Fred Spofforth Biography
He was feared with the ball; the diabolical guile of his deliveries and distinguishing physical traits characterised him as “The Demon”. But, Spofforth was by no means a villain; he was a hero, if there ever was one in his native Australia. In England, where he settled after his playing days, crowds would peep into railway carriages carrying Australia cricketers enquiring, “Which be Spoffen?”
When he bowled Australia to their historic win over MCC in 1878, it paved the way for serious cricketing relationships between the two nations. A year later he claimed Test cricket’s first hat-trick. In 1882, his decimation of the English batting was responsible for the birth of The Ashes.
Tall, gaunt and wiry, Spofforth stood at 6’3″, seldom weighing over 11 stone. His nose protruded, in a hook, much like the popular physical notions of the Devil. With time the moustache became more pronounced and drooping, rendering a more sinister appearance.
He was called ‘Windjammer’ because of his famed yorker, and Dave Gregory named him ‘Loup’. But, ‘The Demon’ soon superseded all after he was featured in a ‘Spy’ cartoon in the Vanity Fair series. Before him, WG Grace had been the only cricketer to be caricatured in the magazine.
He took a rather long run-up, starting some yards to the off-side of the batsman. He crossed his feet at the moment of delivery, his long, skinny arm cut through the air like whip-lash. His body and arm followed right over until his hand almost touched the ground. The length of the run was sixteen steps as a young man. The historic 1882 Oval triumph was earned with fast deliveries bowled from nine paces.
He was fast enough for his era to intimidate the best batsmen, although Jack Blackham and Billy Murdoch stood up to him. He was always dead accurate on the stumps and a master of the cut and the breakback. Besides, he was also a superb strategist, abreast of the strengths and weaknesses of all batsmen, knowing how to exploit them. His self-confidence was a powerful psychological weapon. Many, including several opposition players and later his grand-daughter, claimed he had psychic powers. As a fast bowler, he was the pioneer of the glare.
When he passed away The Times declared, “He was beyond question the greatest bowler of his generation, regarded by many as the greatest bowler who ever lived.”