1899 (Image: Wikipedia)

After lunch, Peel bowled just seven overs (for 15 runs) in one spell, and did not bowl again although Middlesex scored 219 for two before play ended. Only two unusual incidents seemed to occur: Lord Hawke went off the pitch at one point (Bradford Daily Telegraph, 19 August 1897), and Peel later admitted that he slipped over twice while fielding. The next day, press reports appeared on the game itself. Nothing particularly drew the attention of the press in the following day’s reports. Although it is possible they were being discreet, they did not say that Peel left the field.

The report in the Yorkshire Post (19 August 1897) only said that “Peel was obviously not bowling with his usual accuracy and was taken off in favour of Mr Milligan.” Most newspapers, such as The Times or the Manchester Guardian, were silent. For example, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph (19 August 1897) did not find anything at all to say about Peel’s part in the second innings other than that he took the new ball. Another report (later quoted by Peel) may have said that he was “unable to do justice to his team or his own talents.” While the Leeds Mercury (19 August 1897) said nothing untoward in its report on the game, a short article appeared underneath with the headline “Yorkshire Team Against Derbyshire. Peel Suspended. Regrettable Incident of the Middlesex Match.” The article stated:

“With respect to Peel the cricket public will learn with great regret that he has been suspended for the remainder of the season. Grave dissatisfaction with Peel was felt yesterday by the Yorkshire captain during the Middlesex second innings, and as the result of a consultation between Lord Hawke and the Yorkshire county officials present in the Pavilion, it was decided to suspend him from taking further part in Yorkshire cricket this season. Doubtless his case will come before a meeting of the full committee for consideration before he is reinstated, if, indeed, reinstatement takes place at all, for we have reason to believe that very strong feelings on the subject of Peel’s conduct are entertained in influential quarters.”

The Hull Daily Mail on the same day carried a briefer report on Peel’s suspension and remarked that as he was Yorkshire’s main bowler, supporters were worried about the effect on the team. The Sporting Chronicle (in a report carried by several newspapers, such as the South Wales Echo on 19 August) stated:

“A very unpleasant incident, and one seriously affecting Peel’s position in the Yorkshire team, occurred at Sheffield yesterday. During the progress of the match between Yorkshire and Middlesex it was seen that Peel was unable to do himself justice. He was only allowed to bowl a few overs, though Middlesex were scoring freely. Eventually Lord Hawke left the field, and had a consultation with some members of the County Committee. The result is that Peel is suspended for the rest of the season, and his relations with the county will probably be the subject of consideration by the committee as a whole.”

This seems to have emerged through unofficial channels as there is no indication of Yorkshire making a statement. But it was true: in Headingley Ghosts (2013), Mick Pope states the Committee met on that final day – presumably when Hawke left the field – and that the minutes recorded that “to consider the conduct of R Peel in presenting himself on the field in a state of intoxication, it was resolved to suspend him for the remainder of the season.”

Although it is possible that the “unpleasant incident” refers to something specific, it is more likely that it was just the fact that Peel was not sober; there is no indication in any of the reports, however, that he left the field at any point. On the morning of the 19 August, as the story began to emerge, a representative of the Leeds Daily News approached Peel at home. Peel was happy to give his side of the story:

“‘The best thing I can do’ said ‘Bobby’ ‘is to run over yesterday’s events in few words: Before I went on the ground at Sheffield – I don’t blush say it – had two small glasses of gin and water. At luncheon time I had nothing. At twenty minutes past two Hayman and Warner opened the innings for Middlesex: Mr Jackson and I began the bowling. When I had been bowling about half-an-hour I was taken off and was followed by Mr Milligan.'”

The reporter asked if anything was said to him at this point.

‘Not one single word,’ Peel emphatically replied, ‘I went on fielding until I slipped on one knee and I will show you the cause of that.’ From a large bag which stood close to the parlour door, Peel produced the left shoe belonging to the pair which he said had worn on Wednesday on the Sheffield ground. He called my attention to the fact that three of the spikes were gone and another bent.
‘That happened,’ went on the popular cricketer, ‘between the time when Mr Jackson and I started bowling and the time when I was relieved by Mr Milligan. I slipped once more from the same cause – no proper bite on the ground – but did not entirely fall.’

Again, there is no indication that Peel left, or was asked to leave, the field at any point. However, Peel seemed to be at pains to explain away his “slip”. This may point to what actually occurred: was he too drunk to field without falling over? His interviewer seemed to pick up on this point, asking: “Were you spoken to by anyone about this slipping?” Peel continued:

“Not at all. I never heard a word of complaint, nor ever expected a whisper that kind until, at the close the match, when Mr Wostinholm [Yorkshire’s secretary] paid me my money, he said, ‘Peel, I am sorry to tell you that your services will not be needed any more this season.’ I was astonished, and I asked Mr Wostinholm what it all meant. He answered that my play had not been satisfactory. When I pressed him to explain, said, ‘You have had a glass too much.’ I denied the charge, but it was all no use. So I left the ground in the company of Phillips and West, the Middlesex scorers. I went then to the hotel where I usually put up, and was seen a number of persons who were highly indignant at the treatment I had received, and whom I can call to prove that I was perfectly sober.”

According to Peel, no other person – not Hawke, not a Committee member – said any more to him about it. This seems to have been a straightforward, if unfortunate, incident. Despite his indignant denials, and professed ignorance as to why he was suspended, he was too drunk to bowl or field effectively.

The irony is that the press had not made any mention of drink at this point – Cricket, in the first issue after Peel’s suspension, simply said that Peel “has been suspended by the Yorkshire committee for the rest of the reason for reasons upon which it is not necessary to enter here.” When the same publication interviewed Peel nearly three years later to discuss his career (24 May 1900), it said, incorrectly: “As for the reasons for his withdrawal from the team they have never been made public, and it would serve no good purpose to refer to them here.” Peel, in the interview, claimed that, after taking five wickets in the Middlesex first innings, “The next thing that I knew was that I was not to play again for Yorkshire. No reason was ever given to me, and as I have never known who was responsible, I have never made any accusations, and it is not my nature to complain.” Peel had conveniently forgotten his first interview, and that it was he who brought to wider attention the reason for his suspension.

George Hirst c. 1906 (Image: Wikipedia)

Contrary to modern retellings, there is no indication that Peel was escorted from the pitch. The first muddying of the waters came when George Hirst, who played in that match, told AA Thomson about the incident which the writer reproduced in his book Hirst and Rhodes (1959) published after the death of Peel in 1942 and Hirst in 1954. Thomson or Hirst get a few details wrong, but this is how Thomson tells the tale:

“It happened, I think, at Chesterfield, and George Hirst was having breakfast in the professionals’ modest hotel before setting off for the ground to begin the match. To him staggered in Bobby Peel in what Hirst, as he unfolded the narrative, paradoxically described as a ‘proper condition’. Peel at the time had two major interests: one was cricket, the other was less reputable … Peel had a strong weakness for the bottle, not merely in the evening, which is allowable within reason, but occasionally in the morning, which is inconvenient for all concerned. George Hirst … was not censorious, but he was deeply concerned lest his colleague should be, as he called it, ‘caught in the act’, and thus bring disgrace on himself and on the team. At all costs Bobby must be got back to bed. At first cajolingly and then forcefully, but always with good temper, Hirst propelled his charge upstairs, undressed him in the most comradely manner, and put him to bed. This deed of mercy completed, Hirst hurried to the ground, changed, and sought audience with his captain.”

According to Thomson, Hirst told Hawke that Peel had been taken ill in the night and sent his apologies. Hawke was sympathetic and promised, as was his practice in such situations, to go and see Peel in the evening.

“He then called for the twelfth man and, having lost the toss, led his men into the field. As they converged upon the middle Hirst saw with dawning dismay that there were not eleven fieldsmen present but twelve. There, his face red, his cap awry, the ball in his hand, stood Bobby Peel, in an even ‘properer’ condition than before. Hirst told me that he simply dared not glance in Lord Hawke’s direction: he merely heard him say:
‘Leave the field at once, Peel.’
‘Not at all, my lord,’ replied Bobby with respectful cheerfulness; ‘I’m in fine form this morning.’
Whereupon he turned away from the wicket, solemnly took his run up, and delivered an elaborately cunning ball in the direction of the sightscreen. I am not precisely clear as to what happened next, but I imagine Peel was then led quietly away and that few people realised that a serious breach of discipline had occurred. In the evening Hirst found the delinquent sleeping it off and in the morning he was truculent.
‘You must write an apology to his lordship at once,’ said Hirst.
‘That I never will.’
‘Then you’re finished, Bobby.’
‘Niver i’ this world,’ retorted Peel; ‘they’ll have to send for me; they can’t do without me.'”

