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Jack Hearne: A great medium pacer, fourth on the all-time list of First-Class wickets

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Jack Hearne took 49 wickets at 22.08 in 12 Tests for England. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

 Jack Hearne, born May 3, 1867, was a medium pacer with a beautiful action who played 12 Tests for England and turned out in First-Class cricket for almost 35 years. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of man who became the first English bowler to claim a hat-trick in Test cricket, scalping perhaps the most celebrated trio of batsmen to have featured in such a feat.

The hat-trick

It was a formidable Australian batting line up. The previous Test at Lord’s had seen thrilling hundreds from the young duo of Clem Hill and Victor Trumper and the visitors had triumphed with much to spare. Now, 48 runs in arrears, they got off to a spectacular start in the second innings. Captain Joe Darling and fellow opener Jack Worrall put on 34 in just 20 minutes.

England were handicapped. The previous night, watching a show at the Empire Theatre, Johnny Briggs had been struck down by an epileptic fit. Packed away to Cheadle Asylum, he would spend the rest of his days hallucinating about his bowling, telling the nurses about his bowling figures in detail. He would be dead by 1902 after two years of hospitalisation.

That day in Leeds, Sailor Young had to share the new ball with Jack ‘JT’ Hearne, the unobtrusive Middlesex length bowler. It was Young who made the breakthrough, Worrall caught in the deep as he went for another big hit.

The batsmen had crossed, and so it was the youthful Hill who faced Hearne in the next over. The third ball broke viciously from length and went past Hill’s broad blade to disarrange the stumps. Syd Gregory, the most experienced Australian batsman, walked in and took strike. The next ball broke away and kissed the edge of the bat. Captain Archie MacLaren had positioned himself in the extra slip and held on with glee.

Ripples of excitement ran through the crowd as Monty Noble came in to bat. The fielders crowded him as the great all-rounder took guard. The ball was pitched on perfect length, swerved away, and took the edge. The Indian prince KS Ranjitsinhji pouched it at slip. Fred Spofforth had performed the first hat-trick in Test cricket almost two decades earlier. This was the first by an Englishman. And the haul of batsmen in the feat — Hill, Gregory, Noble — probably has not been bettered to this day.

It was just reward for the hardworking medium pacer with the beautiful action, the only bowler who had distinguished himself on the tour of Australia with the team of Andrew Stoddart in 1897-98. His 20 wickets in the Tests had come at 26.90. The other bowler who had bowled his heart out was the great Tom Richardson. The returns of the great fast bowler were 22 wickets at 35.27. JT Hearne had class, lots of it. He was the best bowler of his type during his day, and perhaps one of the best of all time.

The steps towards greatness

Born in Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, John Thomas Hearne hailed from a family with names littered across the landscape of cricket. Brothers Walter and Herbert Hearne served Kent for years. Distant relations in the cricket world included a host of Hearnes with initials running into GF, GG, G, F and A — although the exact nature of relationship is often debated. There was another distant cousin, John William Hearne, who played for England in the second decade of the 20th century — and was known simply as ‘Young Jack’.

By birth JT Hearne hailed from Buckinghamshire, having seen the light of the day at Chalfont St Giles on May 3, 1867. It is said that he took to the game as a boy, but there remains very little record of the exploits of the young Hearne. Treading along the pages of history, we come across him in 1887, and find him engaged at Evelyn School Hollington to dispense duties as cricket coach. There he was watched with interest by A. J. Webbe, and he asked young Hearne to play in a Middlesex Colts match against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).

His performance was impressive, and he was fielded for Middlesex against the visiting Australians. It was a low scoring encounter and Hearne picked up two for 19 in a fairly successful outing. However, the Middlesex authorities were not convinced that there was the mettle of a champion cricketer in him. Furthermore he had not yet qualified to play for the county. He overcame the second difficulty by staying with a relative in London, but was at a loss about the first.

When Hearne was finally played in a county match, his selection was not made known to him till the final minute. The opponents were a strong Nottinghamshire side, and Hearne’s returns were six for 62, including the wickets of Arthur Shrewsbury and William Scotton. After he had done his first day of bowling, Shrewsbury sought him out and said, “Well bowled, young’un.”The performance made him a permanent member of the side, and much was made about his promise.

It was the following year that saw Hearne blossom into the great bowler he was destined to become. He captured 118 wickets for the county at 10.33 apiece, with some extraordinary performances including nine for 32 against Nottinghamshire and eight for 22 against Lancashire. Against the strong Yorkshire side he captured 14 wickets for 65. He ended up heading the First-Class bowling averages for the season, finishing second only to George Lohmann in terms of scalps. Wisden named him a cricketer of the year for 1892 and compared his methods to that of the great Fred Spofforth.

The performances saw him travelling to South Africa that winter with the team led by Walter Read. He made his Test debut at Cape Town, but with JJ Ferris picking up most of the wickets he was called upon to bowl only eight overs in the first innings, and none in the second. Hearne finished with one for 12, but scored a sparkling 40 from No 10, an innings that included a couple of sixes.

