In a country that dwells on chaos and confusion in many aspects, Sri Lanka’s beleaguered cricket selectors have finally put together a squad for the World Cup.
Cricketing archives hold deep within them a host of tales of cricketers the world has erased from memory.
One reason is that the countries they represented no longer play international cricket today, or never played cricket to begin with!
That is a huge travesty of justice.
These men had some amazing achievements throughout their cricket careers, notwithstanding the fact that they were playing a sport that not many people around them appreciated.
I look at some of these great cricketers, and specifically at some brilliant spells of bowling from them that cricketing history has long forgotten.
John M. Laing (Canada) – Canada vs United States of America, 1895
It is an amazing piece of trivia that when Canada became a nation in 1867, the game of cricket (first competitively played in 1785 at Ile-Ste-Helene in Quebec province) was so popular that it was named Canada’s national sport by the first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald!
In 1844, Canada played their first international match against the United States at St George’s Club in New York. In 1859 the first England team toured Canada and in 1878, the Australians under Dave Gregory followed suit with the famous Fred Spofforth in its ranks. Finally, in 1880, the first Canadian touring team visited England.
The best for Canada was however yet to come, and this was heralded by the arrival of John M. Laing.
Jack Laing appeared on a total of 13 occasions for Canada against the United States, Ireland, Australia and England. During his international career he captured a total of 77 wickets with his fast swerving deliveries, and experts of the day considered him to be world class.
But it’s the match between United States and Canada at Toronto played on Sep second to fourth 1895 that will remain the high point of Laing’s career.
Canada win the toss, bat first and score 156 in 76.2 overs on the back of a 70 from Wadsworth. Even for the times, that’s a small total and Canada have every reason to be worried.
But Jack Laing is in the form of his life. He bowls HB Cole in his first over for a duck, and then proceeds to run through the United States batting with his fast swerving deliveries. Canada does not need to make any bowling changes, as Laing puts in a remarkable spell of 15 overs where he takes seven wickets for 21 runs including the first hat-trick in the international series when he wraps up the tail by bowling the last three batsmen.
The United States are all out for 65 in the 29 overs bowled by the opening pair of Laing and Goldingham.
Canada score 255 in their second innings leaving the United States 395 runs to win the match. The USA makes a valiant effort this time to score 206, but they fall short by 140 runs.
Jack Laing bowls 30 of the 70 overs bowled in the innings and takes three wickets for 71 runs in a marathon effort.
He finishes the match with ten wickets including a hat-trick in his decisive first-innings spell of 7 for 21. A magnificent performance that the cricketing world has all but forgotten, because Cricket lost its rightful place in Canadian sports to Baseball!
Bart King (USA) – United States of America v Canada, 1906
The United States was a powerhouse of cricket in the late 19th and up to early 20th century. Cricket was the most widely-played sport just as it was in Canada, and the popularity eventually suffered at the hands of baseball, just as it did in Canada.
They had a formidable record against all opponents including the Test-playing countries of England and Australia, and of course Canada.
And no player was better known than Bart King.
In fact, it was said that he was the best-known American of his time in England. Given that he was competing with the Wright brothers and Buffalo Bill, that’s saying something about his fame.
Bart King can justifiably be called the “King of Swing” because he was arguably the first to master the art of swinging both the old and new ball at will. And with his six feet one height and long hands and strong shoulders, he was the perfect fast bowling specimen. For everyone who saw him play, or like Don Bradman, heard about him from those who had seen him play, he was one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time.
Needless to say, he had huge success as a bowler, but one international and one first class innings stand out above all the others.
It’s July 1906 and the United States are playing Canada in Philadelphia. The USA score 274 runs, a strong total, and Bart King top scores with 63 before being run out. Canada are bundled out for 90 with King taking two wickets. USA then quickly hit 131 in only 28 overs and declare to give themselves sufficient time to get Canada out.
315 is always going to be too much to get for the Canadians. What one does not anticipate however, is how much of an uphill task it would be.
Bart King puts on a fantastic display of sustained hostile swing bowling. He bowls 11 overs and ends up with a remarkable eight wickets for 17 runs!
But one more superlative performance was still to come from the King of Swing.
It’s September 1909, and the Gentlemen of Philadelphia are playing the visiting Gentlemen of Ireland in a First Class match in Philadelphia.
The 3-day match lasts only two. Batting first, the Gentlemen of Ireland last only 36 overs scoring 111 runs. But that’s just a statistic.
The real story is what Bart King does to them. For perhaps the only time in the history of cricket, he dismisses all 11 batsmen, bowling ten of them. JM Magee is surely lucky to be caught and not be a part of this record! It is also lucky for opener GA Morrow that King over steps when he shatters Morrow’s stumps, and Marrow remains not out.
So King takes all ten wickets in the innings and he would end up doing this twice more in his career!
The result of the match is a foregone conclusion by the time Ireland is again all out for 74 (King taking 4 for 38 in his opening spell) in reply to Philadelphia’s score of 353.
Bart King, the “King of Swing”, the modern world would have been privileged to watch.
Scott Huey (Ireland) – Ireland v MCC, 1954
The history of Cricket in Ireland goes back to the late 18th century. The first foreign teams to visit Ireland were in the 1850’s and the first international match played by Ireland was against the MCC in 1858.
Cricket was very popular until the 1880s when politics played spoilsport. The Gaelic Athletic Association placed a ban on “playing foreign games” which remained in place until 1970.
Anyone playing foreign games like cricket would be banned from playing the popular Irish games of Hurling and Gaelic Football. Fortunately, this did not lead to the complete demise of the game, but it did slow down the growth in popularity, and unfortunately, prevented many supremely talented cricketers from showcasing their talent to the world.
