The Yorkshire team that played Surrey at Bramall Lane in 1875. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Back, from left: G Martin (umpire), John Thewlis. Middle, from left: George Pinder, George Ulyett, Tom Armitage, Joseph Rowbotham (c), Allen Hill, Andrew Greenwood. Front, from left: Tom Emmett, John Hicks, Ephraim Lockwood, Charlie Ullathorne.
The Yorkshire team that played Surrey at Bramall Lane in 1875. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Back, from left: G Martin (umpire), John Thewlis.
Middle, from left: George Pinder, George Ulyett, Tom Armitage, Joseph Rowbotham (c), Allen Hill, Andrew Greenwood.
Front, from left: Tom Emmett, John Hicks, Ephraim Lockwood, Charlie Ullathorne.

Allen Hill, born November 14, 1843, took the first wicket and held the first catch in Test cricket. A round-arm bowler who could generate serious pace, Hill was a mainstay for Yorkshire in the 1870s before injuries ended his career. A very popular man, Hill later became an umpire and even officiated in a Test. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a quizmasters favourite.

Everyone remembers Charles Bannerman. Nobody remembers Allen Hill. This, despite the fact that Hill took the first wicket and held the first catch in Test cricket; any one of the two should have elevated him from the stature from a statisticians delight to a more household name under ideal circumstances.

Hill played the first two Tests in history. Despite his short run-up he could generate serious pace off a round-arm action. Wisden noted that Hill was one of the best of its kind [round-arm bowlers] that can be recalled while adding that he was a thoroughly honest, straightforward, obliging, open-handed man. AG Steel agreed with the latter assessment, calling Hill as honest and cheery a cricketer as ever bowled a ball.

WG Grace gave a vivid description of Hill s style: He did not put much work on the ball, although now and then he would break from the off; but he bowled very straight and kept a good length, and I have had occasional balls from him that required all my skill to get my bat in front of, and one or two that completely beat me. I forget the exact distance he took before delivering the ball; but I know it was much shorter than the average run of fast bowlers.

Note: For the uninitiated, round-arm bowling is significantly different from over-arm, the conventional form used today. To bowl round-arm you need to extend your bowling arm sideways, at an angle of approximately 90 from your body. Popularised by William Lillywhite and Jem Broadbridge, round-arm bowling was popularised by Alfred Mynn and WG, and of late, Lasith Malinga.

For years Hill shouldered the burden of Yorkshire bowling along with Tom Emmett. This was before Lord Hawke arrived at the helm of Yorkshire cricket, converting the county to the most formidable cricket force in the country.

The 1870s was also the decade in which WG arrived, establishing himself not only as the greatest cricketer around but also the greatest in history till that point of time. Team after team, bowler after bowler bowed to the absolute supremacy of Grace; Hill was one of the very few to put up a challenge of some sort.

Hill s 193 matches fetched him 749 wickets at 14.36, but more importantly, in none of his 14 seasons (this included his final season that included a solitary match as well as an Australian summer) did he average more than 19, and in 7 of them it dipped below 15. This included 1879, a season when his 29 wickets came at a ridiculous 7.03. Hill also topped the 100-wicket mark in three consecutive seasons (between 1874 and 1876).

A more telling statistic is perhaps the proportion of bowled dismissals in his career. Of his 749 wickets, 497 were bowled, which amounted to a whopping 66.4%, or nearly two-thirds. Add to that the 47 LBWs and the 30 catches he took off his own bowling, and you will realise that 76.6% of his wickets came without the assistance of a fielder. That amounts to more than three wickets out of four.

He never scored a fifty at his First-Class level. His 2,478 runs came at 8.94, which was poor even by the low-scoring standards of the 1870s. Incredibly, his batting average in Test cricket was a surreal 50.50 (ahead of Denis Compton, Ted Dexter, Alastair Cook, and Kevin Pietersen), thanks to his 2 not outs from 4 innings. But more of that later.

The first one from Kirkheaton

We all know AA Thomson s famous quote: Nobody knows the name of the world s greatest all-round cricketer. All we know for certain is that he batted right hand, bowled left and was born in Kirkheaton.

The men in question were, of course, George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes; but decades before they immortalised the name of the little village in West Yorkshire, Allen Hill was born there.

Allen was one of six children of Frank a fancy handloom weaver and Elizabeth (n e Thornton) Hill. He learned most of his cricket at Kirkheaton and Lascelles Hall, and went to Stonyhurst College.

He continued with the family trade of weaving for some time while pursuing a career as a professional cricketer. By 1863 he was playing for Dewsbury and Savile. He first came into prominence with two 3-wicket hauls against (William Clarke s) All-England Eleven, first for Yeadon XXII, then for Whitehaven XXII. Impressed, the XI recruited his services, and he took 3 wickets against Bishop s Stortford.