Thomson says that Hirst pleaded in vain, and told him: “His lordship sent for him all right, but only to give him the sack officially, and who was the sorriest out of us three, I wouldn’t like to say … But Lord Hawke was for ever sorry that Bobby had to go, and when they met later, at Scarborough and such places, they were the best of friends, and neither of them said a word against the other.”

This is usually the story told as the more moderate alternative to the urination story: for example, Cobham uses it as fact in his biography of Lord Hawke. But there are a few problems with this account. Mistakes such as the location of the match (Chesterfield), and the day (the first) and time (in the morning) the “incident” took place could be slips in the memory (Thomson places the retelling “at least fifty years” after it happened, which would also be over ten years before he wrote the book), but there is no indication that Peel bowled the ball the wrong way in any contemporary account. The conversation between Hirst and Peel afterwards cannot have taken place the following day as Peel was suspended on the same day as the “incident”. Perhaps the content of those conversations really happened, and maybe Hirst did try to prevent Peel turning up. Or it is possible that Hirst was recalling a conversation on a different occasion when Peel was “unwell” before or during a match. The discrepancies led David Warner, in The Sweetest Rose: 150 Years of Yorkshire County Cricket Club (2012), to suggest that Peel was actually dismissed from the field at the start of game following the one at Sheffield, against Derbyshire. However, contemporary newspapers make it clear that the “incident” occurred on the final day of the Middlesex match.

So where did the urination story come from? The following detail comes from Pope’s Headingley Ghosts (I have not seen either of the articles quoted by Pope). The claim originated in an article by the historian Rowland Bowen in an article published in his Cricket Quarterly journal, “Fresh Light on the Dismissal of R Peel in 1897”, in the summer 1968 issue. Bowen had found “an aged Yorkshireman of 85” who told him that Peel was sent off because “he urinated on the wicket. The said informant assures us that this was quite a common occurrence in those days.” It seems incredible that from these few (fairly implausible) lines, the whole edifice of Bobby Peel urinating on the pitch while drunk has been built. Even with the most generous interpretation, it is taking as fact the recollection of an 85-year-old remembering something from 71 years before when he was around 14. Pope continues to unravel the story in Headingley Ghosts: Bowen’s “fresh light” was investigated by Irving Rosenwater. In his article “An Unjust Slur on Bobby Peel”, published in 1997 in White Rose magazine and later in a privately published book, Rosenwater wrote (quoted by Pope):

“Bowen’s printed version, it should be said, did not come to him from the 85-year-old. It came to him second-hand. And this came to him with all the dangers that a second-hand version is capable of carrying … The 85-year-old did not say that Peel urinated; and did not use the word ‘urinate’ at all. He used the phrase ‘pissed at the wicket’, the first word being the slang word for ‘drunk’ – i.e. that Peel was drunk at the wicket. It was confirmation of what was already known, not the ‘fresh light’ that The Cricket Quarterly claimed.”

Although there is no way of being certain this seems a reasonable explanation for the story: Bowen simply misunderstood what his “source” meant by “pissed at the wicket”. This is far more convincing, given the contemporary evidence, than thinking Peel did actually urinate. There may be a moral here about taking a more cautious approach to the evidence when writing about cricket history.

Perhaps fortunately, Peel never knew of this story. Following his suspension, he seems to have thought his Yorkshire career was over (despite what Hirst later said) as within a week of the incident, he was in negotiations with Accrington Cricket Club to play for them in 1898 (Liverpool Echo, 26 August 1897). The Yorkshire Evening Post (26 August 1897) reported:

“[Peel] regards his suspension from the Yorkshire team, without having had an opportunity of explaining himself before the county committee, as anything but fair and says that although his suspension has been officially stated to be only to the end of the season, he has fully made up his mind that it shall be permanent as far as he is concerned … He has simply accepted the appointment now rather than hold himself open for engagements till the best places had been filled and that what he has done is in the best interests of himself and his family.”

There seems to have been some concern that Accrington had “poached” Peel, and a representative of the club told a meeting of the Lancashire League clubs that the agreement he had signed specified that he would only play for Accrington if no longer required by Yorkshire (Yorkshire Post, 8 November 1897). But there was little chance of Yorkshire wanting him. In October, the list of players who would receive winter pay was announced and Peel’s name was absent (Hull Daily Mail, 7 October 1897). The following February, in a speech at Scarborough, Lord Hawke said that Peel would not play for Yorkshire again as long as he was captain. Hawke, who felt he “had done all he could and could do no more”, only made the statement as he said he was being constantly questioned about Peel’s fate (Yorkshire Evening Post, 9 February 1898).

Peel was not the first nor the last player to have problems with alcohol. Usually, these problems were far less public, reflected by a dropping off in performance or behaviour away from the field of play. Among Peel’s contemporaries, Surrey’s Bill Lockwood suffered similarly from alcoholism, in his case provoked by personal tragedy when his wife and son died in close succession. Twice, in 1897 and 1901, he was threatened with the sack but sent to “dry out” and managed to recover and keep his place in the team. Unlike Peel, however, Lockwood does not seem to have been drunk on the field of play and could be dealt with away from the gaze of the press and public. The finality of Hawke’s decision, and his phrasing in his speech, suggest that this was in fact the final straw after many such offences which perhaps, like Lockwood’s, had been handled discreetly.

Peel just played for Accrington for one season. According to Harry Pearson, in Slipless in Settle (2010), Peel took 80 wickets but had two thirds of his salary withheld for unspecified reasons (Pearson seems to be quoting from committee minutes). There was no shortage of gossip; when he missed three weeks of cricket in June, the Yorkshire Evening Post said that, despite the usual “irresponsible gossip [that] has imagined various reasons for his absence”, he had injured his big toe and had required surgery (13 June 1898). Perhaps it is not difficult to guess why Peel just lasted one season. Peel went on to play for Morley and coached for a few seasons at Essex, although resisting any temptation to return to first-class cricket. He went on to become the landlord of a pub, but maintained some connections with Yorkshire.

Peel pictured c. 1905 (Image: Wikipedia)

A coaching and scouting scheme was organised by the Yorkshire Evening News in 1923 which Peel, along with George Hirst, took part in. He attended the funeral of Roy Kilner in 1928 and saw off the four Yorkshire players taking part in the 1932-33 Ashes tour of Australia from Leeds station. He even attended the memorial service for Lord Hawke in 1938, so maybe he didn’t hold a grudge. He has been quoted in various places as saying “[Lord Hawke] put his arm around me and escorted me off the field and out of Yorkshire cricket. What a gentleman.” But as usual, there is no original source for such a quote and it should be taken as doubtful. Particularly as Hawke didn’t escort him anywhere. Peel continued to play cricket until very late in life, and later worked in a mill in Morley. He died in 1942, when his Wisden obituary simply said that he was “sent off the field by Lord Hawke during a game at Bramall Lane and suspended for the remainder of the 1897 season.”

By the time that the First World War brought cricket to a halt, most professionals were well-behaved. Anyone who rocked the boat, like Sydney Barnes, did not have a long career in county cricket – although Barnes was too good to be ostracised completely and was eventually picked for England despite not playing for a first-class county. But that does not mean that there were not those in later years who pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Just no-one ever did so as publicly as Peel.

“A storm of controversy broke out, the like of which I have never seen”: The sacking of APF Chapman in 1930

Jack Hobbs and Chapman batting in the 1930 series
Image: Wikipedia

Percy Chapman had captained England for the first three Tests of the 1930 Ashes series. By this stage, he had led England eleven times in Tests, winning nine, losing one and drawing one. With a record as formidable as this, it is hard to see how his position could be in any danger. He was the outstanding fielder in the England team and had a habit of taking seemingly impossible catches. The weak point of his game, at that stage of his career, was his batting. But in the ongoing series, he had produced his best form for England with the bat, scoring what was to be his only Test century at Lord’s and batting well in the other two matches. The only potential worry was that, during the second Test, some of his tactics had been questioned (although these are mainly reported in accounts published after the series was over). Remarkably, after one more Test, Chapman was sacked. This decision has been debated for nearly 90 years now, even in recent books by Leo McKinstry and Simon Wilde. Why was Chapman sacked?

