140 years before IPL spot-fixing: Ted Pooley and cricket's first betting-related suspension

In First-Class cricket, the first man to be suspended for selling a match was the old Surrey wicketkeeper Ted Pooley.

In the wake of the betting scandals that have rocked the cricket world, and laments about the modern day corruption bringing the ‘gentleman’s game’ to disrepute,  Arunabha Sengupta recalls the first incident of a cricketer being suspended for throwing matches — in 1873.

The great gentleman’s game has been brought into disrepute by the evils of the modern day, the snares of blatant commercialisation and untold greed. Cricket, played with the loftiest ideals from the pristine days of the past, has had its spotless image grotesquely tarnished by the huge ugly smudges of money grabbing palms. Spot-fixing and betting scandals have taken the game to an unprecedented low.

And so on and so forth … all the incredible nonsense we all like to indulge in, basking in the afterglow of a manufactured past of rosy retrospection, denigrating the present with caustic criticism.

Well, if one casts aside romantic bed-time stories about incorruptible cricketers of ye olde village greens, and looks at the pages of history, one finds that match fixing is as old as the game itself. As mentioned in earlier articles, cricket has been played for great stakes ever since its inception in the eighteenth century. And throwing matches was extremely rampant among the cricketers of that era — a period often assumed to be the age of innocence.

Nor is this the first time the game has been defiled by filthy lucre. As early as 1832 John Nyren lamented the way cricket was increasingly being played for money. And in the 1860s, novelist Anthony Trollope was disgusted with cricket because of the increasing amount of commercialisation.

In fact, the earliest predecessors of S Sreesanth and his cronies — banned for tampering with the match for money — stem from far back across the hoary past, way, way before Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje.

The trend setter

In First-Class cricket, the first man to be suspended for “selling a match” was the old Surrey wicketkeeper Ted Pooley. And it happened in June 1873. Yorkshire won the match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, by eight wickets, and Pooley, who had scored 10 and a duck and taken one catch in the match, was found guilty of betting on the game and was not allowed to play for the rest of the season.

Pooley was not amused. According to his version, he did gamble on the match, but the bets had been minor. “I took one bet of five shillings to half a crown (two to one) that five Yorkshire players did not get 70 runs.” 

He did win the bet, and used the proceeds to gulp down a large quantity of champagne during breakfast, finally unleashing an inebriated tirade on the players and the officials. He had to be replaced as wicketkeeper after lunch. Even Wisden, notorious for avoiding references to the many shades of grey touching the game, was forced to write about some “appalling occurrence” during the game. Surrey’s minutes record Pooley’s suspension due to ‘insubordination and misconduct’, but it is no secret that a lot of money had changed hands.

Pooley proceeded to enjoy the break from the remainder of the season, raking in a good amount of money by playing minor cricket.

It was not the last time that Pooley was involved in cricket linked gambling. He went on to become Test cricket’s first betting casualty.

Pooley had travelled to Australia with the English cricketers in 1876-77, and was all set to be the wicketkeeper in what later became the first ever Test match. However, as the England team took on the Australians at Melbourne, he spent his time in a Christchurch prison cell after being arrested for betting. Yes, Pooley was also sent to prison for being involved in cricket linked gambling — more than a century and a quarter before modern players slinked along his dubious footsteps.

Pooley, sidelined by a leg injury, had stood umpire in a match against a Canterbury XVIII team during the New Zealand leg of the tour. During this game, Pooley had taken on the wager of Ralph Donkin, a railway engineer who was staying in town. The odds had been 20-1 that Pooley would not be able to predict the individual score of each batsman.

Given the enormous difference between the standards of the Englishmen and the local players, Pooley bet a shilling on each batsman registering a duck. Eleven of them did, and we cannot be entirely sure that Pooley did not help them along with his canny umpiring. So, Pooley set the precedent of an umpire being involved in a betting scandal 136 years before the likes of Asad Rauf.

In those days, it was actually not uncommon for cricketers to bet on matches. Odds were published in the papers. Match reports often recorded the wagers and purses on offer. However, even by the standards of that murky era, Pooley was one heavy gambler.

Finally, the Surrey wicketkeeper stood to gain £36 — a good amount of money in 1877. Donkin, however, refused to pay. In the smoking room of the hotel the cricketers were staying in, Pooley confronted Donkin and threw punches at him, reportedly hitting him three times on the face. And after Donkin spent an evening in the town, he returned to his room to find all his clothes torn to shreds.

Pooley moved to Dunedin with the team, but was arrested and brought back to Christchurch. He was fined for assault and subsequently found not guilty on charges of wilful damage of property. But, by the time he was released, the Test match had been over for a fortnight. Nottinghamshire batsman John Selby had put on the gloves for England during the match.

A whip-round was arranged by the sympathetic locals of Christchrurch and Pooley got £50 for all his troubles along with a gold ring. He returned to England in the early days of July, a month after his teammates, and never played a Test match.

The trendsetter of gambling and match-fixing in cricket passed away bankrupt in a Lambeth workhouse in 1907.

(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)