Edwin St Hill: The forgotten star of Trinidad, the West Indies and Lowerhouse

Edwin St Hill photographed during the voyage to Australia with the West Indies team in 1930-31

Edwin St Hill photographed during the voyage to Australia with the West Indies team in 1930-31
(Image: National Library of Australia)

Once upon a time, there were three brothers from Trinidad. Their names were Wilton, Edwin and Cecil St Hill. All three played together for Shannon Cricket Club in Trinidad, the most competitive and determined team playing in the local competition. When Trinidad defeated Barbados by an innings in February 1929, the three played together for the only time in first-class cricket. The most famous – revered throughout Trinidad – was Wilton, who scored a century against the MCC team in 1926 and as one of the best batsmen in the region, played in the West Indies first ever Test match at Lord’s in 1928. But Wilton was a failure in that match, and on that tour. After a brief return to form in 1930, he disappeared from first-class cricket – and the pages of the history books. What about his brothers? Cecil is even more mysterious than the enigmatic Wilton, but Edwin went on to much greater and much more prolonged success than the others as he carved out a professional career in England. His story is a curious echo of that of Learie Constantine, with whom he was close. Yet Edwin is all-but forgotten today, both in the West Indies and in his adopted home of northern England. And if in some ways we know far more about Edwin than we do about Wilton, no-one ever wrote about the former like CLR James wrote about the latter.

The St Hill brothers were from the Woodbrook area of Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, part of what CLR James called a lower-middle-class family. Wilton was born in 1893 and Edwin was born in 1904, but we do not even have a date of birth for Cecil. It may be a reasonable assumption that he was the youngest of the three as he made his first-class debut later than his brothers. But we do not know. Before telling the story of Edwin, it is worth spending a short time looking at what we know of this third brother. Although his actual name was Cecil, as revealed by Edwin in an interview in an English newspaper, thanks to CLR James the cricket world knows him as Cyl, and he is recorded as such at ESPNcricinfo and CricketArchive. He was primarily a bowler, but the cricket records know little else. In Beyond a Boundary, James tells us all that we know about him in two short passages: “Well over six feet, fast left-hand, his arm as straight as a post. When he dropped the ball on the off-stump it might straighten, to take the outside edge of the bat, or continue to the inside of your ribs.” Later he details how the fast bowler George John “for some reason or other” hated Cyl; on one occasion, Cyl, a number eleven batsman with no pretensions, thrashed his bowling all around the ground after John had taken the first nine wickets cheaply. But “Cyl too was the type to say exactly what he thought of John, preferably in John’s hearing.”

Other than this intriguing glimpse that Cyl may have possessed some of the same inner fire as Wilton, we know nothing else about him. He played just one first-class match, the game in February 1929 when he joined Wilton and Edwin playing for Trinidad. The Jamaica Gleaner records that he played in some trial matches in January, where he was successful. But his first-class appearance was underwhelming: he scored 2 runs batting at number eleven, but then did not bowl as Barbados were dismissed twice in one day. The Gleaner records that he left the field with a twisted knee shortly after lunch on the second day, early in Barbados’ first innings. The only other information we have is that CricketArchive records him playing three times in the Beaumont Cup for South Trinidad against North Trinidad between 1925 and 1932; he presumably remained a regular for Shannon.

With Edwin, we are on much firmer ground. And although he is largely unknown today, his story is a remarkable one in many ways. Born on 9 March 1904, he played with his brothers for the ultra-competitive Shannon team in the Bonanza Cup. But he never had the fanatical following that Wilton enjoyed. Other than a few passing references, CLR James barely mentions him in Beyond a Boundary, even though at one point they must have spent a great deal of time together. Instead, the most informative early biography of St Hill was written in the unlikely medium of the Burnley News in 1930. It appears to have been sourced from various Trinidad newspapers to which the authors had access. From this, we can piece together far more about Edwin’s early cricket than we can for his brothers.

St Hill first played in the Bonanza Cup, Trinidad and Tobago’s main cricket competition, for a club called Durban Cricket Club in 1922; critics judged him to be promising, but he had little success. The following year, he moved to play for Shannon, for whom he eventually opened the bowling. He quickly proved successful, topping the bowling averages for the entire Bonanza Cup in 1924 and 1929. Between 1922 and 1930, he took 224 wickets at an average of 9.42. The article in the Burnley News also gave his most recent performances: 34 wickets at 11.03 in 1928; 39 at 8.41 in 1929 and 28 at 12.57 up until August 1930.

The Trinidad team that won the Intercolonial Tournament in 1925; St Hill is seated at the front on the right. Wilton is in the middle row on the far right.

Before long, St Hill was selected to play for Trinidad in the Intercolonial Tournament and made his first-class debut in February 1924, when he opened the bowling. However, his performances were more notable for their steadiness than for any standout success. His figures were generally economical, but apart from when he took four for 99 in 47 overs against British Guiana in 1925, he did not take more than three wickets in an innings until 1929. When Barbados made their score of 726 for seven in 1927, St Hill had figures of 61-20-132-1. As a batsman, he achieved nothing of note, batting down the order.

Although performing well enough to be a regular for Trinidad, including against the MCC team that toured in 1926, St Hill was well down the pecking order when it came to West Indies teams. He was not selected for the representative team that played the MCC in 1926, nor was he invited to the trial matches before the team to tour England in 1928 was chosen.

Instead, St Hill, between June and August 1928, took part in a tour of the United States by a “West Indian XI”, mainly playing teams of expatriate West Indians. He was very successful, taking over 100 wickets at a low cost. The record of his arrival in New York gave his occupation as a clerk (possibly a shipping clerk) in Port of Spain. His next games for Trinidad were in January 1929 when the team won the Intercolonial Tournament at home; having played in the qualifying match, he and Wilton were joined by Cyl for the final which Trinidad won by an innings. Edwin’s contributions were again solid without standing out, in a tournament dominated by Constantine.

Edwin St Hill in 1926

However, when the tournament was next held – in British Guiana in October 1929 – Constantine was ineligible as he was now a professional cricketer at Nelson in England: professionals were not allowed to take part in the Intercolonial Tournament. It was St Hill who stepped up: in the final (for which Trinidad qualified as holders), his bowling figures were 47.4-12-117-6 and 36-12-87-4; with the bat, he scored 10 and 67. Despite his efforts, Trinidad lost by four wickets, having never recovered, despite a strong fightback, from being bowled out for 152 on the first day. Although he was on the losing side, this performance pushed St Hill into contention for a place in the West Indies side that faced the touring MCC team in 1930.

The peculiar circumstances of that tour suggest that St Hill was, in fact, regarded very highly. Four Test matches (albeit ones only retrospectively given that status) were played, one in each of Barbados, Trinidad, British Guiana and Jamaica. For a variety of reasons (mainly financial, as the West Indies Board was not rich, but also owing to strong regional rivalry) the West Indies team varied hugely depending on where it played – far more so than during the 1926 series. The hosting team tended to dominate the composition of each West Indies side; for example, eight Trinidadians played in the Trinidad Test and in the final match, eight of the West Indian team were from Jamaica. Despite this preference for local players, St Hill was selected for the first Test, played in Barbados. His selection away from home suggests that he was very much a first-choice bowler, part of a theoretical strongest eleven. The match was a high-scoring draw, but St Hill’s bowling in the first innings (35-7-110-2) impressed the newspapers.

But then something odd occurred. The MCC moved to Trinidad, and as was standard, played the island team twice before facing the full West Indies team. St Hill played in the first Trinidad match and bowled steadily enough, taking three wickets in the MCC second innings as the home team won comfortably. He then missed the second match. Reports indicated that he was being rested, but this match had a political backdrop in that George Dewhurst returned to captain the team for the first time in several years. Dewhurst was a candidate to lead the West Indies in the second Test (each of the four Test matches had a local captain), but Trinidad lost. A writer in the Trinidad Sporting Chronicle claimed that the Trinidad selectors had deliberately selected a weakened team in order that Dewhurst would lose, while his rival for the captaincy Nelson Betancourt, who went on to captain the West Indies in the Test, would have the better result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, Edwin St Hill was omitted from the West Indies team for the second Test. His brother Wilton was chosen, making his final first-class appearance, as was Joe Small, who had been one of the Trinidad selectors for the two matches played against the MCC. Whichever way this is analysed, it is very odd that St Hill could play in Barbados but not be one of eight Trinidadians appearing at home. On form, he should have played ahead of Small; but it is likely (albeit not completely clear) that Small was one of the Test selectors and was partially responsible for picking himself.

Having been left out at home, St Hill was then chosen to play in British Guiana, where the West Indies won, their first victory in a Test match. He took just one wicket in the game but bowled economically, and appears to have acted as a nightwatchman in the second innings (unsuccessfully, as he was out before the close of play). He was then omitted from the team for the fourth Test (along with Constantine), but had obviously made a good impression. The Barbados Advocate suggested that he bowled steadily during both his Test appearances, although it suggested his economical figures in British Guiana flattered him a little as England were batting just to save the game. The Advocate judged that St Hill was more effective on matting surfaces and needed to improve his fielding. The Cricketer stated that he was: “A very useful stock bowler anywhere. Steady, and spins the ball.” One critic in British Guiana described him as a “bowling machine”.

Edwin St Hill practising in Australia in 1930-31

Edwin St Hill practising in Australia in 1930-31 (Image: National Library of Australia)

Around this time, he appears to have gained a reputation as being a similar bowler to England’s Maurice Tate, who was the leading medium-paced bowler of the 1920s. But St Hill’s style is a little difficult to pin down; he was often an opening bowler but does not seem to have been especially fast. Some sources suggest that he was a spin bowler, but it appears more likely that he was generally medium-paced but perhaps spun the ball off his home matting pitches (or what might be called an off-cutter today). But the huge numbers of overs he delivered in matches suggest that he was far from being a pace bowler.

Around this time, something happened that would change St Hill’s life. After the 1928 tour of England by the West Indies team, Learie Constantine had signed a contract to play cricket for Nelson in the Lancashire League. He was an enormous success there, and his story is relatively well-known. Far less celebrated was his team-mate, the fast bowler George Francis. He too signed as a professional for an English club during that 1928 tour. He joined the much lower-profile Durham League where he played for Seaham Harbour in 1929, and remained there until moving to Radcliffe, in the Bolton League, in 1933. The man who organised the signing of Francis during the 1928 tour was RH Mallett, the manager of the West Indies team, who had once been the captain of Seaham Harbour. So much did Francis like Seaham Harbour there that he refused an offer from a club in the Lancashire League for 1930.

Because both Constantine and Francis had toured England in 1923 and 1928, they were known to the English public; as a result, their presence at games in their respective leagues was a considerable boost to the attendance. But St Hill never toured England with the West Indies. Nevertheless, in August 1930, Lowerhouse, a club playing in the Lancashire League, announced that he was to be their professional having agreed a one-year contract. The recommendation appears to have come from Constantine, who knew St Hill well from their time playing together for Shannon, Trinidad and the West Indies. Lowerhouse made contact with people in Trinidad, and several cuttings from Trinidad newspapers appeared in the Burnley press, presumably via the committee at Lowerhouses who were researching their prospective professional.

While there would in future be many West Indian Test players who signed for the English leagues as a professional – George Headley and Manny Martindale followed in the 1930s – his contemporaries were signed after touring England with the West Indies. St Hill was signed without having been seen by anyone connected with Lowerhouse. It can only be assumed that Constantine was a very influential voice. It is worth emphasising how extraordinary it was for St Hill – and Lowerhouse – to pursue this course. Previous successful overseas professionals, such as Australia’s Ted McDonald or South Africa’s Jimmy Blanckenberg, signed after successful tours of England. At the time St Hill joined Lowerhouse, Constantine and a handful of Australian Test players were the only overseas players in the Lancashire League. In 1932, Bill Merritt of New Zealand joined Rishton, but he too had played Tests in England, as had India’s Amar Singh when he signed for Colne to play in 1935. In contrast, St Hill was a stranger to English crowds. Even more remarkable was that St Hill was happy to make such a big move having never set foot in England. It was a big gamble for everyone.

There is one other aspect to consider: CLR James believed that Wilton St Hill had hoped to play professionally in England (although he writes as if he wanted to play for a county, it would have been more likely he planned to join a league) but his non-selection for the 1923 West Indies tour, and his outright failure in 1928 meant that this never happened. Part of the reason he wanted to go to England, suggests James, is that St Hill – like Constantine – was unhappy at his lack of status and prospects of advancement in a Trinidad society that was very racist at the time. Did Wilton encourage his younger brother to make the move that he had been unable to? Perhaps. But it seems strange that James, having written this about Wilton, makes no mention that his brother played professional cricket in England for nearly 20 years.

Signing for Lowerhouse ended St Hill’s career with Trinidad, but he had one last outing with the West Indies when his relative success against England led to his selection for the West Indies team that toured Australia in 1930-31. At least one person was critical of his selection owing to his lack of penetration: his Trinidad team-mate Andre Cipriani told the Trinidad Sports Weekly that unless St Hill altered his methods, he would not be successful on hard Australian pitches as his approach of keeping runs down merely served to play batsmen into form. Events suggest that Cipriani was probably correct.

Shortly before the team departed (he later said nine days beforehand, which would have been 9 October 1930), St Hill married the 24-year-old Iris Agatha Orvington in Trinidad. The newly-married couple did not spend much time together – he travelled to Australia a few days later and did not return for around 12 months. It would not be the last hardship that his wife endured.

The Trinidad and West Indies team-mates Clifford Roach and Edwin St Hill in Australia in 1930-31

The Trinidad and West Indies team-mates Clifford Roach (left) and Edwin St Hill (right) in Australia in 1930-31 (Image: National Library of Australia)

The players assembled in October 1930 and took the long boat trip. A preview of the tour in the Adelaide Advertiser by Thomas D Lord from Trinidad described St Hill as a “fast medium” bowler whose best attributes were good length bowling and great stamina. It stated that “he has been looked upon as a sort of bowling machine. Dubbed by his countrymen as the Tate of the West Indies, St Hill is a great trier, and never seems to tire or to relax his efforts, however long may be his spell of bowling.” Of his batting, the preview stated: “With a wonderful eye, many fine shots, and endowed with a stout heart, he is rather inclined to ‘have a go’ the instant he gets in the middle, and this recklessness brings about his early downfall.”

The tour was moderately successful in that a West Indies team completely unfamiliar with Australian conditions managed to win one Test match, and were competitive for portions of the series despite losing by four matches to one. But with a strategy based on their fast bowlers, there was no place in the team for St Hill. He played just four first-class games on the tour, taking 16 wickets at a respectable average. The Sporting Chronicle of Trinidad suggested that St Hill had bowled well but had been given little opportunity. A later article in the Daily Gleaner of Jamaica suggested that “sources” had told the newspaper “the reason for the infrequent playing of Edwin St Hill”, but did not elaborate. Another mystery over selection…

However, the tour does provide one piece of information about St Hill’s life away from the cricket field. It appears that he was a boxer. In December 1930, the West Indies team attended a boxing match in Launceston, Tasmania. A newspaper preview stated that St Hill was to referee one of the bouts; the author of the Launceston Examiner article said that St Hill, the “popular bowler of the West Indian cricket team” had “quite a lot of ability with the gloves himself”.

At the end of the tour, Constantine, Francis and St Hill, the three men signed with English clubs, sailed directly to England from Australia without returning home. St Hill was not yet 30 years old, but his first-class and Test career were over, although it is unlikely he knew it at the time. But while his brothers vanished from the radar once their first-class careers ended, this is the point at which Edwin St Hill comes to life and we get an understanding of the person he might have been…

“A horrible, a disastrous, an incredible failure”: The “untameable” Wilton St Hill

Wilton St Hill in 1926

Wilton St Hill was the subject of a famous chapter in CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary (1963) which described at length the high esteem in which St Hill was held in Trinidad. His many followers wanted him to prove his greatness as a batsman on the greatest stage available at the time – a tour of England by a West Indies team. But St Hill’s omission from the 1923 West Indies team was a crushing blow from which James suggests he never recovered. Nevertheless, by the mid-1920s St Hill had established an unarguable position as probably the best batsman in the West Indies – a view supported by none other than Lord Harris, the hugely influential administrator and icon of the English cricketing establishment. His success against a strong MCC team in 1926 meant that he was almost certain to be picked when the West Indies toured England once more in 1928 – a tour that was to include the West Indies’ first ever Test matches.

As early as 10 July 1927, St Hill, along with eight other Trinidad players (only four of whom actually made the tour), was asked if he was available to tour in 1928. No Intercolonial Tournament was held in 1927-28; instead, three trial matches were played in December 1927 and January 1928 to assist in selecting the West Indies team. In contrast to his form before the 1923 tour, St Hill was very successful, scoring 144 in the first match for “British Guiana and Trinidad” (he hit 25 fours but was dropped twice before he reached double figures), 45 in the second for “CA Wiles’ XII” and 44 and 71 for “The Rest” against “Barbados Born” in the third. At the conclusion of the trial games, the team was named and St Hill was included.

Although James is silent on the point in Beyond a Boundary, presumably St Hill and his followers were delighted that here was his chance to prove himself. Expectations were undoubtedly high; previews of the tour – in the West Indies and in England – highlighted St Hill’s promise. For example, the Cricketer said of him: “A forcing and attractive batsman with good strokes on the off”. How did St Hill feel, as the team members from Jamaica and British Guiana assembled in Port of Spain? What were his thoughts as the players departed on the Camito on 2 April to collect the remainder of the team from Barbados? Was he excited or nervous as the ship docked in England at Avonmouth on 16 April? Did he feel confident? Or overwhelmed?

However he felt, there is no doubt that St Hill’s tour was catastrophically terrible. James put it quite simply:

“The rest should be silence. He was a horrible, a disastrous, an incredible failure, the greatest failure who ever came out of the West Indies. I have heard authoritatively that he would not change his style and he has been blamed for it. I don’t think he could even if he had wanted to. He was not the type, and after 1923 something had hardened in him.”

Wisden said: “The big disappointment was St Hill. Of this batsman, who had some delightful strokes on the off-side, much was expected before the tour began but, too eager to hit before he had played himself in and, in these circumstances, timing the ball badly, he did little or nothing.”

The 1928 West Indies team that toured England. St Hill is standing at the back on the far left

The early signs had been good as the West Indies team warmed up at the end of April in a series of net practices and gentle one-day games. The Times correspondent’s sightings of St Hill led him to have high expectations. That same newspaper, in a preview of the 1928 season, singled out St Hill and Clifford Roach as “promising”. And a report on an early practice game in April, in which St Hill scored 37 not out, said:

“Of the other two batsmen seen, by far the more interesting was WH St Hill, who can be relied upon to provide the entertainment of the side. He is very supple, has a beautifully erect and free stance and, having lifted his bat, performs amazing apparently double-jointed tricks with his wrists and arms. Some of these contortions are graceful and remunerative, such as his gliding to leg, but some are unsound and dangerous, such as an exaggerated turn of the wrist in cutting. He will certainly play some big and attractive innings, but others may be early curtailed by his exotic fancy in dealing with balls on the off-side.”

Three further warm-ups – two more one-day matches and a two-day match – did not produce many runs, and St Hill’s early promise did not translate into success against much stronger county attacks. He played in three of the opening four first-class matches; he reached double figures in the first two, then against Oxford University he reached a fifty (and “made some fine strokes on the offside” according to Wisden). But six innings yielded only 105 runs. He did not bat in a rain-ruined match against the MCC and made starts against Norfolk (not a first-class game) and Cambridge University. Finally, he seemed to find some form against two minor counties: he hit 40 against Northumberland and 101 against Durham (“St Hill, very strong on the leg side, played attractive cricket,” according to Wisden).

Embed from Getty Images

The West Indies team, pictured in Dublin where they were beaten by Ireland. St Hill is seated on the ground at the far right

But he missed out against Ireland, scoring just 4 and 9 as the West Indies were embarrassingly defeated and scored 5 in each innings against Middlesex – a match made famous by the astonishing all-round performance of Learie Constantine that almost single-handedly won the match. After this, St Hill’s appearances became increasingly sporadic. Having missed the next three matches, St Hill was selected to play England in the West Indies’ first official Test match. He managed scores of 4 and 9, after which he again vanished from the team, not playing in the next two games. He returned against Yorkshire, scoring 0 and 1, and then missed the next game. Part of the reason for his irregular selection may have been his utter lack of success. Since his century against Durham, his scores had been 4, 9, 5, 5, 4, 9, 0 and 1. Recalled in a non-first-class match against Staffordshire, he finally reached double figures, scoring 17 and 5 not out, but again did not play the next game, and then scored just 16 out of a total of 410 against Worcestershire.

Whatever lay behind his odd pattern of appearances, St Hill was still selected for the second Test. After a first innings score of 3, he top-scored with 38 in West Indies’ second innings, as the team went down to a second successive innings defeat. He played the next two games, scoring 20 and 7 against Wales and a king pair against Leicestershire. Remarkably, this was almost the end of his tour: he missed the next four games, including the third Test (which West Indies also lost by an innings), returned after missing three weeks to score 7 and 0 against Sussex then missed the final six matches. Nor did he play in two one-day games at the end of the tour. He played just one of the last ten first-class matches, and one of the last thirteen games of all types.

And it was not as if dropping St Hill so decisively improved the form of the team: before the Second Test, when St Hill was playing fairly regularly, the West Indies won four and lost four first-class games; afterwards, they lost eight and won just once.

When the tour ended, St Hill finished seventh in the Test batting averages, but second to last in the first-class averages for the tour, ahead of just Ernest Rae who only played in seven games. St Hill had scored 262 runs in 25 innings, an average of 10.91, almost always batting at number three or four. In all games, he was slightly higher, edging above George Francis to finish third from bottom with 446 runs at an average of 15.92. He played just 14 out of 30 first-class games, and 22 out of the 44 played in total. Only James Neblett of British Guiana and Ernest Rae of Jamaica played fewer times.

Where did St Hill go? Perhaps he was simply dropped, but with just 17 players to choose from, and with many severely underperforming, this seems unlikely. He would surely have played more matches even if just to rest the first-choice players – particularly at the end of the tour, when the team primarily played more light-hearted festival games. Perhaps ill-health was part of the reason: on the 1923 tour, Harold Austin missed a large part of the tour with illness, and Ernest Rae, according to his obituary many years later in the Jamaica Gleaner, suffered from bronchitis throughout the 1928 tour. It is not impossible that some kind of illness or injury accounted for St Hill’s many absences; however, there are no contemporary indications that this was the case and it would not account for the pattern of playing one game then missing the next in the middle part of the tour.

However, there were hints in Trinidad that other factors were at play. In mid-August, an article appeared in Trinidad’s Sporting Chronicle, written by an anonymous author who called himself “Mid-Off”. It claimed that the team were being extremely poorly led by their captain, Karl Nunes. “Mid-Off” suggested: “It is an open secret that [Nunes] has no control over the men under his command, is neither loved, feared, nor respected by any of them and is now powerless to exercise any influence for good over any individual member of the side.” Most interesting is what “Mid-Off” had to say about St Hill:

“For one thing St Hill’s retiring disposition is against him. He shrank from introducing himself to the pressmen seeking interviews and securing snapshots and soon found that he was not among the ‘written-up’. The regular tour opened up with Derbyshire and he found himself accused in whispers of having deliberately dropped a catch and kicking the ball thereafter. No enquiry ensued but he was dropped for the next match and from that day has been openly and pointedly slighted by Nunes. St Hill is greatly to blame for taking this matter to heart in the way that he did and it is small wonder that he has seldom or never been himself at the crease.”

According to “Mid-off”, it was suggested to St Hill whenever he was selected that he would be dropped again if he did not score runs; St Hill’s anxiety to succeed meant that he was often out cheaply: “Do what he would to appease Nunes (and in his place few would have been at the pains) he still remains one of the black sheep.” Nunes rarely acknowledged him even when St Hill spoke directly to his captain.

Although this article presents a very one-sided picture, it was evidently well informed; for example, the writer could say that Nunes had been demoralisingly negative in the Middlesex match, and had a row with Constantine when he asked his bowler to merely keep Duleepsinhji quiet rather than get him out in another. On the other hand, the Trinidad press had been against Nunes even before his appointment as captain; this article may simply be a continuation of that campaign.

Learie Constantine and Edwin St Hill, team-mates for Shannon and Trinidad, on the 1928 tour of England (Image: Complete History of Cricket Tours at Home and Abroad (1989) by Peter Wynne-Thomas)

What can we make of “Mid-Off’s” article? Many of his claims are unconvincing. His picture of a shy and retiring St Hill, who shrank from the attention and took the criticism of Nunes too much to heart, does not really tally with the portrait written by CLR James in Beyond a Boundary of a man in whom “fires burned”. Nor is it true that he was not among the “written-up”; we have seen that he was singled out as potentially a key batsman early in the tour. In terms of being photographed, there only seem to have been a few photographs taken of individuals in the team; for example, Ernest Rae, James Neblett, “Snuffy” Browne, George Challenor and Learie Constantine were photographed on the practice ground at Lord’s early in the tour, where most of the same people featured in a film taken of the team at practice. There is also a photograph of Constantine, Joe Small and Edward Bartlett taken at Dulwich during the team’s first practice game. But if St Hill is absent from these pictures, there is a photo featuring just him and Learie Constantine – many of his colleagues were not photographed at all except in team photographs. As for the dropped catch at Derby, this was not reported at the time; and even if it happened (and assuming that St Hill reacted in the way “whispered”), dropped catches were commonplace throughout the tour. While he did not play against Essex, in the team’s second first-class game, he returned against Surrey in the next. And it was in the game missed by St Hill that dropped catches began to feature in press coverage of the tour.

