January 4, 1898. Ernie Jones was called by umpire Jim Phillips for throwing in the Melbourne Test – thus becoming the first official chucker in Test cricket. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the events that led up to his being pulled up for his action.
Through the beard of Grace
He has gone down in history as the man who sent a ripper through the beard of the great WG Grace.
Actually, the scorching pace had made several embarrassing dents on English pride that summer day in 1896. But, even before the cricket had commenced, Ernie Jones had already made his presence felt on the English sensibilities.
In a Buckingham Palace reception, the Prince of Wales had asked him whether he had attended the St Peter’s School in Adelaide. Joneshad replied, “Yes, Sir. I take the dust-cart there each Monday.” There is also a variant of this story that when Lord Hawke had asked him if he had been to the Adelaide University, Jones had replied, “Yes, My Lord, with a load of bloody sand.”
The lack of deference to the royalty and peerage continued into the cricket field as the kings of England batsmanship were subjected to his furious deliveries. It was in the mid of May that Jones bowled his first ball in the country, on a nasty Sheffield Park wicket against the best batsmen of England who turned out for Lord Sheffield’s XI. According to George Giffen, “On the field his mission seems to be to make things hum.”
His first three balls hit WG Grace on the ribs. Biographer Simon Rae calls the fourth ball the single most famous delivery that the great man ever faced. It passed straight through the Champion’s beard and flew to the boundary. Non-striker Stanley Jackson wrote, “I can see WG now. He threw his head back which caused his beard to stick out.”
The shrill, high pitched voice of WG piped out, “What – what – what?”
Harry Trott, leading Australia, stood at point, wondering if the very first over in England would plunge the tour into crisis. He looked towards his fast bowler and said, “Steady Jonah.”
And Jones looked at Grace and mouthed the famous words, “Sorry, doctor, she slipped.”
That day, Grace and Jackson added 58, withstanding the new ball. Grace’s chest was rendered black and blue. Jackson broke a rib in the second innings while scoring an unbeaten 95. Later, he wrote, “In the second innings, when I had made about 10, I had the misfortune to stop one with my ribs, but with the assistance of W. A. J. West, the umpire, who rubbed me, I was able to continue my innings. When I went to London I had a good deal of pain, and my father sent for the doctor, who said, ‘It’s cracked horizontally.’ He strapped me up, and I did not play for three weeks. Within a month of Sheffield Park I faced Jones at Lord’s in the M.C.C. match, and he came up to me and said, “I am terribly sorry”, and he clasped my hand in a vice-like grip that left me wondering which was the more painful — my hand or broken ribs.”
The rest of the batsmen of Lord Sheffield’s XI were not that courageous. As Jones made the ball fly, the best of them evidently decided to save themselves for the Tests.
In Life Worth Living CB Fry recalled, “When Arthur Shrewsbury got to that end, having watched the first two balls, he deliberately tipped the next into the hands of second slip, and before the catch was held had folded his bat under his right arm-pit and marched off. Then the six feet three inches of William Gunn walked delicately to the wicket. The first ball from Jones whizzed past where his head had just been. William withdrew from the line of the next ball and deliberately tipped it into the slips and he too had pouched his bat and was stepping off to the pavilion before the catch was surely caught.” Both Shrewsbury and Gunn were dropped from the team for the first Test.
The scourge against throwing
However, opinion was divided about Jones. Many were awed by his speed, but more were sceptical about his action. Although there were worse offenders, Jones was always in the spotlight because of his brutal pace.
By the beginning of next year, a great push against throwing was underway. Retired bowling great, Fred Spofforth, now settled in England, wrote in the Sporting Times, “With the last (Australian) eleven there was one who hardly ever delivered a fair ball, and although I am quite aware that I may raise a hornet’s nest about my head by mentioning names, I allude to Tom McKibbin who, I shall always maintain, should never be allowed to play under the existing rule.”
Spofforth condemned umpires for not calling throwers and proposed a committee of county captains who could suspend throwers for a first offence, and then add fines and longer suspensions. Somehow he did not mention Jones explicitly, but there were other voices clamouring for action against the fast man. Giffen defended both the Australians. “Some critics say Jones throws, but in my mind his delivery is perfectly fair.”
But the scourge against the chuckers had started, and there was a man who was specially geared to do the job. ‘Dimboola Jim’ Phillips had been an engineer, a gifted cricketer, was a commendable journalist and businessman, and a one man umpiring crusade. A former fast bowler for Victoria and Middlesex, Phillips became an umpire in county and Test matches. He used to officiate in England and then, at the end of summer, travel to Australia and stand in matches Down Under. With his travel and experience across continents, he was the man best suited to compare and contrast actions and step in when one had to be firm. And he was both fearless and rather stubborn.
When Andrew Stoddart’s Englishmen travelled to Australia for the 1897-98 tour, South Australia played the visitors in November. Phillips called the extra fast ball of Jones in that match. It did not stop the bowler from claiming seven wickets for 189 in a high scoring draw.
And now, in the second Test at Melbourne, as drought hit eastern Australia and heat wave in the city made temperatures soar to 35 degrees for more than 25 days at a stretch, Phillips became the first umpire to call a bowler in a Test match.
As 35 Australian residents died from heat over Christmas, the stifling nights robbed the Englishmen of sleep. Charlie McLeod, run out in the most unscrupulous fashion in the previous Test, hit his maiden Test century and Australia piled up 520. When England batted, McKibbin, the worst offender, got rid of the openers, and Jones picked up two wickets as well. But, then Phillips called Jones. With Hugh Trumble picking up four wickets, England followed on 215 behind. But Trott did not give Jones the ball in the second innings.
The partisan crowd booed Phillips, but Wisden’s Sydney Pardon predicted: “From what Phillips has done nothing but good can come.
It did not really matter in the end as far as the Test match was concerned. Trumble tied down the batsmen and tricked them with his dip and turn. Debutant Monty Noble used an American baseball-style grip on the ball to become one of cricket’s first true swing or swerve bowlers. Trumble picked up four and Noble six and Australia won by an innings.
Jones did bowl for the rest of the series. Phillips stood in all the Tests and was silent throughout the matches. He did not call him again. In the fifth Test at Sydney, Jones even picked up six for 82 in the first innings as Australia won the series 4-1.
Phillips went on to call Englishmen CB Fry and Arthur Mold when he returned to England to officiate in county matches. Fry was called in 1898 and then again in 1900. Mold was called in 1900 and 1901.
Phillips’s actions led to a meeting of County captains in 1900, which recommended against using nine regular bowlers in the following season.
It would be 65 years before another Australian was called for throwing in Tests. In December 1963, Ian Meckiff was called by Col Egar. It virtually ended Meckiff’s career.
Australia 520 (Charlie McLeod 112, Clem Hill 58, Syd Gregory 71, Frank Iredale 89, Harry Trott 79) beat England 315 (KS Ranjitsinhji 71, Bill Storer 51, Frank Druce 44, Johnny Briggs 46*; Hugh Trumble 4 for 54) and 150 (Hugh Trumble 4 for 53, Monty Noble 6 for 49) by an innings and 55 runs.
(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)
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