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Douglas Carr, the man with one of the unexpected Test debuts ever, was born on March 17, 1872. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a Kent leg-spinner whose career was cut short by the First World War.
When it comes to Douglas Ward Carr, people usually remember him for his debut when the 37-year old was pulled out of obscurity to play a single Test at The Oval and was discarded despite a five-wicket haul. Few people, however, remember him for the fine leg-spinner who played for Kent and perfected the googly in its formative years.
Carr was originally a fast-medium bowler who bowled cutters in village cricket, bowling leg-breaks only sporadically. When Bernard Bosanquet brought the googly into existence, Carr was moved by its novelty. In fact, his googly was so good that his leg-breaks were pushed to the background, only to be recovered later.
He was, however, prophetic about his extraordinary skills: “I am quite certain of one thing, and that is that in a very short time everybody will be quite able to distinguish between the two breaks.” They did, but not to the extent Carr had thought: they still have difficulties picking the wrong ’un.
Carr’s numbers were exceptional for a one-Test wonder: from 58 First-Class matches he had 334 wickets (at 5.8 wickets a match) at a remarkable 16.72 with 31 five-fors and eight ten-fors. With Colin Blythe, Arthur Fielder, and Frank Woolley he helped transform the Kent attack into an all-empowering one, helping them clinch three Championship titles in five seasons.
Born in Cranbrook, Carr studied at Sutton Valence in Kent, following which he went on to Brasenose College, Oxford. In his early days he used to be a prolific footballer as well; he played for Oxford University Freshmen against the main University side, where his participation was restricted to a wicket-less four-over spell. He picked up an injury while playing football, which meant that he could not represent the University in any match that qualified as First-Class.
Five years later he turned up for Wildernesse at Sevenoaks to pick up a five-wicket haul against Lords and Commons; he got a call-up to play for Kent Second XI against Sussex Second XI at Hove, where he toiled hard for a return of two expensive wickets.
It was in a relatively obscure match at Oxford that he first came into prominence. By then he had added the googly to his repertoire; playing for Free Foresters against Oxford University he picked up four for 61 and five for 102 in a valiant effort; the match, however, allowed him to make his First-Class debut at an age of 37.
Carr and Woolley bowled unchanged and picked up five wickets apiece as Oxford University crashed to 125. After Kent secured a 117-run lead Carr had two more wickets, finishing with match figures of seven for 95 as Kent won by an innings. These were not outstanding figures, but his skills earned him a reputation strong enough to merit a selection in two Gentlemen versus Players matches.
It was these two matches that catapulted Carr into limelight: the one at The Oval fetched him match figures eight for 138; the one at Lord’s that followed got him seven for 128. Suddenly, after playing three First-Class matches — none of which were in the Championship — he found himself in the squad for the Old Trafford Test of the ongoing Ashes contest.
Australia had been leading the series 2-1 as the sides met for the fourth Test, and Carr’s selection was perhaps out of desperation to pull something out of the hat to surprise the tourists. Carr, however, was not picked for the final eleven. He made his Championship debut instead, picking up six for 75 against Essex at Leyton, eight for 106 against Middlesex and six for 99, both at Canterbury.
He was once again picked for the squad, this time for the final Test at The Oval: at this stage his First-Class records read seven matches, 42 wickets at 15.50, and four five-wicket hauls. Not a bad start for a 37-year old!
Carr’s selection created a lot of buzz in the media. Time wrote that England’s chances to level the series: “largely depended on Mr Carr getting the Australians out for a moderate score.” Carr was brought in for his teammate Blythe, but he made his debutant alongside Woolley, another teammate of his.
After Monty Noble decided to bat, Carr started on an amazing high, clean bowling Syd Gregory for a duck, and following up with trapping both Noble and Warwick Armstrong leg-before: Australia were reeling at 55 for three, and though Warren Bardsley was batting resolutely at one end it seemed the selectors had done a good job.