The fourth Test seems to have made the difference. Once more the selectors made changes to the bowling attack. Harold Larwood was dropped in favour of MS Nichols, a bowler not quite in the same class but who was on the fringes of the England team for much of the 1930s. In a change of tactical direction, the Gloucestershire off-spinner Trevor Goddard was included. As there was a sense that Donald Bradman – whose scores in the series had been 8, 131, 254, 1 and 334 – was vulnerable to leg-spin, the young Middlesex bowler Ian Peebles was, somewhat surprisingly, chosen.

Ian Peebles
Image: The Bystander (13 August 1930)

The game itself was ruined by rain: Australia scored 345 when they should have been dismissed for fewer (the selectors again came under fire for omitting a slow-left-arm bowler). Peebles removed Bradman for 14, an innings in which he looked uncomfortable in unfamiliar batting conditions. England scored 251 for eight before rain ended proceedings. Chapman scored only 1 run, but his figures for the series remained good: this was the only match in which he had failed outright with the bat. However, something now seems to have prompted the selectors, and parts of the cricketing establishment, to decide that Chapman should not captain.

The contemporary reports on the fourth Test are the most critical written about Chapman in the whole series. In The Cricketer (2 August), Chapman was again criticised by Pelham Warner (writing anonymously) for using bowlers to field in the deep, where they had to chase the ball and, according to received wisdom at the time, waste energy they required to bowl well (Although In the same issue, “Second Slip” reserved criticism for the selectors, noting the lack of a left-arm spinner, but had nothing to say on the captain).

Warner was more explicit in The Fight for The Ashes in 1930, providing nearly two pages of extended criticism. Much of this book came from Warner’s articles for The Morning Post, written as the series progressed. He argued that Chapman’s tactics were poor and he got his field placings for the leg-spinner Ian Peebles wrong: he did not place enough men in the deep; the lack of an extra-cover for Peebles cost England 60 to 70 runs; Chapman over-used the silly-point position, which left gaps in the field exploited by the Australian batsmen and wasted his own abilities fielding there when no Australian looked like giving him a catch; the mid-on when Peebles was bowling should have been wider to take account of his googly. Warner concluded: “Chapman, on this occasion, appeared unobservant and lacking in tactical sense … Both at Lord’s and in this match Chapman was not his real self as captain.” Interestingly, as he had with Allen at Lord’s, Warner excused the bowler for any part in these errors: in Allen’s case, he was exhausted from fielding in the deep; Peebles was too young to be expected to set an effective field. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that both bowlers were young amateurs from Warner’s old county, Middlesex. Warner did not bother to defend Maurice Tate or Tom Goddard. Possibly some of his ire came from his wish to protect two young amateurs who were very much under his wing.

In his 1985 biography of Chapman, David Lemmon implies that Warner only became critical of Chapman during the fourth Test as a way of supporting the selectors, of whom he argues that Warner was careful in his criticisms, having an eye to rejoining their number the following season. Lemmon wrote that, after the fourth Test, “Warner, who had ears in so many cricket camps, was preparing the path for what was to happen.” In fact, before the final Test, when news had leaked out that Chapman was to be dropped, Warner felt the need to deny in the Morning Post (reprinted in the Gloucester Citizen, 12 August 1930) that he had inside knowledge of what the selectors had done and knew Chapman had been dropped. Warner claimed that, even if he had been told things, he would be honour bound to remain silent (Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the British Newspaper Archive has not yet digitised the relevant copies of the Morning Post, and I have only been able to use Warner’s reports as reprinted in Fight for the Ashes or reprinted in other newspapers).

By this argument, Warner became suddenly over-critical of the England captain to provide some justification for the selectors to drop Chapman. The question becomes one of the chicken and the egg: was Chapman dropped by the selectors (who told Warner their plan) for the reasons Warner was writing, or was Warner critical because the selectors already wanted to drop Chapman? It may be revealing that, other than a passage about the second Test, Warner’s main criticisms of Chapman come in his reports on the fourth Test and in the opening and closing sections of his book, written when the series was over. But Warner was not the only one with reservations.

Percy Fender, in The Tests of 1930, is more balanced, but he too came down against Chapman in his review of the fourth Test (and Fender had no reason to favour the selectors or to take any particular side. Indeed, he was far more critical of selection than Warner). He believed that Peebles was overbowled, but partially excused Chapman on the grounds that the bowler was causing problems for the Australian batsmen so “it was very difficult at the time to know just what to do.” Fender found plenty of reasons to be critical though, suggesting that Chapman should have placed both a second slip and a forward short leg more often, and that he should have bowled Goddard more. Fender also wrote: “As in all previous Tests, Chapman was again faulty in his placing of individual fielders.” He made a particular point of criticising the use of bowlers in the deep. Fender concluded: “Chapman did not have a good match as captain.”

An early call (other than any prior knowledge hinted at in Warner’s writing) that Chapman might be dropped came from Cardus in the Manchester Guardian. Cardus continued, as he had all series, to be grumpy about the strength of the English bowling and criticised the selectors for their choice of bowlers (particularly the preference for Goddard’s off-spin over a left-arm spinner). More interesting was his opinion written on the last day as the match fizzled out to a draw in the rain: discussing the weakness of England’s batting in the game and the series he wrote: “something certainly ought to be done to put an end to a ‘tail’ consisting of Chapman, Tate, Peebles, Goddard, and Duckworth … The weak spot in the batting is, of course, Chapman; it is to be doubted, too, whether he is a good captain. We cannot, however, change the leadership at this time of the day.” His criticism came somewhat out of the blue as most of Cardus’ complaints throughout the series were about England’s bowling, not its leadership. It is also slightly harsh on Chapman’s batting as he was averaging 43.16 in the series and third in England’s Test batting averages at the time. And Cardus was mistaken in saying that the captain could not be changed.

Many years later, Peebles wrote about the Test in his autobiography, Spinner’s Yarn (1977). Hardly a modest man, he described his duel with Bradman in detail, but also had a little to say on Chapman:

“Percy Chapman came in for a lot of adverse criticism, chiefly on account of his field placing for me. He loved to field at silly mid-off right on the bat, which he did with the utmost brilliance, but I sorely needed an extra cover against batting of this calibre. Thus I was largely the unwitting cause of Percy’s downfall.”

He also wrote, when discussing the dropping of Chapman:

“No one regarded him as a particularly subtle tactician, and it would have seemed out of character for him to have been so, but he was a sound captain, and one whom his team would follow with a cheerful smile.”

Although, perhaps unsurprisingly, largely echoing Warner’s interpretation of events, Peebles partially attributed Australia’s success (and hence Chapman’s removal) to the batting of Bradman, the perfection of English pitches in 1930, and the addition of an extra day to Test matches.

Therefore, after the fourth Test, Chapman’s position suddenly looked a little vulnerable. To complicate matters, as the series was tied at one game apiece, the final Test was to be played to a finish – an Australian-style “timeless Test” (All four Ashes series in England between 1926 and 1938 finished in this fashion, a playing condition introduced before the war for if the series was alive going into the final match). Fender believed that this played straight into the hands of the Australians (he also thought four-day games favoured their approach, and suggested that after the second Test, the team played for draws to engineer a timeless decider).

According to Lemmon, a few writers suspected something was afoot to remove Chapman. There are few indications of what transpired at the selection meeting for the crucial game, other than a disagreement over whether AP Freeman should be included in the team (he wasn’t: the Chairman of Selectors HDG Leveson-Gower and Wilfred Rhodes won the argument). Alan Gibson wrote in The Cricket Captains of England (1979): “Leveson-Gower was generally held to blame for the choice [to sack Chapman], though he later denied that he had given the casting vote. Indeed, he added, not once during the season did he have to cast a vote at all, something unique in his experience.” This seems to have been based on an interview he gave at the end of the season (see for example Derby Daily Telegraph, 23 August 1930).

