In its long history, the game of cricket has had many memorable moments, but only a few can be said to have engineered a paradigm shift. The first time that a googly was bowled, 117-years ago, must surely rank high among them. To Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet, born this day 140-years ago (perhaps appropriately the year the first Test match was played), goes the credit for this.

 Bernard Bosanquet’s background would not suggest any particular genomic reason for him to excel at sports. He was born into a distinguished family with an uncle (and namesake) who was a philosopher and noted political theorist. The elder Bosanquet influenced the thinking of stalwarts like Bertrand Russell and John Dewey. He believed that “what is finite is not real”. The nephew would prove that philosophy right and make the family name famous through his deeds on the cricket field.

Bosanquet was an Etonian who started his career as a batsman and a fast bowler at the turn of the twentieth century, and perchance, invented the googly while experimenting as a teenager. While the carpet on the billiard table at home was being relaid, and the boys could not get a game, 14-year old Bosanquet joined his brothers in spinning a tennis ball across the slats. This set him experimenting to see whether it was possible to spin a ball in such a way that it appeared to be going one way but actually went the other.

Bosanquet was to write later: “Somewhere about the year 1897 I was playing a game with a tennis ball, known as `Twisti-Twosti.’ The object was to bounce the ball on a table so that your opponent sitting opposite could not catch it… After a little experimenting I managed to pitch the ball which broke in a certain direction; then with more or less the same delivery make the next ball go in the opposite direction! I practised the same thing with a soft ball at ‘Stump-cricket’. From this I progressed to the cricket ball…

It was the turn of the 20th century and Bosanquet was a young man of 23 who had distinguished himself as a very useful all-rounder who batted sensibly and bowled medium pace with some success. He had scored 136 for Middlesex and now had the ball in his hand. Facing him was Samuel Coe of Leicestershire, batting on 98. Bosanquet had a word with skipper Plum Warner and decided an experiment on the big stage was in order. From a shortened run-up he tossed up the ball at Coe. The batsman stepped out to dispatch the ball from the middle stump to the leg side boundary, waited for it to pitch and then watched transfixed as the ball broke the other way. It bounced four times before reaching William Robertson behind the stumps, who flicked the bails off.

Bernard Bosanquet. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Samuel Coe had become the first official victim of the googly (or Bosie as it would be called at the time after its first exponent), but he would not be the last.

Bosanquet, having discovered a new weapon, would use it well. Soon, bemused batsmen were returning in droves to the pavilion, shaking their heads at a leg-break that should have spun away to the offside, but had instead had spun the wrong way and knocked over either their stumps or hit the pads before them. The Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack was to remark: “How he manages to bowl his off break with a leg break action, one cannot pretend to say.”

In his 1801 book Rules and Instructions for Playing the Game of Cricket, as practised by the most Eminent Players— the first book of instructions written on the art of cricket, Tom Boxall, generally acknowledged to be the first man to bowl underarm leg breaks, had said: “Although the ball is tossed straight to a mark, yet it must not roll straight, if it does not it will not twist after it hits the ground: when the ball goes out of a bowler’s hand he must endeavour to make it twist a little across, then after it hits the ground it will twist the same way as it rolls when it goes from the hand.” A hundred years after Boxall, Bosanquet would turn that instruction on its head.

In 1901 Bosanquet took 36 wickets, in 1902 he took 40 including two ten-wicket performances, and in 1904 he snared 132 victims and on four occasions took ten wickets in a match. He played 7 Test matches and took 25 wickets at a modest average of 24.16, helping England win the Ashes in 1903-04. He would also be Wisden Cricketer of the year.

Australia would not, however, be the first to embrace the googly, letting their angst at this ‘unfair delivery’ prevail rather than embracing the new find. It would be Bosanquet’s performance against South Africa the following summer when playing for MCC against them he would run through the batting taking 9 for 107 at Lord’s that would help spread the gospel. Watching him closely, would be a South African bowler, Reggie Schwartz, one of Bosanquet’s many victims who were out stumped.

A few days later, Schwartz would experiment with the googly against Oxford University and take 5 for 27. He would follow that up with 4 wickets in each innings against Middlesex at Lord’s including Ranjitsinhji in both innings, leg before in the first and stumped in the second. By the end of the tour, Schwartz would be South Africa’s leading wicket-taker with 96 victims at an average of 14.

In 1905-06, when MCC arrived for a tour, the South Africans were ready. They knew that this new invention would be even better on their matting wickets. In the playing XI were four spinners who could now bowl the googly – Schwartz himself, Gordon White, Aubrey Faulkner and Ernie Vogler. In the first innings the South African leg spinners took 8 wickets, following it up with 6 in the second. For the first time in 17 years of playing at the highest level, South Africa won a Test match.

The South African leg spinners would take 43 wickets in the five Tests and the hosts would win the series 4-1 against Plum Warner’s team.

Bosanquet would not dazzle the world with his bowling performances, but the legacy he would leave behind was an invention that would stand the test of time. Leg spin bowling would never be the same again and for a long time, the term ‘bosie’ would be used for anyone who was a bit deceptive or dodgy. But no matter what they called in and how they derided it, the googly was here to stay.

Cricket, more than philosophy, would immortalize the Bosanquet name.


Happy Birthday, Bosie.

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