Sydney Barnes took out Vernon Ransford at the other end with “a ball that came off the ground at lightning speed”, but Archie MacLaren probably missed out on a trick or two by over-bowling Carr. As Bardsley started opening up and Victor Trumper, no less, went berserk and the pair added 118 in 110 minutes.
By the time Trumper was claimed by Barnes the pressure was no longer there. Trumper’s supreme batsmanship (“at no time did he seem troubled by (Douglas) Carr’s deceptive breaks, wrote Wisden”) was followed by Charlie Macartney’s, who helped Bardsley add 83 more.
Bardsley was finally bowled by Jack Sharp for 136, and Australia went on to lose their final five wickets for 66 as they were bowled out for 325. Carr finished with figures of five for 146. Criticising the way MacLaren used him, Wisden wrote: “he [Carr] would have got on much better had he been given a rest early in the day.”
Despite fifties from Wilfred Rhodes and CB Fry England were reduced to 206 for six when Kenneth Hutchings joined Sharp: they added 142 in no time before Sharp fell for 102 and Hutchings following soon. England’s last four wickets fell for four runs, and Carr, last man in, was bowled by “Tibby” Cotter for a duck; Cotter finished with six for 95 as the hosts managed a slender 27-run lead.
Gregory and Bardsley ruled out any possibility of an England victory by adding 180 in 135 minutes for the first wicket. Bardsley (130) scored his second hundred of the Test. As the Australians went for quick runs, Carr had Armstrong caught and Trumper stumped, and finished with figures of two for 136 before Noble declared.
The Englishmen had to chase down 313 in 140 minutes; they finished on 104 for three; Australia retained the Ashes; Carr never played another Test. He became only the fourth bowler to pick up a five-for in his only Test; and of all one-Test wonders only Charlie Marriott (11) has more career wickets.
Back to domestic cricket
Carr celebrated his return to the Championship with career-best figures of eight for 36 against Somerset at Taunton. With four for 80 in the second innings he finished with 12 in the match, and finished the season with 95 wickets at 18.27. Only 51 of these came in the Championship, albeit at the cost of a mere 14.21 apiece. Kent lifted their second Championship title that season with Blythe claiming the most wickets. His performance made him a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
Carr missed a few months in the beginning of 1910, but once he was back he bowled at his best, starting with 17 wickets from his first three matches; in the next match, against Somerset at Taunton, he returned figures of eight for 86 and four for 36, and followed it up with five for 68 and six for 42 against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham.
The season went on a similar note as the previous one: Carr finished with 63 wickets at 14.20; the 60 Championship wickets came at the price of 12.16 each; Blythe finished third (and at the top for Kent) with 149 wickets; and Kent won the Championship yet again.
Carr’s form never seemed to fade: in 1911, too, he had two ten-fors (six for 50 and five for 70 against Sussex at Hove and eight for 67 and two for 32 against Surrey at The Oval); Kent could not clinch a hat-trick of titles, but Carr finished on a high with 55 wickets at 17.90.
One would think his performance could not be improved upon, but he actually managed to do that in 1912. He had a run where he snared 50 wickets in ten innings, the chief among which were five for 53 and five for 55 against Somerset and Taunton and five for 38 and eight for 36 (equalling his career-best) against Gloucestershire at Dover. The match haul of 13 for 74 remained his best as well.
Carr finished the season with a 61 wickets at a phenomenal 12.01. He bowled out the touring Australians for 137 at Canterbury with figures of seven for 46, but was not considered for the national side.
The next season (1913) saw Kent win the Championship thrice in five years: Carr’s amazing form continued as he finished with 60 wickets at 18.36, the highlight being five for 26 and five for 74 in his first match of the season against Gloucestershire at Gravesend. Blythe finished fourth on the list (at the top for Kent).
Carr was 42 when the 1914 season started: he was taken apart in the season opener against Surrey at Blackheath by Jack Hobbs and Tom Hayward and went wicket-less. Little did he know that there will be a World War before he would be able to play another First-Class match.
Carr was 48 by the time cricket had resumed after war, and he did not play anymore. He passed away at Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth, Devon, on March 23, 1950: he was 78 years and six days old.
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