But… we know that Nunes clashed with Constantine throughout the tour. However, Nunes could hardly drop Constantine, who was the star attraction of the team and drew in the crowds which meant that the tour could make a profit. St Hill was less essential to the tour’s success. If some of that fire described by James – the “unchanging gravity of his eyes”, how his eyes “used to blaze when he was discussing a point with you” – came across to team-mates who did not know him well and came across to Nunes and his ineffective vice-captain Vibart Wight, it may have caused problems. If “Mid-Off’s” description of how Nunes handled dissension in the team is accurate, it may explain why St Hill was so frequently dropped. Perhaps there was some truth in the article, and perhaps this tension explains why St Hill remained in such poor form throughout the tour. However, it is hard to escape the feeling that the anonymous “Mid-Off” is simply making excuses for St Hill’s failure: when he was given a chance, he could not take it.

It is almost certain that CLR James would have read the article in Trinidad (he admits to following the 1923 tour closely in the press and knew of reports written in the Times about St Hill), but he makes no mention of it (or of Nunes) in any part of Beyond a Boundary. It is not at all clear why he did not refer to it – perhaps it did not match the tale he wished to tell – but it is simply another of those mysteries which accumulate around St Hill.

The “Mid-Off” article was very widely publicised; it was reprinted in the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica which later published a sarcastic rebuttal written by the journalist Gordon Scotter. Scotter was English (born in London in 1890, the son of a clergyman), and in later years became a vocal defender of what the English had done for Jamaica, and for Africans in general; he was a strident critic of the labour movement in Jamaica; he later advocated birth control in Jamaica to limit the violence of labour rebellions, but was interned by the Jamaican Governor in 1940 for criticising the course of the Second World War and expressing doubts that the Allies would win – the Governor believed that he could affect the recruitment of troops to join the war effort. Of St Hill, Scotter remarked:

“In view of the remainder of his article it borders on the ludicrous to read that the second reason attributed to the non-success of the team is the failure of the ‘big bats,’ for of all the most probably failures in this direction that of St Hill stands out, in a class by itself. St Hill’s record in all the circumstances is the most lamentable and remarkable of this or any other tour. No one not familiar with the circumstances can fully appreciate the tremendous reputation which that player enjoyed at the beginning of this year, and those unfortunates who ventured to suggest that his batting was marred by an unfortunate tendency to ‘nibble’ at the off-balls were regarded more in sorrow than in anger.”

In a more direct reply to “Mid-Off”, Scotter says:

“Poor St Hill! Poor modest violet! Because the pressmen sought him not and the captain was rude to him ‘he just continued to fail!’ This must be the ‘Test match temperament’. I can only wonder how St Hill himself will feel when he sees himself thus pictured as a sulky child of about the age of ten.”

It is possible that St Hill had already seen it, as the article was certainly in circulation in England. Writing for the Cricketer Annual at the end of the season, Pelham Warner referred to it: “Whatever a certain critic in the West Indies may think – and he was 4,000 miles away – opinion was general in this country that Nunes, the captain, managed his bowling and placed his field admirably.”

Warner also addressed the failure of St Hill:

“But when all is said and done the greatest disappointment was St Hill. He had done very well against [the MCC team in 1926] … and came over with the reputation of being almost as good a bat as Challenor at his best, but except for an innings of 58 v Oxford University, he failed completely. He had lovely wrists, and some rare strokes on the off side, but he could not get going … We believe him, however, to be a good natural player who has had a hard experience which may do him no harm in the long run if it teachers him adaptability. He was too prone to play the same stroke at every ball outside the off-stump.”

There was one other curious reference to St Hill during the tour; a report in the Western Morning News in late July noted, ahead of the annual “High Court” meeting of the Foresters Friendly Society – a savings society which still exists – that St Hill, as well as his Trinidad team-mates Joe Small and Clifford Roach, was a member of a “court” in Trinidad; it was hoped he would attend.

The team departed from England on 28 September from West India Docks in London on the Ingoma; the four Trinidadians – Constantine, St Hill, Small and Roach – disembarked at Port of Spain on 16 October. For St Hill, it must have been a subdued homecoming. Possibly making matters worse – if CLR James was correct in his suspicion that St Hill had hoped to play professional cricket in England – two of his team-mates returned home having signed contracts to play league cricket: Learie Constantine for Nelson in the Lancashire League and, less famously, George Francis for Seaham Harbour in the Durham League; the latter was assisted by the West Indies’ team manager RH Mallett who had once been the captain of Seaham Harbour.

What went wrong for St Hill? Maybe his numerous supporters in Trinidad simply overestimated his ability, and he was simply not good enough. Perhaps “Mid-Off” was correct and his treatment by Nunes put him under too much pressure. Additionally, St Hill batted at number three or four throughout the tour, in unfamiliar conditions; a more sympathetic captain may have permitted him to drop down the order to regain some form and have less pressure on him. It is also notable that he generally played against the best teams – he missed, for example, playing against the relatively gentle bowling attacks of the “Civil Service” and Northamptonshire, but was recalled to face the full England attack and against Yorkshire. Or maybe he was just overwhelmed by the pressure or the expectation.

CLR James gave a simpler explanation for his failure:

“I have heard authoritatively that he would not change his style and has been blamed for it. I don’t think he could even if he had wanted to. He was not the type, and after [his omission from the West Indies team in] 1923 something had hardened in him.”

Could it be the case that he refused to adapt? That he wanted to play his way and would not make any concessions to form or conditions? It would certainly tally with some judgements expressed before the tour that he looked susceptible to playing too loosely. Rather than being shy and retiring, as “Mid-Off” suggested, was he too confident? These many unanswerable questions merely add to the enigmatic nature of St Hill.

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The West Indies team for the Trinidad Test match in 1930; St Hill is on the top right

After the tour, life went on. St Hill played for Trinidad in the 1928-29 and 1929-30 Intercolonial Tournament, but achieved little as his poor form continued – these were his last appearances in the competition. He had one last success. An MCC team toured the West Indies again in 1930, playing what were later recognised as the first official Tests in the region. The selection for the “home” team was complicated by matters of finance and regional differences; a huge number of players appeared in the four Tests, many only being selected for the games taking place in their own colony. In total, 29 players appeared for the West Indies in the series, and each Test had a different captain, selected from the home nation.

St Hill did not play in the first Test, held in Barbados, but played for Trinidad in the first of two matches against the MCC. A review of the tour in The Cricketer filled in a little background:

“Had made few runs for over a year, and his inclusion in a colony match was much criticised. Contrary, however, to his old form, he took no risks, and being an experienced player with plenty of defence, was very hard to dislodge.”

He scored 102 in the second innings, batting for four hours and showing a patience he had rarely demonstrated before; CLR James commented in Beyond a Boundary “that the eagle had clipped his own wings at last”. St Hill did not play in the second Trinidad match against the MCC (a game that perhaps suffered from selection politics) but was chosen for the second Test, the only such game played in Trinidad. Batting at number three, St Hill scored 33 in the first innings, then he opened the batting to score 30 in the second innings. Wisden said that he batted steadily. He did not play in either of the remaining Tests, and this was his final first-class appearance. In one of several bizarre selection decisions that plagued the West Indies in the series – and especially the selection for games in Trinidad – one of the players left out of the second Test, even though it was his home Test match, was Edwin St Hill, Wilton’s brother.

St Hill continued to play in local cricket in Trinidad, but he was less consistently successful than he had been before, and he was never a realistic candidate to play for the West Indies – and perhaps for Trinidad – again. CricketArchive records that he played a match for North Trinidad against South Trinidad in 1931, but nothing else is known of his life. The only other reference I can find to him is that he was a pallbearer at the funeral of Lebrun Constantine, Learie’s father, in 1942. James states that he died in 1957; when Learie Constantine wrote about him in the 1957 Wisden, he said that he was dead. It is possible some confusion arose because Wilton’s brother Edwin died in 1957. However, Edwin would have been alive at the time that Constantine wrote his article for Wisden, which suggests Wilton was certainly dead by early 1957. But there is no definite date. This particular mystery (along with the question of what “H” stood for in Wilton H St Hill) could potentially be easily cleared up in Trinidad itself assuming that records exist for his death which are unavailable online; but no-one has ever done so.

In fact, apart from in Beyond a Boundary, St Hill was largely forgotten. His obituary did not appear in Wisden until 1994; it said that “his later years remain mysterious”. In 1984, he was admitted to the Trinidad and Tobago Sports Hall of Fame; the accompanying citation stated: “The old-timers say, however, that St Hill was born too soon, or that Test matches came too late for the West Indies, otherwise the greatness of Wilton St Hill would have been written in the pages of cricket history like that of Headley, Worrell, Weekes, Sobers and Richards.”

We began this story with CLR James, who will be forever associated with St Hill. Perhaps it is best to let him conclude it too. His chapter on St Hill ended: “He saw the ball as early as anyone. He played it as late as anyone. His spirit was untameable, perhaps too much so. There we must leave it.”

“Fires burned within him and you could always see the glow”: Who was Wilton St Hill?

Edwin St Hill on the 1928 tour of England (Image: Complete History of Cricket Tours at Home and Abroad (1989) by Peter Wynne-Thomas)

Among the names to represent the West Indies in their first ever Test match, played at Lord’s in 1928, was Wilton St Hill. For many of the players in that team, with the exception of Learie Constantine, it is fair to describe them as “long-forgotten”. St Hill is a different case because he is known to a wider audience, but not because of his cricket achievements. In fact, his performance on that tour was described as “a horrible, a disastrous, an incredible failure” by the man who would be responsible for St Hill being remembered at all. The author of those words was CLR James, whose Beyond a Boundary (1963) is regularly judged to be one of the greatest books ever written on cricket. St Hill was the subject of a whole chapter  “The Most Unkindest Cut”. Writing in Wisden in 1964, John Arlott described James’ work: “The essay on Wilton St Hill must be the finest portrait of a cricketer ever created in prose – or, for that matter in verse or paint either.”

As a cricketer, James placed St Hill among some of the greatest names in the history of cricket, comparing him to leading players of the 1940s and 1950s: Garry Sobers, George Headley, the “three Ws” (Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott), Len Hutton, Dennis Compton and Peter May. It is clear, as James willingly concedes, that St Hill’s record does not even marginally match up to these giants of the game. But to quibble with his judgement of St Hill’s greatness is to miss the point of the chapter. Because James writes about what St Hill represented, which is far more important than what he achieved. To discuss St Hill in terms of statistics is to misunderstand what he meant to James and to the people of Trinidad in the 1920s.

Having said that, James thoroughly analyses St Hill’s technique; from his ability to play the ferocious fast bowling of George John with time to spare, to his “mastery” of the leg-side; from his leg glance that James compares to that of Ranjitsinhji, to his ability to keep the ball down “always”. According to James, one of St Hill’s defining features as a batsman was his desire to dominate, to keep scoring and prevent the bowler imposing restraint on him. James makes a convincing case on paper that St Hill was a batsman of ability. However, where St Hill comes alive is not in the description of his batting, but from what James knew of him as a person.

James draws on his own acquaintanceship with St Hill to paint a picture of a restrained, reserved individual:

“He was an unusual man. I got to know him about 1916 and ever afterwards we used to talk. Even in my youthful days I could not miss his reserve (with sudden bursts of excitement, rapidly repressed as if he had made a mistake), his ironical outlook on life, his tight mouth and, when an issue was over and done with, the slight smile at the corners of his lips that belied the unchanging gravity of his eyes. In all the talk about who should have been selected and who was left out and why, I do not ever remember him saying a word. He may have done so to his more intimate friends – we were never intimate, though if I had been a member of his club I am pretty certain we would have been.”

Wilton St Hill in 1925

James describes St Hill’s presence on a cricket field: how he drew the attention of the spectators and opposition, simply by his approach to the wicket when batting; how he smoked a cigarette at the crease while waiting for John to set his field. James wrote: “Fires burned within St Hill and you could always see the glow.” James also wrote: “[George] John I understood. St Hill I could never quite make out. His eyes used to blaze when he was discussing a point with you, but even within his clipped sentences there were intervals when he seemed to be thinking of things far removed.”

In a remarkable rarity for a cricketer, thanks to James we know far more about St Hill’s character than we do about his life. Even James conceded that he knew little about St Hill away from the cricket field. Is it possible to go beyond what James writes? Or at the very least to find some corroboration for what he has to say? Can we construct the story of St Hill outside the pages of Beyond a Boundary?

This is trickier than it appears, because much of what we know about St Hill’s life outside of cricket comes from James, who records that he worked in a department store in Port-of-Spain, selling cloth. He also states that St Hill died in 1957, although there is some doubt about this. There is not much in any other source about him. Wisden recorded that St Hill was born on 6 July 1893. But although he was listed on cricket scorecards as WH St Hill, there is no indication anywhere of what the “H” stood for. There are few online genealogy records available which cover Trinidad in this period, which makes searching for records of his birth or his family almost impossible.

There are two possible clues. First is a record which details when a 21-year-old called Wilton St Hill crossed into the USA from Canada in November 1913. He was passing through to visit his father James St Hill, who lived at 60 Robert Street in Trinidad. This Wilton St Hill (or Sainthill as he is recorded on some forms) was a resident in Montreal in Canada, and worked as a bookbinder. Could this be our St Hill? It seems likely – Wilton St Hill is hardly a common name. The form is a little difficult to read online but it looks as if he arrived in Canada in May 1913; this would match known facts because St Hill was in Trinidad that February, playing against the touring MCC team. There is no obvious reason why he would have spent time in Canada, and no record of any similar journeys, but given how little is known of him, this should not be discounted. The other clue is the record of St Hill arriving in England with the West Indies team in April 1928. This states that he was 35 years old and was a salesman, which matches James’ description of him working in a department store.

A little more background may also help to understand what was going on. At the time, Trinidad was a British Colony, ruled by a white European elite. The majority black population faced racial prejudice from those who governed the island. They had few rights and had little opportunity to advance themselves; many found themselves in poverty. There were no elections of any kind before 1925, and until 1946, the first election in Trinidad with universal adult suffrage, only around 5% of the population – a fraction almost entirely made up of white people – had the vote. Key appointments were made by the Governor and the best jobs were held by white or very light-skinned men. Darker skinned people were treated as inferior, and had little opportunity for professional or social advancement. This background is crucial in understand the story of St Hill, or any of the other Trinidadian cricketers who succeeded against the odds. It was this background that drove Learie Constantine to a career in England as a professional cricketer, seeking opportunities that he was denied at home.

We know that St Hill quickly made a name for himself in the top level of local Trinidadian cricket. Learie Constantine, writing about the history of West Indies cricket in the 1957 edition of Wisden recalled “during my boyhood” (Constantine was born in 1901), when St Hill was still a newcomer, he faced the formidable, international-class fast bowler George John. He remembered the two opening batsmen coming out for his father’s team:

“One was the secret weapon, a slim and immature-looking boy called Wilton St. Hill – alas! now no more. He was smoking as he walked out; he took his stance, still smoking, glanced idly round the field, then threw away his cigarette. George John – also now gone to the great divide – one of the most formidable fast bowlers who ever handled a ball, thundered up at the other end and sent down a red lightning flash – atomic if you wish – but the slender boy flicked his wrists and the ball flew to the boundary faster than sound. The next went the same way. The boy batted from his wrists; he never seemed to use any force. I don’t believe he had the strength even if he so desired. His was just perfect timing. Wilton St Hill became famous later, but I never saw him or anyone else play a more heart-lifting innings than he did that day.”

Part of the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain, where most clubs played their matches in the Bonanza Cup (Image: Wikipedia)

Constantine wrote this before James published Beyond a Boundary and it is perhaps the only independent source to confirm how highly-regarded St Hill was in Trinidad. Constantine later played on the same team as St Hill. Initially called Victoria, the club was later renamed as Shannon Cricket Club and took part in Trinidad’s local competition, known as the Bonanza Cup, named after – and presumably sponsored by – a large department store in Port-of-Spain known as The Bonanza. It is not impossible that this was where St Hill worked.

In Beyond a Boundary, James recorded how the leading clubs of Trinidad in the 1910s and 1920s were divided along class and racial lines: the almost exclusively white and wealthy Queen’s Park Club; Shamrock for white Catholics; Constabulary, composed of mainly black policemen captained by a white inspector; Maple, for “the brown-skinned middle class” where anyone with a darker skin-tone was unwelcome; Shannon, “the club of the black lower-middle class: the teacher, the law clerk, the worker in the printing office and here and there a clerk in a department store”; and the almost completely black Stingo, the “plebeians: the butcher, the tailor, the candlestick maker, the casual labourer, with a sprinkling of the unemployed.”

James wrote extensively about the Shannon club, which played with a pride, passion and determination that made a deep impression on him:

“They played as if they knew that their club represented the great mass of black people in the island … Stingo did not show that pride and impersonal ambition which distinguished Shannon. As clearly as if it was written across the sky, their play said: Here, on the cricket field if nowhere else, all men in the island are equal, and we are the best men in the island.”

The team was very strong, and the majority of Trinidad’s first-class bowling attack in the Intercolonial Tournament was composed of Shannon bowlers. St Hill became a key member of the team, demanding the highest standards from his team-mates. In the 1920s, the team was captained by Lebrun Constantine, Learie’s father, but according to James whenever they were in trouble on the field, St Hill took over, shouting “Pull your socks up!” Once, playing against Maple, Learie Constantine bowled badly to James and conceded 11 runs in one over; St Hill took charge, removing him from the attack. “Old Cons [Lebrun Constantine] merely stood silent and watched, and Learie strolled off to cover.” In later years, St Hill captained the team himself.

James also records how someone from the Maple club once told St Hill:

“‘Maple would be glad to have a man like you.’ The reply was instantaneous. ‘Yes, but they wouldn’t have my brothers.’ His brothers were darker than he and had neither his reputation nor his poise.”

We shall return to those brothers, Edwin and Cecil, who in many ways are just as interesting as Wilton.

What about first-class cricket? Each season in the West Indies, the Intercolonial Tournament was played between Barbados, Trinidad and British Guiana (Jamaica was considered to be too far away to be able to take part, although touring teams travelled there and Jamaican players were included in representative West Indies teams). St Hill made his first-class debut for Trinidad in 1912. According to CricketArchive, he batted in the lower order in his first matches, although he was not used as a bowler, but scorecards from this period can be unreliable. In four matches, he passed fifty just once; the number of runs scored in early West Indies cricket are not necessarily an indicator of their quality, but apart from his half-century, his innings represent neither top scores, nor a substantial proportion of the team total. It was after the First World War that St Hill came into his own; he scored 96 in 1920 against the powerful Barbados team.

There was one issue which may have held St Hill back though. Most leading West Indian batsmen at the time were white. Particularly in Barbados, this was cultivated and encouraged – batting was a white pastime (because, as it had been in England, it was seen as the socially superior discipline) and black cricketers were restricted to bowling. Representative West Indies teams were composed of white batsmen and black bowlers. To break this monopoly was almost impossible. Only Trinidad at the time routinely included black batsmen in their team. While St Hill had made his place secure in the Trinidad team, he faced a challenge to overcome this prejudice and reach the full West Indies side.

Wilton St Hill in 1926

Perhaps illustrative of the problems that St Hill faced is the match against Barbados in which he scored 96. At the time, Barbados were overwhelmingly strong; they had won the last two Intercolonial Tournaments before the First World War – held in 1910-11 and 1911-12 – and although the competition was not held in 1919-20, presumably owing to the after-effects of the war, they defeated Trinidad by an innings in this game and the other “friendly” first-class match played in February 1920. They went on to win the 1922-23 and 1923-24 tournaments. Only in 1921-22, when rain prevented a conclusion to a match in which Trinidad were comfortably placed, were Barbados not crowned as champions.

In 1920, St Hill scored 96 after Trinidad had followed on after replying to a score of 623 for five by Barbados. Tim Tarilton scored 304 not out, the first triple century by a West Indian batsman, in just under seven hours. His opening partner George Challenor scored 104 out of their stand of 180 for the first wicket. Tarilton also shared a partnership of 183 with Harry Ince, who scored 80. Clement Browne helped Tarilton add 176 for the fourth wicket, scoring 79 himself. Among the helpless Trinidad bowlers were George John, who toured England in 1923 and was a leading fast bowler, and Joe Small, a future Test all-rounder. It is perhaps unsurprising that Trinidad collapsed to 131 all out in the face of such a pounding, despite a palpably weak Barbados attack. The team improved in the follow-on; apart from St Hill’s 96, Joe Small scored 102 to take the score to a more respectable 461 – still not enough to avert an innings defeat.

Of the Barbados batsmen who succeeded in that game, Tarilton, Challenor and Ince were white. Barbados built their reputation around their batsmen. CLR James later remembered Tarilton as the best, most reliable batsman in the West Indies; Challenor would shortly establish his name as one of the most attractive batsmen in the world; Ince was a highly attractive left-handed stylist, often compared to England’s Frank Woolley. All three toured England in 1923, although only Challenor was successful. It was this backdrop of white Barbadian batting domination that St Hill had to overcome.

But St Hill in 1920 and 1921 made a strong case for his inclusion in any West Indian team of the period. After his success against Barbados in 1920, he scored 104 against British Guiana in 1921. He must have been equally impressive for Shannon as well. The Cricketer, previewing the 1928 tour of England, recorded that in 1922, he scored 210 not out against “The Police”. When a West Indian team was invited to tour England in 1923, the first such tour since 1906, St Hill must have seemed a certainty for selection.

For what happened next, we must inevitably turn to Beyond a Boundary. First, a little background. St Hill had many fervent supporters in Trinidad. These supporters are, in themselves, remarkable. James writes how, after the 1921 Intercolonial Tournament, he wrote some comic verses about the success of the left-arm-spinner Victor Pascall which were well-received. But:

“One night that week I was paid a visit by a St Hill follower. I knew him as one of those who almost every afternoon religiously watched Shannon practise, and came to the match on Saturdays to see Wilton bat, as nationalist crowds go to hear their political leaders. There were quite a few such.”

This follower requested that James write about St Hill, who had just scored his century against British Guiana. With some misgivings, he wrote a sonnet which was politely overlooked by James’ “clique of literary friends”. But he added: “It was the earnestness of my visitor which remained with me. Why should it matter so much to him?” James later concluded – although he admits that this was based on guesswork only as St Hill never discussed the matter with him – it was because St Hill had decided that, after touring England with the West Indies in 1923, he would stay there and pursue a career as a professional cricketer. James cites the precedents of Charles Ollivierre and Sydney Smith, although both were nominally amateurs. More relevant may be that, at the time, the Lancashire League featured a growing number of overseas professionals, mainly Australians. Ted McDonald, probably the best fast bowler in the world, was then playing for Nelson. If he was the first overseas star in English league cricket, he would be followed at the same club by Constantine in 1929. Although there is no evidence to support James’ suggestion, it is not an outlandish one and there would have been a good chance of St Hill finding someone to employ him had he enjoyed a successful tour of England. According to James, St Hill “was a dissatisfied man” and wished to escape from his job selling cloth, which had few prospects. This would also fit with his possible relocation to Canada before the war.

But it is equally possible that his visitor was simply enthralled by St Hill, as were others. James recounted an occasion where a group of men in the country saw him walking while carrying a cricket bat, and they asked him if he was St Hill. “None of them had ever seen St Hill, but they worshipped him.” The group fell into a discussion about St Hill’s latest feats, after which one said: “You know what I waitin’ for? When he go to Lord’s and the Oval and make his century there! That’s what I want to see.” James concluded that, to black Trinidadians:

“The unquestioned glory of St Hill’s batting conveyed the sensation that here was one of us, performing in excelsis in a sphere where competition was open. It was a demonstration that atoned for a pervading humiliation, and nourished pride and hope … Wilton St Hill was our boy.”

To all these cricket followers, the forthcoming tour of England was a huge occasion – the opportunity for St Hill to show the world what he – and they – could do. Unfortunately, St Hill’s form collapsed in 1922, dashing any hopes he might have had of touring England or forging a cricketing career there. He scored just 49 runs in four innings of the 1922-23 Intercolonial Tournament. James’ recollection was slightly different – “There were two or three trial matches. He failed in them” – but there is no record of any trial matches before the 1923 tour.

St Hill was left out of the team. His supporters were devastated, and James wrote that “it was as if a destined Prime Minister had lost his seat in the elections.” James believed that St Hill himself never recovered from the blow. He outlined what he and the cricketing public believed had happened. The leading West Indian batsmen – Challenor, Tarilton and Ince of Barbados, and Maurice Fernandes of British Guiana – were white.

“This was the traditional order, a line of white batsmen and a line of black bowlers. Joe Small had made for himself a place as a batsman which could not be denied. Joe was enough. They didn’t want any more. Further, Joe was an inoffensive person. St Hill was not in any way offensive. Far from it. But he was not friendly.”

