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.
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.
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.”
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).