Arthur Mold, born April 27, 1863, was a destructive fast bowler with a very suspect action. Arunabha Sengupta narrates the story of the man who was one of the very first bowlers to be called for throwing in cricket.
For the last dozen years of the 19th century, Arthur Mold sprinted in on the English grounds, bowling at destructive pace. Releasing from a high action, he made balls streak through at alarming rates. He could also get them to dart back into the batsman or move away after pitching.
There were Tom Richardson, Bill Lockwood and Charles Kortright — great English fast bowlers who dominated the pace world of the day. Mold was in the same league with his pace, if slightly behind in terms of quality. And at the time of his retirement, he had captured more wickets in First-Class cricket than any quick bowler till then.
From 1889 to 1900, Mold ran in — generating furious pace, bowling mostly for Lancashire. In the twelve years, only three times did he miss out on 100 wickets for the summer – in 1897 he picked up 98 and in 1898 just 90, and in 1900 finished with 97. In 1894 and 1895, he broke through into the 200s.
Yet, he played only three Tests — all in the summer of 1893. Subsequently, the Surrey duo of Richardson and Lockwood were preferred. And as the turn of the century came along, Mold also lost much of his fire-breathing pace.
He might have played more but for the murmurs that followed him through his career. No one questioned his pace, or his wickets. But his action was queried much too often and finally ended up being called.
The scourge of throwing
Those were the days when throwing was a major menace in England. Bowling action had been a touchy issue from the inception of Test cricket, but by the mid-1890s, things had come to a head.
In fact, way back in 1880, England had won their first home Test victory due to the deeds of a chucker — albeit indirectly. Joseph Frank, a ‘very fast right-arm fast bowler’ had played against the visiting Australians for XVIII Scharborough and District prior to the Test. His action had prompted Australian captain Billy Murdoch to take it up with the captain of the local team, Henry Charlwood. However, Frank had continued to bowl and had struck Australia’s demon bowler Fred Spofforth on the right hand, breaking the bottom joint of the third finger. Spofforth had missed the Test because of the injury –very much the deciding factor of the ultimate English win by five wickets.
In the 1880s, John Crossland had opened the bowling for Lancashire. His action was widely regarded as ‘pure throw’. The team also included a slow left-arm bowler George Nash who ‘threw every ball’.
In the 1890s, even as Mold was maturing in the same Lancashire team, the threat of the throw had arrived sailing from Australia.
Ernie Jones made his debut at Sydney in December 1894, in the Test that Andrew Stoddart’s England won by 10 runs after following on. However, when Jones came over to England in 1896, eyebrows were raised, hair stood on heads and beards were parted by his scorching pace. Indeed, legend has it that Jones sent a ball through the beard of the great WG Grace. According to CB Fry’s rather exaggerated account in ‘A Life worth Living’, seasoned professionals like Arthur Shrewsbury and George Gunn deliberately tipped balls to the slips to avoid facing Jones.
The action of Jones was far from clean. And along with him was the New South Wales spinner TR McKibbin, whose off-break was bowled with a horribly bent arm. Spofforth, now settled in England after his playing days, wrote that McKibbin ‘should never be allowed to play under the existing rule.’
The following summer, Spofforth wondered whether cricket ‘was going to legalise throwing’. The former bowling great added that there was scarcely a First-Class county that did not include a ‘thrower’ amongst its cricketers. He also suggested — ‘if nothing is to be done in the matter, the best way is to legalise throwing, and in one season it would bring about its own cure.’
The cudgel against throwing was also taken up by Sydney Pardon, the editor of Wisden, who wrote: “The mortifying fact was that the illegal bowling was due entirely to our own weakness in not having the laws of the game carried out.”
One of the most obvious offenders was CB Fry, whose technical correctness while batting was offset by a horribly illegal action when he bowled fast.
Arrival of umpire Phillips
However, at this point in 1897-98, there dawned a ray of light in distant Australia, which then travelled all the way to England. Umpire Jim Phillips, nicknamed ‘Dimboola Jim’, had been a First-Class cricketer for Victoria and was one of the gutsiest officials ever. He called Ernie Jones for throwing in a match between South Australia and the visiting England side. He called him again during the second Test match at Melbourne. Jones became the first man to be called for throwing in Test cricket.
In the following summer, Phillips came over to England to stand in the First-Class games, and called Fry for throwing. Spurred by Phillips, other umpires started calling the suspect bowlers.
Mold, meanwhile, had the full support of captain Archie MacLaren. In the 1900 season, he had played all the matches for Lancashire except the ones in which Phillips had officiated. Finally in late June, in the match against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, Mold was fielded for the first time in front of Phillips. In his first over, he was called twice. MacLaren withdrew him from the attack and he did not bowl again in the match.
The skipper continued to back his bowler solidly. The fast man played nine more matches without being called and finished with 97 wickets for the season.
That December, at Lord’s, the county captains met and MacLaren raised the issue of Mold’s action, asking for a vote about its fairness. Of the twelve captains, only MacLaren himself voted in favour of the Lancashire bowler.
The following season, the same sequence followed. Mold was not played in any match which featured Phillips as the umpire. However, by the middle of the summer, MacLaren was tired of the hide and seek. At Old Trafford, in August 1901, Phillips stood in the match against Somerset, and Mold was picked and handed the new ball.
Much slower than in his earlier years, Mold ran in and Phillips started calling. “It was rather a daring thing to no-ball Mold at Manchester, of all places … but even Phillips’ bitterest opponents must admit that since he took up this question of unfair bowling he has shown no lack of courage,” observed the Telegraph. Mold was no-balled 18 times.
At the end of the match Mitchell and Kenyon, a film company based in Blackburn, captured the footage of Mold bowling in the nets to AN ‘Monkey’ Hornby. (The video is provided at the end of the article)
There was not much to dispute, though. Although no other umpire ever called him, Mold’s reputation had taken a hit and he lingered on for just one more season.
Mold finished his First-Class career with 1673 wickets at 15.54, with 152 five-wicket hauls and 56 ten-fors. He continued to play in the Northamptonshire league, and ran a pub once he retired from the game.
Mold passed away in 1921. His Times obituary read: “Mold did not lack defenders, but those who argued that he was, and always had been, a perfectly fair bowler, had a very bad case. The weight of expert evidence was overwhelmingly against them.”
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)