Through the 1890s, Hearne heaped up wickets by the bushel, running in for Middlesex and MCC. In 1892 he picked up 163, in 1893 going beyond the wildest expectations and capturing 212. This included more than ten in each of the matches against the strong Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire outfits. He looked likely to repeat the feat of 200 wickets in the wet summer of 1894, but failed by just five scalps. The huge haul of wickets in the seasons made him a near certain selection for the tour of Australia under Stoddart. However, he was not chosen. It was a curious decision, especially given that his long run up with the classical full-on, high action saw him extract plenty of bounce on hard wickets, as would be the standard fare in Australia.

Perhaps he took the disappointment to heart, for the next season of 1895 saw him pick up only 133 wickets — a mediocre haul by his standards. However, the best was yet to come.

The greatest years

The year 1896 witnessed one of the driest summers. Hearne was a constant feature throughout, sending down over 10,000 balls — a feat performed previously only by Alfred Shaw. His haul for the season was a whopping 257 at 14.28.

Picked to play against Australia, he captured five in the second innings at Lord’s, went wicket-less at Manchester before returning to take 10 more at The Oval to clinch the Ashes. He was not done with the visitors with just his Test feats. He bagged 13 wickets against them for MCC and a further 13 for Earl de la Warr’s XI, before bidding them farewell with figures of 17-13-8-6 when the Australians played South. Four days later he ended the season with 14 for 63 for South against North.

Only Jim Laker has ever tormented Australian tourists more, in that celebrated year of 1956, and the Surrey spinner was buoyed by wickets made to order for his bowling.

Hearne continued in the same vein in 1897 and this time it was impossible to ignore his claims when the team for Australia was chosen.

On the hard wickets of Australia, Hearne was clearly the best English bowler. He started the tour with five for 42 and four for 99 at Sydney and reached the peak with six for 98 at Melbourne. As already mentioned, his haul of 20 wickets at 26.90 was by far the most impressive of the England bowlers.

In 1898, Hearne was joined by the Australian Albert Trott in Middlesex and together they wrote a new tale for the county. His 222 wickets and Trott’s 130 enabled the side to finish second on the championship tables.

Finally the pinnacle was reached with that unparalleled hat-trick in the Headingley Test, incidentally the first Test match played in that historic ground.

The long slide

Hearne’s 13 wickets at 24 apiece in the Tests remained impressive, but his form fell away in the domestic season. The wickets tally was reduced to 124, and his average, for several years hovering between 14 and 17, shot up to 21.77. The summer of1897 is considered the season of his greatest feat as well the start of his decline.

For the next couple of years, his form remained ordinary. Previously a near demon in helpful conditions, with the ability to exploit wet and dry wickets, he failed even when the conditions were unsuited for batting. By 1902, he was no longer considered for the Tests.

There were some tweaks and relentless hard work, and the efforts brought some upswing in his numbers in subsequent seasons till 1905. But by 1906 he had deteriorated drastically. He was still accurate and hard to get away, but the venom and bite had disappeared from his bowling.

He continued to run in right up to the outbreak of the First World War, with periodic returns to form. Especially the years 1910 and 1911 saw some performances that rekindled memories of the Hearne of the 1890s. But, those days were few and far between and the Great War brought a virtual end to his cricketing days.

He was 52 when cricket resumed after the War and played a couple of matches in 1921 and 1923 but more for jest than with any degree of seriousness, the last being a friendly encounter against Scotland.

Post retirement

Hearne retired with 3,061 wickets from 639 matches, more scalps than any other bowler of medium or greater pace. Till date only Wilfred Rhodes, Tich Freeman and Charlie Parker have taken more wickets than him and all were slow spinners. In his 12 Tests, he captured 49 wickets at 22.08.

In his best days, Hearne was renowned for a vigorous off-break extracted even the most docile wickets — while his ability to bowl such deliveries after a long run up and high action drew obvious parallels with Spofforth.  Touching six feet, he brought the ball over with a perfectly straight arm. He also possessed a fast ball that swerved — and was one of the very few who could move the ball in that largely unknown and novel fashion. He was noted for his accuracy which made him difficult to score off even after the batsman was well set. Finally, Hearne’s variation of pace made him deceptive and troubled the best of them.

As a fielder, he was often excellent at slip, and accounted for 425 catches in First-Class cricket. He was a handy lower-order batsman as well, with the ability to stick around if he put his mind to it. He scored eight half centuries in his career.

After moving away from the game, Hearne was elected to the Middlesex committee in 1920 — the first professional cricketer to be so honoured. During the 1920s, he went on a number of tours to India on coaching assignments at the invitation of the Maharaja of Patiala. Till the mid-1930s he coached at Oxford University.

Jack Hearne passed away in Chalfont St Giles in April 1944.

(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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