James also recalled what happened afterwards, as St Hill’s followers discussed events:

“We became convinced in our own minds that St Hill was the greatest of all West Indian batsmen and on English wickets this coloured man would infallibly put all white rivals in the shade. And they were too afraid of precisely the same thing, and therefore were glad to keep him out. We were not helped by the fact that in our heart of hearts we didn’t know exactly how good he was [because the West Indian team had not played in England since 1906 or faced an English team since 1912] … We terribly wanted to say not only to West Indians but to all England, ‘That’s our boy.’ And now we couldn’t. On performance Small rivalled St Hill. But Joe never aroused the excitement that Wilton did.”

Part of the issue, which James discussed elsewhere, was that each of the regions were allotted a certain number of places in the West Indies team. Among the Trinidad representatives were George John, Victor Pascall and Joe Small, three proven performers, and Learie Constantine, chosen largely on the potential seen in him by the captain HBG Austin. These four were black, and Trinidad’s only white representative – and the only player from the prestigious, all-white Queen’s Park Club – was the wicket-keeper George Dewhurst (who according to James was preferred to a superior black wicketkeeper named Pigott). James admitted that he was not sure who could have been left out in favour of St Hill, and said that no-one proposed to leave out batsmen of the calibre of Challenor. But it certainly suggests that there was more at play than mere batting form. James wrote that opinions were very strong on all sides.

Did St Hill deserve a place on that 1923 tour of England? It is unlikely he would have done worse than Karl Nunes, Harry Ince or JK Holt; if selection had been purely on merit, St Hill should have played instead of one of these. But this was not possible as each colony was given their number of places; St Hill would not have been given one of the places allocated to, for example, Barbados. If he were to have been selected, it would have been at the expense of one of the other Trinidad players, and perhaps he had not done enough to displace any of them (particularly given that two were bowlers and a third the wicket-keeper). Given the self-imposed restrictions the selectors worked with, perhaps his omission is understandable. But this was not the only time that the restriction held the team back, and the system was widely opposed in the press even then.

The Trinidad cricket team that won the Intercolonial Tournament in 1925; St Hill scored 66 and 64 in the final. Standing: V. Pascall, RA Boyack, FG Grant, AV Waddell. Seated: C Fraser, CA Wiles, GAR Dewhurst, JA Small, WH St Hill. On ground: LN Constantine, EL St Hill.

After the West Indies’ generally successful tour of England in 1923, St Hill continued to play for Trinidad. And, gradually, he began to prove himself the best batsman in the West Indies and make himself a first-choice batsman in any representative team. In 1923-24, Barbados once more won the Intercolonial Tournament, held in Barbados that year. In two low-scoring matches, St Hill did little, but was joined in the team by his brother Edwin. At that stage, St Hill had played six matches against Barbados and lost five of them (with the other being the rain-affected draw). But the following year, when the tournament returned to Trinidad, St Hill top-scored in both Trinidad innings with 66 and 64 as the home team recorded a tense 13-run victory. There was a great deal of celebration that Trinidad had finally broken Barbados’ stranglehold.

St Hill scored a century when Trinidad retained their title in British Guiana in October 1925. Then, in January and February 1926, a reasonably strong MCC team – certainly the strongest to that point to tour the region, containing nine current or future Test players – visited the West Indies and played three unofficial Test matches. St Hill played all three games, scoring 72 in the final match, but his greatest success came when he scored 105 for Trinidad against the visitors. After the tour, Lord Harris, then aged 75, was interviewed by the Sporting Chronicle of Trinidad, a piece reproduced in the Cricketer Spring Annual for 1926. While cautioning that the Trinidadian cricket public “rather over-rated the capabilities of [their] teams”, he singled out St Hill as “an extremely fine batsman, certainly the best he had seen in the West Indies. He was likely to prove a splendid batsman and run-getter on English wickets.”

A combined photograph of the MCC and Trinidad teams from the 1926 tour. Back row: LS Constantine, CT Bennett, F Watson, Major TH Carlton Levick, WR Hammond, G John, LG Crawley, Capt TO Jameson. Third row: A Cipriani, P Holmes, R Kilner, GC Collins, WE Astill, AV Waddell. Second row: EJ Smith, VS Pascall, CA Wiles, Hon FSG Calthorpe, GAR Dewhurst, Hon LH Tennyson, HL Dales. Seated: WH St Hill, JA Small, FG Grant, EL St Hill, C Fraser.

A combined photograph of the MCC and Trinidad teams from the 1926 tour. Back row: LS Constantine, CT Bennett, F Watson, Major TH Carlton Levick, WR Hammond, G John, LG Crawley, Capt TO Jameson. Third row: A Cipriani, P Holmes, R Kilner, GC Collins, WE Astill, AV Waddell. Second row: EJ Smith, VS Pascall, CA Wiles, Hon FSG Calthorpe, GAR Dewhurst, Hon LH Tennyson, HL Dales. Seated: WH St Hill, JA Small, FG Grant, EL St Hill, C Fraser.

St Hill did little in the Intercolonial Tournament in 1926-27, when Barbados won a match that lasted eight days after conceding a first-innings lead of 384 – they scored 726 for seven in their second innings and won by 125 runs. St Hill scored just 0 and 18, although certainly in the second innings and possibly in the first he batted on a pitch affected by rain. But his record since the 1923 tour meant that he was almost guaranteed to be in any representative West Indies team, with another tour of England looming in 1928 – with the added prestige of including the West Indies’ first Test matches.

But unfortunately for St Hill, that tour was to prove a complete disaster both for the team and for him…

“Unhappily, expectations were rudely shattered”: The West Indies team in England in 1928

The West Indies team in 1928

When the West Indies toured England in 1928 and played their first ever Test series, the team’s record was grim. All three Tests were lost by an innings, and their overall record in first-class cricket was equally poor. Although there had been hopes that the West Indies would be competitive, Wisden said of the tour: “Unhappily expectations were rudely shattered. So far from improving upon the form of their predecessors [in 1923], the team of 1928 fell so much below it that everybody was compelled to realise that the playing of Test Matches between England and West Indies was a mistake.” Only one other team that toured England between the wars recorded as many as the twelve first-class losses suffered by Karl Nunes’ side; and only one other team recorded fewer than their five wins in the thirty first-class games played. The reasons the West Indies were so easily beaten began with the muddled selection process that led to several players being picked who did not deserve to be there – including the captain and vice-captain – and the omission of several others who did. But even with these myriad selection problems, the team could have been competitive. For this to happen, they needed a good captain, solid batting and reliable fielding to complement the formidable fast bowlers. None of these things came to pass.

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Karl Nunes leads out the West Indies at the start of the tour, a one-day game against Dulwich on 1 May 1928. This was their fourth warm-up game of the tour, played before the first-class programme began.

After a respectable start to the tour, the team’s form plummeted and Nunes was incapable of arresting the slide. The team won their opening first-class match, and after a month of cricket, West Indies had played six first-class matches, winning two and drawing four. Their first defeat came – somewhat embarrassingly – when they lost by 60 runs to Ireland, but this was more than offset by a glorious win against Middlesex when Constantine scored 86 and 103 and took seven for 57 in Middlesex’s second innings, one of the most dominating all-round performances ever recorded. This performance was instrumental in Constantine securing a contract to play for Nelson in the Lancashire League – getting a professional contract had been Constantine’s main aim before the tour. But his heroics served to distract from the increasingly obvious deficiencies in the rest of the team. Two games later, West Indies lost by 42 runs to a team representing the Minor Counties: having enforced the follow-on, West Indies were bowled out for 103 chasing 146 to win.

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Learie Constantine batting against Middlesex in the course of his match-winning 103, scored in an hour, on the final day of the game. Fred Price is the wicket-keeper.

West Indies played their inaugural Test match at Lord’s, the scene of Constantine’s triumph against Middlesex. The game was a disaster for West Indies, but in fairness, England were comfortably the best team in the world at that time and went on to dominate the Ashes series played the following winter. After England scored 401, West Indies managed just 177 (after an opening partnership of 86 between Challenor and Martin) and (following on) 166. Only Joe Small, on the final morning, managed to reach an individual fifty for the West Indies. West Indies recovered quickly in the next game, defeating Northamptonshire by an innings as Constantine scored 107 and had match figures of thirteen for 112. At this point, West Indies had played twelve first-class games, winning four and losing three. This represented the high point of the tour; of the remaining eighteen first-class matches, they won just one and lost nine. Before the next Test, Yorkshire and Warwickshire won comfortably and the visiting batsmen continued to struggle.

Warwickshire defeated the West Indies during the middle of the tour. The match was partially captured on film: the West Indies are bowling, but it is not clear who the bowlers are. The slower men could be Tommy Scott, Snuffy Browne or Joe Small. The faster bowlers are Learie Constantine and Herman Griffith; Constantine is probably the one running towards the camera. There is, aptly, a misfield in the slips at the end of the film.

The second Test came next. Although West Indies passed 200 for the first time, and Clifford Roach scored a fifty, England scored 351. A first innings lead of 145 was enough for an innings win when the West Indies’ second innings managed just 115. The highest score was Wilton St Hill’s 38. From here, results collapsed. Wales won by eight wickets (Sydney Barnes, then aged 52, had match figures of twelve for 118). The next four games were drawn, largely owing to bad weather and it is quite likely that morale had collapsed by the time of the third Test. West Indies reached 238, their highest score of the series, but a dismal fielding performance allowed England to score 438 and by that stage it cannot have been surprising when West Indies collapsed to 129 and their third innings defeat. Roach, with a first-innings 53 that proved the team’s highest individual innings of the series, was the only West Indies batsman to pass fifty in the match.

It appears that after this all fight left the team. Most of the remaining games were disastrous. Sussex defeated them by an innings, but after a high-scoring draw against Hampshire, West Indies won for the first time in a first-class game for almost two months when they defeated Kent by 201 runs – described by Wisden as “their best performance of the tour”. But this result was a temporary reprieve. In the next game against the Harlequins, a team of former Oxford cricketers, West Indies collapsed to 64 for six on the first day, recovered to 311 after a last wicket partnership of 107 in 50 minutes between Joe Small and George Francis, but lost by an innings and 105 runs after Harlequins scored 676 for eight. An England XI won the next match by eight wickets, and HDG Leveson-Gower’s team ended the first-class programme by winning by eight wickets (after West Indies collapsed for 113 having held a first-innings lead of 97). Four of the last six first-class games had been lost. It is unlikely that the three one-day matches won after this were much consolation.

Wisden’s judgement was simple: “Considering what the West Indies team of 1923 had accomplished the performance of the side which visited England last summer proved extremely disappointing.” The reasons were not hard to find. The batting was a sorry failure: on far too many occasions, the team collapsed dismally. Only four batsmen reached 1,000 first-class runs on the tour. One of these, Challenor did so with an average of 27.53 and no centuries; in 1923, he had scored six centuries and averaged 51.86. Constantine was the leading run-scorer with 1,381 at 34.52 but failed with the bat in the three Tests. Frank Martin (32.61) and Clifford Roach (26.56) were the other men to pass 1,000 runs. Martin was the leading Test run-scorer for the West Indies, but failed to pass fifty; Roach passed fifty twice in the Tests, but averaged only 21.83. The only other West Indies batsman to pass fifty in the Tests was Joe Small, but he scored just two runs in three other innings. In first-class cricket, Small averaged 18.59 (compared to 31.04 in 1923). Teddy Hoad headed the tour first-class batting averages with 765 runs at 36.42, but scored just 13 and 4 in the only Test he played.

As for the leaders of the team, the captain Karl Nunes averaged 23.47 in first-class games and 14.50 in the Tests. His vice-captain Vibart Wight averaged 20.17 in first-class games, and did not pass fifty once; he played just one of the three Tests. Of the batsmen expected to provide the bulk of the runs, Maurice Fernandes averaged 18.15 and Wilton St Hill averaged 10.91. The team recorded just ten centuries; only Constantine (three times) and Hoad (twice) reached three figures more than once. More curiously, Ernest Rae, James Neblett, Tommy Scott and Edward Bartlett barely played and St Hill all but disappeared after the Second Test.

To set this in some context, 1928 was a year in which several batting records were set. The Wisden editor Charles Stewart Caine complained about how easy batting had become in English cricket, and provided some figures to back up his argument. That season there had been 37 totals exceeding 500 and in 72 games the total aggregate passed 1,000 runs. There were thirteen opening partnerships worth over 200 and 29 double centuries. On fifteen occasions, three batsmen reached centuries in a team innings; in one innings four men did so. In total there were 414 hundreds compared to 309 the year before: three men scored thirteen centuries in the season and two men scored twelve. Five players passed 3,000 first-class runs, something that had only been done ten times previously in total. Against this background, the failure of the West Indies batting becomes clear.

The main problem for the West Indian batsmen was unfamiliarity with English conditions; as a result, they struggled against both spin and medium-paced bowlers. The leading English wicket-taker in the Test series was AP Freeman, who took 22 wickets – a third of his career total – in the three Tests at 13.72. Other spinners also caused the team problems, including Vallance Jupp and Jack White, and this was viewed as a weakness in press. The medium-paced bowler Maurice Tate also troubled the batsmen with his movement in the air and off the pitch, and the veteran Sydney Barnes was very successful when he played for Wales against the touring team. Another issue may have been the unaccustomed volume of cricket during the tour; players who only played one or two first-class matches in a year, and perhaps weekly games in their local competitions at home, were now playing six days a week for several months. Fatigue may partly explain why results deteriorated over time; it is also notable that the 1928 team played far more often than their 1923 counterparts.

The one indisputably strong aspect of the team was its fast bowling. The consensus among critics was that Constantine, Francis and Griffith were very good. In the Cricketer, Pelham Warner said that the West Indies bowling constituted the strongest visiting bowling attack to England since the Australians Jack Gregory and Ted MacDonald terrorised English batsmen in 1921, and stated that they never seemed to tire throughout the course of a day in the field. Jack Hobbs later said that Constantine’s opening overs during the second Test were some of the fastest he ever faced, and Herbert Sutcliffe told Pelham Warner that he had “never faced finer fast bowling” than the West Indies’ bowling in the first Test.

On more than one occasion, the bowlers unsettled English batsmen – including England’s openers Sutcliffe and Charlie Hallows in the first Test, Len Bates (whom Constantine knocked unconscious) and Bob Wyatt in the match against Warwickshire, and Jack Hobbs – who complained about their repeated use of the short ball in the second Test.

But the record of these bowlers – particular Francis and Griffith – was not especially good, and the reason was poor catching. The slip fielders were particularly fallible and Warner estimated that between seventy and eighty catches were dropped in the slips over the course of the tour; he stated that three good slip fielders would have doubled the effectiveness of the bowlers. Nunes told Warner that if he had possessed England’s slip fielders, the England totals in the Test matches could have been halved. Nunes was unsurprisingly ineffective as a wicket-keeper, never having previously done the job regularly; Warner said that he did well enough, not dropping a catch in the first two Tests, but failed badly in the third.

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RK Nunes presents his team to King George V during their drawn match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. The king is talking to Constantine; to Constantine’s right is Clifford Roach, on his left James Neblett, George Francis and EL Bartlett.

Then there was the question of captaincy. This is one of those topics where official sources are very silent. However, there were claims in Trinidad that all was far from well. An anonymous author who called himself “Mid-Off” wrote in Trinidad’s Sporting Chronicle that the team were being extremely poorly led by their captain, Karl Nunes. He suggested: “It is an open secret that he has no control over the men under his command, is neither loved, feared, nor respected by any of them and is now powerless to exercise any influence for good over any individual member of the side.” He quoted an English newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch as reporting: “Nearly every man on the team feels friendless and isolated among his fellows.”

“Mid-Off” eviscerated Nunes’ on-field leadership and suggested that he encouraged members of the team to report on each other’s misconduct. Another complaint was that he judged any such problems privately rather than discussing them in the open. His main weapon against any “offenders” was to stop speaking to them, then drop them from the team. One unnamed player spent a lot of time chatting to women in the pavilions; Nunes objected to this, threatened to drop him permanently (although “Mid-Off” suggests he was an “almost indispensable” member of the team) and eventually “bawled him out” in public. The reason “Mid-Off” gave for Neblett’s infrequent appearances except as twelfth man was “his alleged private criticisms of the Captain”.

“Mid-off” also addressed the slip fielding; he blamed Nunes for not organising practices to address the problem, “and so a catch held in the slips is now regarded in the light of a miracle.” On Nunes’ vice-captain Wight, “Mid-off” said: “A persistent enquiry may be directed as to the utility or otherwise of the Vice-Captain. The fact is that Wight had no business on the side from the outset as a player or anything else. He has never been able to show himself worthy of a place and, human nature being what it is, he cannot reasonably be expected to win respect or admiration from those under his leadership without some other dazzling qualities. It is true, however, to say not only that Wight is destitute of any such tinsel but that he keeps as aloof from the team as he conveniently can.” The writer claimed that, when not playing in the Tests, rather than sit with the team in the pavilion, Wight sat in the stands with “charming ladies”.

The writer concluded that the only way Nunes and Wight could have made a good job of leading the team would have been if Harold Austin, the previous West Indies captain, had come as the team manager. He also criticised Dewhurst’s “unsportsmanlike behaviour” in withdrawing from the team because he had not been appointed as vice-captain. Acknowledging that he would have been far better than Wight in the role, it said his value as a wicket-keeper would also have made a huge difference to the bowlers.

How much trust should be placed in this somewhat one-sided account? The Trinidad press, which strongly favoured the Trinidadians Dewhurst or Frederick Grant for the captaincy, had been critical of Nunes even before his appointment was confirmed. It could be that the article was merely a continuation of that campaign. However, “Mid-Off” was well-informed enough to know, for example, that Nunes had been demoralisingly negative in the Middlesex match. He could write about a row when Nunes requested that Constantine merely keep Duleepsinhji quiet rather than attempt to dismiss him in the game against Sussex. And he was knowledgable about more gossipy matters, such as which players were out of favour, and who preferred to spend time away from the team. These facts could have been fabricated to discredit Nunes but they sound plausible. Did “Mid-Off” have a source among the players?

The article certainly provoked a reaction. The Daily Gleaner in Jamaica published a sarcastic rebuttal written by the journalist Gordon Scotter. Incidentally, Scotter was English (born in London in 1890, the son of a clergyman), and in later years became a vocal defender of what the English had done for Jamaica and for Africa. He was a strident critic of the labour movement in Jamaica; he later advocated birth control to limit the violence of labour rebellions, but was interned by the Jamaican Governor in 1940 for criticising the course of the Second World War and expressing doubts that the Allies would win – the Governor believed that he could affect the recruitment of troops to join the war effort.

Pelham Warner photographed in 1932 (Image: Wikipedia)

“Mid-off’s” article even reached England. Pelham Warner referred to it in the Cricketer Annual at the end of the season: “Whatever a certain critic in the West Indies may think – and he was 4,000 miles away – opinion was general in this country that Nunes, the captain, managed his bowling and placed his field admirably.” Warner insisted that Nunes had been a very good captain, and had worked hard to keep his bowlers fresh.

As for Wight, Nunes himself paid tribute to his vice-captain at a lunch near the end of the tour. Warner mentioned this in his report in the Cricketer, but did something rather odd (even by the standards of his sometimes laboured writing). Discussing Wight, he said: “Wight played in a good style, but he made no big scores. Nunes paid a nice tribute to his work as vice-captain at the luncheon given by the West Indian Club shortly before the team’s departure, and we would like to add that it was not only the zealous manner in which the whole team played the game, but also their innate good manners which made them such welcome visitors on every cricket ground.” This apparently random (and unexplained) linking of Wight with the team’s “good manners” occurs in the middle of an appraisal of each member of the team; Warner then goes on to discuss Scott’s batting.

Whether we can trust Warner is questionable. He was the ultimate establishment man at the best of times, and took a keen interest in West Indian cricket, but is likely to have been strongly in favour of Nunes and the authorities. In later years, Warner represented the West Indies himself at meetings of the Imperial Cricket Conference. His defence of Nunes (and Wight) was hardly emphatic and was not backed up in Wisden, which was silent on the leadership of the team. Years later, “Mid-Off” received some corroboration when Constantine revealed that he did not get along with Nunes, and believed that his captain over-bowled him. Dr Hilary Beckles in A Nation Imagined (2003), an interesting if somewhat neglected and occasionally inaccurate book about the 1928 tour, said of Nunes: “To the extent that there was opposition on the team towards his leadership, the focus was more on his aloofness with persons he considered of an inferior social class and race than his form as a batsman.”

In terms of how Nunes affected the team, we have “Mid-off’s” suggestion that he was responsible for the lack of appearances of Neblett. Of the other disappearances, the same author attributes St Hill’s increasingly infrequent appearances to a clash with Nunes. As for Rae, his obituary in the Jamaica Gleaner stated that he was badly affected by bronchitis during the tour; but the same obituary also said that he had a reputation for being “controversial”, and called him “an extremely sell-opinionated individual”, who “was not afraid to express himself”. It also hinted that he may have spoken out against racism in West Indies cricket in the past. It could be that he clashed with his captain. Rae’s only subsequent appearance for any West Indies team came in a match played in Jamaica against an unofficial English touring side; in fact, he never played a first-class game away from home after this tour.

Another concern for the team, for which neither Nunes nor Wight could be blamed, was the financial aspect of the tour. The tour was financed by Charles Aloysius “Alty” O’Dowd, an Irish-born businessman who lived in British Guiana and a very influential figure in the formation of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control. As the Board had few financial resources, O’Dowd provided funds not only for the 1928 tour, but also for the next one in 1933 and for the MCC teams which toured the West Indies in 1930 and 1935. However, the money was not a gift but an advance which he expected to be repaid through ticket sales. Attendances at the early games on the tour were poor, and Mallet, the team manager, was extremely worried after the West Indies lost embarrassingly to Ireland that the public would lose interest. He encouraged Learie Constantine, whom he recognised as the major attraction of the team, to play against Middlesex (the match he effectively won single-handedly) despite being less than fit. This need to drum up interest meant that Constantine played far more than was advisable: only FR Martin (29), CA Roach (28) and Nunes (26) matched or surpassed Constantine’s 26 first-class games. Somehow, matters resolved themselves to the extent that Warner reported that the team returned home with a profit of around £2,000.

The results of teams touring England between 1919 and 1939. This table does not include non-first class tours in 1922 and 1936 by Canadian teams or a tour in 1932 by a South American team that played six first-class matches (won two, lost three). In 1930, the Australians tied one first-class match (signified by +1 in the draws column).

It could be argued that, if the tour was a disaster in playing terms, it is not surprising that a team playing its first Test series would struggle. But that ignores the context of contemporary tours by other teams. Even setting aside the results of the Test series, the 1928 West Indies team was less successful in every sense than its 1923 predecessor. In fact, it was less successful than all but one other team that toured England between the wars. Of 30 first-class matches, five were won and twelve lost. The only other team to lose as many as twelve first-class matches was the Indian team of 1936 – also the only side to record fewer than the five wins achieved by the 1928 West Indies (alongside their 1933 equivalents). All these other teams faced similar problems on the field to the West Indies – unfamiliar conditions, an unaccustomed workload playing six days a week – but must have overcome them to some extent. Perhaps the difference was off the field.

In this same period, New Zealand and India also played their first Test matches in England. New Zealand recorded a very creditable draw in their inaugural match in 1931: after scoring 224, they reduced England to 190 for seven before Les Ames and Gubby Allen 246 for the eighth wicket; batting again 230 behind on first innings, New Zealand scored 469 for nine declared and set England 240 to win in 140 minutes. England lost five wickets in batting out time. The following year, India gave England a scare in their first match, reducing England to 19 for three on the first morning. Only three England batsmen reached fifty in the game (Douglas Jardine did so twice), but India’s batting was not quite of the same standard as their bowling, and England won by 158 runs despite not scoring 300 in either innings. The only Test team to be beaten as easily as the West Indies were South Africa in 1924 – England won the first two Tests by an innings (bowling South Africa out for 30 in the first) and the third by nine wickets. Rain prevented a result in the final two Tests.

Finally, it should be remembered that the West Indies had done well in 1923 and against the MCC in 1926; many of the same players in 1929-30 won a Test match for the first time when a touring England team could only draw a high-scoring series. Had players such as George Headley, Archie Wiles or Leslie Hylton been chosen, or had George Dewhurst taken part in the tour, results may have been much better, even if it was unlikely England would have been beaten. Perhaps players such as Victor Pascall and PH Tarilton were discarded too soon. In terms of leadership, given that the captain would only have been a white player in this period, Dewhurst would have been a better choice – Learie Constantine later wrote that he was the only white captain under whom he played other than Harold Austin whom he thought was effective in the role. If the requirement for a white captain had been dropped, many better captains may have been available, including Constantine himself or an experienced player such as St Hill, Small or “Snuffy” Browne. We will never know how effective they could have been as the role was barred to them.

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The Indian cricket team that toured England in 1932

Keith Sandiford in his essay “The Rocky Road to Test Status” suggests that the West Indies team of 1928 would not have beaten the contemporary New Zealand or South African teams which entered Test cricket soon after they did. But in fairness, as the West Indies team grew stronger in the 1930s, they would probably have beaten the other Test teams apart from Australia. For example, although beaten in four Tests in Australia in 1930-31, they won one match; a South African team lost all five Tests against Australia the following season, but beat New Zealand in the two Tests they played there as part of that tour. The other Test newcomers before the war, India, had a very strong bowling attack but were probably weaker in batting than the West Indies, who had George Headley in the team in this period. The team was maybe stronger than the 1928 tour indicated. But it is undeniable that with better selection and with much better leadership, they could have been capable of so much more during their first Test tour.