RES Wyatt in 1930
Image: Wikipedia

When the team was announced, Chapman was out and Wyatt was in. To no-one’s great surprise, the news leaked before it was announced, and a (false) story circulated that Chapman only found out by hearing it on the radio. There was an outcry in the press; even the ultra-establisment Times came out in support of Chapman. Wyatt received many angry letters, including one threatening to shoot him if he dared accept the role.

Few had seen it coming. For example, an article by the Daily Express cricket correspondent William Pollock published in The Bystander a few days before the fifth Test, argued that if you were choosing a combined England-Australia team, one of the players “you could not leave out” would be Chapman. Trevor Wignall of the Daily Express also could not believe that anyone would contemplate dropping the captain. Even Cardus, who thought Chapman deserved to be dropped, did not think the selectors could do so for the final Test.

Warner wrote that “a storm of controversy broke out, the like of which I have never seen”, and was very critical of the sensational way the press reported the story. He was particularly critical when Chapman gave an interview to the Daily Mail which carried the headline “Why have I been dropped?” According to the article, Chapman had been told that the batting needed strengthening, but Warner was not convinced that Chapman was the one who responsible for the words, suggesting that he had been mis-quoted (but it is more likely he was “ghost-written”). Chapman subsequently wrote about the Test for the Daily Mail (and Warner agreed that the reports were fair) but stories circulated about how much he was being paid for doing so. Warner concluded that Chapman was being “used as a stunt” and deplored the damage done to the England captaincy. Even Alan Gibson, although very much in favour of Chapman against the selectors, conceded: “All the same, we may think that the appearance of such an interview gave the selectors’ decision some retrospective justification.”

Warner had more to say about the matter once the series was over. His summary of the matter at the beginning of his book made clear his own opinion:

“The question of captaincy seems to gather round it a storm of personalities which must have a very bad effect on the morale, prestige and high traditions of the game. A ‘stunt’ [i.e. Chapman’s newspaper writing after being sacked] is nearly always inaccurate and always vulgar.”

Wyatt and Chapman remained friendly, and Chapman was a guest in the England dressing room during the match at the invitation of Wyatt. England lost, and would probably have done so whoever had captained as Bradman scored another double century and England were caught on a rain-affected pitch on the fourth and final day. The crowd gave Wyatt a great welcome when he came out to bat, and he shared a long partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe which rescued England’s first innings. As it happens, Wyatt only captained in this one game, as Chapman returned (as already arranged) for the winter tour of South Africa and then Douglas Jardine took over; Wyatt resumed the captaincy (with little success) in 1934 and 1935.

And so we return to the question: why was he sacked? There was no shortage of opinions among the players and press. As we have seen, Peebles attributed it to how Chapman had handled his bowling. Bob Wyatt, writing in Three Straight Sticks (1951), suggested that Chapman had lost the job because:

“First of all there was a feeling that his rather carefree, dashing style of batting was too risky. If it came off, well and good, but he too often was out cheaply from taking risks. Again, he hadn’t shown sufficient appreciation of the difference between three-day and four-day matches. We ought not, for instance, to have lost the match at Lord’s. After Duleepsinhji had made a century in that match Chapman told him to go for the bowling, when it would have been wiser to have thought more of the final total.”

Maybe Wyatt had the inside line from the selectors, but the argument is not entirely watertight. Chapman’s batting in 1930 could be used either to support or condemn him. His admirers would have pointed out that he was third in the England batting averages and was having his best series for England with the bat. The alternative view (probably held by Cardus) was that, although Chapman was statistically successful with the bat in 1930, his innings appear to have been chancy. Perhaps the selectors finally realised that they needed some solid batting (which would be provided by Wyatt) that Chapman was unable to supply, despite his successes in the series.

While Wyatt may have had a point in terms of Chapman’s tactics, the main criticisms were not that he could not understand four-day matches but that he could not set a field or handle his attack. The press (and Warner) had suggested several times that Chapman should have made daring declarations during the series, tactics suited to three-day games but not four-day ones. Given that the establishment seemed to have little idea how to win a four-day Test, it is unlikely they would sack Chapman for being too adventurous. Warner even suggested in his reports that he was too tied to the tactical approach that succeeded in Australia and had not adapted to playing Tests in England; in this case, a timeless Test would better suit his captaincy. If England’s batting was cavalier at times, as Fender pointed out in his review of the Lord’s match, the selectors chose batsmen whose temperament was to play risky cricket.

Percy Fender
Image: Wikipedia

However, Percy Fender certainly believed the reason lay with Chapman’s tactics. In his conclusions to The Tests of 1930, Fender approved of the captaincy change and believed that Wyatt captained better than Chapman in the final Test; however, he did not believe that the captaincy of either men could be held responsible for the series loss. He praised Chapman’s fielding throughout, but disagreed that he was worth his place for this alone. He believed that his placing of bowlers in the deep (although acknowledging the team he was given made it hard to avoid, Fender thought he could have done more) and his bowling changes were poor in the third and fourth Tests. He argued that that the decline of Larwood and Tate compared to their form in Australia placed a greater demand on Chapman’s captaincy than had previously been the case. In Australia, he “had little more to do than place his field” and Fender implies that the tactical considerations needed to overcome the approach of the Australians and the batting of Bradman in 1930 were simply beyond his captaincy.

Perhaps the most interesting opinion is expressed in Leo McKinstry’s Jack Hobbs: England’s Greatest Cricketer (2011). Unfortunately, the writer gives no indication of his sources. McKinstry repeats Wyatt’s line (without attribution) about Chapman’s batting. He then quotes Percy Fender (without attribution but seemingly from The Tests of 1930) as criticising Chapman’s use of Ian Peebles in the fourth Test and suggesting he was “slow on the uptake” over the setting of slip fielders. McKinstry then says:

“In the Cricketer Plum Warner, always a barometer of establishment opinion, argued that Chapman ‘is not the tactician he was’ and had given away 70 runs in the field with his poor deployment of his men.”

A minor point, but Warner did not write this in The Cricketer, but in the Morning Post and/or The Fight for the Ashes. There was little outright criticism of Chapman in the pages of The Cricketer at all that summer, and surprisingly little coverage of when he was dropped. McKinstry here seems to be following Lemmon’s argument, but getting slightly muddled in the process. But he goes on to make a bold claim, that does not appear to have been suggested elsewhere:

“But another, more personal factor was at work, hidden from public view. This was the mounting disapproval official circles towards Chapman’s enthusiasm for alcohol, which some felt was undermining his leadership ability and setting poor example. There were whispers that at Old Trafford he had not been entirely sober every session, and a few eyebrows were raised at his eagerness to attend the after-dinner parties jointly hosted by the cartoonist Tom Webster and the playwright Ben Travers in their Manchester hotel.”

As usual, McKinstry does not give any sources. Nor does he say where the “whispers” come from. Nowhere else, including in Lemmon’s biography, which hardly pulls its punches over his alcoholism, is there any suggestion that Chapman was drunk on the field in that fourth Test. Perhaps he is extrapolating from stories about Chapman’s captaincy of Kent in the mid-1930s when he was not always sober and sometimes left the field to get a drink. The tale about the after-dinner parties comes from Travers in his 94 Declared: Cricket Reminiscences (1981). Travers had this to say about the 1930 series:

“But what really mattered at Manchester was what used to take place at the hotel after dinner. Percy Chapman and some of the team with Tom Webster and myself, would foregather in the lounge. Maurice Tate was always the centre of attraction … But he was always unabashed and forthcoming and was the first to join in the laughter which was long and loud at times. Chapman was never given a hint that these proceedings were regarded with great disfavour by the selectors. They couldn’t and didn’t have any suspicions or accusations as regards the booze: they simply didn’t think that Percy Chapman was conducting himself as an England captain should. The result was that he was given the sack. When the team for the Oval was announced he was out and Bob Wyatt appointed captain.

This caused a public sensation and, although nothing came out in the press about the Manchester after-dinner coteries, I was told that a prominent Middlesex amateur, a disciple no doubt of Plum Warner, was heard to snort his contempt for ‘Tom Webster and Ben Travers, the two who lost England the Ashes.'”