In 1869 he moved to Lancashire CC, and in 1871, to Burnley. It was roughly around this time that Wisden Editor WH Knight predicted that Hill is a bowler who is sure to work his way to the front rank. For Burnley Hill would take 39 wickets at 10.19, taking 3 or more wickets in 8 of the 9 innings he bowled for them.

He made his First-Class debut that season, opening bowling with Emmett and taking 2 for 35 against MCC at Lord s. Then came the Surrey match, the second of Hill s career.

Opening bowling at The Oval, Emmett (4 for 74) and Hill (6 for 33) bowled unchanged to skittle out Surrey for 111. Surrey hit back through James Southerton and Walter Anstead, and Hill found himself at the middle at 53 for 6. He top-scored with 28, cutting the lead down to a mere 11.

But his role was far from over. Emmett (4 for 39) and Hill (6 for 24) bowled unchanged once again, this time bowling out Surrey for 72. Luke Greenwood and Joseph Rowbotham guided Yorkshire to a 10-wicket win.

The match established Hill as one of Yorkshire s regulars. He also turned to club cricket for a living, playing for St John s CC, Cambridge, Oxford, Rugby, Old Trafford, and Warwickshire at various points of time.

Hill climbs a mountain

Hill peaked in 1874, a season where he missed the second part of the season following an injury. As mentioned before, Hill maintained an excellent average throughout his career, but 1874 was the only time he finished with a sub-30 strike rate. He would better the tally of 105 wickets in 1875 (116) and 1876 (115), but he got a wicket every 45 balls.

In all matches that season (29; he did not bowl in 9 of them) of them Hill took 205 wickets at 11.42. If one ignores matches where the number of balls bowled was not recorded, his wickets came at a mere 23 balls apiece.

These are phenomenal numbers, more so because all this was achieved despite an injury that prevented him from bowling from August.

The undergraduates of Cambridge gave him 12 wickets; Middlesex gave him another 8; Notts, another 10; Surrey, 11; (WG s) South of England Eleven, 9 (including 6 for 9 in the second innings); Lancashire, 10; Sussex, 7; and All England XI, 5.

But he reserved his finest performances for the bigger teams. The County Championship was still some time away. Of all cricket, the two most high-profile ones were Gentlemen vs Players, and North vs South.

North were bowled out for 123 at Chelsea. The unrelated James and Alfred Shaw shared new ball, presumably because James bowled left-arm. Unfortunately, James was soon hit out of attack by WG; coming on first-change Hill took the first wicket, and from 55 without loss South crashed to 113. Hill took 8 for 48, including WG, Henry Jupp, Isaac Walker, and Ted Pooley.

The nail-biter ended in a 3-run victory for North (once again they collapsed, this time from 87 for 1 to 135). This time Alfred Shaw claimed 7 for 39 and Hill 3 for 36. The pair would bowl in tandem on a grander stage in a few years time.

As was tradition, the two matches between Gentlemen and Players were played at The Oval and Lord s. The Gentlemen triumphed easily at The Oval by a 48-run margin, but the fault was certainly not Hill s, who had figures of 6 for 77 and 3 for 75; he also clean-bowled WG in each innings.

Hill impressed WG significantly during the duel. The great man later reminisced: He was one of the very best round-arm bowlers, particularly between 1870 and 1875 … He had a very easy delivery and beautiful style. He did not put much work on the ball, although now and then he would break from the off; but he bowled very straight and kept a good length.

Note: For Players, Ephraim Lockwood carried his bat in the first innings, scoring 67 out of a team total of 113. He got another 48 in the second innings. Lockwood deserves special mention, not only because he was yet another Yorkshire star of the decade, but also because he would later become Hill s next-door-neighbour.

Hill continued with his rampage, taking 6 for 77 at Lord s as the Gentlemen reached 231 and then secured a 46-run lead. WG and Walker added 7 before the latter was clean bowled by Hill. Arthur Ridley hit the next ball back to Hill, as did Monkey Hornby off the ball after that.

It was the second hat-trick in the history of the contest, four years after Thomas Hayward (not to be confused with Tom Hayward) had become the first.

Note: It was not Hill s first hat-trick, and neither would it be his last. Two weeks before the match in question he had taken another against WG s United South of England. Chasing 66, the opposition had been bowled out for 39. Hill had taken 3 for 58 and 6 for 9 in that match. And in 1880 he would get the third (and last) hat-trick of his career, against Surrey.