Misadventures in Selection: The 1928 West Indies team in England

A Pathé film of the 1928 West Indies team. After some shots of net practice (possibly Joe Small batting in the nets), there are close-ups of several players. After RK Nunes, there is an uncredited close-up of James Neblett, another shot of CR Browne, followed by uncredited close-ups of FR Martin and Vibart Wight.

The West Indies first Test match, played at Lord’s between 23 and 26 June 1928, took place during their fourth tour of England. It was one of three Test scheduled as they followed Australia, England and South Africa in achieving Test status. As the West Indies had improved rapidly throughout the 1920s, there was some anticipation that the team would do well and possibly even challenge England, the best team in the world at the time. But the tour proved a catastrophic failure. England won every match, although that was not a particular disgrace. More embarrassing was the manner of the defeats: all three matches were lost by an innings and featured repeated batting failures and shortcomings in the field. Even worse were the results of the tour overall: of 30 first-class matches, five were won and twelve lost. There were problems on the field with underperforming players, and off it as a fragmented and divided team fell apart. The problems began long before the team stepped onto the field – even with the many issues that blighted selection for West Indies teams in this period, the 1928 team was particularly poorly chosen.

It is worth recapping how Test status was achieved. The West Indies cricket team first played in 1886 when an all-white side toured Canada and the United States. From this point, the team played fairly regularly. English teams of varying quality toured the West Indies with increasing frequency from the 1890s, playing most of the colonies and occasionally facing a representative “West Indies” team comprising the best players in the region. It should be noted that at the time, all of the territories which played cricket in the Caribbean were ruled by Britain; each society – and therefore cricket in the region – was dominated by white Europeans, and racism was rife. Therefore, all the cricket teams in the region, including the representative West Indies sides, were composed solely of white players – black cricketers were explicitly excluded from first-class cricket in the West Indies.

A change came when the West Indies toured England for the first time in 1900; several black players were included to ensure that the team was competitive against the English counties. This established a precedent and the rules excluding black players were abolished. The results of the tour were mixed, but generally the team was viewed to have done well. A second tour, this time given first-class status, was made by the West Indies in 1906. This time, half of the team was black but results were not as good – something blamed in some quarters on the mixed nature of the team.

The poor showing of the 1906 team set back West Indies cricket for some time, and it was not until 1911 that an official MCC team toured the region. This team, and a slightly stronger one which toured in 1913, proved too strong for the combined West Indies teams which they played on both occasions. After the First World War, the West Indies were finally invited to tour England again for the 1923 season. Each colony was allocated a certain proportion of players in the team, meaning that the selectors could not simply pick the best players. Unsurprisingly, the captain and vice-captain were white, as were many of the batsmen. Only Trinidad at the time routinely included black batsmen in their team; elsewhere, batting – generally regarded as the being the socially superior discipline, as it had been in England in the 1800s – was largely a white preserve whereas bowling was to be done by black cricketers.

The 1923 team, considerably stronger than the previous two to tour England, made a slow start but eventually had a very good record: of 26 first-class games, the West Indies won twelve and lost seven. But it was one of those losses that made a good case that the West Indies should be elevated to Test status. Against a strong team (HDG Leveson-Gower’s XI) entirely comprised of men who had played or would play Test cricket, the West Indies were heading for a heavy defeat when they set the home side just 28 runs to win in the final innings. But bowling at great pace, the West Indies opening bowlers George Francis and George John had Leveson-Gower’s XI reeling at 19 for six before the seventh wicket pair scrambled home. This made a huge impression, and was spoken of for years to come.

A combined photograph of the MCC and Trinidad teams from the 1926 tour. Back row: LS Constantine, CT Bennett, F Watson, Major TH Carlton Levick, WR Hammond, G John, LG Crawley, Capt TO Jameson. Third row: A Cipriani, P Holmes, R Kilner, GC Collins, WE Astill, AV Waddell. Second row: EJ Smith, VS Pascall, CA Wiles, Hon FSG Calthorpe, GAR Dewhurst, Hon LH Tennyson, HL Dales. Seated: WH St Hill, JA Small, FG Grant, EL St Hill, C Fraser.

A combined photograph of the MCC and Trinidad teams from the 1926 tour. Back row: LS Constantine, CT Bennett, F Watson, Major TH Carlton Levick, WR Hammond, G John, LG Crawley, Capt TO Jameson. Third row: A Cipriani, P Holmes, R Kilner, GC Collins, WE Astill, AV Waddell. Second row: EJ Smith, VS Pascall, CA Wiles, Hon FSG Calthorpe, GAR Dewhurst, Hon LH Tennyson, HL Dales. Seated: WH St Hill, JA Small, FG Grant, EL St Hill, C Fraser.

In January and February 1926, a reasonably strong MCC team – certainly the strongest to tour the region until then – visited the West Indies and played three unofficial Test matches. The MCC won the only “Test” to be completed – although they dominated another that rain prevented them from winning – but Wisden recorded: “Well-equipped as [the MCC] were in all respects, the team met with such powerful opposition on almost every occasion that the tour afforded further evidence of the rapid progress of the game in the West Indies.” Of two matches against Barbados, the MCC lost one and were left clinging on for a draw in the other; both British Guiana and Trinidad established a first innings lead in one of their two matches against the MCC.

At this time, the West Indies team contained several talented players proven at first-class level who had also succeeded either on the 1923 tour, or against the MCC in 1926. Among the batsmen were George Challenor, CR “Snuffy” Browne, the wicket-keeper George Dewhurst and the all-rounder Joe Small; the bowling was even stronger, including Francis, Herman Griffith and the emerging Learie Constantine. Between the results in 1923 and their strong showing in 1926, the West Indies had a case to be elevated to Test status.

At a meeting of the Imperial Cricket Conference on 28 July 1926, it was agreed that that the West Indies would tour England in 1928 and play three Test matches; New Zealand and India were also effectively granted Test status at the meeting, although no Tests were arranged. The driving force behind the elevation of the West Indies was their representative at this meeting and an earlier one that season. HBG Austin, who played for Barbados, had been the captain of the West Indies team since the 1906 tour of England. Away from cricket, he ran a shipping business, was a member of the Barbados House of Assembly between 1919 and 1934 and President of the Board of Education from 1925 to 1935.

HBG Austin pictured in 1913 (Image: Wikipedia)

As a batsman, Harold Austin was a long way from top-class. In a career lasting from 1895 until 1928, he scored just one first-class century, and was far from successful with the bat on the 1906 tour. On that tour, his captaincy was somewhat frowned upon by English critics owing to his unusual placing of fielders. His tour in 1923 was curtailed when the bad weather severely affected his health; after playing the first two games, he missed eleven matches, around six weeks of cricket. But on this occasion, his captaincy was praised. Learie Constantine wrote in 1950 that Austin was the only good first-class captain under whom he played, and the only white player whom he believed deserved the captaincy of the West Indies team. In this, Constantine may have been influenced by the help Austin gave him throughout his career – he was Austin’s choice for the 1923 tour, and when Constantine could not play for the West Indies against the MCC in British Guiana in 1926, Austin intervened with his employer to secure paid leave. CLR James wrote of Austin in Beyond a Boundary (1963): “[He] could point to West Indies cricket and say with far more justification than Jack: ‘This is the house that I built. I know what I am about…'”

Frederick Geddes Grant
Frederick Grant in 1925

Austin retained the captaincy for the series against the MCC in 1926, and although he was 48 years old, played a couple of substantial innings. After representing the West Indies at the all-important meeting of the Imperial Cricket Conference, he was instrumental in the creation of the West Indies Cricket Board. The Imperial Cricket Conference had recommended that the West Indies needed a more formal power structure than had previously existed, and sent Harry Mallett, an Englishman who had managed the West Indies’ tours in 1906 and 1923, to oversee the creation of the new body, which was inevitably all-white. The first meeting was held in June 1927, and Austin was an unsurprising choice as president. As well as Mallett and Austin, the other key figures driving the reformation of West Indies cricket were Laurie Yearwood, also of Barbados, Frederick Grant of Trinidad, and Alty O’Dowd of British Guiana. The latter two men would have considerable impact on the 1928 tour, albeit for different reasons. Around the same time, the Board also sent out invitations to likely candidates for the team to ask about their availability.

Ironically it would be a decision by Austin that ultimately doomed the 1928 tour. When the West Indies Cricket Board held their first meeting, Austin was appointed as captain for the 1928 tour. There were some suggestions in the press that Austin, who had formally retired from cricket at the end of 1926, had only been appointed as a temporary measure to avoid any early controversy over the captaincy, and was never likely to actually tour. But at some point, he seems to have realised that, at the age of 50, the tour would be too much for him, and he withdrew. Matters were further complicated when George Challenor – at the age of 39 the most senior player whose place was unquestioned – said that he did not wish to be appointed captain in order to concentrate entirely on batting.

Settling the captaincy was the first major issue confronting the Board, and no decision was made until shortly before the team was finalised. The appointment of a captain and vice-captain was made at a full meeting of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control on 3 January 1928, during the course of the second of three trial matches organised to assist with selection for the team. Present were HBG Austin for Barbados; PJ O’Leary Bradbury (Jamaica); G Shankland and CV Wight (British Guiana); A Cory Davis and JG Kelshall (Trinidad); and EL Cherubin (Windward Islands).

Given that the Board was all-white, it is hardly a surprise that they believed that the West Indies captain needed to be white – apart from one match in 1948 in which George Headley was in charge, it was not until 1960 with the appointment of Frank Worrell that West Indies had a black captain. But this restriction meant that the Board had few options who had experience of captaincy. PH Tarilton had taken over the Barbados captaincy from Austin, and was one of the leading batsmen in the West Indies, although at 43 his age was against him. Trinidad were usually led by George Dewhurst, who had stepped up unofficially to the role of vice-captain during Austin’s absence in 1923 and made a good impression in the role. Dewhurst missed the 1927 Intercolonial Tournament, when Trinidad were led by FG Grant, but his place in the West Indies team was apparently secure and he was championed as a possible West Indies captain in the Trinidad press. British Guiana were usually led by Maurice Green, who never played for West Indies, but were led in the 1927 Intercolonial Tournament by Maurice Fernandes, another 1923 tourist and who had played once for West Indies against the MCC in 1926.

The most likely candidate to take over from Austin was always going to be RK Nunes, the captain of Jamaica, who had been vice-captain in 1923 and deputised during Austin’s absence from the team. According to the manager of that team, Harry Mallet, in a long review of the tour for the Cricketer Annual 1923-24, Nunes did an excellent job in keeping the 1923 team together during a period when it was decimated by injury and illness. As well as being tactically aware, Nunes “showed great tact and judgement” and never lost “his confidence in the team or his pleasure in an individual or collective success. He … filled a really difficult position with distinction.”

Perhaps more importantly, Karl Nunes was a man of some social distinction. His obituary in the Jamaica Gleaner called him “fearless and uncompromising”. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1894, he attended a prestigious school there, before finishing his education in England at Dulwich College; he played for the school team between 1910 and 1912. At some point, he also played in Jamaica for Kensington Cricket Club, and later for Kingston Cricket Club. During the First World War, he captained the West India Regiment in France. Quite where he lived in the following years is unclear, but in 1919 he played in England for Surrey Second XI. He scored 55 for Surrey Club and Ground, while against Cheshire he made 0 and 60 not out.

When Nunes left England in December 1919, he was listed as an RAF captain on the passenger list of HMS Bayano. Four years later, by which time he had qualified as a solicitor, he was chosen as the West Indies vice-captain for the 1923 tour. Extraordinarily, he had never previously played first-class cricket, and made his debut in the first match of that tour. He scored three fifties that season, with a highest score of 89 against Oxford University, but averaged under 20 overall. He was more successful at home, scoring three centuries, including one innings of 200 not out, in matches against England touring teams between the 1923 and 1928 tours of England.

Off the field, Nunes was influential throughout his life. He became a key figure in the administration of Jamaican cricket: he was a member of the Jamaican Cricket Association from its creation in 1925 (and remained so all his life), later becoming president between 1946 and 1958, and the chairman of the Jamaican selectors in the 1940s. A founder member of the West Indies Cricket Board, he remained part of it until 1951 and was President for the last six of those years. From 1947 until 1951, he was a West Indies representative at the Imperial Cricket Conference. Bridgette Lawrence, in her Complete Record of West Indian Test Cricketer (1991), suggests that in his years as President of the West Indies Cricket Board, Nunes was “a key figure in consolidating West Indies’ Test status in the important years immediately after the War.”

Perhaps more indicative of the man is a similar article in the Gleaner in 1979, which while stating that he had the nickname “Mr Cricket”, called him a “stern man”, and “a player, captain, selector … administrator, a member of the MCC, admirer of ability in his opponent, and admirer of youthful talent. But above all a jealous lover of cricket and on the field a great fighter.” His legacy included the naming of the RK Nunes Trophy – awarded for a time to the most successful West Indies player in each Test series and later to those who excelled in local Jamaican cricket – and an appearance on a Jamaican stamp in 1988.

If Nunes was the most likely candidate to lead the team, there were those who thought him a poor choice. Almost a year before the team was picked, the Sporting Chronicle of Trinidad (reprinted in the Jamaica Gleaner on 8 March 1927) claimed to have spoken to those who attended a meeting over the question, and stated that Fred Grant of Trinidad would be asked to take charge. It claimed that the other colonies would not accept a captain from Jamaica as he would be unfamiliar with players not from his team (given that Jamaica’s distance from the other colonies meant that it did not take part in the Intercolonial Tournament with Trinidad, Barbados and British Guiana). It also stated: “Nunes did not make a brilliant captain in his few trials in England in 1923.” The writer claimed that “Jamaica’s resultant fury at this expression and the views of the West Indies Colonies must abate some time or other, but such is the position.” He said that Grant’s claims were supported by Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad. It is unclear whether this was merely a parochial dislike in Trinidad of the idea of a captain from Jamaica, or indicative of more widespread discontent with Nunes. A different opinion was expressed by “Snuffy” Browne, who was interviewed in British Guiana’s Sporting Times about the prospects of the 1928 team; he said that Nunes had been a “splendid captain” on the 1923 tour (when Browne was part of the team) and that in the absence of Austin, he was the best choice, with Tarilton as his vice-captain.

As it happened, Nunes did not play in the trial games organised in December and January, presumably as he was unavailable. But it made little difference. After the meeting of 3 January, a telegram was sent to him offering the captaincy, which he accepted.

If the choice of Nunes as captain was unsurprising, the identity of his vice-captain was a shock. The Board chose Vibart Wight, who was actually present at the meeting as a representative of British Guiana. Wight had never captained a first-class match before, although he subsequently took over as captain in the third trial match.

Vibart Wight (Image: The Complete Record of West Indian Test Cricketers (1991) by Bridgette Lawrence and Ray Goble)

Quite what Wight was doing anywhere near the team, never mind as its vice-captain, is impossible to say at this distance, but he was almost certainly chosen for his social connections. Born in British Guiana in 1902, he had the right sort of background. Away from cricket, he was a lawyer, and at some point he entered politics. A website about Guyana cricket states that “Vibart Wight was the mayor of Georgetown three times and his family were shareholders to both the Daily Chronicle and Daily Argosy Guyana newspapers.” He was educated at Oxford University, but never came anywhere near the cricket team – which at the time was very strong. An obituary written in Guyana stated: “On returning to his homeland [after university, Wight] became actively involved in local and central government affairs. He was a member of the Executive and Legislative councils of the then British Guyana Parliament and entered the Georgetown Town Council in 1937.”

There is some evidence that Wight was influential behind the scenes before the 1928 tour. As well as his attendance at the Board meeting which appointed the captain and vice-captain, he was present at the formation of the West Indies Cricket Conference in 1926, the body which ultimately created the West Indies Cricket Board of Control.

As a cricketer, Wight had not achieved much. He made his first-class debut in October 1925, playing twice in the Intercolonial Tournament; the following February he played for British Guiana against the MCC. His highest score in three matches was 46 but this was enough for him to play for West Indies against the MCC in British Guiana, and he scored 90. His next two appearances were unremarkable but he was still chosen to play in the 1928 trial matches; scores of 10 and 11 in the first two games were underwhelming, but were enough for him to be appointed as the team’s vice-captain. With his place secure, and captaining a first-class match for the first time, he hit an unbeaten 119 in the third – although he was dropped four times in the course of the innings. Some previews of the tour described him as having an attractive style, so maybe this was the reason; his century in the final trial game must have been quite rapid as his team scored 438 in 96 overs. But even the preview in the 1928 Cricketer Spring Annual found little to say about him other than he was “an enthusiastic member of the younger generation – a stylish and attractive bat and a splendid field.” It also claimed – incorrectly – that he had captained British Guiana.

Although it is unclear precisely what happened, it is likely that the choice of Wight may have fatally undermined the tour before it began. An article in the Trinidad Sporting Chronicle of 22 January 1928 stated that PA Goodman, one of the selectors, “did not favour the manner in which it was support to appoint Mr CV Wight as vice captain and refrained from attending meetings of the Selection Committee thereafter.” It is not clear what it was that so offended Goodman, but it may well have been the preference of Wight to Barbados’ Tarilton.

The Trinidad Guardian later published an article which questioned why Wight had been preferred to Dewhurst as vice-captain, remarking that his selection “has certainly taken the breath away from nearly everyone who has followed the game out here.” Part of the explanation may be that Dewhurst, the incumbent wicket-keeper, did not play in the trial games (although neither did Nunes), and there was some doubt that he would be available to tour. And it is undeniable that Wight could point to better social connections and a more influential family than Dewhurst, who merely worked in Trinidad’s Customs and Excise Department.

With the captaincy and vice-captaincy settled, the selection of the rest of the team was left in the hands of the Selection Committee. The identities of the selectors are surprisingly hard to pin down, as there are different combinations named in various sources. The most accurate appears to be a report sent by cable from Barbados and printed in the Jamaica Gleaner on 10 January 1928: Austin, appearing as President of the West Indies Cricket Board; GS Cox of Jamaica; JG Kelshall of Trinidad; PA Goodman of Barbados; and FC Shankland of British Guiana. Vibart Wight was also added to the panel after his selection as vice-captain. Other sources are generally in agreement with this list, with a few variations in individual names. A Nation Imagined (2003), a book on the 1928 tour by Hilary Beckles, lists LT Yearwood as the Barbados representative. The article in the Trinidad Sporting Chronicle on 22 January 1928 – which cast a great deal of retrospective criticism at the committee’s composition – also suggested that EL Cherubin, who represented the Windward Islands at the Board meeting which settled the captaincy, sat on the selection panel. Cherubin incidentally played in all three trial matches. Aside from the issue of Goodman removing himself after Wight’s selection, there may also have been a problem with FC Shankland; the British Guiana board chairman sent a telegram to check if he had actually been present at the meetings.

While the captain and vice-captain were being chosen, the Selection Committee watched the three trial matches held in Barbados during December 1927 and January 1928. In total, 28 players took part. In the first, a combined Barbados and Jamaica team, led by the Barbados-born Trinidad batsman CA Wiles (this, strangely, was his first time captaining a first-class match), lost by an innings to a combined Trinidad and British Guiana team, led by Tarilton. In the second, CA Wiles XII defeated PH Tarilton’s XII by ten wickets (Wiles and Tarilton were the captains again). The third was a high-scoring draw between “Barbados Born” led by Austin and “The Rest” led by Wight.

George Dewhurst in 1925

On 11 January, the team was announced. Included in the team were three players – Nunes, Dewhurst and CR Browne – who had not featured in the trial matches at all. Dewhurst’s availability had been uncertain but he was named anyway. Furthermore, GS Cox, the Jamaican selector, informed journalists when he returned home after the trials that Dewhurst, Nunes and Wight had been appointed by the West Indies Board to act as selectors for each match during the tour itself.

Very late in the day – so late that his name was included among the team in several previews of the tour published in England – Dewhurst withdrew at the end of February. Various reasons were cited, including injury, illness and being unable to take time away from work, but it was also suggested that he was unhappy at being overlooked as captain or vice-captain. It is also possible, as later events suggested, that other factors were at work; there is some evidence that there was some kind of personal feud between Dewhurst and Frederick Grant which may have led the influential Grant to ensure Dewhurst did not have the role he clearly wanted.

Aside from weakening the team considerably, Dewhurst’s absence left it without a recognised wicket-keeper, although Nunes had done the job occasionally in 1923. Two players came in to replace him. Maurice Fernandes, another who missed the trial games, had been a notable absentee from the team, prompting a protest from British Guiana. As an occasional wicket-keeper, he was now called up.

GS Cox, the Jamaican selector, was asked in March also to recommend a replacement wicket-keeper. He asked CM Morales, who occasionally kept wicket for Jamaica, if he would go to England, but the latter did not feel up to the job of being the main wicket-keeper. Instead, the Jamaican Board recommended that Tarilton should be selected as wicket-keeper. The West Indies Cricket Board never replied and instead selected the leg-spinner OC Scott and decided to share the wicket-keeper’s duties between Nunes, Fernandes and Ernest Rae, all of whom were only part-time wicket-keepers. The decision would haunt the team. The Wisden report on the tour stated:

“Another big factor in the sorry record of the West Indies men was the dropping of catches. With three fast bowlers – Constantine, Griffith and Francis – on the side there came numerous chances in the slips and at the wicket, but the slip fielders, handicapped they urged by the difference in the light, blundered time and again, and Nunes, as a wicket keeper, having only moderate skill, the absence of Dewhurst – a member of the team of 1923 – was very severely felt.”

What of the remainder of the team? Around the time that speculation was rife about the captaincy, there were many features in the press outlining potential selections. For example, the Trinidad Sporting Chronicle mentioned W Yeates, an express fast bowler from Trinidad, OS Wight (Vibart’s brother) of British Guiana, and Andre Cipriani of Trinidad who, as well as being “a better batsman than he has been for twelve years” was an exceptional slip fieldsman. The author believed that Trinidad deserved “six or seven places”, but this was never likely to happen. None of those named in that article made it into the final team.

  • RK Nunes (Jamaica), captain
  • VV Wight (British Guiana), vice-captain
  • EL Bartlett (Barbados)
  • CR Browne (British Guiana)
  • G Challenor (Barbados)
  • LN Constantine (Trinidad)
  • MP Fernandes (British Guiana)
  • George Francis (Barbados)
  • GL Griffith (Barbados)
  • ELG Hoad (Barbados)
  • FR Martin (Jamaica)
  • JM Neblett (British Guiana)
  • EA Rae (Jamaica)
  • CA Roach (Trinidad)
  • WH St Hill (Trinidad)
  • OC Scott (Jamaica)
  • JA Small (Trinidad)

Of those chosen to take part in the trials, sixteen players were omitted from the touring team. Several, including PH Tarilton, George John and Victor Pascall, were in their forties and well past their best. All, however, had their supporters and there was press criticism of the decision to leave them out (although these criticisms tended to be most pronounced in their own colonies). Harry Ince, also tried and discarded, had been part of the 1923 tour, but had been a failure; there had also been rumours that he clashed with Austin. Given that he had not scored too many runs since then, and made a pair in the first trial match and scored just 16 and 3 in the second, there was not great injustice in Ince’s non-selection.

Archie Wiles in 1925

But there were some strange omissions among the other names. Perhaps the strangest was that of Archie Wiles, a leading batsman for Trinidad who had achieved some success both in the Intercolonial Tournament and against MCC teams. He captained teams in two of the three trial matches – suggesting that he was high in the thoughts of selectors – but did not reach fifty in any of the games and was left out, to considerable criticism and dismay from the Trinidad press. He turned 36 while the tour was ongoing, but was selected to tour in 1933 when he was clearly too old, and was a failure.

If Wiles could justifiably have been left out owing to his failure in the trial games, the case of the 23-year-old fast bowler Leslie Hylton is much more strange. He had made his first-class debut for Jamaica during the tour by Tennyson’s team in 1927, and in the second game took five for 34 and eight wickets in the match. Selected for the trial games, he took three for 77 in the first, but did not bowl in the second, when he appears to have been played purely as a batsman. He did not play in the third game, and was subsequently overlooked for both the 1930 series and the 1933 tour. When he finally made his Test debut in 1935, he took 13 wickets at 19.30, and toured England in 1939 when he was past his best. To be fair to Nunes in this case, he wrote an article for a newspaper in December 1927 in which he pressed the claims of Hylton, which suggests that it was Nunes’ influence which got him a place in the trial.

Others were also left out who later played for the West Indies. Ben Sealey of Trinidad toured England in 1933, scoring 1,000 first-class runs and playing his only Test match. Charles Jones and Edward Bartlett also went on to play Test cricket, albeit with little success. Any of these could have been justifiably selected in 1928.

Another non-selection that with hindsight had major consequences was that of George Headley. When the team was selected, Headley had not made his first-class debut, but in February he played alongside Nunes for Jamaica in a series of matches against a touring team led by the former England captain Lionel Tennyson. In three matches, Headley scored 409 runs at an average over 80. In the second game, he scored his maiden century, an innings of 211 which surpassed the previous record by a West Indian batsman against a touring team; the previous record holder was his captain Nunes, who had scored an unbeaten 200 a year before. There were calls for Headley to be added to the West Indian team, but the selectors did nothing, filling the vacancy created by Dewhurst’s withdrawal with Fernandes and Scott. It is possible that racism played a part in the non-selection of a black batsman, but the general view was that he was too young. Tony Becca in 2008 claimed that Nunes wished to select him but was blocked by the selectors; this is not entirely implausible given that he also championed Hylton. But in fairness to the selectors, Headley had only played three games and would only have turned nineteen during the tour; his omission is only an obvious error with the benefit of hindsight.