Travers analysed the matter a little more, concluding that Chapman’s success with the bat and captaincy were not the cause, “so his sacking must have been an act of what my children’s old Nanny used to refer to as ‘dispsipline [sic].'” He suggested that Jack White, as one of the selectors, could not have been a party to the sacking and “perhaps he was out-voted.”

There may be something here which indicates possible concerns of the selectors. Lemmon makes no mention of this incident, nor does he seem to have consulted Travers’ book. Maybe Travers is hinting that Chapman was a little worse for wear at these events. His description of the Middlesex amateur, and probable disciple of Warner, could have been Walter Robins, Gubby Allen or Ian Peebles, but it is unlikely any disciple of Warner would have thought that Chapman’s captaincy would have won the match at the Oval.

From this, McKinstry has concluded that Chapman was sacked for drunkenness. But would someone sacked for such an issue be retained as captain for the winter tour to South Africa? Or would they have been quietly removed altogether? This may simply have been a case of later writers (McKinstry and/or Travers) looking at how Chapman’s life ended and reaching back to find reasons for something that was fairly inexplicable. Is there any other possible evidence to support this?

In his final thoughts on the series in Fight for the Ashes, Warner said that Chapman had captained well in the first and third Tests but failed badly in the other two. He was “at a complete loss” to explain “a man of great experience showing a lamentable falling off.” He advised that Chapman study tactics and strategy more carefully. As already noted, Warner may have had his own reasons for denigrating Chapman’s captaincy but there could be an argument for saying that, if you read very carefully between the lines, Warner was hinting that some outside factor – like alcohol – impacted on Chapman’s leadership. But that is stretching the evidence probably past breaking point.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor
by Bassano Ltd, 3 December 1935
NPG x31178

There was, however, one bizarre follow-up to the question of alcohol. The first female Member of Parliament, Nancy Astor, was a well-known critic of alcohol and frequently tried to persuade Parliament to follow the American model of Prohibition. In February 1931, while Chapman was captaining England in Australia, she made a speech which her biographer, Christopher Sykes, described as one which “brought her into immense temporary unpopularity out of all proportion to the event. It was one of the most ludicrous episodes of her life.” At the second reading of an MPs private member’s bill aiming to bring Prohibition to Britain, as part of a slightly rambling speech, Astor said “that the reason England lost the Ashes was that the Australians did not drink.” The outcry among MPs was followed by one in the wider press. Several Australian cricketers disassociated themselves from her remarks and her stance towards alcohol. Yorkshire’s Lord Hawke defended the England team in a speech shortly after, at which he pointed out that several Australians on the winning team were drinkers, while several of the England team hardly touched alcohol. Less convincingly with hindsight, although he must have been aware that what he said was untrue, he described Chapman as a teetotaller (Yorkshire Post, 7 March 1931). Although it was simply a coincidence that Astor used the publicity surrounding the Ashes, the loss of which had been a huge story, to support one of her personal convictions, it cannot have been a comfortable one for Chapman.

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Yorkshire’s President Lord Hawke with Chapman
at the end-of-season Scarborough Festival in 1930

Eventually, the controversy over Chapman’s replacement with Wyatt died down. Later writers were less inclined to agree with the selectors. For example, Alan Gibson in 1979 wrote: “It does seem, after all these years, an odd decision to have taken.” He summarised the whole affair:

“In 1930, despite the occasional criticisms, Chapman’s position did not seem in any danger. He was still the popular, boyish, debonair hero. He had been having his most successful series with the bat, and as a close fiejdsman England still did not contain his equal. He could not seriously be blamed because the English bowlers could not get Bradman out (though this was perhaps more apparent in retrospect than at the time).”

EM Wellings wrote in a 1986 article “Unthanked Captains” in Wisden Cricket Monthly:

“While winning, Chapman was the game’s darling. Then Bradman matured, and Chapman could no longer win so regularly. In 1930 he was also was ousted after the fourth Test. He had done nothing obviously wrong, and at one win each the series was still in the balance. Moreover he was also dropped from the side, although lying third with 43.16 to Sutcliffe and Duleepsinhji in the England averages and despite his superb fielding.”

Michael Marshall in Gentlemen and Players (1987) thought that Chapman, like Carr in 1926, “was unlucky to be superseded”. Most recently, however, Simon Wilde in England: The Biography (2018) followed the line taken by McKinstry (his book is in the bibliography but Lemmon’s is not) that alcohol probably lay behind the sacking as well as the (probably more accurate) belief that “his grip on tactics, never profound, failed him under the onslaught of Don Bradman’s bat”.

But the very fact that so many different opinions have been expressed indicates that the selectors’ reasoning was not obvious. More than one writer has drawn a comparison between the sacking of Chapman in 1930 and the sacking of Arthur Carr in 1926 which gave him the job in the first place. But unlike Carr, who had made demonstrable mistakes in the series, Chapman had made no glaring errors: until the fourth Test at least, there was hardly a unanimous view on what, if anything, Chapman was doing wrong.

So the various reasons given for his sacking have been: unreliable batting; poor tactics; unsuitability of batting/captaincy for a timeless Test; drunkenness; and punishment for indiscretions. The first two, or a combination of the first three, are perhaps the most likely. The most common criticism in 1930, at least among the analytically minded, was that Chapman made tactical errors. Chapman simply did not have any answers to Bradman. Maybe Chapman was starting to look slightly out of his depth, particularly when Australia outplayed England in the fourth Test despite Bradman’s failure. Either by accident or design, maybe Warner really was leaking the reasoning of the selectors.

But perhaps the selectors, remembering how successful it had been to drop the captain for the deciding Test in 1926, thought that their best chance was to do the same again. Make a change, and hope for the best. The years of subsequent argument and looking for reasons may be somewhat futile: it may simply have been a whim of the selectors, a last throw of the dice to try and recreate the magic of 1926. Or maybe they wished to make the England team and captaincy more efficient and organised, even if it was a strange time to make the attempt.

For Wyatt was a very different character to Chapman, or as Gibson said, “a figure markedly lacking in glamour”. Although an amateur, he was a dour and seemingly unfriendly figure; he batted like a professional and his captaincy was orthodox. He did not attend a Public School, nor a university. If the selectors were looking for someone with more discipline and control than Chapman, he was the kind of person they would look for. As was Douglas Jardine, on whom they settled as captain from 1931. Christopher Douglas, Jardine’s biographer, believed that Jardine was chosen, among other reasons, for his contrast to Chapman and his slightly chaotic, carefree approach. In many ways, both these amateurs represented the “anti-Chapman”. And did some of the (albeit minor) troubles from the 1928-29 tour flash through the minds of the selectors? Did Jack White remember some problems from being Chapman’s vice-captain?

This may have been the real reason Chapman was sacked: not for poor batting, poor tactical awareness or for being drunk; but because the selectors wanted someone to lead the team who batted and captained like a professional, recognising that the old amateur style did not work in Test cricket anymore. The selectors have been concerned with results far more than style, given the way that Tests were played by Australia and the way that Bradman and his team-mates had approached the 1930 series. There may be some circumstantial support for this idea: a story circulated in the 1930s, reported in the News Chronicle and by Bill Bowes in his 1949 autobiography, that Jack Hobbs was once offered the England captaincy; if it happened, it may well have been in 1930 (when he was also a co-opted selector and would have been party to Chapman’s sacking). Leo McKinstry, Hobbs’ biographer, favoured this idea, hence his interest in Chapman’s sacking.

Chapman himself retained the captaincy for the one final series in South Africa, but that series was lost, England did not win a Test and his batting was poor. When he began the 1931 series in appalling form, it was obvious Chapman’s England career was ended and that a new captain was needed. Once Jardine took over, many began to look back on Chapman’s captaincy with fondness and nostalgia, and there were frequent suggestions in the press that he should resume the captaincy. But he never did. And for poor Percy Chapman, it was all downhill from this point.

The Lord’s Test of 1930: Percy Chapman goes down fighting

After the first Test of the 1930 Ashes series, APF Chapman had led England nine times and won every game. Although there had been a few concerns before the series over his place in the team, he seemed set to continue his triumphal march as England captain. In fact, he did not lead England to any more wins in Tests and from this point, everything changed for him. It was at this point that a combination of Donald Bradman’s incredible batting and the extension of Test matches in England from three days to four proved too much for him and his team. Now, Bradman and Australia re-wrote the rule book for how Tests were played in England.