But let us return to the match, where Emmett and Alfred Shaw took cue from Hill to bowl out the Gentlemen for 114, which meant that the Players had to chase 161. Jupp and Bill Oscroft took the total to 55 for 1 before David Buchanan and Fred Grace hit back, and the Players slumped to 99 for 6.

It seemed to slip once again. WG s presence had meant that the Players had not won a single match in eight years. During this period they had lost 14 and drawn 4. It was d j vu for the Players all over again.

But Pooley kept his nerve, and Shaw grafted, and the pair put on 27. Hill did his bit, scoring only 4 but helping Pooley add another 19. There were another 16 to be scored, but No. 10 James Lillywhite Jr took charge, pulling off a 2-wicket win to put an end to their losing streak.

Walter Read summed up Hill s season in Annals of Cricket: As regards bowling, Allan [sic] Hill, of Yorkshire stood at the top of the tree as the best fast bowler of the day, until he fell ill before the season was much more than half over.

A grim duel

Over years Hill continued to grow in stature, and emerged as one of England s finest new-ball bowlers. He did not like being hit, either, a perfect example of which was the famous Gloucestershire match of 1876 where WG had carried his bat for 318.

However, the match deserves a prelude. WG came to Huddersfield a day after amassing 400 in an innings. He was bowled off his pads by Hill for 5 minutes after the match had started. Even that would have been fine, had the great man not been given a send-off by a fan of Hill s on his way back to the pavilion: Tha knaws that nooan laaking agen a lot o cockle awkers to-day, which roughly translated to represent the fact that Grace was not playing a team of newbies.

If one goes by WG s biography, a cricket enthusiast had promised Hill a watch if he dismissed WG for below 20. WG failed again in the second innings, this time falling for 2, though not to Hill. Another match was played to make up for the time left, and this time Grace scored 9.

In other words, he had a point to prove. So he launched himself into the Yorkshire attack. None of the eight bowlers Lockwood used seem to have any impact on The Doctor. Desperate to break through, he recalled Hill: Have another shy at the big un. Hill declined, to the surprise of everyone.

Emmett stepped in, perhaps to prevent Lockwood from turning to him: Why don t you make him? You re captain!

Hill was having none of that: Why don t you bowl yourself? You re frightened.

This probably hurt the ego of Emmett, who snatched the ball from a hapless Lockwood, and promptly sent down three consecutive wides.

Wickets, catches, and runs

Little did Lillywhite Jr think that his men would create history when they left for England in 1876. The team had two representatives from Lascelles Hall in Hill and Arthur Greenwood, and could have had three, had Lockwood been willing to travel.

Hill took his time to settle down, particularly towards the beginning of the tour. There was that 9 for 32 against Newcastle XXII, 7 for 22 against Ballarat XXII, and 9 for 28 against Geelong XXII, but nothing major came off the state sides.

He settled down in January, with 3 for 11 against New South Wales (NSW). He tormented the hosts on a brief tour of New Zealand, but none of the matches were granted First-Class status. Once back in Australia he found himself playing the Grand Combination Match .

The Englishmen, sans WG, were not held in very high esteem on field. The Australasian shunned them as the weakest side that have ever played in the colonies, notwithstanding the presence of Shaw, who is termed the premier bowler of England … If [George] Ulyett, Emmett, and Hill are specimens of the best fast bowling in England, all we can say is, either they have not shown their proper form, or British bowling has sadly deteriorated.

It did not help things that Pooley, at that time the finest wicketkeeper in England, was detained in New Zealand: he had placed bets on a match he stood umpire in. He was arrested when the news came out. By that time the tour had got over. Unfortunately, Pooley was also the only specialist wicketkeeper of the side, which meant John Selby had to don the big gloves.

The Grand Combination Match was supposed to be played between a Combined Australian XI and the tourists at East Melbourne Cricket Ground. MCG was initially not available, since WG had already booked the ground well in advance: he had planned a parallel tour of his own.

Since WG s tour did not materialise, the match was moved to MCG, which guaranteed more spectators. This was later classified as the first Test match.

Dave Gregory batted first. Bannerman faced the first ball, scored the first run, and hit the first boundary. He would also become the first to go past 50, 100, and 150 in an innings later that day before being the first to retire hurt the day after.

Shaw had bowled the first over in Test cricket history. Hill bowled the second, and struck early, clean bowling Nat Thomson for 1 in the fourth over of the match. Bannerman was put down by Tom Armitage on 10, but soon afterwards Hill caught one that came off Tom Horan s glove off Shaw, registering another first , albeit without knowledge.

Australia were bowled out for 245. Hill was, by common consensus, the best fielder on display. Though he stood at slip, he also fielded at short cover, and won the hearts of the locals. Leader (Melbourne) reported him being loudly applauded for stopping a tremendously hard hit at forward cover. He also took 1 for 42.