The team were therefore in a position, even before they travelled to England, where the best players had not necessarily been selected, the vice-captain was largely untried in terms of leadership and of batting at the highest level. This had been the case on the 1923 tour (when Nunes had not played first-class cricket before being appointed vice-captain), but was made worse by the absence of Dewhurst and the failure to replace him with a specialist wicket-keeper. To overcome these considerable obstacles, the players selected needed to be at their best, and Nunes and Wight needed to provide strong and inspirational leadership on what was certain to be a difficult tour against strong opposition. Unfortunately, none of these things happened…

The Dying Embers of the Throwing Question

After years of controversy over the issue of throwing in English cricket, a meeting of the county captains in December 1900 finally seemed to have ended the problem. A list of bowlers with suspect actions was published, and for one reason or another, these men either adapted their bowling style or drifted away from cricket. Arthur Mold, about whom far-from-unanimous suspicions had been expressed for many years, continued to bowl as he had done and was repeatedly no-balled in a match against Somerset by Jim Phillips, the umpire who had done more than any other to tackle bowlers with illegal actions. At the end of the 1901 season, the MCC formalised a process for investigating bowlers whom umpires suspected of throwing, and it appeared that the “Throwing Question” had finally been settled.

Arthur Mold (Image: Wikipedia)

Mold was offered another contract by Lancashire for 1902, but perhaps recognising that the battle was lost and he had little to gain by continuing, he declined. Part of the reason may have been his fitness. He expressed the intention to play for Northamptonshire in 1902 “if he feels well enough”, but does not appear to have done so. The only record of him playing in 1902 is when AW Mold played twice for Banbury and District (CricketArchive does not link this to Arthur Mold, but it is almost certainly him). Mold did, however, manage a handful of matches for Northamptonshire, who were not a first-class county at the time, in 1903.

Even without the question over throwing, Mold’s form and fitness would have ended his career before much longer; he celebrated his 39th birthday early in the 1902 season, which was old for a bowler still mainly reliant on pace. But there is little doubt that Phillips’ actions and subsequent endorsement by the MCC brought down the curtain. Sydney Pardon, the editor of Wisden, was completely unsympathetic in the 1902 edition:

“With regard to the agitation that was got up on Mold’s behalf I have a very strong opinion indeed. To read some of the comments that appeared one might have supposed that nobody except Phillip’s had ever called Mold’s fairness into question. The fact that the Lancashire fast bowler had been condemned as unfair by the county captains by a majority of eleven to one [a different proportion to the one Pardon gave a year earlier], at their meeting at Lord’s in December, 1900, was systematically ignored. I have not the slightest prejudice against Mold as a man, but repeating what I said last year, I think he was excessively lucky to go through nearly a dozen season before being no-balled.”

Mold returned to his home town of Middleton Cheney to begin a new life. In August 1904, he married Anne Preedy, the daughter of a blacksmith, who lived with her uncle a few houses away from where Mold lodged with his sister in 1901. Three months later, the couple had their first child Winnifred (which suggests a shotgun wedding). The following year, Mold took over the licence of the Dolphin Inn, a public house in Middleton Cheney that still operates in 2020. It is possible that he took over from a relative of his wife. They had a second child, in 1907, whom they named Archie, probably after Archie MacLaren. A third child, Roger, was born in 1914. The family remained at the Dolphin Inn until Mold’s death from liver cancer after a long illness on 29 April 1921 at the age of 57.

Mold had been popular throughout his career, and it was no different when he died. A newspaper report that he was seriously ill mentioned the regret in the area given how well-liked he was. He was buried in Middleton Cheney, and Lancashire County Cricket Club opened a subscription to pay for a headstone. Part of the inscription reads: “This stone was erected by his old cricketing friends as a token of their affection, admiration, and respect.” Mold’s illegitimate daughter Mary continued to visit him in his later years and attended his funeral with her own family.

But even when he died, Mold could not escape from accusations that he threw. His obituary in Wisden, written by Pardon – who had written a bizarre obituary for Edwin Tyler in 1917, half of which concerned his bowling action and was couched in almost religious language – was condemnatory. He went even further than he had with Tyler, and almost three-quarters of the obituary was about Mold’s bowling action. Pardon wrote:

“He was one of the deadliest fast bowlers of his day, but right through his career the fairness of his delivery formed the subject of lively discussion … It has been urged in some quarters that Mold was an ill-used man, and that there was no ground for the severe criticisms passed upon him. I should say, on the other hand, that he was extremely lucky to bowl for so many seasons before being no-balled … He did wonders for Lancashire, but personally I always thought he was in a false position.”

An anonymous obituary in the Times – almost certainly written by Pardon (who also wrote for that newspaper) as it shares several features with the Wisden article – went even further: “He was a deadly fast bowler, but, all through his career, even his best feats in the cricket field were spoken of with something of apology.” The lone voice among the obituaries which argued that Mold was badly treated was written by Neville Cardus in the Manchester Guardian. Incidentally, Mold’s wife remarried just over a year after his death. Her second husband died before her, and on her death in 1948 she was buried with Mold.

While the Wisden version of history suggests that Phillips and the MCC had ended the throwing question decisively, it rumbled on a little longer. During the 1902 English season, the Australians toured England again, winning one of the most thrilling Ashes series of all time. Ernie Jones, not as effective as three years previously, played only a small part, and his bowling went unquestioned. However, Monty Noble, whose action had been queried in 1899, had decisive match figures of eleven for 103 in Australia’s victory in the third Test, played at Sheffield. One of the umpires in that game was Jim Phillips (who also umpired the first Test). Also successful in that match, taking five wickets in England’s first innings, was the left-arm spinner Jack Saunders. In the fourth Test, he took seven wickets, including the vital final wicket of Fred Tate, whom he bowled to give Australia a three-run win. Saunders’ action was widely viewed as suspicious; the report on the tour in Wisden praised his success in the season but observed: “It would be idle to pretend that his delivery always escaped adverse criticism”.

Jack Worrall (Image: Wikipedia)

One vocal critic of that 1902 team was Jack Worrall, a batsman who played eleven Tests for Australia between 1885 and 1899. Having been a member of the 1899 touring team, he spent much of the 1902 tour writing scathingly about the Australians. For example, he claimed that the batsmen would be incapable of playing Wilfred Rhodes. That the tourists were not enamoured of Worrall is plain when, having won the Sheffield Test match, they celebrated vigorously in their dressing room and were heard to shout: “How will Jack Worrall like this?”

Worrall was convinced that both Noble and Saunders had illegal bowling actions, and wrote to the Sportsman to say so. He also wrote privately to Jim Phillips during the 1902 season, asking him to no-ball them, but for whatever reason, Phillips took no action. When Victoria, the Australian state team for whom Worrall played, found out about the letter, he was banned from cricket, but that was not the end of the matter.

In 1903, Phillips wrote to the Victorian Cricket Association, discussing Worrall’s communication with him. The Adelaide Advertiser reported: “The latter part of [Phillips’] letter, however, consisted of a criticism of the style of two bowlers who were members of the last Australian Eleven, and it concluded with the assertion that a certain peculiar delivery of one of them would not be overlooked by the writer if the bowler visited England again.” This bowler was Saunders. An outraged Victorian Cricket Association complained to the MCC that Phillips was acting outside his jurisdiction

This had repercussions later that year. During the 1903-04 season, an MCC team was to tour Australia for the first time (previous English teams had been run privately by individuals or were organised by Australian clubs). It had been announced that, as on previous tours, Phillips was to accompany the team as an umpire. But Melbourne Cricket Club, which organised the Australian side of tours, objected to Phillips because they claimed he was prejudiced against Saunders.

The MCC defended Phillips, and the Secretary FE Lacey wrote to Melbourne to put his case. Part of Lacey’s letter revealed that an unnamed umpire reported his suspicions about Saunders to the MCC in 1902: “English umpires are required to report on the deliveries of bowlers about which they are not satisfied but which they have not felt justified in ‘calling’. A report was received last year, in which some of Saunders’s deliveries were criticised. It is possible that in the circumstance Phillips felt justified in making his views known to your association.”

But Phillips’ letter meant that he did not join the MCC tour as umpire. Instead, a new practice was instituted in which the visiting captain proposed local umpires who had impressed them to take charge of Test matches.

As far as English bowlers went, after Phillips no-balled Mold for the final time, there were only three instances of a bowler being called for throwing in England before 1952 (incidentally, the beginning of another throwing crisis), and two involved the same bowler.

Embed from Getty Images

Arthur Paish photographed around 1903

In 1903, the Gloucestershire spinner Arthur Paish was no-balled in two successive first-class matches by William West, an umpire who had been heavily involved in the “Throwing Question”. Between 1898 and 1903 Paish had taken 354 wickets and was viewed as a promising cricketer (although he was hardly young at 29). He had taken 125 wickets in 1899, when he had headed the Gloucestershire bowling averages. When Gloucestershire played Nottinghamshire on 14, 15 and 16 May, West no-balled Paish once from the bowler’s end in the second innings, although contrary to the MCC instructions it appears that he returned to bowl later in the innings without being called. The local press were sympathetic to Paish – who was reported as attributing his “occasionally faulty action” to playing hockey – and suggested that he would be able to correct any fault.

Arthur Paish in 1901 (Image: via Clifton Rugby Football Club History)

But after the weekend break, Gloucestershire played Yorkshire on 18 and 19 May. This time West, standing at square leg, no-balled Paish four times in one over on the second day. West had been uncertain about Paish while he was officiating at the bowler’s end, and asked the Gloucestershire captain Gilbert Jessop for an opportunity to watch him from square leg. Jessop obliged and switched Paish to the other end, when West no-balled him repeatedly. Jessop immediately removed Paish from the attack, and he never played another first-class match. Incidentally, Cricket was once more unimpressed, repeating the point it made earlier: it was unfair for a bowler to be labelled “a ‘chucker'” if he was only no-balled once.

With his first-class career over, Paish became a coach at Downside College before signing as a professional at Gloucester City Cricket Club. After the First World War, he was appointed groundsman at the Wagon Works Ground in Gloucester, which regularly hosted County Championship matches in the 1920s and 1930s. He retired from this role shortly before his death in 1948. Neither his Wisden obituary nor obituaries in local newspapers made any mention of the time he was no-balled.

The final bowler to be called for throwing in England before the Second World War was Ralph Whitehead. Having been a professional in league cricket, he made his first-class debut in 1908 for Lancashire against Nottinghamshire at Old Trafford in a match played between 29 June and 1 July. After taking three cheap wickets in Nottinghamshire’s first innings, Whitehead scored 131 not out batting at number eight to give Lancashire a substantial first innings lead. On the second day of the match, the umpire Thomas Brown, standing at the bowler’s end no-balled him once for throwing. He was immediately removed from the attack. The following day, Whitehead bowled from the opposite end and was no-balled twice from square leg by Brown.

Ralph Whitehead (Image: via Red Rose Cricket Books)

The Manchester Courier argued there was nothing wrong with Whitehead’s delivery, and an end-of-season summary in Cricket stated that the consensus of the players in the game was against Brown. Although Whitehead played just once in 1909, he was afterwards a regular in the Lancashire team until the First World War, taking respectable numbers of wickets (albeit at a high cost) and scoring a few runs, without ever repeating the feats of his sensational debut. In total he took 300 first-class wickets, and does not appear to have been accused of throwing again. After the war, he returned to league cricket, appearing mainly in the Lancashire League where he played as a professional until 1934, when he was fifty. He died in 1956.

Meanwhile, Phillips continued to umpire. He officiated four of the five Tests played between England and Australia in 1905, a tour which passed without incident (Jack Saunders was omitted from the team). In 1905-06, he accompanied an MCC team to South Africa as their umpire. His last match as a first-class umpire was the final Test of that series (CricketArchive lists him as an umpire in one more match: Surrey v Cambridge University in 1928 but this is a typing error as the umpire for that game was the unrelated William Phillips). Early on during the tour, Phillips announced that he was retiring from cricket at the age of 45 to become a mining engineer. A front-page profile in Cricket (30 November 1905) reviewed his career: “This announcement must have been received with great regret by every cricketer, for although Phillips has made more enemies during his career as an umpire than any other umpire since the institution of the game, he has deservedly gained the reputation of being one of the best and soundest umpires of the day, perhaps the best of all of them.”

The article praised him as brave, honest and impartial, and “as nearly the perfect umpire as human nature will allow.” It noted that the criticism of him arose from his “sudden conversion” in finding actions illegal having had no problems when he had seen bowlers like Mold or Fry in earlier years. “It was claimed that he was a mere tool in the hands of MCC faddists who had a craze about throwing, and it was pointed out that the action of the men whom he no-balled was considered perfectly legitimate by the vast majority of those who played in first-class cricket.” The author also suggested that Phillips had no-balled men “who had never a suspicion that they were malefactors”. This is something of a stretch; of those actually no-balled by Phillips only Tyler seems to have escaped previous scrutiny.

The author of the article conceded that Phillips could not be blamed for this “conversion” as it would have been hard to do anything before the MCC pressed umpires to act. There may have been compensations:

“But if he made enemies by his drastic measures with men about whose action he had his doubts, he made many friends, among them being some of the highest in the land, and the way in which they championed his cause must have more than compensated him for the trials which he had to undergo”.

The article concluded by making the point that Cricket had pressed throughout the “Throwing Question”: that it was unfair to leave decisions in the hands of individual umpires, and “absurd that any one man, by merely calling ‘no-ball’ may have it in his power to blast the reputation of another who, in his private opinion, is not acting in accordance with one of the laws of cricket.” It was better to have such calls made by the authorities – which was effectively the case after 1901.

Jim Phillips in later years (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 24 May 1930)

After his retirement from umpiring, Phillips returned to Australia. His role as an engineer kept him away from cricket – which he refused to discuss when he returned to the more populated areas which he generally avoided. On one occasion, he was observed to have very long hair after being away from “civilisation” for so long. In later years, he moved to Canada to continue working in mining, and disappears from the cricket records. He was certainly in Canada in 1923, but made occasional visits to England and Australia to see old friends, at which time he was happier to discuss cricket a little more. This period of his life is a little mysterious, but his obituary in the Cricketer said that he “prospered”.

Phillips died aged 69 on 21 April 1930 in Vancouver, Canada. Obituaries remembered him as a fearless umpire, and credited him with eradicating throwing in English cricket. This view has endured. In a 2006 article on ESPNcricinfo, Martin Williamson said that Phillips “played a major role in stamping out the controversy of bowlers who threw which had dogged the game for almost a decade at the end of the 19th century”. Williamson, mis-identifying Phillips as an amateur, followed the orthodox line that there was a “plague of chuckers” that “was all but stamped out” after Phillips no-balled Mold in 1901. Simon Wilde, in his England: The Biography (2018), wrote that Phillips won “the lasting gratitude of the game’s establishment”. However, he added: “Some felt he was too zealous in his campaign against ‘chucker’, whom he would identify in advance to press-men and anyone else within earshot, and the Australians blocked him from standing in the 1903-04 series for this reason.”

While the “Throwing Question” was undoubtedly settled, it remains uncertain whether justice was done. Of those bowlers on the 1900 list, perhaps only the two army captains, Evelyn Bradford and Coote Hedley, were universally regarded as “chuckers”. At this distance, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, after years of those in authority saying that English cricket had a throwing problem, the captains struggled to come up with a list of names to back up this assertion. Those named on the list may have been sacrificed in order to give the impression of cricket putting its house in order. The inclusion of Tyler – no-balled a few months earlier by Phillips – only on the “warned” list, and the presence of Lockwood, a bowler who 18 months later would play a starring role for England, reinforces the idea that this was a rather arbitrary and ill-considered list, and that there was no agreement on who threw and who did not.

A further problem is that neither was there a clear consensus on what constituted a throw. For some, it appeared that all fast bowlers must throw; the fastest bowlers in the period – Tom Richardson, Arthur Mold, Charles Kortright, Ernest Jones, Cyril Bland – all came under suspicion in the 1890s. It is unclear whether it was something about the bowling action of a fast bowler that raised questions, or just a notion that no-one could bowl so fast without using their elbow. For others, the issue was with bowlers whose arm was not perfectly straight. Many years later, the Laws finally clarified that it was only straightening of the elbow that was illegal, but there was no such definition at this time, leading to yet more confusion and disagreement, no matter how much critics like Sydney Pardon insisted that everyone knew what a throw looked like.

There was also suspicion about the amount of movement off the pitch some of these fast bowlers achieved. In an interview in Cricket in May 1902, the former Kent player William Norton, who had played in the days of round-arm bowling, stated that all modern bowlers threw because it was the only way they could make the ball break back as far as they did. At the time, this was usually achieved by what would today be described as bowling cutters; some critics took the view that using the hand or wrist in this way was unfair. Others, including the MCC Secretary Francis Lacey, attributed the throwing problem to the use of the wrist to give the ball impetus, which they believed caused some bowlers to inadvertently throw.

But to demonstrate how divisive the issue was (and how hard it was to say whether a bowler really threw), Stanley Jackson – who played throughout the 1890s, captained England in 1905 and later became MCC President – was interviewed in the 1944 edition of Wisden, and discussed the famous incident in 1896 when Ernest Jones, bowling short at WG Grace, bowled a ball which supposedly passed through the latter’s beard. Jackson said: “Jones developed a beautiful action. I believe it has been suggested that he threw, but this I personally regard as absolutely absurd. At that time, the action of some bowlers was not fair, and Sydney Pardon, by his campaign in Wisden, did valuable work towards stamping out the trouble.”

All of these factors explain why some critics (including William Norton in Cricket) argued that it was better simply to legalise throwing. Instead there was little agreement and a lot of confusion. Perhaps this is why the county captains and the MCC went for the drastic solution of naming so many sacrificial bowlers – maybe they reasoned (as did Jim Phillips) that it was better to be too harsh, and cull anyone with an action even remotely questionable, than to relax standards (which was the view taken by some, including EM Grace, in the 1895 article in Wisden by Sydney Pardon which began the whole affair). Their strategy undeniably worked, given that no-one was no-balled for throwing in England between 1908 and 1952.

What of Arthur Mold? Did he throw, or was he the most high-profile sacrifice? If his leading critics – including Pardon and Phillips – had the loudest voices and the widest influence, his defenders included Ranjitsinhji, William West (who was not afraid to call a throw), AN Hornby, and the majority of the Lancashire team. But there was one name noticeably absent from the ranks of those who rushed to vouch for Mold. Archie MacLaren, Mold’s captain and the man who was (perhaps unwittingly) responsible for the creation of the list, never stated outright that he thought Mold bowled fairly.

In an article in the Cricket Statistician in 2005, Don Ambrose suggested that MacLaren thought Mold occasionally threw but that he never received the backing of AN Hornby and the Lancashire Committee. Ambrose also argued that Hornby’s continued and spirited defence of Mold may have been because he did not want to admit that, as a former captain of Mold, he had included a “chucker” in his team. Ambrose, incidentally, concluded that Mold probably threw his faster delivery.

The historical consensus is that Mold was a “chucker”, even though there was little unanimity at the time. Many newspapers – and not just those printed in Lancashire – took the line that he was the victim of at best inconsistency, and at worst injustice. However, a slight majority took the view that he threw, and unlike his fellow bowlers on the list, there had been whispered suspicions for many years. In fact, he is the only player to be named by Sydney Pardon in the 1895 Wisden article, to be no-balled for throwing, and to appear on the list. The case against him is unproven (and far more so than is generally admitted), but perhaps the evidence leans against him. That is as far as we can realistically go.

Some unanswered questions remain. Where did the impetus to stamp out throwing come from? Was Phillips acting independently? Was the friendships of “the highest in the land” his reward for being the public face of a campaign to clean up bowling? His courage in acting against Jones and Fry, in the first part of the “crusade” would be extraordinary unless he knew that he would be backed by Lord’s. By way of contrast, when the umpire Frank Chester suspected the South African bowler Cuan McCarthy of throwing in a Test match in 1951, he approached members of the MCC Committee during a lunch interval to ask if they would support him were he to no-ball McCarthy. Instead, they strongly implied his career as a Test match umpire would be over if he did so; understandably, Chester backed down.

It is hard to believe that Phillips would have acted without having a similar conversation with members of the MCC. If this was the case, they must have unconditionally agreed to support him. Or perhaps it was the other way around, and Phillips was approached by figures in authority. Either way around, Phillips got the backing he needed: FE Lacey praised him afterwards. His career was unaffected: he remained a Test umpire and the MCC’s umpire of first choice.

Phillips was a professional who travelled the world to umpire, and looks to have taken every opportunity to make money from the game – whether umpiring, scouting Australian talent for Middlesex, working as a manager, acting as a journalist, or being a scorer. Such a man would normally have been viewed with disdain by the cricket authorities. But none of Phillips’ obituaries mention these divided loyalties, and the history books are silent on this aspect of his life. Instead, he is simply portrayed as a crusading umpire. This looks very much looks like his reward for being the MCC’s man.

Or perhaps Phillips was simply more breathtakingly brave and stubborn than even his contemporaries believed.

As part of the “throwing question” (including the tour of Australia by AE Stoddart’s team in 1897-98 but not any other cricket outside of England), there were sixteen first-class matches in which a bowler was no-balled for throwing between 1897-98 and 1908. CB Fry was no-balled in four matches; E Jones, ER Bradford, AW Mold and AJ Paish were no-balled twice. In total, nine men were no-balled. On six occasions, the umpire was J Phillips; WAJ West was involved four or five times (in one match, it is unclear which umpire called no-ball). The other umpires were A White (one or two games), VA Titchmarsh, M Sherwin, H Pickett, AF Smith and TA Brown (once each). Lancashire were the only team to have more than one bowler no-balled (AW Mold and R Whitehead). In four of the matches, the opposing team were Nottinghamshire.

“We shall soon be entirely free from the evil”: The Aftermath of the Captain’s List

After several years of controversy over the issue of illegal bowling actions, the actions of several umpires in no-balling some leading cricketers for throwing finally forced the authorities into action. In December 1900, the county captains met and produced a list of bowlers whom they believed threw the ball, with the intention that they should not be used in first-class cricket in the 1901 season. After an outcry that the captains had overstepped their authority, the MCC intervened and declined to ban any of the bowlers. Although it looked like the issue would once more remain unresolved, Jim Phillips, the umpire who started the whole movement when he no-balled Ernie Jones in Australia, repeatedly called Arthur Mold for throwing in a match between Lancashire and Somerset. As we shall see, this effectively ended Mold’s career as the MCC and the county captains sided with Phillips. But before we finish the story of Mold and Phillips, the other bowlers on that December 1900 list have their own stories. Although in some cases it is hard to be sure, it appears that many were impacted by their names being so publicly linked with the “Throwing Question”.

The list of bowlers named by the captains in December 1900

While the MCC may have disassociated itself from the list to some extent, it appears to have had the desired effect – apart from in the case of Mold, the “Throwing Question” did not arise in 1901. No other bowler was no-balled for throwing, and dubious actions seem to have miraculously disappeared. Sydney Pardon went so far as to say in Wisden: “Never within the last twenty years or more has there been so little unfair or doubtful bowling as in the season of 1901.” And in December 1901, the MCC observed that the captains’ list of the previous year seemed to have addressed the issue adequately. Because if Lancashire and Mold put up a strong fight, others named on the list seem to have taken the warning to heart.

Some bowlers from the list did not play again: the 14-match career of Derbyshire’s Frank Davidson had ended in 1899; William Roche (known as “Micky”), whom Jim Phillips brought from Australia, did not play after 1900 (when his appearances had been limited owing to poor health) and he later returned to Australia. While it is impossible to be certain, their disappearance from first-class cricket was probably linked to the “Throwing Question”. A third bowler, Harry Griffin of Somerset, was only named in one version of the list briefly put out by the MCC; but like Davidson, he had not played since 1899 and never appeared again in first-class cricket.

Captain Evelyn Bradford and Captain Walter Coote Hedley had also not played in 1900. It is doubtful that their inclusion on the list made any difference to them as both served in the army and never played regularly. Bradford’s only game after being no-balled in 1898 came in 1905, when he did not bowl. By then, he had served in the Boer War and been promoted to Major. Having inherited a baronetcy from his father in 1902, he was known as Sir Evelyn Bradford. Promoted again to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1913, he was killed by shrapnel early in the First World War during the First Battle of the Aisne. Hedley had a longer career, returning from the Boer War – having been promoted to Colonel – to play for Somerset between 1903 and 1905, taking just 12 wickets in that time. He had never been a regular bowler. During this time, he worked in Ordnance Survey, having become interested in cartography. Having briefly joined the Survey of India, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and then Colonel and worked for Military Intelligence prior to the First World War, during which he was heavily involved in map-making. He was knighted in 1919 and, having retired from the army the following year, served on the council of the Royal Geographical Society. He died in 1937.

