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Bill Lockwood – the tormented genius, one of England’s finest fast bowlers

William Lockwood. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Bill Lockwood took 43 wickets in 12 Tests at 20.53 for England. Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Bill Lockwood, born March 25, 1868, was one of the greatest fast bowlers of England during the turn of the last century, who formed a lethal combination for Surrey and his country with Tom Richardson. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was plagued with personal problems of the most tragic kind through his playing days and yet managed to emerge as a sterling cricketer.

The echoes of the strokes essayed that day by Gilbert Jessop at The Oval still reverberate in our minds more than a century later. The untiring bowling spells of Hugh Trumble are still held in awe. We never tire of speculating whether George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes really exchanged those famous words, “Let’s get them in singles.”

What often escapes unnoticed is the superb bowling effort by Bill Lockwood, neutralising the 141 run first innings deficit by removing five Australians for just 48 as the visitors succumbed to 121 all out. And even before that he had played a crucial hand in the first innings by adding 42 with Len Braund for the eighth wicket, thereby ensuring that Australia would have to bat again.

But for the efforts of this unpredictable and brilliant fast medium bowler, this great Test match would in all probability have not reached that singular climax.

It was the final Test match of Lockwood’s career — and what a swansong it turned out to be. A miracle of sorts, given that his career had been riddled with stumbling blocks on and off the field, some of which had tripped and tackled his cricketing days and even his life into disarray.  He had almost drowned, had his hand severely sliced. This had been followed by the saddest of personal tragedies that had driven him to drink.  After he had battled his demons and emerged victorious there had been questions voiced against his action, that had made him retrace his steps to the supposed solace of alcohol.

He had battled all that to end as one of the best fast bowlers to play for England. In the end, his cricketing career was a testimony as much to his ability as to fortitude.

 

Flowing beauty of action

For Surrey, and later England, Lockwood teamed up with Tom Richardson to form one of the first pairs of devastating fast bowlers. Both were quick, and as in the case of most lethal bowling combinations, contrasting.

Richardson was tireless, lionhearted, accurate. Lockwood was fluctuating, erratic and dangerous. Often, they have been likened to the Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson — Richardson’s steady menace the spiritual ancestor of Lillee, the temperamental and tempestuous Lockwood an early template of Thomson.

Lockwood possessed a long run, along which he proceeded with rhythmic, bouncing steps, and ended with the arm swinging freely from the shoulder in perfect rotatory motion. According to Ralph Barker, “his am was high, and the actual delivery seemed effortless … Only Ted McDonald and Harold Larwood can be said to have approached the sheer flowing beauty of his action in full motion, and he made the ball flick higher from the pitch than any other bowler. The devil seemed to be in the ball itself whenever Lockwood bowled.”

He had a loop, and ended with a dip that deceived batsmen, almost borrowed from a slow bowler’s bag of tricks. Lockwood would quite often produce a slower ball without any perceptible change in action. While he was perhaps not as quick as Richardson, and could not quite match his colleague’s stamina for sending down long spells, Lockwood’s deliveries hastened off the pitch at disconcerting pace.

CB Fry regarded Lockwood in eloquent terms: “without qualification the best fast bowler I have played with or against. KS Ranjitsinhji once said, and I concur, that one could be 20 not out on a plumb wicket and then be clean bowled by Lockwood and walk away to the pavilion not knowing what one would have done if one had another chance.”

Yet, he was erratic, a genius who could be a slave to his mood. According to Albert Knight, “When the mood was his, and good or evil genius prompted, the sting and devil of his knuckle raising deliveries was incomparable. Richardson would break back and bruise the batsman’s thigh, apologising with a grave sincere smile; Lockwood would break back and nip a piece of one’s thigh away, looking at one the whole time and wondering why the blind gods should waste so superb a delivery on mere flesh.”

And as a person, he was seldom popular. About him Sir Home Gordon wrote, “He was never likeable, and there was in his bowling a viciousness somewhat characteristic of the bad-tempered fellow he always showed himself.”

Some of his antics were perhaps humorous to himself, but infuriating to many. When called for no-ball, Lockwood had the habit of running in, overstepping and then holding on to the ball, making the umpire call a delivery that was technically not delivered. “It was a piece of childishness, quite outside the scope of the less sophisticated Richardson,” wrote Barker.