The second Test at Lord’s was the crucial game for Percy Chapman. It was frankly an extraordinary game. England lost having scored 425 in their first innings. Australia’s opening batsmen Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford wore down the England bowlers in a slow stand of 162. Then Bradman came in and scored 254 before he was out to a catch by Chapman from the only ball he hit in the air in his entire innings. In The Tests of 1930, Percy Fender gives some details of how he came in and flogged a beaten attack: his first fifty runs came from 56 balls and at the end of the second day, when Australia’s total was 404 for two, Bradman had scored 155 from 171 deliveries. On the third day, Australia reached 729 for six before Woodfull declared (Bradman scored 99 from 205 balls on the third day, adopting a more cautious approach to wear the bowling down again).

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Bradman batting at Leeds in 1930

Although facing his first defeat as captain, Chapman did not go down without a fight. He came in at number six with the score 141 for four, which quickly became 147 for five, and scored 121 in two-and-a-half hours from 166 balls, striking twelve fours and three sixes. His batting thrilled the crowd which reacted with a rare enthusiasm and gave him a great reception when he was out. England batted a little longer to reach 375 but it was not enough. Australia needed just 72 to win, which they achieved for the loss of three wickets. One of those was Bradman, caught by Chapman for one; Neville Cardus later wrote about how he watched this in the company of James Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan:

“When Bradman made the stroke, Chapman bent down, picked the ball up half-an-inch from the grass, threw up a catch beyond belief, and assumed his usual stance in the ‘gulley’ [sic] – legs apart, arms folded. The roar of the crowd expressed amazement and joy. As Bradman was departing for the Pavilion, maybe the most astounded man of all, I was watching the game in front of the Tavern with Sir James Barrie. ‘Why is he going away?’ asked Barrie, as Bradman left the crease. ‘But surely,’ I said, ‘surely, Sir James, you saw that marvellous catch by Chapman?’ ‘Oh yes,’ replied Barrie, ‘I saw it all right. But what evidence have we that the ball which Chapman threw up in the air is the same ball that left Bradman’s bat?'”

England’s defeat after scoring 425 and 375 led to criticism in the press, but of the selectors rather than Chapman. Fender argued that the key mistakes were the selection of Gubby Allen and Frank Woolley; he suggested that neither had been expected to play. Allen was picked as fast-bowling cover for Larwood, who only pulled out at the last minute; Andrew Sandham, Jack Hobbs’ regular opening partner for Surrey, was selected to replace the injured Herbert Sutcliffe but was left out in favour of Woolley, who was not a regular opener. Fender believed that Allen was not the best alternative to Larwood, and Sandham should have played to provide the solidity in the batting that Woolley could not provide. Fender wrote: “England went into the field with a number of batsmen of whom the hallmark was brilliance, and in some cases instability.” In his view, Australia won because they were prepared to grind down the bowling – Woodfull and Ponsford did on the second day, and Bradman did on the third – and flog it when it was tired. England did not select batsmen capable of following this tactic.

For perhaps the first time, Chapman’s captaincy came in for criticism. In The Cricketer (5 July), the report (by Warner) said that Chapman did not always have the bowlers at the right end and his field placings could have been better, a point echoed by Fender in his book. A tactical convention at the time was that bowlers should field close to the wicket, where they would not have to chase the ball around and could therefore save their energy for bowling. At Lord’s, Chapman broke this convention, using all his bowlers in the deep; this was largely owing to the composition of the team which contained several older players such as Hobbs, Hendren and Woolley, all of whom were over 40. And as Chapman and Duleepsinhji were specialist close fielders, it left the captain with little choice but to use his bowlers to chase the ball. The complaints were offset by a recognition that Chapman had a tricky job setting a field with the players he was given, and the press suggested that the selectors needed to consider fielding when picking the team.

In The Fight for the Ashes in 1930 (which is a combination of his writing in The Cricketer, his reports in The Morning Post and a few later thoughts), Warner went further, criticising Chapman’s use of Allen (whom he defended both on the grounds of his ability and his eligibility for England given that he was born in Australia; Warner was always a huge supporter of Allen). Conceding that “changes of bowling are often a matter of opinion”, Warner wondered if Chapman had taken into account the effects of the Lord’s slope and the breeze in deciding which bowlers to use from each end. He excused the bowlers’ failure on the grounds that “No bowler in the world can give of their best if they have to run about in the ‘country’ when they are not bowling.” He also thought that it was a simple case of the batsmen and the pitch being simply too good for the bowlers. In his analysis, he questioned if Chapman relied too much on the tactics which had been successful in timeless matches in Australia, but were not suited to English conditions. However, he did not blame Chapman too much: “Never in his long and most successful reign as captain had he been so sorely tried as in this match.” Warner later rehashed several of his points in Cricket Between Two Wars.

Fender noted that Chapman was unable to stem the flow of Australian runs leading up to the declaration on the third day. Cardus merely observed that, in the field, England did not appear to have any kind of plan when they were bowling.

There were also suggestions that Chapman should have ended his first innings after the first day: “Second Slip” in the same issue questioned whether Chapman should not have “sacrificed” England’s last two wickets on the first day to get Australia batting on the second morning, and Warner later noted that others wondered if Chapman should have made the Australians bat when there was a chance for early-morning dew to affect the pitch. Yet again there was a divergence of opinion on the best way to win four-day games. Fender noted that most observers thought England were safe with their first innings total, but remarked: “Some of us had forgotten to adjust our calculations to the new conditions [of four-day cricket].”

Fender also made one observation that was not picked up except many years later by Bob Wyatt. He noticed that, on the first day, when Jack White came in with twenty minutes remaining, he had a long chat with Duleepsinhji, who had scored a sublime century. Afterwards, Duleepsinhji attempted to force the pace and got out shortly afterwards for a universally-praised 173. Fender concluded that Chapman had sent out a message to tell him to force the pace, which was a tactical error in a four-day game. However, this would not have been an error to those arguing Chapman should have declared at his overnight total. It would have been hard for Chapman to please everyone with so many divergent opinions on the best approach.

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Maurice Tate is dropped off the bowling of Grimmett in England’s second innings.
Chapman is the non-striker.

Despite reservations over his captaincy, Chapman’s fielding and batting were widely praised. Although we are chiefly concerned with Chapman the captain, his hundred was an interesting one. Fender analysed it at length. Chapman came in with the score 141 for four, which quickly became 147 for five. Four of those wickets had fallen to the Australian leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett, Australia’s one quality bowler (Both Fender and Warner report, and Cardus implies, that around this time, several spectators near the press section were grumbling and wondering aloud if they would be able to get to their clubs in time for some lunch). Allen managed to hang on and help Chapman add 125 for the sixth wicket. The way they did this shows that Chapman was aware of some tactical niceties.

Chapman’s scoring shots in his century at Lord’s
Image: Reproduced in The Fight for the Ashes in 1930 by PF Warner from a diagram by Exchange Telegraph Co Ltd

He and Allen farmed the bowling, turning down several runs, so that Allen faced the majority of the pace bowling (Chapman’s weak point) while his captain took Grimmett, who rarely troubled him. In fact, in the first Test, Woodfull had not allowed Grimmett to bowl much to Chapman. Here, Chapman defended well and hit Grimmett’s loose deliveries hard. They carried on this way until lunch, but when play resumed they seemed to change their tactics and Allen was out to Grimmett. At this point, Chapman cut loose – or as Cardus wrote, “Chapman’s innings went gloriously insane, yet retained some method in its madness.” Fender believed that his intention was either to hit Grimmett out of the attack, or to extend England’s lead as quickly as possible; Fender believed it would have been better to continue as he had before. But once more, Chapman was operating on tactical principles, even if they were ultimately mistaken, and not just having a thrash for the fun of it. As it happened, Chapman was finally out to the pace bowling of Alan Fairfax, attempting a defensive shot. Although his innings had hardly been perfect, and contained a lot of risk and more than one mis-hit, Fender thought that “Chapman played a truly magnificent innings, one of a type which many feared to be beyond his powers.” Warner also praised the innings, both in The Cricketer and in his book on the tour.