Others from the list were only occasional bowlers. The amateur William Lowe of Worcestershire took just 77 wickets in a 54-match career; after taking 13 wickets in 1900, he took just 8 more in 24 games played between 1901 and 1911. CB Fry, the first bowler to be no-balled in England during the umpiring “crusade”, had only ever been a part-time bowler but bowled less after 1900. He took just one more first-class wicket (in 1903) in a career that lasted until 1921. After 1903, he bowled in just two other matches: in 1909, by which time he was playing for and captaining Hampshire, he bowled one over as Kent chased a small total in their final innings; and in 1912 he bowled four overs, also against Kent, as a match petered out into a high-scoring draw. It is possible that Fry simply tired of bowling. Perhaps his new method of bowling (to which few objected) was not particularly effective. Or maybe he carried on bowling for a little while to show that he was not concerned about being no-balled or included on the list, and then quietly gave up.

WG Quaife bowled regularly for the remainder of his first-class career, which lasted until 1928. His Wisden obituary suggested:

“[Quaife] bowled leg-breaks with considerable success, but in his early years his delivery of the ball was so open to suspicion that in 1900 the county captains passed a resolution that he, in company with several others, should not be allowed to bowl in competition matches. This decision did not receive the support of MCC, and Quaife, possibly altering his methods, bowled with such effect that during his career he took 928 wickets.”

But this is not quite the complete story. In 1902, Quaife was interviewed by Cricket. Of his bowling, and his inclusion on the 1900 list, he said:

“I had never been no-balled by an umpire, and had never heard any suggestions that I threw, but when I was told what had been done, I went carefully into the matter. I came to the conclusion, that when I tried to put on a spin from the off, my action was occasionally something in the nature of a throw, although it was not quite a throw. You will find very few bowlers with an off-break whose action does not, every now and then, suggest a throw, although it really isn’t a throw. But I went in for leg-breaks, and last year did better than I had ever done before.”

This is a curious account: his bowling “was occasionally something in the nature of a throw, although it was not quite a throw”, but he changed his style anyway. He may have chosen leg-breaks because it is practically impossible to throw while bowling wrist-spin, but it also reflected the growing fetish for that method in the early 1900s. If no-one had even hinted to Quaife before 1900 that he might throw, he seems a strange inclusion on the list. But Quaife’s main role was batting and he could probably have given up bowling altogether without his career being affected. Others were not as fortunate.

Frederic Geeson, a Leicestershire medium-pacer, had taken 77 wickets in 1899 and 81 wickets in 1900, but appears to have heeded the warning and switched his style like Quaife. His Wisden obituary records: “After his action had been condemned by the County Captains at Lord’s in December, 1900, he cultivated leg-breaks and with such success that in the following season he obtained as many as 125 wickets at a cost of 26.64.” But he declined afterwards, taking just 17 wickets in 1902 and, as his batting was not good enough to compensate, was dropped by Leicestershire; however, he had been a member of the MCC groundstaff since 1891, and remained there until 1919, playing many non-first-class games for the MCC.

The remaining bowlers were only “warned” rather than banned. It is hard to know what impact this had on them. The oddest inclusion on the “warned” list was Bill Lockwood. He bowled without further trouble until his retirement in 1904, and continued to represent England, playing a leading role in the 1902 series against Australia. There can have been few who had genuine doubts about his action if the Test selectors were happy to pick him.

Edwin Tyler of Somerset, only “warned” despite being no-balled by Phillips in 1900, played just three games for Somerset in 1901, taking no wickets. His career was already in decline, so it is unclear if the no-balling was the reason for his reduced appearances. He played twice in 1903 (taking just two wickets) before returning to the team for six matches in 1907, taking 25 wickets. Following his retirement, he worked as an Athletic Outfitter, and became a freemason. When he died in 1917, Sydney Pardon wrote a scathing obituary in Wisden:

“On the question of his delivery there is no need to say very much. It was fortunate for him that he came out at a time when great laxity prevailed with regard to throwing. He was too slow to hurt anybody, and so his action, though often talked about, passed muster for many years. Had he appeared after the captains of the first-class counties had taken the matter of unfair bowling into their own hands, things might not have gone so pleasantly for him. One may say this without doing him any injustice. Many offenders, ten times worse than Tyler, were allowed to pursue their evil courses quite unchecked till the hour of reform arrived.”

Pardon briefly noted that he had enjoyed a successful career with Somerset, and was a popular player, but half the obituary concerned his bowling action. Nor did Pardon mention that he was only on the “warned” list. The quasi-religious fervour with which the Wisden editor refers to “evil courses” and “the hour of reform” is more than a little strange, particularly as this was written seventeen years after Tyler had been no-balled. If Pardon was convinced that Tyler threw, the county captains had been less certain. In any case, whatever effect being named on the list had on Tyler’s cricket career, he made enough of a success of his sports outfitters to leave almost £1,400 to his widow (worth nearly £80,000 today) when he died.

Cyril Bland in 1900 (Image: Wikipedia)

The two remaining names may have been more affected and both shared an unfortunate fate (which is unlikely to have been connected to the “Throwing Question”). Cyril Bland of Sussex was a very fast bowler who had taken all ten wickets in an innings in June 1899. He was one of the fastest bowlers of the period, which may be why he came under suspicion: many players of similar pace – Tom Richardson, Charles Kortright and Mold – were accused of throwing at one time or another. Despite playing home games on the flat Brighton pitch, and carrying a heavy workload in a weak attack, he took 557 first-class wickets.

It is not immediately obvious if Bland’s inclusion on the list made a difference to him. But having taken more than one hundred wickets in three out of four seasons between 1897 and 1900 (and taking 82 in the other), he took just 31 wickets in 1901 and 34 in 1902. Although he recovered well enough to take 60 in 1903, he played just once in 1904. Wisden noted that his form fell away badly in 1901 but did not suggest that this was related to his bowling action. It is not implausible that in trying to alter his style, he lost effectiveness. David Frith in Silence of the Heart (2001) suggests that Bland lost pace as he got older and may also have fallen out with his captain Ranjitsinhji; the latter certainly became increasingly frustrated with his bowlers in this period.

Bland never played again after 1904, and moved to Sheffield. According to newspaper reports, he suffered a “paralytic seizure” in January 1905. He returned to club cricket in his native Lincolnshire before being wounded while serving in the First World War. Frith records how in later years Bland became a “heavy drinker” and “an embarrassment to family and friends”. After attempting suicide by cutting his wrists, he threw himself into the Maud Foster Canal in Cowbridge in 1950. An inquest recorded a verdict of suicide. We cannot know what events in Bland’s life led to his sad ending, but it may be the case that his inclusion on the 1900 list adversely affected his cricket career.

Frederick Bull in 1897 (Image: Wikipedia)

In the case of the final name, Frederick Bull of Essex, it is more certain that being named on the list had an impact. An amateur with a growing reputation as a big spinner of the ball, he was named as a Wisden cricketer of the year in 1898 (and although the “Throwing Question” was reaching a peak, the report makes no suggestion that his bowling action was dubious) and toured America with a team led by Pelham Warner.

Coincidentally, Bull and Mold were both involved in one controversial episode unconnected to throwing. When Essex played Lancashire in 1897, Bull deliberately began to bowl wides to give away runs that would prevent Lancashire having to follow-on; the follow-on was compulsory at the time and it would have been difficult for Essex to bat last on a spiteful pitch. The batsman was Mold who, realising Bull’s intentions, deliberately knocked down his own wicket to end the innings. Lancashire followed on, but still lost as Bull took fourteen for 176. The follow-on was made optional from 1900.

In 1897, Bull took 120 first-class wickets, followed by 101 in 1898 and 65 in 1899. But in 1900, he played only seven times and took just five wickets; his only other first-class game was played for Scotland in 1905. This decline pre-dated the captain’s list, but may have come after concern was expressed about his bowling. But on the other hand, it could have been a simple loss of form that had nothing to do with the “Throwing Question”. Bull’s Wisden obituary makes no mention of throwing, or that he was named on the list, but says that after his triumph in 1898, “in the following year he proved less effective and in 1900 was so expensive that he was dropped from the side”.

Once more, David Frith fills in some details in Silence of the Heart. He claims that Bull attempted to change his bowling style after being named on the list, “but lost his effectiveness as a result and Essex dispensed with his serviced as ‘unpaid’ cricketer and club assistant secretary.” This does not quite fit the timeline as Bull’s decline pre-dated the 1900 list, and he did not play for Essex after 1900. As usual in cricket books, Frith does not name his sources, so we cannot know if he inferred the connection between the list and Bull’s decline or discovered it elsewhere. If the story does have a source, it may imply that growing concerns over his action affected Bull. Frith says that his “strange off-break action” had “caused suspicion over a period of years”, and that it was these concerns which ended his career. Again without giving a source, Frith claims that the stigma sabotaged Bull’s attempt to qualify for Surrey, and that he unsuccessfully attempted to work at the Stock Exchange before moving north

From this point, we are on more certain ground. Bull worked in Blackburn and played in his spare time in the Lancashire League for East Lancashire for the 1904 season. In late 1904, he followed the little-trodden path for a former amateur cricketer when he was signed to play as a professional for Perthshire in Scotland; in 1905 his final first-class appearance was for Scotland against the touring Australian team. After being very successful in Scotland, he returned to the Lancashire League as a professional for East Lancashire between 1907 and 1909, then for Rishton in 1910.

On 10 September 1910, in the last match of the season, Bull took three for 38 against Nelson. Six days later, he was found dead in a sea pool at St Anne’s, weighed down by heavy stones. Last seen on 14 September, he had sent his room key back to his landlady with a messenger. An inquest returned a verdict of suicide but could find no evidence as to his state of mind. The Westminster Gazette report into the inquest said that his wife had not seen him since July, but he had written to her. She reported that he had suffered from financial troubles – which would explain his move to professional cricket – and had threatened suicide before. However, she suggested he did not seem to worry about it much.

Like Wisden, Cricket omitted any mention of throwing from its obituary of Bull. In contrast to the treatment in Wisden of WR Gilbert, another amateur-turned-professional, both publications gave him the title of “Mr FG Bull” in his obituary, reflecting his former amateur status. Frith, who seems to have been unaware of Bull’s financial problems, places whatever blame there was firmly with the cricket world and suggests that “disillusionment and anxiety” after his first-class cricket career fell apart contributed towards his suicide. Neither the coroner at the inquest nor Bull’s wife made the same connection, but we cannot know how much being named on the list affected Bull afterwards.

Therefore, one way or another, the captains’ list of December 1900 does seem to have ended the throwing problem. And the actions of Jim Phillips in July 1901 stamped out any embers, forcing the matter of Mold’s bowling to a head. It is quite likely that any of the bowlers on the list before this who had not either given up bowling or modified their actions were persuaded by what Phillips did. And once the initial fall-out and disagreements faded, it seemed that the throwing question was settled.

In Wisden, Sydney Pardon wrote: “Indeed the improvement was so marked as to make it clear that, if the captains stick to their guns, we shall soon be entirely free from the evil of which not very long ago it seemed impossible to get rid.” The MCC formalised the position in December 1901; although neither Phillips nor Mold were mentioned, it is clear that the MCC Committee supported what Phillips had done and thus effectively ended the career of Mold by endorsing their umpire’s judgement that he threw. They also indirectly condemned MacLaren and Lancashire for continuing to bowl Mold after he had been no-balled.

The official statement said:

The MCC Committee have given further careful consideration to the question of illegal bowling, and are of the opinion that the decision of the Captains in 1900 has done so much good in discouraging this practice that it is unnecessary to suggest any drastic measures at present.

They hope that the County Cricket Executives will, in future, decline to play bowlers with doubtful deliveries, and thus remove the probability of any further infringement of Law 48.

Should an occasion arise when an Umpire by no-balling a bowler makes it clear that he is protesting against his deliveries, they think the only course open to the captain is to take such bowler off, otherwise the proper spirit of the game cannot be preserved.

To meet the contingency of any flagrant case of illegal bowling arising, in the future, the following proposal has been made, and the Counties are invited to express an opinion thereon:

‘The Counties shall authorize their Captains to deal with the question, and, if at any meeting convened, with notice that it will be brought up the Captains shall decide by a majority of 2 to 1 that any bowler has been guilty of illegal bowling, they shall “name” him and recommend his suspension for at least a season, and refer it to the MCC Committee for confirmation.'”

The counties approved of this (or at least the matter was not discussed any further), and after several years’ wrangling, the issue finally appeared to have been solved. Additionally, from something revealed by the MCC Secretary a couple of years later, there may have been an unofficial system where umpires reported suspected bowlers to the MCC.

Archibald White, the umpire who had resigned in protest at Mold’s bowling, returned to the list of first-class umpires for 1902. Peace had apparently been restored. Mold’s career was over, but Phillips was not quite done with cricket, or with the “Throwing Question”. Because while the Wisden-sanctioned version of history is that Phillips ended the controversy by no-balling Mold, and peace reigned thereafter, there were signs that matters were not quite as settled as everyone hoped…

“Nothing else was talked about in the cricket world”: The repeated no-balling of Arthur Mold

Arthur Mold (left) and Jim Phillips (right) in 1901 (Image: Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 20 July 1901)

Throughout the 1890s, there had been bowlers in English cricket whose actions were viewed with suspicion. After the umpire Jim Phillips no-balled the Australian fast bowler Ernest Jones for throwing during the 1897-98 season, English umpires finally became emboldened to take action. Over the course of the 1898 and 1899 seasons, four bowlers were no-balled for throwing, but none were leading bowlers. But to the dismay of some critics, no conclusive action was taken, and no one in authority – neither the MCC nor the county captains – provided any guidance. It was only when Phillips, the man who had started the “crusade”, became a full-time umpire in 1900 that matters came to a head. He no-balled Arthur Mold and Edwin Tyler in the course of the season. Both men were long-established professional bowlers, and Phillips’ actions finally prompted the county captains to become involved. At their annual meeting in December 1900, the captains produced a list of bowlers – on which the most prominent name was Mold –whom they judged should not be allowed to bowl in 1901, and a further list of those who should be carefully watched. But this action met with only limited approval; many believed that the captains had overstepped their authority while others questioned how the list had been compiled. When the MCC, four months later, approved their actions in principle but explicitly rejected banning any bowlers, it seemed that the throwing question had moved no further forward.

As we shall see, the list did make a difference to several bowlers and had more impact than it appeared at the time. But Lancashire were not about to give up the fight over Arthur Mold, who had been their leading bowler for much of the 1890s. There was considerable interest when he first played on 6 and 7 May 1901 as Lancashire played Hampshire; he was the first bowler from the captains’ list to bowl in first-class cricket that season. Nothing untoward occurred, and AN Hornby, Lancashire’s President, gave an interview in the Lancashire Evening Post in which he said that Mold was “perfectly fair” and that it was perhaps impossible to throw at pace.

On 20 May, Lancashire played Nottinghamshire. The two umpires were William West and Valentine Titchmarsh, two of the leading umpires who had no-balled bowlers for throwing in the previous seasons. Mold took three wickets without any adverse action, although the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser reported that “Notts critics averred that Mold did not deliver the ball at the same pace as formerly”.

The scrutiny continued. According to reports later that season, when Lancashire played at Worcester on 23, 24 and 25 May, the umpires Titchmarsh and Charles Richardson were specially instructed by the MCC to look closely at Mold’s action, and reported that he “bowled absolutely fairly”. But it is possible that something unusual was happening. Against Worcestershire, Mold barely bowled: he was the fourth bowler used in the first innings and delivered just 16 overs out of the 93 in Worcestershire’s innings; he did not bowl at all in the second innings (which lasted 55 overs). In Lancashire’s next game, against Yorkshire on 27 and 28 May, Mold bowled just over four overs (taking two wickets for four runs) out of Yorkshire’s innings (52.5 overs), although he delivered five overs in their brief second innings.

Arthur Mold in a posed photograph around 1897 taken for Ranjitsinhji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket (Image: Wikipedia)

At this point, having played in Lancashire’s first seven games, Mold dropped out of the team for almost a month. No reasons were given in the press for his absence. The most likely explanation is that, as in previous seasons, he was struggling with injuries – that would account for his substantially reduced workload before his disappearance. This possibility has a little more evidence to support it: he was Lancashire’s twelfth man against Hampshire on 10 June and played a match for Manchester on 10 June, indications of someone easing their way back into bowling.

But there must be a possibility that questions were raised by the umpires over his delivery. Furthermore, Phillips umpired two of the Lancashire matches from which he was omitted. When Mold returned to the team to play Gloucestershire on 24 June, the newspapers noted his reappearance but did not comment on it. He remained in the team for Lancashire’s next three games, all of which passed without incident, one of which was umpired by Titchmarsh.

When Lancashire played Somerset at Old Trafford, in a match starting on 11 July, Jim Phillips was the umpire once more; this time, Mold was selected in the team. This was the first time the two men had been involved in the same match since Phillips no-balled Mold the previous season. The other umpire was Charles Richardson, who had closely inspected Mold’s action earlier in the season.

The Lancashire committee expected trouble. According to a report in the Yorkshire Evening Post, “the Lancashire authorities anticipated that Phillips would no-ball Mold. Before the match commenced they conferred with Mr MacLaren, and decided that if Mold was no-balled when Phillips was at the opposite wicket, Mold should cross over and continue to bowl through the match.” These instructions add some credence to the idea that they had been avoiding playing Mold while Phillips was umpire. Possibly they were waiting for MacLaren to be available before taking action: this match was his first after missing almost a month’s cricket through various injuries and illnesses.

Jim Phillips (Image: Cricket, 30 November 1905)

Hallows bowled the first over of the match, a maiden. Mold bowled the second from Umpire Richardson’s end, while Phillips stood at square leg, but it was completed without incident. After the intervening over, Mold bowled again. The first ball was delivered without a problem. The second and third were called “no-ball” by Phillips from square leg. In total, Phillips called five deliveries unfair, resulting in an eleven-ball over. According to the Manchester Guardian, “the crowd was indignant. Only a thousand people were then present, but they shouted and shouted again at decisions they deemed to be unfair.” There was “an unpleasant stir” when Mold was replaced by Webb for the next over from Richardson’s end, but MacLaren was merely following instructions, and Mold switched to bowl from Phillips’ end, to cheering from the crowd. But Phillips, standing further back than normal, continued to no-ball him from the bowler’s end: the Yorkshire Evening Post recorded that in three successive overs, he called five, then four, then three deliveries as throws; Cricket said that Mold was no-balled thirteen times in an eight-over spell. MacLaren did not back down, so Mold, bowled a long spell; it appears after his initial two-over spell, he bowled eight overs from the other end before being taken off. He returned for three overs before lunch from Richardson’s end without being called – to “ironic cheers” from the crowd.

It is not entirely clear how many no-balls were called in total. Although the Wisden report says that Phillips no-balled Mold sixteen times in ten overs, most other accounts – including one given by Phillips – say that Mold was no-balled eighteen times, of which three were scored from (which is why scorecards record that Mold only bowled fifteen no-balls). A few newspapers give the total number as seventeen, and some give both seventeen and eighteen. But perhaps it is unsurprising that some details were inaccurately recorded in what must have been a tense atmosphere.

The Manchester Guardian made some other observations:

“The action of Mold was, of course, carefully watched by everybody yesterday, and the general opinion was that if one ball was to be called a throw then every ball he sent down was of the same order, which means that instead of Mold bowling eleven balls in his second over he might have gone on with that over almost for ever. Other observers noticed that Mold, when varying his pitch and going for a very fast ball, slightly raised his arm in order to get the speed. This was the ball that Phillips said was no-ball, and which Richardson and all the spectators said was not a no-ball.”

Several of the crowd shouted “no-ball” when each ball was being bowled, disturbing both Mold and the Somerset batsmen Lionel Palairet and Len Braund (possibly contributing to their dismissals). According to the Manchester Guardian: “A few ill-mannered people, but only a few, made unpleasant remarks about the umpire, who after all did what he thought was his duty – the opinion of all other umpires notwithstanding.” The Yorkshire Evening Post suggested that it was more than a few of the “greatly excited” crowd who “hurled” abuse at Phillips. The cries actually got louder as the morning went on. Mold was hit around quite a lot, but also took the wickets of Palairet and GW Jupp before lunch.

Mold returned later in the day and bowled ten overs without any further action being taken against him by Phillips, even though his action was unchanged. This inconsistency on the part of Phillips was commented on by several newspapers, but in fairness Phillips’ hands were tied when it became clear that MacLaren would not withdraw him from the attack.

The Mitchell and Kenyon film taken on 12 July 1901, the second day of the Lancashire v Somerset match. The footage was taken in the lunch

The Wisden report on the match – the rest of the almanack had more to say – said that the repeated no-balling of Mold “a great sensation … The incident naturally gave rise to much excitement, and for the next few days nothing else was talked about in the cricket world.” One publication, the Globe, said that the controversy had spread so far that it was being discussed in the House of Commons. And this is where we came in, because a much larger crowd attended the second day of the game (12 July); there were 5,000 paying spectators plus 2,000 members present when play began. Among the attendees was the cameraman for Mitchell and Kenyon – commissioned by AD Thomas, who operated “Edison Films” that put on shows at Manchester’s St James’ Hall – to film parts of this sensational match.

But if those who came to Old Trafford hoped for more controversy, they were to be disappointed. Phillips did not no-ball Mold again, even though he bowled extensively on the second day. The Manchester Guardian said that it was unclear whether “Phillips had revised his views, or that Mold had changed his action (though that was in no way discernible to the public), or that Phillips was satisfied with having made his protest on Thursday”. Nor was there any demonstration against Phillips by the crowd. However, at some point in the day, the umpire seems to have held an impromptu press conference, for the newspaper also said: “Phillips made an explanation during the morning to this effect – that he had no feeling whatever against Mold, that he admitted him very much as a man and a cricketer, but that he thought that unconsciously Mold sent down a ball such as he could not have sent down had his elbow been, say, in splints. That is to say that he bent the elbow in the act of delivery, which changed bowling into throwing. That is his theory.”

The other participants in the match also had their say. Mold denied “that there is a fragment of foundation” to the idea that he bowled unfairly. Lancashire’s President AN Hornby again expressed his support for Mold. The Manchester Guardian made it clear that the Lancashire players also supported their teammate. That report added that Richardson, the other umpire, did not think that Mold threw (it appears that he spoke to the press at the end of the first day), and “we believe we may add the Somersetshire players; certainly most of the Somersetshire players.” In fact, the article became something of a piece defending Mold, listing all the umpires under whom Mold had played earlier in the season who had seen no reason to no-ball him: “Titchmarsh, Alfred Shaw, John Wheeler, the two Wests, W Hearne, and Mycroft, who have all umpired recently when Mold bowled.”

During the lunch interval on that second day, the Mitchell and Kenyon cameraman evidently decided to record footage of Mold himself, the man at the centre of the controversy. Several newspapers noted the filming of Mold bowling to AN Hornby in the nets. These all stated that Mold bowled in his usual way, and had not altered his action for the camera. The film is interesting, however. Mold never had a long run-up, but he bowled to Hornby from just a few steps at barely medium pace. As several newspapers commented, Hornby (who looks to be enjoying the experience far more than the bowler) is easily able to smash Mold around even though he was in his fifties at the time. Even allowing for any differences in what might have been perceived as “fast” over a century ago, Mold would not have been described as one of the fastest bowler in England if this was his normal pace. It is also notable that he had a low arm action; the Guardian said that it was when he raised his arm to bowl faster that Phillips no-balled him. The problem deliveries for Mold – in common with many faster bowlers caught up in the “Throwing Question” – were the ones he tried to bowl with extra pace.

But with these qualifications, Mold’s action on the film does not look particularly suspicious. Slowing down the playback, it is just possible to perceive a slight bend in Mold’s arm as he delivers the ball. While this is unlikely to have been an issue in itself, perhaps when he bowled at normal pace, or when trying for his faster ball, the problem arose. Whether there was an actual straightening, or if there was an optical illusion of straightening, this could be why there were so many accusations of throwing. And it is highly unlikely that Mold would have been aware of it – it is incredibly unlikely that he would have been deliberately throwing.

When play resumed after this lunchtime display, Mold did rather well, taking four Somerset wickets as their second innings collapsed dramatically. Lancashire won easily by half past four. Mold’s match figures make interesting reading: 23-1-88-3 and 20.4-4-65-4. At the end of the game, he was 10th in the national first-class bowling averages. But by then, a whole range of opinions had been expressed in the newspapers. These were by no means unanimously in support of Phillips, but neither do they all favour Mold.

The Daily Telegraph condemned Mold and Lancashire: “Whatever the difference of opinion may exist as to the fairness of Mold’s action, there was something rather ignominious in Lancashire only playing him when the one umpire who had no-balled him was not officiating. Such a feeble compromise was, from every point of view, unsatisfactory.” Other newspapers also noted that this was the first time Mold had bowled in front of Phillips since he was no-balled the previous season.

The Telegraph writer commended the bravery of Phillips in daring to no-ball Mold on his home ground, and reported that “competent eye-witnesses” had reported that “Mold’s delivery was open to grave objection both in the Lancashire and Sussex match Old Trafford last week, and in the Lancashire and Gloucestershire match at Gloucester on June 24”. Their conclusion was: “So far, indeed, from thinking Mold an ill-used man, we hold a strong opinion that he was very fortunate be allowed to go unchecked through so many seasons.” They believed the whole “crusade” against throwing “has been of immense benefit to cricket.”

The Yorkshire Post also commended Phillips’ courage, and said: “As to Mold, we know that many of the greatest cricketers and best judges of the game alive believe him to be the luckiest bowler England has ever had in going through nearly a dozen seasons without being no-balled.” While suggesting that Phillips would “receive influential support”, the writer thought it was time for the MCC to act. Other supporters of Phillips included St James’s Gazette and dismissed sympathy for Mold: “It is certainly no argument that the illegal bowler may be a married man with children [Mold was not married at the time, although he probably had an illegitimate daughter] who is trying to earn his living by honest labour, and Phillips is certainly not actuated by personal motives or by anything except his cricketing conscience.” Other newspapers refrained from expressing a definite opinion, but observed that Mold had been under suspicion for years.

