Australian cricketer Fred Spofforth's wickets off three successive deliveries was the first instance feat being called a hat-trick © Getty Images
Australian cricketer Fred Spofforth’s wickets off three successive deliveries was the first instance of the feat being called a hat-trick © Getty Images

How did the term hat-trick come about? Arunabha Sengupta digs into the history of the game to find the origins of the word.

August 28, 1878. Australia played the 18 men of Hastings and District at the Central Recreation Ground, Hastings. Fred Spofforth had already skittled out six wickets in the first innings. On this day, he accounted for as many as 12 local men, including Charles Cunliffe, James Phillips and J Wilson off successive deliveries. All three were bowled.

The following day, The Sportsman reported the feat ending with the words: “thus accomplishing the hat-trick.”This is the first recorded occurrence of the term ‘hat-trick’ in print.

Curiously, in the same match Tom Garrett had taken three wickets off successive balls in the first innings. However, that was not reported as a hat-trick.

Not that three dismissals off successive balls had not been performed before. There had been plenty of them. However, this was the first time the feat was labelled as a hat-trick.

Of course, we are not considering Flashman’s Lady, the 1977 novel by George McDonald Fraser. In the book Harry Paget Flashman, playing for the Old Rugbeians, dismisses the supreme trio of Fuller Pilch, Felix and Alfred Mynn to complete the ‘first ever hat-trick’ sometime in the 1840s. When he gets Mynn with some questionable bowling tactic to complete the feat, the great cricketer walks by and says, “That trick’s worth a new hat any day youngster.”

The background of the term is interesting. In September 1858, the famous Surrey professional HH Stephenson, playing for All England against the 22 of Hallam and Staveley, got three wickets off successive balls and thereby “entitled himself for a new hat, which was presented to him by the Eleven.” Two of his victims were caught and the one in the middle bowled. The first two were dismissed off the last two deliveries of an over and the third scalped with the first ball of the next.

It was not even Stephenson’s first such accomplishment. In that very season, he had taken two more — for England against Kent at Lord’s and for England against the 18 Veterans at The Oval. However, on these previous occasions no hat had been presented.

Writing in The Cricketer in 1959, GB Buckley argued that it might have been the rather less fancied batsmen dismissed against Kent and the Veterans that kept Stephenson from getting the hat. The Kent batsmen dismissed were numbers 9, 10 and 11, while the Veterans were a weak outfit anyway.

The other conjecture is that Stephenson was rewarded in some other way and the occasion against Hallam and Staveley was the start of the custom of presenting hats.

The second explanation has some merit. The practice of rewarding and recognising special performances had started in 1854. Some of the early gestures were slightly counterintuitive. Grand batting performancesat Lord’s were rewarded with a ball. Later, a bat was given fora fine effort. For bowlers, there were less rewards — perhaps because wickets favoured him more.On occasions, they were presented with a ball as well. At the Oval, scores over 50 were rewarded with an ornamental bat for the amateurs and talent money was given to the professionals. The bowlers were also given talent money.

The bowlers of the All England teams found it more difficult to bag a reward. The wandering teams went around playing the local outfits, and bowling feats were expected from the skilled players. Besides, the patrons who organised the matches were prone to invest much on setting up the game, and were often not amused at being knocked over quickly when they went out for a hit.

It was thus left to the colleagues of the All England side to suitably reward a bowler. The earliest known instance of such a gesture was in 1857 when George Parr presented WP Lockhart with a new ball with the name of every player printed on it. Lockhart, however, got this gift for his wicketkeeping against the 22 of Broughton Club.

It seems that initially the hat was awarded also for bowling feats other than three wickets off successive balls. In 1860, RC Tinley took all 17 wickets against the 18 of Hallam for the All England Eleven and was presented with a new hat. In some cases, curiously a bat was also presented to the bowlers.

We find the first mention of the ritual of giving a hat for three wickets off successive balls in 1862. In 1864, we come across the recorded statement that Mr Stanfield, secretary of Hampstead Club, “won a new hat, properly taking three wickets three balls running, but he thought of the club funds and did not present himself with one.”

The headgear also changed with time. It started with a white hat. In 1861, Edward Rutter of Rugby bowled three Old Rugbeiansoff successive deliveries and was presented with a Tyrolean hat with a feather in it. There were also straw hats, and, in some instances, a cap.

In 1885, a miniature electro-plate top hat in a stain lined case was advertised as a suitable memento for a hat-trick. The price was set at a guinea.

(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