The remainder of England’s innings subsided, and Grimmett returned figures of six for 167 from 53 overs; Fender recorded that he had bowled 96 balls to Chapman, who hit 64 runs off him.

The Wisden report, published long after the season was over, suggested that England should have batted more defensively in their second innings. It did not blame Chapman personally but the implication is fairly clear:

“The batting of the Australians and particularly that of Bradman will assuredly live long in the minds of those who saw it but, while giving the visitors the fullest praise for winning so handsomely after having to face a first innings total of 425, it is only proper to observe that to a large extent England played right into the hands of their opponents. Briefly, the Englishmen lost a match, which, with a little discretion on the last day, they could probably have saved … It was about this time [on the last day] that, with a little care and thoughtfulness, England might have saved the game for at the luncheon interval, with, five men out, they had cleared off all but 42 of the arrears. So far from devoting their energies to defence they continued hitting away, adding another 113 runs in an hour and a quarter afterwards but losing their last five wickets.”

There had been no such criticism for not “reigning in” England’s second innings in The Cricketer or by Fender. Later still, writing in 1979 in The Cricket Captains of England, Alan Gibson sympathetically noted:

“GO Allen’s analysis of 0 for 115 was excused on the grounds that he had too much running about to do. But that did not happen until the Australian batsmen were well on top, and in any case, with Woolley, Hendren and White playing – 123 years between them – it was a difficult England side to place in the field. And what is a captain to do when faced with a scoreboard showing 393 for 1, and 585 for 2?’

The Lord’s Test was one that assumed greater and greater importance in hindsight. Even by the end of that 1930 summer, Percy Fender was writing that this game had effectively re-written the tactics for Test matches in England given the way the Australians approached it, and the contrast with how England played. He said it was the turning point of the series. Neville Cardus, in Close of Play (1957), went as far as to describe the England team in that game as worthy of comparison with his idyllic “perfect team” (the quasi-legendary England team that played at Birmingham in 1902) in the way it perfectly represented English cricket; more likely it represented his habit of seeing the past in romanticised fashion. Michael Marshall, in Gentlemen and Players (1987), described Walter Robins as one of those “who felt that the last sporting gesture by an England captain had been Percy Chapman’s refusal to play for a a draw in the Lord’s Test in the 1930 series against Australia.” But this view does something of a disservice to Chapman’s captaincy. While contemporaries viewed some of his decisions as mistaken, he was not operating in a tactical vacuum, and merely having a bit of fun while captaining England. In the first two Tests, at least, he had a plan that he aimed to carry out.

For the third Test, the selectors began to panic and made five changes to the team from Lord’s. Yet even here, they did not quite meet with approval. Warner, who elsewhere in his book took exception to press criticism of the selectors, believed that they had not provided enough variety in the England bowling. He was particularly critical of the selection of Larwood, wondering were there not better fast bowlers available than him. He hinted that the selectors were too dependent on Chapman’s team of 1928-29, which he believed was naturally “gradually breaking up, and new blood had to be found and given its opportunity.” Fender was more of a fan of Larwood, and wondered in his book if the batting was not simply too good for the bowling. He also made the interesting observation, which he returned to several times, that the Australians now decided to play for draws until the final Test, when they would have the advantage of playing a “timeless” Test, with which format they were extremely familiar.

This seems an odd thing to deduce from the way Australia played. This time Bradman scored 334 and Australia reached 566 on the second day. England were made to follow on before being saved by the weather and a controversial appeal for bad light on the last day. Fender’s only outright criticism of Chapman was that he should have increased the pressure on Bradman when he neared 200; instead, he used the occasional left-arm spin of Maurice Leyland, and Bradman was able to score quickly. Warner had little to say on Chapman’s captaincy, but in The Cricketer and in his book, he wrote about his innings of 45 on the final day: “Intrinsically it was about the best innings he has played in a Test match.” Fender also noted that Chapman held himself back to avoid facing the new ball, to which he was vulnerable, but when he came in he took as much of Grimmet’s bowling as he could to protect the others (although he actually faced more deliveries from Fairfax than any other bowler). Cardus had little to say on Chapman, saving his energy for grumbling about the weakness of England’s bowling and unfavourably comparing what he saw as Bradman’s mechanical and risk-free technique with the excitement of watching Charlie Macartney (whose feat in 1926 of scoring a century before lunch on the first day of a Leeds Test match Bradman had emulated).

That Chapman’s position was under no threat from establishment figures is indicated by “Second Slip” in that issue, who hoped that Chapman would be available to tour South Africa, in a section discussing the future direction of the England team. There was clearly no suggestion that he should be replaced as captain. That would all change after the fourth Test.

The Turning Point: APF Chapman in 1930

Jack Hobbs and APF Chapman coming out to bat in the First Test, England v Australia 1930
Image: Wikipedia

The Ashes series of 1930 will always be associated with Donald Bradman whose 974 runs in seven innings set a record that has never come close to being equalled. For this reason, much has been written about the 1930 season and even today it is occasionally referenced. But the series stayed in cricket’s consciousness for a long time because of the events leading up to the final Test when Percy Chapman was dropped as captain, a decision which shocked most of the cricketing world and produced a barrage of complaint and protest. During the course of four Test matches, Chapman went from England’s hero to an already slightly sad figure reduced to writing self-pitying articles in the press asking why he had been sacked. This series was the turning point of Chapman’s career – and arguably his life. Having reached the highest peak, for Chapman the only was was down. What happened in this series, on and off the field, which led to his sacking?

Chapman and his wife at Ascot
Image: Wikipedia

Following the 1928-29 Ashes series, Chapman had captained England in eight Test matches and won them all: one against Australia in 1926, three against West Indies in 1928 and four against Australia in 1928-29. Following his delayed return from Australia in 1929 (he and his wife visited her family in New Zealand), he attended at banquet to celebrate England’s win and was a prominent figure on the social scene (he and his wife were photographed at Ascot that year). He arrived home too late to captain England at the start of the Test series against South Africa and an injury on the field ended his season early so that he rarely played in the 1929 season. There is little doubt that he would have captained England had he been available. Nor was he available for two relatively minor England series which took place (at the same time) that winter in New Zealand and the West Indies; these were not high profile series and their Test status was questionable (and only given retrospectively in the case of the West Indies series).

The focus of the cricket world had by then turned to the 1930 Ashes series. David Lemmon in his 1985 biography of Chapman, relates that some journalists cast doubt on his position at the start of the 1930 season. According to Lemmon, an article in the Daily News focussed on his increased weight and consequent loss of mobility, while Jack Hobbs even made jokes in the press about his size. Lemmon also says that the influential Pelham Warner suggested Chapman needed to lose at least two stone. Warner was a figure with his fingers in several pies: a former captain of Middlesex and England, a participant in many cricket tours, a journalist for the Morning Post, the editor of The Cricketer and a prolific author; he also held ambitions to be a broadcaster. Warner had previously served as a selector, most notably in 1926 when he was chairman of the committee that first picked Chapman as captain. Very much the voice of the cricketing establishment, Warner remained a central figure at Lord’s long after the Second World War.

Sir Pelham Francis Warner
by Bassano Ltd
28 July 1937
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But Warner was not a selector in 1930. And far from casting doubt on Chapman’s position, he gave a speech at the official welcome to the Australian team on 24 April in which he expressed the hope that Chapman (who was also present at the welcome) would extend his superb record against the team (Portsmouth Evening News, 24 April 1930). If he was questioning Chapman’s fitness (and Lemmon does not identify where or when he did so), it can’t have been a serious point; in fact, perhaps surprisingly, the issue of Chapman’s fitness does not seem to have been widely raised in the press, even though photographs from that season show that Chapman was certainly overweight. Warner’s opinion of Chapman’s captaincy deteriorated rapidly as the season progressed, but he never questioned his fitness.

The 1930 selection committee was chaired by HDG Leveson-Gower, who had carried out that role in 1924, 1928 and 1929. He had also been a selector for many years, and was one of the selectors who chose Jack Hobbs in 1909. He had been associated with Surrey and England cricket for many years. The other selectors were current county cricketers: Jack White, the Somerset captain and Chapman’s vice-captain in 1928-29, and Frank Mann, who had been Middlesex captain from 1921 until 1928 and nearing the end of his career. These three pillars of the amateur establishment were supplemented by two co-opted professionals, Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes, repeating the role that they had fulfilled in 1926.