A studio photograph of Alfred Shaw
Alfred Shaw, the umpire and former England bowler, pictured in 1895 (Image: Wikipedia)

Unsurprisingly, Lancashire-based newspapers were more supportive of Mold. But support came from other sources, such as the Sheffield Telegraph. The main defence of Mold took a similar form to that in the Manchester Guardian – that Phillips was the only umpire to find fault with Mold. Even newspapers that remained fairly neutral observed that the current state of affairs – where two umpires could have such different views of Mold – was unsatisfactory. There were calls in some publications for the use of photography to answer the question definitively. But Old Ebor, in the Yorkshire Evening Post, gently pointed out that perhaps the other umpires were not as united as Mold’s defenders believed. He observed that several of the criticisms of Phillips said that Alfred Shaw, an umpire who had been an international bowler and “one of the greatest bowlers the world has known”, thought Mold’s action was fair. Old Ebor remarked that, on the contrary, Shaw thought that he threw but had been reluctant, as a relatively new umpire, to pass judgement. The writer did not name Shaw, but made it clear who he meant, and hinted that he had spoken to Shaw personally.

A more surprising source of opposition to Phillips was the London-based weekly publication Cricket. In the issue following the Somerset match, the matter was discussed several times. FS Ashley-Cooper wrote that Mold was perhaps lucky to have played so long without being no-balled, and a short report rather strangely wondered why the Lancashire spectators did not find the no-balling as amusing as the anonymous writer did. But a third report in the issue said:

“It is a little startling to read in several newspapers that this proves, beyond a doubt, that Mold throws. It does nothing of the kind. It only proves that Phillips sees Mold with other eyes than the rest of the umpires. One of these days an umpire may arise who will discover that he ought to make an example of Mr Jephson [an underarm bowler], but this will not exactly prove that a lob-bowler is a ‘chucker’.”

Meanwhile, the two main actors in the story, Phillips and Mold, became involved in a rather undignified clash in the press. Phillips wrote a long letter on 14 July which appeared in many newspapers, giving his version of events. He said that he had suspected Mold for over ten years. His defence for only calling some deliveries no-ball was rather unconvincing: the law said that the umpire had to call no-ball instantly and so some deliveries passed as the umpire needed “a moment for reflection” before calling it. Therefore, many of Mold’s supposedly illegal deliveries passed unchallenged, including some that took wickets. Phillips also said that, when he no-balled Mold from the bowler’s end, he had been standing further back than customary so that he could closely inspect his bowing action. In the second innings, when Mold bowled unchallenged, Phillips stood in his usual place and implied that he decided to take no further action as MacLaren clearly intended to keep bowling Mold. Phillips added that while Mold in the first innings was clearly trying to keep his arm straighter than usual, his action deteriorated throughout the second innings once he realised Phillips was not going to take further action.

But Phillips had decided “I am for the future determined to apply law 48 with a severity that may occasionally do injustice to a bowler.” He added: “Instead of ‘calling’ Mold eighteen times, if I had successfully given effect to my opinion on every delivery he would have been ‘called’ between seventy and eighty times”. He found having to no-ball bowlers “distasteful”. He ended his letter: “In conclusion, if it is thought that certain bowlers have been wronged by my having no-balled them, then my judgement of absolutely fair bowling must be grievously at fault and I ought not to be allowed to umpire. If, on the other hand, the law is too exacting it ought to be repealed.”

Two days later, Mold wrote a reply which also appeared in the press. After expressing doubts that umpires should be allowed to discuss such matters publicly, he questioned why Phillips had never no-balled him before if he had suspected him for so long. He pointed out that Phillips had first umpired him in 1893, and that either he had then viewed Mold’s bowling as fair, or “did not fulfil his duty as an umpire”. He further questioned which part of the delivery it was that Phillips objected to: “My arm comes round as rigid as the spoke of a wheel,” and he claimed that he had no bend in his arm. He suggested that any break he got on the ball (he was renowned for making the ball break back sharply) came from his action, nor from his fingers, wrist or, as was implied by some in the press, his elbow.

Mold was “astounded” at Phillips’ claim that wickets fell to unfair deliveries: “He excuses himself – nobody accused him – on the ground that he could not name the ball instantly on delivery. I think many of the balls which he called had already arrived at the wicket keeper’s hands before he signalled them, and corroboration of this opinion can no doubt be had from the players on both sides.” He questioned why it would take so long for Phillips to decide if a ball was fair. He also denied having changed his bowling action. In his defence, he pointed out that no other umpire had no-balled him, and suggested that he would have the support of those other umpires: “I take expert evidence on this point from English umpires, men who have played first-class cricket before Phillips was ever heard of”.

Mold thought that Phillips predetermined to no-ball him before the match started. At this point, his defence becomes a little less strong. After claiming to have heard that Phillips had a list of famous bowlers whom he intended to no-ball, he descended into insults: “It will be a bad thing for English cricket if expert opinion on English cricket is to come from the bush of Australia.” He concluded: “There is one line in Phillips’s letter with which I am in cordial sympathy. He uses the words ‘I ought not to be allowed to umpire.’ I agree with him.”

The press were generally critical of both Phillips and Mold for resorting to the newspapers. Cricket was scathing of the practice, and of the space devoted to the letters in newspapers: “This was of course the logical outcome of the various manifestos issued by prominent cricketers during the past year, but it is devoutly to be hoped that every umpire who gives a man out, or no-balls him, will not consider it necessary to send a circular to all the papers stating his reasons for so doing.”

But Cricket, like Mold, was puzzled by the “somewhat astonishing” claim by Phillips that he could not be certain immediately over the fairness of a delivery, and wondered: “If an umpire could not decide at once whether a man has bowled a no-ball or not, he might be in the same predicament when he was required to give a decision upon a catch at the wicket or an appeal for lbw.” It also criticised Phillips for saying that he planned to apply the law severely enough to do an injustice, and pointed out how absurd it would be for an umpire to say something similar for the leg before wicket law. Old Ebor in the Yorkshire Evening Post was similarly critical of the letters, but particularly of Mold, whose “reference to English cricket being taught from the Bush in Australia was not only bad taste, but foolish in the cricketing sense, seeing how superior Australian cricket has proved itself over that of the old country in the last few years.”

Mold played in Lancashire’s next game, but then disappeared for several matches, on account of what was described in the press as a “strain”. After missing nearly a month, he returned for two more matches in mid-August, but he was noticeably under-bowled in all three of these games. It is unclear whether the reason was related to his action, or to an injury. The last of these matches – played against Middlesex at Lord’s – was his final first-class game. With his last delivery, he took a wicket (he did not bowl in the second innings as the game fizzled out into a draw).

But matters rumbled in the press. In July, the umpire Archibald White resigned as a first-class umpire “for the reason that he considered Mold’s deliveries doubtful.” He had been due to umpire the Lancashire v Middlesex game at Liverpool on 22 July; in the event, Mold did not play in it, and this was the start of his prolonged absence. The Observer twisted the story slightly to claim that the MCC had sacked him for believing that Mold threw.

A close-up of the umpire William West cropped from a team photograph
William West in 1899 (Image: Wikipedia)

In late July, yet another umpire took to the newspapers. William West had been at the forefront of the no-balling movement, kickstarting the “crusade” in England when he no-balled CB Fry in 1898. But now he wrote to criticise Phillips and defend Mold. He argued that the umpires who had approved of Mold’s bowling should not be bypassed. He also objected to the idea that “while some umpires have not had the courage of their opinions, others do not know their business – all because one man differs from the majority.” On Mold, he was clear:

“Let me here say that I stood as umpire in the match that Lancashire played against Hampshire at Portsmouth this year, and, after watching Mold with the greatest care all through the game, I came to the conclusion that his action was perfectly fair and above suspicion. My colleague at the opposite end was of the same opinion. I have gone further and asked all the umpires that have met Mold this year and last, and with two exceptions, Phillips and White, they expressed the opinion that Mold was perfectly fair.”

The cricketing public doubtless enjoyed reading the argument unfold in their newspapers, but several writers expressed a concern that, for all the ink spilled discussing the matter, it remained as unresolved as it had done for several seasons. But in reality, Phillips’ action in repeatedly no-balling Mold was the end of the conflict. That winter, the MCC finally decided that they had to act…

Phillips, MacLaren, Tyler and Mold: The “Throwing Question” comes to a head

A posed action photograph of Arthur Mold about to bowl the ball

Arthur Mold in a posed photograph around 1897 taken for Ranjitsinhji’s Jubilee Book of Cricket (Image: Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1890s, there had been bowlers in English cricket whose actions were viewed with suspicion. After the umpire Jim Phillips no-balled the Australian fast bowler Ernest Jones for throwing during the 1897-98 season, English umpires finally became emboldened to take action. During a fortnight in June 1898, three umpires – William West, Jim Phillips and Valentine Titchmarsh – no-balled Sussex’s CB Fry, whose action had been viewed with suspicion since 1892, and Warwickshire’s AJ Hopkins, who had only played a handful of matches. However, the only other action by an umpire that season was when Fry was called yet again by Mordecai Sherwin the following month. Two more bowlers were no-balled in 1899 – Richard Hardstaff, whose action had long been questionable, and Evelyn Bradford, an army captain who only played sporadically in first-class cricket. Phillips played no direct role in the “Throwing Question” in 1899 as he was employed as the scorer for the touring Australian team. But for the 1900 season, he was to be an umpire in the County Championship for the first time.

Phillips had previously umpired intermittently in England. While employed as a Middlesex professional, he umpired two or three matches at Lord’s each season, probably as part of his role on the MCC groundstaff. He had also officiated matches played by touring teams. But having ended his playing career, Phillips now became a full-time umpire. Since no-balling Jones in Australia, he had become firmly associated in the public mind with the “crusade” against throwing. It appears that he specifically umpired one of Fry’s matches for Sussex in 1898 in order to no-ball him, and it may not be a coincidence that two instances of no-balling in 1899 were in matches played by the Australian touring team, when Phillips was present as scorer.

Another new element for the 1900 season was an alteration in the laws which allowed the umpire standing at square leg – who had a better view of a bowler’s action – to no-ball a delivery he judged to be a throw. Previously, only the umpire at the bowler’s end could make this call. The change had been recommended for years – including by contributors to the 1895 Wisden article on throwing – but seems largely to have been made on the suggestion of Phillips. Although just one of a range of alterations to the laws made for 1900, this was clearly aimed to assist in the “crusade” against throwing. But some – notably RS Holmes in Cricket, returning to a favourite theme of his – pointed out that there was still no definition of a throw for umpires to use, and there was little agreement on what constituted an unfair delivery.

The first month of the 1900 season passed peacefully but proved to be a lull before the “Throwing Question” escalated enormously. The first indication of trouble involved a familiar name. CB Fry, no-balled three times in 1898, had bowled intermittently in 1899 without censure. In late May 1900, he again resumed bowling. On 5 June, the second day of the match between Sussex and Gloucestershire at Brighton, Fry went on to bowl early in Gloucestershire’s innings. The umpires were William West and Archibald White; West had called Fry in 1898 and Richard Hardstaff in 1899 while White had no-balled Evelyn Bradford in 1899. Fry took two early wickets before he was no-balled once more. Reports do not say which umpire made the call, but all agree that afterwards, Fry returned to bowl with a markedly different method that attracted no disapproval from the umpires. Once more, there was little sympathy for Fry – this was the fourth match in which he had been no-balled – and even his defenders could only make the point that other bowlers had worse actions.

Phillips, meanwhile, had been umpiring regularly during May, but took an unexplained two-week break in early June. On 25, 26 and 27 June, his first match back, he took charge of Nottinghamshire v Lancashire at Trent Bridge. Among the Lancashire team was Arthur Mold, one of the leading fast bowlers in England for most of the 1890s but whose bowling action had long divided opinion. His high profile critics included Sydney Pardon, the Wisden editor, but he also had many defenders. Ranjitsinhji, the Sussex captain, was one of the latter and included a photograph of Mold bowling in his Jubilee Book of Cricket (1898), a book in which he expressed concerns about throwing. Having played for Lancashire since 1889, Mold was scheduled to have a benefit match against Yorkshire later in the season.

On the first day, Nottinghamshire won the toss and batted. Mold had been plagued by injuries and loss of form over the previous seasons, and no longer opened the Lancashire bowling. When he came into the attack, Phillips was standing at square-leg. In his first over, Phillips no-balled him twice (the first time a bowler had been no-balled from square leg under the new law). He was taken off by his captain Archie MacLaren and did not bowl again in the match.

This marked a considerable change of direction from Phillips. Earlier instances of players being no-balled for throwing had involved part-time bowlers or those who had not played many games – Richard Hardstaff, the only other experienced bowler to be no-balled, took just 100 first-class wickets in his entire career. At the time Phillips no-balled him, Mold had taken 1,577 wickets in 263 matches. As Cricket phrased the matter: “It seems a little late in the day to discover that his action is questionable, as he has now played for Lancashire for more than eleven years”.

Unlike in previous cases, there was no unanimity over whether Mold threw. Many commentators, on both sides of the issue, noted that Phillips was once more the umpire involved. Some publications, such as the Sheffield Telegraph and the Globe, thought that Mold had been lucky to play so long without being no-balled. The Globe, somewhat harshly remarked: “It may argued that it was very late in the day to call [Mold] to account, and it is certainly unfortunate that the incident should have occurred in the year in which he is to have his benefit match. These, however are merely sentimental considerations.”

Other commentators were less supportive of Phillips. The Northern Daily Telegraph, a Lancashire newspaper, observed:

“Needless to say this action of Phillips caused great surprise and some indignation. Mold has for many years been regarded as the fairest of fast bowlers, and has never been no-balled for throwing before. MacLaren, when asked for his opinion about the incident, refused to express it, but pointed out that Phillips was the only umpire who had no-balled a bowler in an Australian match.”

The same report claimed that Nottinghamshire’s William Gunn supported Mold. Soon afterwards, the Lancashire Secretary SH Swire publicly defended the action of Mold; no other county had previously expressed support for a bowler who had been no-balled.

After the Nottinghamshire match, Mold played a further nine times in 1900. He appeared in the next two Lancashire games, but then played more sporadically. He missed the only other Lancashire game umpired by Phillips that season, but also missed his own benefit match, played against Yorkshire. After an abortive return, he disappeared from first-class cricket for three weeks. No reason was given for his absences, but injury is the most likely explanation as he had been struggling for some seasons. Additionally, there is no clear pattern to when he appeared; while he may have deliberately been kept away from Phillips, he played before Mordecai Sherwin and Archibald White, two “no-ballers”. He returned to the team on 13 August, and played until the end of the season without incident.

Mold’s benefit match eventually raised a total of £2,050, which may have reassured everyone that, whatever happened, Mold would be comfortable after his retirement. This amount was a record at the time for a Lancashire player, and only JT Tyldesley (with £3,111 in 1906) received a higher amount before the First World War; only four players raised more before 1948. Whatever questions remained over Mold’s bowling, there were none over his popularity.

Embed from Getty Images

Edwin Tyler, photographed around 1900

But that was not the end of the “Throwing Question” in 1900. Late in the season, on 27, 28 and 29 August, Phillips umpired Somerset’s last game of the season, against Surrey at Taunton; it was the only Somerset match he umpired that year. In the Surrey first innings, standing at square leg, he twice no-balled Edwin Tyler when he came on to bowl, once in each of his first two overs, after which he was taken off. He returned to bowl the next day, late in the Surrey innings, from Phillips’ end. He only bowled one ball, taking a wicket to remove the last batsman. He had delivered just 2.1 overs in total and did not bowl in the second innings.

Tyler, like Mold, was a professional, well-established bowler. Unlike the others caught up in the throwing question to that point, Tyler was a spin bowler. He had played for Somerset since 1891, taking respectable if underwhelming numbers of wickets, and once for England during a tour of South Africa in 1895-96. His career was in obvious decline by 1900, even before his encounter with Phillips. Some newspapers suggested that Tyler was one of those who had been quietly suspected of throwing, but again there was no consensus.

However, something different happened after Phillips no-balled Tyler. For the first time, there was a reaction from one of Phillips’ colleagues. The other umpire in the game, Walter Wright, was at the bowler’s end when Phillips no-balled Tyler. When Tyler was no-balled the second time, Wright called “over” after only five legal deliveries had been bowled – in other words, he ignored Phillips’ call of no-ball. While this may have been an accidental oversight – there was probably a good deal of excitement after the no-ball – most commentators thought it was deliberate. Wright certainly seems to have made the newspapers aware that he thought that Tyler bowled fairly.

This raised the question which had been carefully avoided since 1897: was it fair to bowlers that one umpire could have such an impact on their career? Several newspapers made pointed reference to Phillips’ repeated involvement in no-balling bowlers. Others observed that Phillips was the only umpire out of the twenty on the first-class list to no-ball Mold and Tyler; were the others simply lacking courage, or did they genuinely disagree? And some commentators questioned if it was fair that Mold and Tyler were condemned as “chuckers” when only a handful of deliveries out of the thousands they had bowled had been called.

A thoughtful article in the Field, as well as partially defending Tyler from the charge of throwing (although it conceded that he and Mold had “peculiar” actions), pointed out that slow bowlers had to use their wrist and elbow to spin the ball sharply which gave the appearance of a “jerk”: “Whether a ball so delivered is fair or unfair is a matter of opinion”. The writer concluded that, with bowlers already handicapped by increasingly flat pitches, perhaps it was time to modify the laws to allow some kind of throw.

As the season ended, the matter seemed no closer to resolution. Despite the many hints over the years, after three years of the “crusade”, only six bowlers had been no-balled for throwing. Of those, only Mold and Tyler were firmly established in first-class cricket, and both were closer to the end of their career than the beginning – which may be why Phillips singled them out. And whenever someone defended Fry, Bradford, Mold or Tyler, they always made pointed reference to the other bowlers whose actions were far worse. What about these players? It was clear that leadership was required from somewhere.

Even then, neither the MCC nor the counties would have taken action if it had not been for Archie MacLaren. On 10 December, the county captains held their annual meeting at Lord’s and made three recommendations to the MCC (none connected to throwing) for the 1901 season. Wisden reported that thirteen captains attended: Gregor MacGregor of Middlesex was absent, and Derbyshire were represented by their secretary rather than Samuel Hill-Wood their captain. However, the question of who was present at the meeting is not quite clear-cut. HW Bainbridge of Warwickshire was, by his own account, not there and Ranjitsinhji of Sussex left early. Although the meeting was private, details leaked out; MacLaren himself gave a very full account, which appeared in the press.

Towards the end of proceedings, MacLaren asked his fellow captains about the fairness of Mold’s bowling action in an attempt to clarify the issue. MacLaren believed (because the Lancashire secretary had asked him to attend the meeting) that he was enquiring officially on behalf of Lancashire, but the county’s president AN Hornby later issued a statement that the question had not come from the committee. MacLaren put up a strong defence of his bowler but the other captains – “to a man” according to MacLaren – stated that Mold threw. MacLaren responded that Lancashire would therefore presumably not include Mold in their team, but pointed out that “if Mold was unfair, there were others equally so, or more so”. At this point, the captains decided it would only be fair to “go through the list of last season’s bowlers”.

However, some reports suggested that it was actually the umpires who had prompted the question at the captains’ meeting, having told the MCC secretary FE Lacey that they needed the support of the authorities and county captains if they were to address the throwing issue.

Whatever prompted them, the captains came up with a list of bowlers whose actions they considered to be dubious, and passed this to the MCC. On 14 December, Sydney Pardon wrote an article called “Notes by the Editor” which addressed the meeting. He appears unaware of the list of bowlers, but had obviously discussed the matter with some of those at the meeting: “I am assured on the highest authority that very strong measures have been determined on”. A mixture of self-congratulation (“I think I may, without undue egotism, take some small credit to myself for having tried, year after year to get rid of unfair bowling”) and a summary of the whole history of throwing since the 1880s, the article praised Phillips: “He has done splendid service to the game of cricket. He proved to our formerly timid officials that an umpire could enforce the law without any detriment to his professional position”.

Pardon also took the opportunity to condemn Mold again: “Knowing what I do as to the opinions expressed in private by several of the greatest batsmen in the country, I regard Mold as the luckiest of men to have gone through nearly a dozen seasons before being no-balled.” And it had not escaped Pardon’s notice that MacLaren was not too convincing in his defence of Mold. Of a piece the Lancashire captain wrote for Manchester Evening News, Pardon commented: “The defence did not amount to much. Anyway, he did not commit himself to the opinion that Mold was a strictly fair bowler.”

Around the same time, someone leaked the list of bowlers whom the captains believed to throw. This comprised: the amateurs CB Fry (Sussex), ER Bradford (Hampshire), WC Hedley (Somerset) and WW Lowe (Worcestershire); and the professionals F Davidson (Derbyshire), F Geeson (Leicestershire), AW Mold (Lancashire), WG Quaife (Warwickshire) and W Roche (Middlesex). A second list contained the names of bowlers for whom further action might be required; they should be warned by their counties and carefully watched by umpires: C Bland (Sussex), FG Bull (Essex), WH Lockwood (Surrey), and EJ Tyler (Somerset).

The bowlers on the captain's list of throwers from their meeting in December 1900

The list of bowlers named as suspected throwers by the county captains at their meeting on 10 December 1900

But there was disagreement over what took place at the meeting. MacLaren noted that three captains – MacGregor, HW Bainbridge and Ranjitsinhji – were missing when he asked about Mold. Swire, the Lancashire Secretary, went further and said that three captains – including MacLaren and Ranjitsinhji – had protested. Sydney Pardon later wrote in the 1902 Wisden that the captains had voted “eleven to one” against Mold (which contradicted the report in the 1901 edition that thirteen captains were present). To further muddy the waters, FE Lacey, the MCC Secretary, issued a list to the counties of the bowlers concerned; however, it appears that he was acting in a personal capacity, and this was not an official MCC circular – even though, confusingly, it appeared to be so. And Lacey’s list differed from that published in the press: instead of Lowe of Worcestershire, it included H Griffin of Somerset (who had only played four first-class matches and none in 1900).

Several newspapers pointed out that the list was an odd one. Although Tyler was one of the few from the list to have been actually no-balled, he was only on the secondary list of those who should be “warned”. Fry (26 wickets since the beginning of 1898) and Quaife (67 wickets in seven seasons) were not regular bowlers. Although the leaked reports of the meeting said that the captains discussed bowlers from the previous season, Davidson, Hedley and Bradford had not played in 1900. The latter two were actually fighting in the Boer War in South Africa; as a publication called the World said, “it is not altogether a gracious thing to drag their names before the public.” Of the “banned” bowlers, only Mold and Geeson had taken more than fifty wickets in 1900.

The inclusion of Hedley and Bradford presumably reflected long-standing concerns about them; Bradford had been no-balled twice in 1899 and, according to his Wisden obituary, Hedley’s action was so bad that Lord Harris dropped him from the Kent side in 1888 after one season, which forced him to qualify for Somerset. But everyone missed a particular irony about one name on the list: Roche had been brought to England by Jim Phillips, acting on Middlesex’s behalf.

Rather than clarifying matters, MacLaren’s question to his fellow captains plunged the cricket world into confusion and disagreement. The opinion was widely expressed that the captains had not only come to a wrong decision, but that they were usurping the authority of the MCC in passing judgement. Opposition was strongest, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Lancashire. The Sportsman reported that the Lancashire President, AN Hornby, thought that Mold “is a perfectly fair bowler, and never saw him throw a ball. If Mr Hornby can have his way Lancashire will play Mold and let the umpires no-ball him if his deliveries are unfair.” Mold’s teammates Albert Ward and Johnny Tyldesley also spoke out in his defence. And Mold was interviewed at Banbury, where according to the Manchester Guardian he “emphatically declined to admit that his bowling was unfair. He pointed to the fact that he had never been accused until Phillips no-balled him at Nottingham … He appreciated Mr AN Hornby’s public expressions regarding himself, and intimated that the captains were not all powerful.”

Some agreed with what had happened: the Middlesex Secretary AJ Webbe told the Sportsman he supported the “drastic remedy”; the Daily Mail reported that Lord Harris was broadly, if cautiously, supportive of the captains; Lord Sheffield, a cricket patron who had organised the 1891-92 tour of Australia, also agreed with the actions of the captains. The only county captain to publicly defend the meeting was JR Mason of Kent.

But the rest of the cricket world as supportive as might be expected. Even the captains were not united. The Manchester Guardian reported that the Warwickshire captain HW Bainbridge, who had been unable to attend the meeting, “thinks that the course adopted is too severe, and that the bowlers should have been given at least a season in which to alter their style of delivery”. He thought the matter was best left to the umpires. Ranjitsinhji, who had left the meeting early, also expressed reservations, giving an interview from his Cambridge lodgings. Regarding throwing, which he did not believe was widespread, he criticised his fellow captains, saying that “no useful purpose will be served by overlegislating in the matter, and taking drastic measures, as the captains have done.” He believed that they had overstepped their authority and the matter should be decided by the MCC. Ranji specifically mentioned Fry: he claimed his fellow captains earlier in the year all agreed, when he asked them, that Fry no longer threw. He wondered why, if the reports were true, they had changed their minds over the winter and unanimously decided that he was unfair. He claimed that, prohibition or not, he would bowl Fry in 1901.