Fortune too was seldom kind to him. As already stated, his life was a saga of one dark tragedy after another.

From batsman to bowler

William Henry Lockwood was born on March 25, 1868, in Old Radford, Nottinghamshire. It was there that he lived for most of his life and it was there he would die.

His first forays into First-Class cricket were strangely as a batsman. In 1886 and 1887, he played for Nottinghamshire five times, without much to show for his efforts. He was given responsibility of bowling seriously only once and responded with four for 86 against the visiting Australians.

However, selection in the strong Nottinghamshire side was challenging, and Surrey thought much of his abilities — as a batsman. Hence, he moved to the southern county and qualified by becoming a resident for two years.

With George Lohmann and John Sharpe shouldering most of the bowling, Lockwood had to make his mark as a batsman — and did it rather well. In 1890 he got over 500 runs, including a hundred against Yorkshire at The Oval, and three more fifties.

However, he soon broke into the bowling line-up as a major force. Sharpe was no longer the bowler he used to be in 1891, and Lockwood was asked to run in with the ball with increasing regularity. When he took seven for 19 against Kent, Wisden acknowledged it as the most incisive bowling of the season.

The following seasons saw The Oval wicket prepared, by chance or design, to suit Lockwood’s pace. And Lockwood made the balls fly to capture 151 wickets in 1892. This included a haul of nine for 126 against the Australians for Lord Sheffield’s XI, eight for 67 against his old county Nottinghamshire and eight for 72 for the Players against Gentlemen.

In 1893, as Cambridge University started out to get a regulation fourth innings target of 198, Lockwood wrecked their batting — which included Stanley Jackson and Ranjitsinhji — with figures of eight for 33. This was followed by three consecutive matches of sustained brilliance, in which he captured 11 wickets against Yorkshire at home, 10 against Sussex at Hove, and nine more, including seven in the second innings, for the Players against WG Grace led Gentlemen at The Oval.

These performances propelled Lockwood into the Test side against Jack Blackham’s Australians at Lord’s. Playing under first time skipper Andrew Stoddart, he bowled impressively to capture six for 101. Bowling in the second Test on his home ground at The Oval, he picked up four wickets in each innings. Alongside Johnny Briggs, he bowled England to a comprehensive innings win.

However, he missed the third Test with a strained leg. Partner in pace Tom Richardson made his Test debut in his place.Lockwood was not done against the Australians though, and in September he took six wickets in the first innings against the visitors for the South of England.

The season of 1894 saw Richardson and Lockwood terrorise the county sides with their combined pace and vicious break-backs for Surrey. They took 211 wickets between them as Surrey topped the table. Lockwood played a key role in the triumph, taking seven for 94 on a plumb batting wicket against Yorkshire in the match that virtually decided the championship — especially commendable because Richardson missed the match due to injury. He enjoyed a satisfying season with the bat as well, opening the innings on several occasions, scoring a hundred against Warwickshire.  Both the Surrey spearheads were chosen for the Australian tour of 1894-95.

The first decline

While Richardson excelled on the tour, Lockwood had a harrowing time.

During the match against New South Wales, he dived off a boat at the Sydney Harbour for a swim and nearly drowned. He was rescued by a passing yachtsman and had to be revived with brandy. And then, when Bobby Peel’s soda bottle exploded, Lockwood ended with a glass splinted embedded in his finger.

It was not just bad luck. He was accident-prone to the point of carelessness. When some of the Englishmen went shooting, Lockwood was a dangerous man to have in the team, standing at the wrong places and scaring the wits off his fellow shooters. He also fired his gun by mistake. Lancashire batsman Albert Ward wrote, “He is a most uncomfortable chap to be out with on this sort of expedition.”

Highly strung by nature, these accidents rattled Lockwood and he never quite managed to produce a meaningful performance on the tour. His haul of five wickets in five Tests came at 67.80 apiece.

But, much bigger strikes of misfortune awaited him as he sailed back to England. His wife passed away and so did child. Heartbroken, Lockwood turned to drink. His alcohol abuse soon turned extreme, and the once lithe form spread rather rapidly.

He was no longer as effective with the ball. There were occasional encouraging performances, such as against Gloucestershire at The Oval where he got eight wickets, or the 158 he scored against Warwickshire. But, he failed quite regularly for two seasons and was dropped after a few matches in 1897. It was almost accepted that his career had fizzled out into a morass of disappointment.