Chapman’s biographer, David Lemmon, suggests that there were moves for others to captain the team, and cites the omission of his name by “Second Slip” in a preview of the Test series in the Spring Annual of The Cricketer. However, nowhere in that article does “Second Slip” suggest that Chapman should be dropped, nor does he name any alternatives. Percy Fender, in his book published later that year, The Tests of 1930, indicates that concerns over Chapman were related to his poor form rather than his captaincy.

But looking back, there were few alternatives. The most realistic may have been Jack White and Arthur Carr, the men who captained England against South Africa in Chapman’s absence in 1929. White, as well as being Chapman’s vice-captain in Australia, had led England once against Australia in 1928-29 and in three of the 1929 Tests; Carr had captained four times in the 1926 Ashes and twice in 1929. But there were question marks against both. White, although a selector, was not guaranteed a place in the team; Carr, aside from question marks about his batting at Test level (he had played for England eleven times, passed fifty just once and averaged under 20), had been discarded for his underwhelming leadership in 1926 when Chapman replaced him.

No-one else really fitted the bill, certainly not among the county captains. For example, Surrey’s Percy Fender had played once for England in 1929, and for many years had been considered the best captain in the country. However, the authorities had misgivings over his unorthodox approach, and he had clashed with too many important people ever to be a realistic candidate. And by 1930, he was aged 38 and past his best. Nigel Haig of Middlesex was 43 and never a good Test cricketer. Guy Jackson was younger at 34 and had been a very effective captain of Derbyshire. He was even chosen to lead England in South Africa in 1927-28 before illness prevented him touring; however, a first-class batting average of 23 didn’t suggest someone to be risked against the Australians. Bev Lyon was another possibility, having had great success with Gloucestershire and establishing a reputation for brilliant strategy; Percy Fender felt that, at the very least, he deserved a trial. But again, his batting (he averaged just under 25 in first-class cricket) was unlikely to be good enough.

RES Wyatt in 1930
Image: Wikipedia

Then there was Warwickshire’s Bob Wyatt. He had played for England nine times by the start of the 1930 season; five of these had been on the 1926-27 tour of South Africa and two on the 1929-30 tour of West Indies. But as the latter matches were only later given Test status, no-one would have counted them as important; nor were South African tours especially prestigious. A cricketer’s worth was best indicated by playing at home; Wyatt’s only two Tests in England had come against South Africa in 1929, in the first of which he scored a century – the first for England by an amateur since before the war. So he was certainly around the fringes of the England team on merit as a batsman. But Wyatt played for unglamorous Warwickshire, and was only able to afford to play as an amateur because he was “Assistant Secretary” at the county. He had not been to prestigious Public School (his family wanted to send him to Marlborough but could not afford the fees. Instead, he went to King Henry VIII School in Coventry; the school’s cricket team did not appear in the pages of Wisden) or to either Oxford or Cambridge. Nor did he bat like an amateur, his dour, dogged style more like that of the leading professionals and lacking the free-flowing brilliance associated with men such as Chapman. Though Wyatt was a good enough batsman to play if required, and though his time would come very soon, it is unlikely he would have been the type of captain the selectors were seeking at the start of the season.

Therefore, for various reasons, no-one had a compelling case to take over. Despite what Fender wrote in 1930 and what Lemmon wrote in 1985, there was no clamour to depose Chapman before the series. One of the few articles to discuss the captaincy, by Robin Baily in the Daily Herald (14 May 1930), was entitled “Selectors Likely to Play Safe”. It questioned some of the claims being made that Chapman was England’s greatest ever captain; Baily briefly examined the credentials of White, Lyon, Wyatt and, somewhat surprisingly given his lack of both captaincy experience and recent cricket, Douglas Jardine. But in the end, he concluded that Chapman was the likeliest choice. Most of the press seemed happy with the prospect.

The only concern seemed to be Chapman’s batting. Luckily, he found some form in early May to settle the nerves of the doubters, scoring 65 for the MCC against Surrey, then 107 for Kent against Somerset in his next game. “Second Slip” expressed relief in the pages of The Cricketer (24 May 1930); he suggested that this prevented any concerns about including a captain who was not worth his place with the bat.

JC White and Chapman in 1928
Image: State Library of Western Australia

Before the Test series, a trial match was played. The England team was captained by Chapman; “The Rest” were captained by White, whose team included Wyatt, Jardine (who barely played in 1930 but would almost certainly have played if he had been available) and GTS Stevens (another amateur who may have been an option had he been able to play more). The selectors had made their choice.

So Chapman was to continue, and many doubtless hoped that he could extend his spectacular record of success. There was little indication that the Australian team would be too hard to defeat. Bradman had started the tour extraordinarily well, and had recently broken the world record for the highest individual first-class score, but the other batsmen were less formidable, and the bowling did not appear strong. There were two other factors to consider: for the first time in England, Tests were to be played over four days. At the time, all first-class cricket in England was played over three days and no one had any experience in how four-day cricket would be different. It would cause a few discussions during that summer, but if Chapman had never captained over four days, nor had anyone else. A final consideration was that, in common with every Ashes series since 1912, if the series was undecided, the final Test would be played to a finish, like those in Australia. Fender had a few thoughts on how this rule impacted the series, to which we will return, but he believed that it favoured Australia.

Chapman made the perfect start, as he so often did. England won the first Test at Nottingham – his ninth consecutive win since being given the captaincy – despite a century from Bradman and an injury to Larwood, Chapman’s strike bowler. The captain had a good game personally, scoring 52 and 29 and taking two catches. The report in The Cricketer (21 June 1930) unequivocally said that Chapman “could hardly have had a better game” as batsman, fielder or captain: it praised his handling of the bowling and his ability to keep up the spirits of the team. These reports were written by Warner, as parts were reproduced almost word-for-word later that year in his book The Fight for the Ashes in 1930 (which is a combination of his writing in The Cricketer, his reports in The Morning Post and a few later thoughts). In the latter, he wrote that Chapman in this match batted “more like the Chapman of 1926 … His courage at a time of stress was conspicuous. He played the innings of a fighting captain and a dominant personality, and success was very welcome.” Even looking back in 1942, in Cricket Between Two Wars, Warner wrote that in that first Test, “no one could have managed the bowling, or placed the field, better than he did.”

Fender, in The Tests of 1930, went into more analytical detail, outlining the situation on the final day when Chapman was left with three fit bowlers to bowl out Australia once Larwood was confined to bed with gastritis. Fender’s favoured approach would have been to gamble at the beginning on the erratic leg-spin of Walter Robins, who would have to bowl a lot in the circumstances. Chapman instead opted for the safer options of Maurice Tate and Richard Tyldesley, trying to dry up runs and push Australia behind the required rate of scoring. Fender, although preferring the gamble, wrote that Chapman’s idea “has a good deal to be said for it.” Fender also discussed how, when the key moment came and Chapman introduced Robins into the attack, he gave him a defensive field with four men on the boundary until he settled.

Wisden recorded some minor criticism: “There were many who held that Chapman should have declared” when rain delayed the start of the second day with England’s first innings score on 241 for eight. This was not the only time that season that critics would have divergent opinions on the best approach to four-day Tests, which were still very new to everyone. But the report concluded: “Chapman, with his resources limited, managed his bowling well and himself fielded in dazzling fashion.”

Most writers agreed that the conditions had favoured England: the rain that fell on the second day affected the pitch when Australia were batting. Though Australia were bowled out for 144, Fender suggested that England did not bowl well in the conditions, and missed a left-arm spinner. He did not believe that Tyldesley bowled well, although Neville Cardus, in the Manchester Guardian, held the opposite view (perhaps out of county loyalty). But even with the benefit of hindsight, no-one ever felt inclined to criticise Chapman’s leadership at Nottingham. In fact, it seems to have been one of his best games as captain as it required him to think strategically rather than just rotate his bowlers.

However, this was the last of Chapman’s nine wins as England captain. With the exception of a gloriously defiant innings in defeat in the following game, he had reached his peak. For it was all downhill from Lord’s. And that is where we will go next.