If the captains could not agree, it is no surprise that the rest of the cricketing world expressed widely varying opinions. One active cricketer, Nottinghamshire’s William Gunn wondered if all first-class cricketers should be consulted, not just captains. The former Nottinghamshire and Sussex bowler Alfred Shaw, who was a first-class umpire between 1898 and 1905, was supportive of the captains’ actions but thought “Mold’s case is particularly hard because he has figured in first-class cricket for many years, and has done great service.”

A long article by WJ Ford, a writer and former player from a famous cricketing family, in the Morning Post was broadly supportive of any efforts to eliminate throwing, but made several good points. He suggested that, as all the captains were primarily batsmen, the opinions of bowlers should be taken into account. He questioned why the list had been composed so far in advance of the season, when the bowlers on it would have four months to correct their actions, and wondered if inclusion precluded them from, for example, bowling lobs. Finally, he returned to the old problem, imagining a challenge by the bowler at the centre of the controversy: “‘You condemn me for throwing,’ says Mold; ‘will you kindly tell me what a throw is?'” Ford wondered how any bowler could remedy their problem without knowing to what exactly the umpires and critics objected. He said that whoever decided that a bowler was unfair – whether the county captains or the MCC – should “make public the principles which are to guide it in its decisions”.

Ford believed that the forthcoming 1902 tour by Australia could be controversial, citing the case of Jones, over whom he argued there had never been a clear consensus that he threw. He also referred to something that had recently occurred in Australia. Jack Marsh, an Australian Aboriginal, had been no-balled for throwing by Bob Crockett in December 1900, playing for New South Wales against Victoria. In February 1901, Crockett called him again, a total of 17 times, in the return match. Ford wondered what would happen if Marsh and Jones were included in the Australian team. He concluded that, in the end, throwing would have to be legalised.

Pelham Warner batting, about to receive the ball
PF Warner in 1905 (Image: Wikipedia)

Another prominent cricket figure who was less than convinced was Pelham Warner. In an article in Badminton Magazine in January, he said that he did not think the approach by the captains “was the most judicious one” because they had acted “over the heads” of the umpires and therefore “practically altered the laws of the game” which only the MCC could do. He argued that, as umpires were no longer afraid to no-ball bowlers for throwing, the matter should be left up to them. While he thought that Mold occasionally threw, he did not need to be banned as most of his deliveries were fair. He pointed out the contradiction that Mold was banned, while Tyler – like Jones before him – would be allowed to bowl and argued that the shock of being no-balled should be enough for a bowler to correct their action. Warner also perfectly illustrated the lack of consensus over others who threw: while he agreed about the inclusion of Hedley and Roche, he believed that Fry no longer threw, and that Geeson had been closely scrutinised – and passed fair – by umpires.

Warner’s solution was a committee of county captains, with the “sanction” of the MCC as law-makers, to vote on bowlers and follow the method proposed by Spofforth in 1897: an escalating process beginning with suspension for a week, then a fortnight, and then disqualification for the season. “By this ruling a cricketer would have full warning of the penalty for throwing, and would not suddenly find himself suspended, as in the case of Mold, who has played first-class cricket since 1889, and only once been no-balled.”

But it was a strange atmosphere that January. Warwickshire were forced to issue a statement denying that the county had declined an opportunity to sign Mold in the 1880s because they suspected he threw. And MacLaren wrote another less-than-effusive defence of Mold in the press. In a letter to the Manchester Courier, he supported the right of umpires to no-ball bowlers, but claimed that in the Nottinghamshire match in which Mold was called, he could not have been throwing because the pitch was wet and he was bowling slowly. Apparently choosing his words very carefully, he made a distinction between deliberate and inadvertent throws, but somehow managed to avoid claiming that Mold had a fair bowling action. In fact, the letter could be taken as hinting that Mold did occasionally throw the ball when bowling fast, but was not doing so on purpose.

At some point in January, the MCC appear to have issued a third version of the captains’ list, which once more omitted Griffin and included Lowe among the “warned” names (he was “banned” in the original version). The circular also claimed that the captains had “unanimously agreed”, but this only served to reignite the controversy. Cricket summarised the whole sorry affair in April:

“To say this circular aroused a storm of criticism is to put the matter very mildly. Some of the county captains afterwards denied that the voting was unanimous, while others were not present at all. A few critics thought the captains had done wisely; the majority that they had made a huge mistake. The upshot was that the greater number of county committees asked for a ruling of the MCC committee on the question.”

The end result was that on 1 April, the MCC Committee approved of the captains’ meeting in principle, but postponed any suspensions “in the hope that this course may strengthen the hands of the umpires without being unnecessarily drastic”. In effect, the captains had been overruled, all bowlers were to be permitted to bowl in the 1901 season, and matters were apparently no nearer to a resolution than they had been when Phillips no-balled Jones in Australia in 1897. So Jim Phillips seems to have decided to settle everything himself, once and for all…

“Good heavens, I call that a shy!”: The “Throwing Question” erupts

The Gentlemen’s team for the Gentlemen v Players Match at Lord’s in 1899. The two umpires are standing at either end of the back row: Mordecai Sherwin (far left) and, in particular, William West (far right) played a large role in the “Throwing Question”. CB Fry, one of the bowlers no-balled by both Sherwin and West, is lying on the ground, front centre. (Image: Wikipedia)

The team of English cricketers led by AE Stoddart which toured Australia in 1897-98 was accompanied by Jim Phillips as assistant manager and umpire. Although only a mediocre cricketer who played professionally for Melbourne and Middlesex in a remarkable year-round career, Phillips had built up a reputation as a strong and honest umpire. The Australian team also respected him, and had requested his services as umpire during their tours of England in 1893 and 1896. But on that latter tour two Australians, Ernest Jones and Tom McKibbin, bowled with questionable actions and many critics believed that they threw rather than bowled the ball. No action was taken because several English cricketers had bowled unhindered for years with actions that were as bad or worse than those of the two Australians. But several English commentators came to the conclusion that action finally had to be taken. And Phillips did so: twice on the 1897-98 tour, including during the second Test, he no-balled Jones for throwing.

While Phillips’ actions did not meet with universal approval in Australia, he had opened the floodgates; during the 1898 English cricket season, umpires finally began to no-ball bowlers for throwing. However, only three umpires were involved, one of whom was Phillips. And only two bowlers were called; neither was a leading bowler. But the name of the second man – while perhaps surprising to modern audiences – had long been associated with the “Throwing Question”.

CB Fry batting in 1905 (Image: Wikipedia)

CB Fry was one of the leading batsmen in England from the late 1890s until the First World War. An all-round athlete, he equalled the world record for the long jump and played football for England. In later years, he acted as Ranjitisinhji’s secretary at the League of Nations, stood unsuccessfully three times for election as a Liberal MP, and was titular commander of the Training Ship Mercury (his wife was in actual charge of the establishment). As a cricketer, he played for England 26 times between 1896 and 1912; he served as a Test selector, captained England to victory in the Triangular Tournament in 1912 and was almost recalled as captain at the age of 50 in the 1921 Ashes series.

Buried under his achievements is the lesser-known fact that in his earliest days as a cricketer, he bowled regularly. In 1895, he actually took 57 first-class wickets. But from his first appearances for Oxford University, there were whispers about his bowling action. In 1892, shortly before he made his first-class debut, he featured in the “Freshman’s Match”. In this fourteen-a-side trial game, he scored 118 and 53 and took ten wickets in the match. But the Oxford Magazine said of his bowling action: “From the pavilion it looked first cousin to a throw”. According to Fry’s biographer Iain Wilton, members of the Cambridge team who faced him as a bowler in those early years were similarly doubtful about his delivery, although they diplomatically refrained from any accusations.

Fry persisted as a bowler, and was occasionally very successful. Some of his biggest successes came under umpires who later were heavily involved in the “Throwing Question”: Jim Phillips, Valentine Titchmarsh and William West all umpired when he recorded some of his best bowling performances. Although Fry was unable to play much in 1896 and 1897, he bowled regularly when he did so. But the questions had persisted, and he was one of the bowlers at whom Sydney Pardon had taken aim in the 1895 edition of Wisden. Even more damningly, his Sussex captain Ranjitsinhji, in giving an interview in December 1897 after the no-balling incidents in Australia, said that the only two bowlers he had ever accused of throwing were Jones and Fry.

Against the background of Phillips’ actions in Australia, it did not take long for umpires to act against Fry in 1898. His first appearance that season was for Sussex against Kent when he bowled 17 overs. He next played for the Gentlemen against the Players at the Oval, bowling 39 overs in the match. No action was taken by any of the umpires in these games. Fry’s next match, played on 16, 17 and 18 June, was for Sussex against Nottinghamshire at Nottingham. In the course of bowling seven overs in the first innings, Fry was no balled by the umpire William West; no contemporary accounts describe what happened, so we do not know if he continued bowling but he did not bowl in the second innings. Somehow, this passed almost unremarked in the press, but it was only the third occasion a bowler in England had been no-balled for throwing since overarm bowling was permitted (after GE Jowett in 1885 and EJD Coxon in 1890).

A second bowler, the 23-year-old professional FJ Hopkins of Warwickshire, was then no-balled by Valentine Titchmarsh at Tonbridge in a match against Kent on 20, 21 and 22 June. Jesse Hopkins was a left-arm medium-paced bowler who had made his first-class debut just over three weeks earlier. His other matches – this was his sixth – had passed without incident.

Embed from Getty Images

The Warwickshire team pictured in 1898: FJ Hopkins is seated on the floor at the front right

Titchmarsh no-balled Hopkins once, before lunch on the second day, in the course of 28 overs in Kent’s first innings. It was only during the interval that people became aware that he had been no-balled for throwing – which suggests he continued to bowl. There had been previous questions over his action: the Lancashire Evening Post reported that “His deliveries against Lancashire were regarded as suspicious”. Similarly, the Leeds Mercury stated: “As soon as Hopkins came out for Warwickshire, cricketers were full of the fact that his delivery was open to serious question” The consensus was that he was young enough to remedy any faults, but he soon faded from cricket. He was dropped from the team, and only played three more times that season. It is unclear whether he was dropped for being no-balled or because he was not performing particularly well. Although he remained with Warwickshire a little longer – he made single appearances for the county in 1900 and 1903 – he eventually moved to Hampshire and became a successful groundsman. After qualifying through residence for that county, he played for them twice in 1906 and once in 1911 without doing much. He died in 1930, by when his no-balling had been forgotten.

Again, the cricketing press made little comment, perhaps because Hopkins was not an established player. But if it had escaped their notice that after years of inaction two bowlers had been no-balled in the space of a week, the issue was about to become impossible to ignore. The Kent v Warwickshire match ended on a Wednesday. On Thursday 23 June, Sussex played Oxford University at Hove. Fry was included in the Sussex team; the umpire for this match was Jim Phillips.

Jim Phillips (Image: Cricket, 30 November 1905)

There is something a little odd about the way Phillips entered the stage . At the time, he was still a Middlesex professional. Although he had been umpiring regularly since 1890, he usually only did so in a handful of matches each season. These were exclusively at Lord’s – where he was employed on the MCC groundstaff – unless he was accompanying a touring team as their umpire. This game at Hove in 1898 was the only time between 1890 and 1900 that he umpired away from Lord’s in a match not connected with a touring team. Was this a huge coincidence, a specific request from Phillips, or evidence that officials had sent him to Hove with instructions to no-ball Fry?

At the end of the first day, Oxford had been batting in reply to Sussex’s innings for around an hour when Fry was put on to bowl. His first delivery was no-balled by Phillips. According to Sporting Life (24 June): “Fry was no-balled a second time, and then, modifying his action, he bowled slower. Trying, however, a faster next time but one, he bent his arm, and was again no-balled. Completely disgusted, Fry finished the over with lobs.” The report in Cricket suggests that Fry was only no-balled twice, and the scorecard records two no-balls; the discrepancy may be because Sporting Life says that Fry’s first no-ball was hit for four runs. This was the only over he bowled in the Oxford first innings.

In later years, Fry wrote with some indignation about this match and more than forty years later, still resented Phillips. In his autobiography Life Worth Living (1939), he referred to him as “that obstinate umpire Jim Phillips” and described him as “autocratic”. After telling of how Phillips mistakenly gave him out in a 1905 Test match, he said:

“Jim and I were slight enemies, because years before he had no-balled me for throwing. That was all right if he disliked my slightly bent arm action, but it was no reason why he should have no-balled me for my other nine balls of the over [Fry seems to have invented this number] when I delivered slow round-arms and slow over-arms with an absolutely rigid elbow. This elaborate incident occurred in a match at Brighton between Sussex and Oxford. Before the second innings I had my right elbow encased in splints and bandages and took the field with my sleeve buttoned at the wrist. But old Billy Murdoch, our captain, who had ostentatiously put me onto bowl in the first innings at Jim Phillips’ end, because he knew that Jim had come down to Brighton to no-ball me, twisted his black moustache, showed his white teeth, and refused to put me on [Fry actually bowled four overs in the Oxford second innings without being no-balled]. I was both astonished and annoyed, but he refused further particulars.”

Although Fry may well be correct that Phillips specifically “had come down to Brighton to no-ball me”, he almost certainly made parts of this up and omits to mention the other umpires who no-balled him . Fry’s biographer Iain Wilton suggests that he “borrowed” the story of bowling in splints from a similar tale in circulation about the Australian bowler Jack Marsh. Given the confusion over what constituted a throw, it is interesting that Fry conceded he bowled with a bent arm; the problems with faster deliveries were also to become a familiar theme in the controversy.

Fry got in one final dig at his old enemy in Life Worth Living:

“Jim Phillips was a famous umpire. He was an Australian who came over, qualified for Middlesex and was a second-rate elephantine slow-medium bowler. He was quite honest, but was ambitious to achieve the reputation of a ‘strong umpire.’ His other ambition was to qualify as a mining engineer, and he used to go about with a Hall and Knight’s Algebra in his pocket.”

Fry never accepted that he threw – in his 1897 interview, Ranji made plain that Fry insisted his action was fair. Unfortunately for Fry, the rest of the cricket world agreed with Phillips. Sydney Pardon called it “a case of long-delayed justice” in the 1899 Wisden. One umpire (possibly Phillips) nicknamed him “CB Shy” while Gilbert Jessop made fun of his predicament:

“There was a young batsman named Fry
Who at bowling oft thought he would try
Till an umpire named Jim
Who was looking at him
Said: ‘Good heavens, I call that a shy!'”

According to Cricket (30 June 1898), Fry’s second no-balling was a key moment: “It was generally felt that the storm had burst at last. On the face of it the obvious determination of umpires to make themselves heard on the question of throwing seems entirely satisfactory from every point of view.” But it cautioned that the cricket world “is by no means united on the subject of what is a throw, and what is fair bowling.”

Mordecai Sherwin in 1899 (Image: Wikipedia)

Fry did not bowl in his next match, but then delivered thirteen overs against Lancashire without comment. After not bowling against Surrey, he played at Lord’s against Middlesex on 14, 15, and 16 July. He bowled five overs in Middlesex’s second innings, was no-balled once by the umpire Mordecai Sherwin and taken off. He did not bowl again in 1898.

After the third occasion Fry had been no-balled in 1898, no further action was taken by umpires. Cricket observed on 21 July: “The new crusade does not seem to make as much headway as might have been expected. The situation is very nearly ‘as you was,’ although the no-balling of Mr Fry for throwing in Sussex v Middlesex … has added one more [umpire] to the list of crusaders.” And the review of season published in the magazine on 15 September listed among the events for June the “no-balling of Mr Fry by Phillips, and the threatened but abortive crusade against throwing.”

At this distance, three separate instances of no-balling in that initial two-week period has the appearance of being orchestrated, especially as Phillips was probably “parachuted in” to the Sussex and Oxford match. There are important, if unanswerable, questions about where the “crusade” originated – with the umpires themselves or with faceless officials behind the scenes. The identity of the bowlers concerned, and the lack of action against any leading bowler, also suggests a warning rather than a concerted attempt to stamp out throwing. A common explanation was that umpires would be reluctant to no-ball a fellow professional, whose livelihood depended on cricket – as an amateur who was primarily a batsman, Fry would not have suffered from loss of income nor would he have been forced out of cricket. But it was perhaps braver for these professional umpires to take on a figure as formidable as Fry; it is hard to imagine they would have done so without knowing they would be supported by the authorities.

There is one other piece of evidence to consider. Before the 1898 season, a new MCC Secretary was appointed. FE Lacey, who would remain in the role until 1926, gave an interview shortly before Fry was no-balled a third time in which he revealed that the MCC intended to “improve the umpiring system” and observed that good umpires had to be strong characters. Lacey singled out Phillips as the most well-informed and fairest umpire in the country and defended him from criticism.

Phillips played for Middlesex for one final time in 1898, after which he was no longer employed by the county. Having resigned from his position at Melbourne in 1897, he neither played cricket nor umpired in Australia during the 1898-99 season. Instead, Phillips travelled to Canterbury in New Zealand where he worked as a coach and played his final first-class matches, scoring a century in his last game. In early 1899, it emerged in the press that he was studying to become a mining engineer.

Meanwhile, the cricket world was aware that the 1899 season could be a flashpoint because there was another tour of England by an Australian team. Although Ernest Jones was included in the team, “Short Slip” in the Adelaide Observer suggested that the Australian selectors left out Tom McKibbin rather than risk him being no-balled. They were “confronted with the difficulty of the no-ball crusade initiated by Phillips in England in 1898”.

However, Phillips was noticeably absent from the field in 1899, as both player and umpire. It was the only English season between 1890 and 1905 in which he did not umpire a single first-class match. Instead, he performed a different role, accompanying the Australian team. But strangely, he did not umpire in their matches, as he had done for English teams in Australia. Instead, he was employed as the team’s scorer. This was announced in Australia in late March, but seems to have passed almost unnoticed in England. Although it seems unlikely that the Australians asked Phillips to be their scorer simply so that he would not be able to no-ball Jones, it looks a little dubious to use one of the world’s leading umpires in such a role.

Another potential conflict of interest was that Phillips once more worked as a journalist during the tour, writing reports for the Australasian. In June, he also published a brochure about the Australian players. In it, he addressed the issue of throwing. Trying to address the thorny issue of what constituted a throw, Phillips said: “In the absence of a written authoritative definition of a fair delivery every person has to exercise his own judgment in the matter.” His own judgement seemed to be based on whether the elbow straightened, and he wrote: “I am one of those who hold the opinion that to bowl a fair ball it is immaterial whether the arm be straight or at an angle so long as there is no perceptible movement in the elbow-joint at the precise moment the ball leaves the hand of the bowler.” But his wording admits that some umpires considered it unfair simply to bowl with a bent arm.

Phillips pointed out that a call of “no-ball” was not necessarily a condemnation of a bowler, and should not be blown out of proportion: it may be that he only threw the occasional delivery, or that the umpire had reasonable doubt that a particular ball was bowled fairly. Phillips suggested that some bowlers, particularly if they had a bent arm to begin with, may have inadvertently straightened their elbow in striving for extra pace, in the same way that a bowler could overstep the crease in pushing a little harder. He said: “In each of these instances it does not seem just to suppose that either bowler is wilfully unfair.” But he called for a change to the laws to assist umpires. At the time, only the umpire at the bowler’s end could judge if a delivery was fair; he argued that the square leg umpire should also have the power to call “no-ball”. This was a suggestion made by several correspondents in Sydney Pardon’s 1895 Wisden article “Throwing in First-Class Cricket”. Yet it seems strange that Phillips was writing with such authority and clarity on throwing when his new role made it impossible for him to take any action that season.

There was another curiosity regarding Phillips in 1899. In late August, the Australians faced Middlesex at Lord’s. It was played as a benefit match for Phillips, although instead of being given the gate money that was customary in such games, he was given a “lump sum” plus any additional subscriptions that came in. Of the guaranteed amount, £125 was provided by the Australian team and £125 by Middlesex. The Age in Melbourne pointed out that Middlesex’ gratitude may not just have been for his playing career – it was because of Phillips that Albert Trott played for them.

The Australians progressed through the tour without any bowler being no-balled. Critics generally regarded the action of Jones as much improved. The only potential crisis arose during the first Test when Titchmarsh called no-ball when Jones was bowling; however, by walking to the return crease and putting his foot across it, the umpire made clear he was no-balled for overstepping. No doubt the Australians breathed a little easier afterwards.

When the tour was over, Phillips wrote an article for the Australasian, in which he said about the bowling of Jones that season: “His delivery has never been questioned, and it is safe to say has been beyond reproach throughout the tour.” Not everyone was convinced. Reviewing the season in Cricket, FS Ashley-Cooper admitted that Jones’ action was far better than it had been in 1896 “because he has disguised his action so well, but whether he always did bowl quite fairly is open to doubt.” However, questions arose over the action of another bowler in the team. Monty Noble, a leading all-rounder and who later captained Australia, was suspected by several critics. Ashley-Cooper outright accused him of throwing, and wrote “in this opinion I am not alone, as several authorities, players and otherwise, have entirely agreed with me.”

If Phillips was unable to take action against throwing in 1899, and if the Australians escaped adverse attention, his fellow umpires to some extent continued the “crusade”. But perhaps not everything is as it appears. In three separate matches, bowlers were no-balled for throwing. Remarkably (or perhaps not), two of the three games involved the Australian touring team. In the first, played on 3, 4 and 5 July, Richard Hardstaff of Nottinghamshire, who was on Sydney Pardon’s list of dubious bowlers in the 1895 edition of Wisden, was called for throwing by umpire William West, who had first no-balled Fry the previous year. One newspaper observed: “No-one who has seen [Hardstaff] can be surprised at the action of the umpires”, and there was little criticism of West. Details are sketchy, although it seems no-one immediately realised he had been called for throwing, and it is unclear how many times Hardstaff was no-balled, or if he continued to bowl.

Hardstaff never played another first-class game, but the Athletic News recorded that when he played for Rawtenstall in the Lancashire League in July, he was “reminded of the fact” that he had been no-balled for throwing by some “spectators with questionable taste”. He continued to play in the Lancashire League until 1900. While he still called himself a cricketer at the time of the 1901 census, by 1911 he was working as a “colliery deputy”. He died in 1932.

Evelyn Bradford (Image: Lives of the First World War)

A month after Hardstaff was no-balled, the Australians played Hampshire on 3, 4 and 5 August. Included in the Hampshire team was Evelyn Bradford who had played occasionally in 1895 and 1896. Having been overseas in his role as a captain in the Army for a couple of years, this was his first match for Hampshire since 1896. In the course of the game, both umpires – Henry Pickett and Archibald White – no-balled Bradford for throwing. Even so, he appears to have continued bowling. Cricket was not impressed, and stated in the 10 August issue: “The Captain [Bradford] has fallen on hard times, for there must be dozens of men playing in first-class cricket with an action far more open to question than his, who have never been marked out for destruction by an umpire.” Newspapers observed that it was his faster delivery that was the problem and which both umpires no-balled. Most reports conceded that there was little room for complaint and that, after being called, he modified his action. But the incident attracted little attention and it was not until the final afternoon that anyone realised he had been no-balled for throwing.

Bradford played in Hampshire’s next match, umpired by Mordecai Sherwin (who had no-balled Fry in 1898), without incident. However, in his next match, against Leicestershire (10, 11, 12 August), he was no-balled once more, this time by Alfred Smith. Incidentally, he scored his only first-class century in the same match. He did not play again that season; it is unlikely this was related to being no-balled – he only ever played irregularly, and could have been selected only for his batting. Oddly, the cricket press did not pay much attention to this second no-balling incident. Bradford’s only subsequent first-class appearance came in 1905, when he did not bowl. Bradford’s name would, however, continue to be connected with the “Throwing Questions”.

Meanwhile, Fry resumed bowling from the middle of June 1899, although he only did so occasionally. But he bowled 40 overs against Worcestershire when Sherwin was umpire – without adverse comment or being no-balled.

What of Arthur Mold? No-one appears to have mentioned him in print as an unfair bowler in 1898 or 1899. He took 90 wickets at a relatively high cost in 1898, and 115 wickets in 1899. Compared to his earlier years, these were poor returns. But his bowling was unquestioned in either season, and despite the publicity over bowlers being no-balled, nothing happened to him, even though he played under West and Sherwin, two “no-balling” umpires. Having played for Lancashire for ten years, he was awarded a benefit match in 1900.

Why were the only two bowlers to be no-balled in 1899 both “uncovered” in matches involving the Australians? It is not impossible that there were behind the scenes discussions in which the Australian response to accusations against Noble or Jones involved pointing out English bowlers with worse actions playing against them. Nor is it hard to imagine umpires West, Pickett and White having a quiet discussion with the Australian scorer during the course of the matches. But it is clear that, like in the cases of Fry and Hopkins in 1898, few observers criticised the umpires, and the consensus was that the bowlers involved were throwing.

At the end of the season, nothing had been firmly settled. There was no consistent approach from umpires, and suspicious bowlers remained unpunished. Nor did the MCC show any inclination to take any action, or provide any leadership.

The 1900 season forced things to a head, helped by a change in the laws. But more importantly, the list of umpires for the County Championship announced in December 1899, included a new name: Jim Phillips…