 

The revival

Yet, in 1898, one witnessed fascinating revival. Lockwood had married again, thus achieving some direction in his long rudderless life. He cut down on the spirits and slimmed down again. And he came back into the Surrey side to recapture his form of old, starting with four for 62 against Essex, six for 62 against Gloucestershire and then eight for 44 against Leicestershire.

Richardson soon joined him in the acts of destruction. The peak was achieved against Yorkshire at The Oval. Lockwood came in at number four and scored 51 as Surrey amassed 536. And then he proceeded to take five for 30, with Richardson capturing four for 43 as the strong Yorkshire line-up as blown away for 78. In the second innings, the northern countryside did significantly better, managing 186. This time Lockwood took six for 96 and Richardson three for 57. The defeat by an innings and 272 runs was the biggest ever inflicted on Yorkshire.

A few days later he took 13 wickets against Kent. He also hit three centuries that season and could lay strong claims to being called a genuine all-rounder.

The year 1899 saw Lockwood struggle from some injury problems, but he still finished with 117 wickets. He also scored over 1000 runs at a respectable average of over 37 with three more hundreds. During the summer he was recalled for the final Test at The Oval against Joe Darling’s Australians. Playing his first Test match since 1895, he bowled 40.3 five-ball overs, 17 of them maidens and captured seven wickets for 71.

He repeated his season’s double the following year in 1900, hitting two hundreds and, as in 1898 and 1899, taking 13 five-wicket hauls.

The doubts and the last hurrah

However, this was a summer in which the ongoing throwing controversy reached an all-time high and every bowler of pace had uncomfortable questions asked about his action.This was coupled with the misfortune of his benefit match being washed out by rain in 1901. Lockwood did not really enjoy a great season that year, and there were indications that the tension over the throwing allegations was making him go back to the comforts of the glass.

The Surrey County Club Committee handled him with utmost care during this period, making sure that he promised temperance in exchange of their support. It paid huge dividends. In the wet summer of 1902, England and Australia played some wonderful Test matches. And Lockwood played in four of the five matches

In the rain interrupted Tests at Birmingham and Lord’s he was not required to send down even a single delivery and he was omitted from the third Test at Sheffield. But, when Lockwood picked up eight for 25 against Middlesex at Lord’s there were signs enough that he was back to his very best. The Times wrote about, “his fast ball coming back to telling effect.”As a result, he was included in the side for the final two Test matches.

In the heart-stopping thriller at Manchester, his haul was 11 wickets for 76 runs, acknowledged as one of the greatest bowling performances ever. It was incredible, because the softness of the pitch dissuaded Archie MacLaren from giving Lockwood a bowl till the score was 129. After that he picked up six for 48. In Australia’s second innings Lockwood dismissed Victor Trumper, Clem Hill and Reggie Duff within 10 runs. It was then that the miserable Fred Tate missed Joe Darling off Len Braundat the deep square leg and the rest, as they say, is history. It should have been Lockwood’s game — he took five for 28 in the second innings as well. However, Australia held their nerves to win by three runs.

And then there was that final Test at The Oval, which saw yet another great Lockwood bowling performance and culminated in a one-wicket win for England.

Lockwood played for another two seasons for Surrey, but both he and Richardson had declined considerably by 1904. Both were dropped halfway through the 1904 season and Lockwood retired at the end of the year, moving back to his native Old Radford.

Lockwood finished with 43 wickets from 12 Tests at 20.53 with five five-wicket hauls. In First-Class cricket, his return was 1376 scalps at 18.34 with 121 five-fors and 29 ten-wicket hauls.

He did not take his batting as seriously as his talents deserved. In Tests, he notched up only one fifty, and scored at 17.76. But, he was a good enough batsman to compile 15 First-Class centuries, and over 10,000 runs at an average of 22. At his best, he could be considered as an all-rounder.Never was it more evident than during the Gentlemen vs Players match at Lord’s in 1902, when he captured two for 43, scored 100 from number eight and then vanquished the amateurs with seven for 63.

After suffering from failing health for about five years, Lockwood died at his Radford home in 1932, at the age of 64. According to CB Fry, he would top the polls for the best genuine fast bowler in the history of the game.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Write 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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