Bernard Bosanquet, the inventor of the googly, unleashed his invention on the clueless Australians and bowled England to a thrilling victory © Getty Images
Bernard Bosanquet unleashed his invention — the googly — on the clueless Australians and bowled England to a thrilling victory © Getty Images

May 29, 1905. Joe Darling tried to seize the initiative from Stanley Jackson in a unique way. However, after dramatic ups and downs, England won the race against time and light in a finish laced with excitement and pathos. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the game that saw the best innings of Archie MacLaren, one of the pioneering spells of match-winning googly bowling by Bernard Bosanquet and the desperate attempt by Victor Trumper to get to the crease.

The manoeuvre that backfired

“Joe Darling was the most worthy opponent in the whole Christendom,” writes Stanley Jackson’s biographer James Coldham.

Till then, he had led the Australians in four series, three against the English and one in South Africa, and had won them all. He had beaten the arch-rivals in the summer of 1899, at home in 1901-02, and then in that famed, wet but glorious summer of 1902. He had led in 16 Tests, won 7 and lost just 2. In the short history of Test cricket, no captain had been as successful. And after 1902, he had retired to a life of farming in Tasmania.

The surprise triumph of Plum Warner’s men in 1903-04 against Monty Noble’s Australians had brought him back into the cricketing fold. And now, he was in charge of the Australian side again, eager to win another series in England and reclaim The Ashes.

And all the omens foretold such an outcome. The Australians were a formidable lot with the famous names of Darling, Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Noble, Reggie Duff and Syd Gregory among their midst. Besides, young Tibby Cotter was a bowler of exceptional speed. Frank Laver had been picking up wickets by the bushel. Finally, a stout young all-rounder called Warwick Armstrong was constantly among the wickets and had just scored 248 not out against the Gentlemen of England.

The English triumph Down Under had been a surprise, but not too many reports of the games had reached the Englishmen. Their memories of the last two visits of the Antipodeans were crammed with English defeats. They did not expect much better this time around.

The opposite number of Darling had been hardly expected to play. There had been rumours at the start of the season that Jackson would play little cricket, with politics and business pigeonholing most of his time. But, he did turn out for Yorkshire and spent three hours in toting up 111 against Derbyshire at Bradford. The England selectors had been convinced he was the man to go to.

Warner, a stand-in skipper in Australia, was not considered. Archie MacLaren was too temperamental, and unsuccessful, bested by Darling time and again. Jackson was handed the leadership, not least because he was one man under whom MacLaren would have no problem in playing. Thus, Jackson was to lead England for the first time at Nottingham.

The man who had done the star turn in the last Test between the two teams in England was uneasy. Gilbert Jessop, who had scored that incredible 102 at The Oval in 1902, stood in the Trent Bridge pavilion and looked on in misgiving. In his A Cricketer’s Log he would write that it was a stupid practice to play Test matches in May.

Yet, on the 29th of the month, Jackson and Darling strode out to toss. England were handicapped by the withdrawal of CB Fry, who had damaged a finger while training at Brighton. And Darling was bent on seizing the initiative as early as possible.

It was the time-honoured custom — indeed it still is—that the captain of the home side would toss the coin and the visiting skipper would call. But Darling, eager to unsettle the new England captain, suddenly produced his own coin and flicked it skywards. The astonished Jackson called “Heads” and the coin landed in his favour. The Old Harrovian and Cambridge-man knew that it meant taking first strike.

Back in the pavilion, the confused Jackson turned to the experienced MacLaren. “Archie, Darling ought not to have tossed,” he said.

“No,” grunted MacLaren.

Jackson mused. “It would be an extraordinary thing if Darling never won the toss in any of the Test matches.”

Down the line that is precisely what took place in the series, and MacLaren would remind him at the end of it all. Darling, losing toss after toss, was desperate enough to substitute the tradition of the spin of the coin with a wrestling match by the time the final Test at The Oval came about.

