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Ashes 1948: Sid Barnes’s near-fatal injury at Old Trafford

Ashes 1948: Sid Barnes' near-fatal injury at Old Trafford

After Dick Pollard’s pull hit Sid Barnes (above) on the chest, he had to be carried out of the arena by four policemen and had to be sent to the Manchester Royal Infirmary with his left side paralysed.

Fielding at short-leg Sid Barnes encountered a near-fatal injury on July 9, 1948 at Old Trafford. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the shot that nearly killed a man during a Test match.

The juggernaut of the Invincibles was rolling: county after county submitted in front of their relentless grinding. It seemed that Don Bradman had really meant business; there was no mercy, no break, no deviation. One team after another was steamrolled.

Like the others, Sid Barnes was an essential cog in the all-crushing wheel: he opened batting with Arthur Morris and fielded ridiculously close at short-leg — so close that batsmen often complained. He managed to accomplish his dual purpose, however: to keep the batsman on a constant alert and to get under his skin.

Bill Johnston had picked up nine wickets and Bradman and Lindsay Hassett had scored hundreds in the eight-wicket win in the first Test at Trent Bridge. At Lord’s both Morris and Barnes got hundreds, and Ray Lindwall and Ernie Toshack bowled out England to ensure a 409-run victory.

The match

England made four changes going into the side, bringing in George Emmett, Jack Young, Dick Pollard, and a debutant in Jack Crapp. Bradman lost the toss in his 50th Test and England batted first.

The opening pair, sans Len Hutton, had looked a bit circumspect: Lindwall and Johnston gave Australia a bright start by removing both openers. The moment Denis Compton came in Lindwall unleashed a ‘bumper barrage’ on him. He struck Compton on the arm, and when Lindwall bounced again Compton hooked: the ball took the edge of the bat and hit Compton on the forehead.

A staggering Compton had to leave the ground with a battered forehead and he needed to have stitches. Crapp joined Bill Edrich, and they took the score to 96 before Crapp fell. Compton eventually came out to bat at 119 for five to join his captain Norman Yardley.

What followed was one of the most glorious displays of batsmanship: Lindwall, of course, greeted the heavily bandaged Compton with a bouncer; the Middlesex man grinned broadly, and tore into the attack. Lindwall, Johnston, Toshack, and Ian Johnson were all treated with supreme disdain.

It was an excellent innings even by Compton’s standards. He found support in Yardley and Godfrey Evans. England ended the day on 231 for seven with Compton on 64 and Bedser on four.

The second morning saw Compton take off from where he had left; Bedser, too, batted quite well, and the pair added 121 runs in 145 minutes through an exhilarating display of aggressive batting before Bedser was run out for 37; it would turn out to be the second-highest score of the innings. Dick Pollard walked out.

The incident

Pollard was renowned for being a lively fast-medium bowler; the Lancastrian, however, was a fierce hitter of the ball as well. Barnes was quite aware of this ability. He had already been hit twice on the chest by Crapp and Yardley and could not hold on to either of the rebounds.

Barnes walked in closer as Pollard reached the crease. Wisden mentioned that he was “fielding in his usual position about five yards from the bat at short-leg”. Johnson bowled one short, and Pollard hit a full-blooded pull: Frank Chester later described that the ball hit Barnes’ left ribs “like a bullet”.

The Old Trafford crowd had barracked Barnes throughout the day for fielding so close. Now they broke into a raucous cheer as Barnes, to quote Jack Fingleton, “dropped like a fallen tree”. “Down he went in terrible pain, and it was obvious at once we had a serious injury on our hands”, wrote Bradman.

Barnes had to be carried out of the arena by four policemen and had to be sent to the Manchester Royal Infirmary with his left side paralysed. When he met Ken Mackay a few months later he told him “I had some Minties in my pocket when I got hit but I haven’t seen them since those policemen carried me off.” Yes, that was Barnes for you.

Having been released the next day, Barnes batted at the nets and went on chatting and joking in his usual spirits. The weakness, however, was evident. “During a trial at the nets he [Barnes] joked with the press photographers, but after a while grew so weak that he had to rest on the running-board of a car,” wrote Frank Chester in How’s That?

Meanwhile, England had reached 363 with Compton scoring a regal 145 not out: Lindwall had picked up four wickets, Johnston three, and Toshack two.

Johnson opened with Morris in absence of Barnes and was soon caught-behind off Bedser. Bradman failed as well, but Hassett and Keith Miller helped Morris to fifty-run partnerships. At the fall of the Miller’s wicket, however, something outrageous happened.

Bradman had ordered Sam Loxton to bat above Barnes. At the fall of Miller’s wicket, however, Barnes decided to defy the order and walked out to join Morris. Chester describes the rest: “After a sympathetic reception from the crowd, and a somewhat theatrical handshake with Dick Pollard, he [Barnes] stayed at the wicket for nearly half an hour, then sank to the ground with a cry of pain. He took no further part in the game.” Bradman was among the cricketers to carry Barnes out of the ground.

The rest of the Test

Bedser and Pollard bowled out Australia for 221. However, rain washed out day four, and Bradman did not bother to chase a target of 317 and decided to play out time.

What followed?

  • He returned for the fifth Test at The Oval. After Lindwall bowled out England for 52 Barnes (61) and Morris (196) added 117; it was the first time in history that both openers had outscored the opposition.
  • The Test at The Oval was Bradman’s last; it was Barnes’ last as well.
  • Writing on Barnes’ reaction when he watched the footage of the injury in his later days Ray Robinson wrote: “When the film showed him [Barnes] writhing on the ground in pain after [Dick] Pollard’s hit injured him, he commented drily ‘it would have killed any ordinary man.’”

Brief scores:

England 363 (Denis Compton 145*; Ray Lindwall 4 for 99, Bill Johnston 3 for 67) and 174 for 3 decl. (Cyril Washbrook 85*, Bill Edrich 53) drew with Australia 221 (Arthur Morris 51; Alec Bedser 4 for 81, Dick Pollard 3 for 53) and 92 for 1 (Arthur Morris 54*).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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