Samuel Scott Johnson Huey was one such cricketer.
A truly great left arm spinner, Scott Huey was said to be the best bowler of his kind to play for Ireland in the first half of the 20th century. With a run up slightly longer than that of most spinners, he generally operated from round the wicket to right handers, emerging from behind the umpire, to deliver a ball of deadly accuracy and perfect length. He was a master of spin and flight, besides possessing a well disguised and highly effective faster ball.
Scott Huey made his debut for Ireland in 1951 at the age of 28. He had multiple brilliant spells in his first class career in Ireland, and was often unplayable, taking eight to ten wickets in an innings a few times. But his best in international matches came in 1954, when we turn our attention to him.
It’s September 1954 and Ireland is hosting the MCC at College Park, Dublin.
Ireland wins the toss and decides to bat first, scoring 189 against a reasonably strong MCC attack of Deighton, Mallett and Raman Subba Row.
Huey comes on to bowl first change, and in an unchanged 23-over spell, runs through the MCC’s strong batting line up with Test stalwarts like Raman Subba Row and Bob Wyatt, taking 6 wickets for 49 runs, and the MCC innings folds up for 151.
Ireland go out to bat again, but don’t fare better, and are bowled out for 117. This leaves the MCC a very achievable 156 to get for a victory in what’s been a low scoring match.
But then the MCC have not reckoned with Scott Huey of Ireland.
Huey comes in once again to bowl first change. But the impact he has on the game this time around is far greater. He replaces Cooper who has bowled the first three overs giving away three runs, but Cooper never gets another spell as Huey goes through another single spell of 29.5 overs, bowling through to the end of the innings.
This is Huey’s day.
He bowls round the wicket, and as he has done multiple times before, he suddenly becomes unplayable, combining his spin with faster balls. The MCC batting crumbles with Raman Subba Row, the only one to salvage pride, scoring 69 before Huey bowls him with a faster one.
And when Huey finally bowls the MCC out for 153, leaving Ireland winners by two runs in an exciting match, he has put in a truly remarkable spell of left-arm spin, taking 8 wickets for 48 runs and 14 wickets in the match for 97 runs.
Scott Huey of Ireland, another remarkable spin bowler, the world is poorer for not having seen more of.
Clement Gibson (Argentina) – England XI v Australia, 1921
The history of Cricket in Argentina is not glorious, and Clem Gibson was probably fortunate to be sent to school at Eton, so that his cricketing talent could be recognised.
He captained Eton for two of the four years he was in the team, and took 122 wickets at an incredible average of 10.50. He played for Cambridge for two years and is recognised for being one of the most formidable bowlers the university has ever produced.
Gibson also remains the only Argentinian to be named one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1918.
Gibson was a fast medium swing bowler. With a good run up and a beautifully easy action, he kept at his best a good length and made the ball swing very late. His best one would pitch on the leg stump and hit the off.
He played county cricket for Sussex for a number of years and for the MCC and England XI, without actually representing England in Test Cricket. He was again slated to go with the MCC to Australia in 1924, but refused, played Sussex for a couple of years, and then decided to return back to his native Argentina at the age of 26. He continued to play cricket in Argentina, and captained a South American side to tour England in 1932.
But our story goes back to 1921 when Gibson was at the peak of his fame as a fast swing bowler, and produced the brilliant spell he should always be remembered for.
One of the strongest teams ever to leave Australia arrived in England in 1921 to defend the Ashes, which they had won by an unprecedented 5-0 margin at home just a few months back. Led by Warwick Armstrong, the team boasted the likes of Warren Bardsley, Charlie Macartney and Jack Gregory.
The Australians beat most of the counties as well as the minor teams, and went on to retain the Ashes 3-0 with the last two Tests being drawn.
With the Ashes done, former England captain Archie Maclaren threw down a challenge saying that the Australian team was beatable and he knew how to beat them. The Australians accepted the challenge and a match was set up between MacLaren’s England XI and Australia.
It is the last days of August 1921 when the two teams meet at Eastbourne.
On the first morning it’s clear to everyone that MacLaren with his big talk has not only underestimated the mighty Australians but also riled them to perform at a high level against a team personally handpicked by himself. England XI last just 20 overs and are bowled out for 43 with McDonald and Armstrong taking five wickets each. MacLaren himself lasts just one ball before being bowled by McDonald.
Australia reply with 174 all out on the back of Bardsley’s 70 runs, and the match seems to be all but over.
However, England XI’s second innings is another matter altogether. With a lot of pride at stake, the team puts on a far better performance than the English Test team has managed in the last two ashes series. With the help of a magnificent 153 with 21 fours from 40-year-old South African batsman GA Faulkner, the England XI score a staggering 326 runs before they are finally bowled out.
The mighty Australians are left 195 runs to score to win the match and shut MacLaren up for ever. It’s not insurmountable, and Armstrong is confident, particularly after England’s score of 326. But the English team has a surprise in store.
MacLaren throws the ball to Clem Gibson who he has specially handpicked for this match. And Gibson has the match of his life.
He delivers a magnificent spell of fast swing bowling that the Australians just can’t handle. He gets rid of both openers with the veteran left hander Warren Bardsley bowled by a ball that swings in from his off stump and uproots his leg. When the Australians are finally bowled out for 167 leaving the England XI victors by 28 runs, MacLaren is ecstatic as is the rest of England.
An Argentinian cricketer, Clem Gibson, has just destroyed the unbeatable Australians with a magnificent spell of swing bowling taking six wickets for 64 runs in an unchanged 22.4 overs.
The world is indeed the poorer for having missed seeing these magnificent bowlers and their fantastic bowling spells that have thus far been consigned to the side lines of history.
Perhaps this piece, to some measure, remedies this injustice.