On the back-foot

Yet, on this morning, the luck with the toss was not translated on to the pitch. The wicket had a bit of moisture before lunch. Cotter made the ball lift at great speed, around the batsmen’s head and shoulders. One eye-witness vouched that he was pitching it ‘about half-way’. Wisden recorded Cotter’s bowling as demoralising. The batsmen hopped to his pace and bounce. Yet, it was Laver’s medium pace at the other end that benefitted most.

After Cotter had sent Tom Hayward’s stumps cartwheeling, Laver struck the woodwork of AO Jones. The openers were gone with just 24 on the board. Then followed two big blows: MacLaren was caught at the wicket off Laver and Cotter sent down a lifter that bowled Jackson off the handle of his willow. Four wickets were down for 47; the batsmen had fallen for 4, 5, 2, 0.

Johnny Tyldesley was the one who weathered the storm. It had often been said that he was the only professional batsman who could hold his own among the brilliant amateurs like KS Ranjitsinhji and MacLaren and Fry. He relished a situation fraught with challenges. Bernard Bosanquet, a splendid batsman to go with being the pioneer of the googly, played a steady hand. The innings recovered to 98.

And then Laver struck in quick succession. Bosanquet lost his stump, Tyldesley his concentration, and Jessop his mind. The last mentioned tried to flick the first ball he faced to the leg, in what he himself later described ‘an uncouth manoeuvre’, and missed the line altogether to have his leg-stump knocked down.

Fortunately England batted deep. Dick Lilly and Wilfred Rhodes rallied around with a 48-run collaboration for the ninth wicket. But by a quarter to four, England were all out for 196. Cotter had been brilliant with 3 for 64 from 23 overs, but Laver had the outstanding figures of 7 for 64 from 31.3.

The general consensus was that the wicket was easy and hence the result disastrous.

The match continued in its eventful journey. Duff was smartly caught by Hayward at short leg off John Gunn’s first over. Off the very next over by the same bowler, Trumper started majestically, with a flamboyant on drive and two splendid cuts to backward point. All three were perfectly timed and travelled like flashes of red over the green. Yet, as the third ball reached the fence, Trumper was seen reaching behind his back, clutching the lumbo-sacral region. He had torn a muscle close to the spine. He could not even walk back, so great was the pain, but had to be helped off the field. He would play no more cricket for two weeks, and would consult Sir Alfred Fripp, the London specialist, for physiotherapy.

Yet, tragic as the blow was, Hill and Noble seemed hardly perturbed. Jessop, Bosanquet and Rhodes bowled without success, and the two men put on a superb display of controlled aggression. 106 runs were put on in just 97 minutes. The score read a flattering 129 for 1, more so because of the puny England total. Then, almost as an apologetic afterthought, Jackson took the ball himself.

The first delivery by the captain had Noble snicking to Lilley. A single resulted from the next two and Hill was bowled off the fourth. The final ball of the over was outside the off-stump. Darling pushed at it, edged and it flew to the waiting hands of Bosanquet at slip. The balance had been restored. Neither captain had got a run so far in the Test.

The day ended with Australia at 158 for 4. Armstrong had charged out to the last ball, bowled by Bosanquet, hitting it over the bowler’s head for a gigantic six. Cotter, promoted ahead of Gregory and Charlie McLeod, was doing a commendable job. Even allowing for Trumper’s injury, which understandably was not considered as serious as it was, Australia seemed well placed.

The Majesty of MacLaren

The following morning Cotter started enjoying this unusual opportunity of building an innings, and the visitors went past England’s score without losing another wicket. When 200 went up with still 4 wickets down, a big lead seemed on the cards. Nothing untoward took place, there was no great bowling, no spectacular deterioration of the wicket. But, five wickets fell for 21 runs in 40 minutes.

There was some spectacular ground fielding by Jessop, with marvellous support from the rest of the men. Jackson brought about the end of the innings by dismissing Laver to a superb catch at slip by Jones. The man who would be creating a new fielding position called ‘gully’ dived forward to hold the ball inches from the ground. The England captain had taken 5 for 52, and the Australians were all out for 221.