England were struggling at 145 for 7 when Hill joined Emmett, and lost his county colleague before another run was added. The onus fell on Hill and his captain.

Hill started off with a single off Tom Kendall. He got two twos off Billy Midwinter, who already had 5 wickets in the innings. He mishit one, but it fell just short of Horan. Thus reprieved, Hill turned Midwinter towards leg for three.

He lost Lillywhite Jr, but continued with 49-year-old Southerton on either side of lunch. He placed Midwinter beautifully in the slips for four and repeated the action next ball. By the time Southerton fell, Hill had reached 35 off a mere 47 balls. England had reached 196.

Hill had Horan caught-behind in the second innings and finished with 1 for 18 as Shaw (5 for 38) and Ulyett (3 for 39) bowled out Australia for a mere 104. Hill s impressive first-innings performance earned him a promotion.

He faced the first ball of the innings (from Kendall), survived it, attempted a slog off the next, and holed out to Thomson at long-on. England crashed to 108.

England would have their revenge in a fortnight s time. This time Hill came to his elements, claiming the first 4 wickets. He eventually took 4 for 27 as Australia were bowled out for 122.

England were reduced to 88 for 5 in response despite Greenwood s 49. Ulyett and Emmett put up a stand, but at 196 for 7 Australia had perhaps sniffed a chance. But Hill continued, adding 59 with Armitage. By the time he was run out for 49, England had secured a formidable lead that eventually stretched to 139.

Hill got a solitary wicket in the third innings, for 43, but it was the wicket of a very, very special man. Debutant Fred Spofforth was not a reputed batsman, but would emerge as the greatest fast bowler of his era over the next few years.

Set 121, England were reduced to 9 for 3 before Ulyett steadied ship, first with Greenwood, then with Emmett. Hill emerged at 76 for 5 and helped Ulyett put on 46, and saw England through to a 4-wicket win.

Hill rounded off the tour with 10 for 9 against Bendigo XXII, but he would never play another Test.

Later years

Hill played for Yorkshire, braving a knee injury that cut 1879 short for him. It was unfortunate, for he had just started to warm up with 29 wickets, including 6 for 49 against Nottinghamshire and 7 for 14 against Surrey in consecutive innings. Then came the Kent match, where his knees gave in.

He roared back next season, though he bowled in shorter bursts. He could afford the luxury, for by then the likes of Billy Bates and Ted Peate had joined forces with Ulyett and Emmett.

For Yorkshire against the Australians he took 3 for 27 (all bowled) and 2 for 8 (one bowled), but his teammates let him down by getting bowled out for 72 and 73. You could hardly blame them, for the Englishmen had never seen a bowler of Spofforth s calibre. The Demon took 9 for 61 in the match.

His finest performance of the season came for a small village called Hunslet against the touring Australians. Despite fielding 22 men, Hunslet were a complete mismatch for a Test side, and it showed when they were bowled out for 75.

Hill, much slower than before, bowled unchanged, as did his partner John Beaumont. Hill took 5 for 36 without the assistance of any fielder. He got Alec Bannerman (caught and bowled), Tom Groube, Jack Blackham, George Bonnor, and Affie Jarvis (all bowled). Beaumont had 5 for 36, and Hunslet took a first-innings lead. They lost the match, but Hill proved he still had it in him to demolish a top-quality side.

The spells would become shorter and shorter as time progressed before that one final burst in 1883. He played a solitary match that season, for North against South, and took one wicket.

Then a broken collarbone ended his First-Class career, one that started and ended at Lord s.

Yorkshire gave him a benefit match the following season. True to the stature of the man, he was assigned the Roses match at Bramall Lane. Wisden summed up his career: Though perhaps one of the unluckiest of cricketers (for he seldom went through a season without some mishap), he thoroughly fulfilled his promise, and has been one of the best, truest, and most effective of fast bowlers. Let us hope this reward, therefore, will be in proportion of his merits.

Lancashire by 6 wickets, but that did not affect the gate receipts: Hill was too nice a person to be let down.

White coats and all that

A much-loved person, Hill took to umpiring. He even stood in the Lord s Test of 1890. He later settled down in 3 Stanley Street, Leyland in, of all places, Lancashire.

Hill had married Ellen Jessop in 1868. The couple had a son, Frank, and four daughters, Alice, Kathleen Mary, Gertrude, and Mabel. Unfortunately, Frank passed away at an age of 7.

He remarried in 1900, this time to Margaret Whittle. The following year he had a grandson, who was named Frank.

Allen Hill passed away on August 28, 1910. He was 66. He was buried next to St Andrew s Church.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)