Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Declaration: “We, the undersigned, do agree that we will not play the third match between All England and Sussex, which is intended to be played at Brighton in July or August unless the Sussex bowlers bowl fair – this is, abstain from throwing.”
Signed by: Tom Marsden, William Ashby, William Mathews, William Searle, James Saunders, Thomas Howard, Will Caldecourt, Fuller Pilch, and Thomas Beagley.
On July 15, 1822, John Willes became the first in history to be called for illegal action in First-Class cricket. Willes bowled his first ball round-arm (think over-arm where your hand never rose above the shoulder), a complete departure from the under-arm bowling of the era.
The moment the umpire no-balled him, Willes left Lord’s, mounted his horse (that was standing outside the ground), and left, never to return – though he would later mentor Alfred Mynn, the “Lion of Kent”.
Pioneered by William Lillywhite and James Broadbridge, the round-arm revolution took off in Sussex soon afterwards. The authorities took notice, and organised three matches at Sheffield, Lord’s, and Brighton between Sussex and a team called ‘England’. The series, labelled (rather unimaginatively) “Experimental Matches”, was played for an astounding sum of a thousand guineas.
England scored 81 in the first match. Sussex were nine down quickly but the last pair added over fifty to help them recover to 91. They then bowled out England for 112 and won by seven wickets. Lillywhite took five wickets in each innings and Broadbridge two in each.
Sussex won the second match as well (this time by three wickets), despite conceding a 52-run lead. This time Lillywhite got only three wickets in the match and Broadbridge four – though it must be remembered that the scorecards of the era were significantly different in those days. If a batsman was out caught only the fielder’s name was recorded, resulting in wicket tallies going understated.
The struggle of an all-England side against round-arm bowling was evident. This obviously did not go down well with them, and nine of them promptly signed the declaration mentioned above. The nonet included Pilch, acknowledged the greatest batsman till WG Grace.
It took some convincing from George T Knight before they relented. A nephew of Jane Austen, Knight played for ‘England’ in the series and bowled round-arm himself.
Lillywhite and Broadbridge again bowled them out for 27 at Brighton and Sussex secured a 50-run lead, but ‘England’ turned things around, piling up 169. They won by 24 runs. Knight took at least three wickets in the match.
The die had been cast. With little intervention from umpires, Lillywhite and Broadbridge continued to bowl round-arm. There was confusion, as the officials had received no instructions.
Finally, in 1828, MCC altered Law 10 – though bowlers could still not raise their arms above elbow-level while bowling.
In 1835 ‘elbow’ made way for ‘shoulder’, thanks to Knight’s intervention: “The ball must be bowled, and if it is thrown or jerked, or if the hand be above the shoulder in the delivery, the umpire must call ‘no ball’.
Of course, fast bowlers were hardly going to stick to the restriction. It was evident that spectators enjoyed pace, which pushed the case for over-arm bowling further.
In August 1862, Edgar Willsher of ‘England’ was no-balled six times against Surrey at The Oval by John Lillywhite (son of William!) for bowling over-arm (his hand went above shoulder level). Nine ‘England’ professionals including Willsher stormed out of the ground in protest. Play continued next day – but only after Lillywhite had been replaced. Willsher took 6/49 and 1/43.
Two years later MCC legalised over-arm bowling – an event typically referred to as the beginning of the modern era of cricket by cricket historians.
But all that had started with a declaration of nine champion cricketers who found it difficult to cope with round-arm bowling.