With the task of facing the terrifying Cotter and the successful Laver looming in front, Jackson decided to, in the words of Fry, ‘take the bull by the horns’. It was a gamble, but he sent in MacLaren with Hayward. Neville Cardus has written about MacLaren pacing the England dressing room before the start of the innings, muttering, “Cotter … I will Cotter him.” That is almost certainly apocryphal. But that majestic batsman did play perhaps his finest innings for England.

The initial attack was seen off with due caution. And then, legend has it, MacLaren came down the wicket to speak to Hayward. “I’ve made up my mind about this feller,” he said, pointing towards Cotter. “I’m going to drive him.” And Hayward answered, “You do as you please, Mr MacLaren, but I’m going to cut him.”

And in their separate ways they set about going after Cotter. The bowler had to be taken off soon enough, and runs flowed. Laver and McLeod became costly and turned defensive, and the score was rising rapidly.

At 110 without loss, Armstrong came on. The ball was sent down wide of the leg-stump, the field set accordingly. It was negative bowling of the worst kind, and the crowd did not like it. Hooting and barracking increased. Often Armstrong stopped on his way to bowl, waiting for the noise to subside. Things were not helped when MacLaren started kicking at the balls, and when at the non-striker’s end, sat down on his bat.

But barracking had as much effect on Armstrong as, to quote Alan Gibson, a peashooter on the Great Pyramid. He bowled till the score was 301, sending down 35 overs on the trot, dismissing Hayward and conceding just 50. Yet, MacLaren had mastered the others. He continued to bat flawlessly, apart from a brief period of impetuousness after reaching 50. He finally scored 140 out of 222 in just under four hours before being caught low at mid-off, giving Laver his only wicket in the second innings.

The first wicket partnership had amounted to 147 in two-and-a-half hours. Tyldesley and Jones, the former managing to get a few off Armstrong as well, scored quickly.  By the end of the day, England were on top, the score 318 for 5.

The attack of the Bosey-man

The following morning, the last of the three-day Test, Jackson smote the ball around. Rhodes, promoted ahead of Jessop, Gunn and Lilly because of his 201 against Somerset, was the perfect foil. The resulting feast of runs ended when Jackson closed the innings at a quarter to one, setting Australia 402 runs to win in four and a half hours.

Jackson himself was unbeaten on 82, and in the modern day it could have prompted ‘individual over team’ tweets from a thousand ex-cricketers and journalists. However, not everyone was impressed with his tactics. Jessop thought he had delayed the declaration too long. “It was certainly not premature,” he wrote later.

At lunchtime the openers Duff and Darling, the latter having promoted himself as Trumper was still in pain, were still unseparated. The argument about leaving it for too late was growing in strength.

When the score was 60 with still no wicket to show for the efforts, a stalemate seemed all but certain. Yet, this was the ideal situation for a bowler whose trick of trade was experimentation. Bosanquet had bowled just 7 overs in the first innings, conceding 29 runs without a maiden or wicket. But, with mountains of runs to play with, he was given license to go out there and toss them up.

It was MacLaren who persuaded Jackson to put the googly bowler on. Bosanquet’s first two overs were tidy, a distinct indication that he was using the googly sparingly, the punishment of the first innings playing on his mind. Jackson walked up to him and said that he intended to keep him on all afternoon regardless of the number of runs he conceded.

Fortified by this splendid free hand lent to him, Bosanquet wheeled in. His height gave him bounce, and his invention made him erratic, but mysterious. Duff hit a googly back to him, Noble jumped out and was beaten in the air, Darling was bowled. Hill tried to hit him out of the attack and lofted one straight back over his head. Bosanquet leapt up, his six foot frame helping him reach the ball, and caught it one handed, tumbling backwards and ending prone on the ground.

The 100 was just up when Armstrong drove him and was taken by Jackson at cover point. All five had been taken by Bosanquet.

Gregory, with his immense experience, and Cotter, with his pluck, resisted with plenty of gumption. Seeing the wearing pitch, Jackson put Rhodes on at the other end. At 139, the left-arm spinner bowled Cotter.  Five runs later, Laver jumped out and was stumped off Bosanquet.

McLeod, joining Gregory, batted solidly, with the gathering storm-clouds adding further intrigue in the mix. Australia went to tea at 173 for 7. And during the break the light went from bad to worse. As the players re-emerged into the field, it looked just a matter of time before the umpires would take them back in.

In their magisterial History of Cricket, HS Altham and EW Swanton do write, “It seems very doubtful whether the light during the last half-hour was really fit for cricket. The Australians certainly did not think so.” Gregory and McLeod did make frequent appeals, but the umpires, John Carlin and the Australian recruit Jim Phillips, did not entertain them. Jessop himself felt that the last 20 minutes were played in murky conditions unsuitable for cricket.

According to CB Fry, who sat watching the game from under George Parr’s tree, at one point of time McLeod ran to the pavilion. “The big brown moustache of Joe Darling emerged. There was a consultation at the gate. Joe Darling surveyed the quarters of the sky as a farmer would, then shook his head, slowly indeed, but not without emphasis, turned his broad back, and went in. If Joe Darling had allowed the appeal, I think it was certain that the umpires would have stopped play and Australia would have drawn the match. Joe Darling was a sportsman of the best. We had by that time morally won the game and Joe Darling was not a man to slide out on a side issue.”

Fry could be speaking in hyperboles. It does seem surprising that a captain who would be sporting enough to allow the game to continue in the worst of conditions would be the same one, in the same match, to put Armstrong on and allow him to bowl 35 overs outside the leg stump with a packed leg-side field. The Golden Age of Cricket did have quite a few myth-mongers.

Wisden, a far more trustworthy source, says the light was poor but does not embellish it further.

Just after the abbreviated tea interval, Gregory fell to Bosanquet. Ted Arnold, fielding at mid-on, made the catch at the third attempt, after juggling with the ball for quite a nervous while. Gregory walked back for 51, scored in just an hour, a frantic pace for someone trying to save the match. He was quite intent on hitting Bosanquet off his length.

JJ Kelly, the Australian stumper, joined McLeod and the two stayed together for a quarter of an hour. Every minute seemed destined to be the last, be it because of a sudden wicket or the deteriorating light. Ultimately, Bosanquet sent down the googly and McLeod was deceived. It rapped him on the pads right in front. According to EHD Sewell, Jackson later told him that only Duff and McLeod had fallen to googlies. All the rest of Bosanquet’s 8 victims that day had been off traditional leg-spinners.

Now came the most tragic moment of the match. With Australia nine down, Trumper made a valiant effort to get to the wicket. In the words of Jessop in A Cricketer’s Log, “One does not usually associate cricket with pathos, but the sight of poor Victor Trumper, being assisted by two of his companions to shuffle down the pavilion gangway in an attempt to gain the crease which McLeod had recently vacated struck me as a pathetic spectacle. We had been told on the first day that there was little probability of him taking any further part in the game, and after McLeod had lost his wicket we were preparing to leave the vicinity of the pitch when we saw spectators who were clustering around the entrance to the dressing room, brushed aside and Trumper appear in their midst. He got as far as the last step, then nature gave way and he could go no further, and with a wave of the arm from Joe Darling we trooped from the field as lucky a winning team as ever fought out a Test match.”

Had Trumper been able to reach the wicket and make a further appeal, it could have been granted. The visibility was poor and Trumper’s renown could definitely have tilted the scale with the umpires. However, he had to be carried back to bed, and England emerged victorious by 213 runs.

Brief Scores:

England 196 (Johnny Tyldesley 56; Frank Laver 7 for 64) and 426 for 5 decl. (Tom Hayward 47, Archie MacLaren 140, Johnny Tyldesley 61, Stanley Jackson 82*) beat Australia 221 (Clem Hill 54, Monty Noble 50, Tibby Cotter 45; Stanley Jackson 5 for 52 and 188 (Joe Darling 40, Syd Gregory 51; Bernard Bosanquet 8 for 107) by 213 runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)