The two teams that dented Yorkshire on July 29, 1911: The Mohun Bagan Athletic Club team that won the IFA Shield (left, courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) and the Warwickshire side that won the County Championship (© Getty Images)
The two teams that dented Yorkshire on July 29, 1911: The Mohun Bagan Athletic Club team that won the IFA Shield (left, courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) and the Warwickshire side that won the County Championship; Frank Foster is at the centre (© Getty Images)

July 29, 1911. In the far corner of the Empire, the glory of the Jewel in the Crown was dimmed a little as local football club Mohun Bagan beat East Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 to win the IFA Shield. Back home, Frank Foster staged a coup of his own over Yorkshire, with a superb all-round performance while leading Warwickshire to a rare win against the great cricketing county. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the day when the men from Edgbaston took their defining step towards the Championship crown.

Foster Flair

Underachieving professionals and drifting dilettante amateurs.

That had been the constant image of Warwickshire cricket since their induction into the County Championships in 1895.

They had hovered along the middle of the table, lackadaisically and uninterestedly making up the numbers; and in 1910 they had finished 14th, with only Derbyshire and Somerset below them. They had almost sleepwalked through the tournament under five different skippers.

The county was desperate. They needed a thorough revamp. And most urgently they needed a new captain.

It was with a reckless dash of hope that the organisers turned to the 22-year-old Frank Rowbotham Foster. The young scion of the gents outfitters Foster Brothers, Foster had hit many a batsman painfully on the leg while capturing 112 wickets the previous summer, all with his rather innocuous left-arm bowling off six paces which somehow gained surprising pace off the pitch. With professional fast bowler Frank Field, he did form a formidable opening partnership. He was also beginning to demonstrate distinct improvement as a batsman.

However, the response, an effect of matters of the heart, was heartbreaking for the county officials. Young Foster had fallen head over heels in love, and did not want to be bothered by the burden of cricket and Warwickshire. He was keen to go into business and to be with his lady. This was, in fact, the second time that love had almost ended his cricket career. In the spring of 1910 he had thought of retiring as well, with the rosy promise of nuptials. Thankfully for the great game, the girl had jilted him in time.

But things looked more secure in 1911. Foster was wooed, but refused due to his own wooing of a different kind. Hence, Lieutenant Charles Cowan led the ragged outfit in their first match against Surrey at The Oval. The county of Jack Hobbs, Tom Hayward, Ernest Hayes and the rest blew the motley men away. Dismissed for 62 and 87, they lost by an innings and EHD Sewell, that sterling outspoken writer, announced that they were not even a good second eleven side.

The news of the defeat was telegraphed to RV Ryder of the Warwickshire committee. Ryder sent the telegraph wires buzzing with messages to William Foster, the father of Frank. Off went Foster senior to the firm of Wilkinson and Riddell where his son worked as a glorified office boy. Negotiations took place, through which a reduced annual salary was agreed upon. It enabled young Foster to take the cricket season off as well as retain his amateur status.

Thus, the youthful knight rode furiously to the county cricket ground to save the team … according to biographer Robert Brooke, “Not on a white charger, more likely in a carriage pulled by one of his father’s hacks.”

There he took charge. “All for one, one for all”, he borrowed from the Musketeers of Dumas. The squad included a businessman, a Naval officer, a resentful former Test cricketer, a stockbroker, a solicitor … along with a boozer, a farm-labourer, a violinist, the groundsman’s son, and, someone who perhaps influenced Foster to walk along his footsteps down the line — a type two syphilitic.

The Musketeer motto fell through between design and execution. Foster travelled first-class while the professionals rode third-class. However, the professionals liked him. Besides, the other message stuck. “Always attack,” he said. “The bat should always beat the hands of the clock. By that I mean at least 61 runs an hour, and if both batsmen at the wicket cannot manage it between them, it is a sorry state for the poor spectator and for the advance of brighter cricket.”

So saying he led the team to a victory over Lancashire by 137 runs, the only time they would beat the county between 1902 and 1936. They continued to win, against Leicestershire and Sussex at home. Kent, the champions of the last two years, led the table, but the Warwicks were fast moving up the ladder.

Highs and Lows

Then they stumbled at Worcestershire, the home of the famous cricketing Fosters (no relation). They lost against Yorkshire at home in spite of Foster’s amazing 105 and 9 for 118 in the first innings (match figures of 12 for 202). Once again Warwickshire were back to the middle of the table.

The seesaw progress continued. Derbyshire were beaten in a nail-biting thriller. Gloucestershire overcame them in another close game. The captain was then called for a Test trial, while Fred Byrne led them to a big win over Hampshire.

At home a strong Surrey was overcome, with Foster hitting a thrilling 200 in three hours. Warwickshire was on its way to a dream run. He scored 98 and took 9 wickets in the next outing, a big victory against Northamptonshire. “He was just a natural uncomplicated cricketer,” recalled wicketkeeper Tiger Smith. “I never saw him at the nets at Edgbaston. He’d just stroll onto the pitch and look a fine all-rounder and a good slip.”

Another five-wicket haul led to a convincing win over Sussex at Chichester. It was followed by 8 wickets and scores of 56 and 87 as the Gloucestershire men were hammered at Edgbaston.

Cruising on this amazing run of victories, the merry men travelled north to Harrogate, to take on the mighty Yorkshiremen.

One must mention here that it was not only Foster’s heroics that won the games. It is never so in cricket. Three of the professionals had dream runs. Big-hitting Crowther Charlesworth would ‘be a real handful after a couple of pints’. The quieter Sep Kinneir enjoyed a superb time with the bat while smoking his pipe and arguing about the Tories in the dressing room. And Field, Foster’s partner with the new ball, a former farm-labourer who bowled fast and uncomplicated stuff, had a fantastic season at the age of 36.

The Harrogate Hundred

The Harrogate match was special. The Warwickshire team had beaten the seasoned hardboiled Yorkshire side only once in 35 previous matches. But a win here would put them among the Championship leaders.

As soon as Foster and his men arrived the captain was asked if he objected to a new wicket being cut. At hand was the experienced ex-England wicketkeeper Dick Lilley. Playing as a batsman to make way for the younger ‘Tiger’ Smith, the 44-year-old was always there with advice for the skipper. “They don’t have a bowler as fast as Field, win the toss and you have won the match,” he said.

Foster obliged by calling correctly. Charlesworth led the way with 93. Foster struck his way to 60 in just 40 minutes, as always showing by example how to beat the clock. The feared bowling of Hirst, Haigh and Wilfred Rhodes was bested. Warwickshire totalled 341.

And then Foster took the new ball, came loping in with his six paces, and swung it past the broad bat of Rhodes to hit his stumps. At the end of Day One, Yorkshire were 54 for 2.

The next morning Foster and Field took quick wickets, and at 119 for 4 the hosts were on the back-foot. But Drake hung on, and so did that old warrior Hirst. Foster, with his curious left-armed angle that would go a long way to win England the Ashes in the Australian summer, repeatedly hit Hirst on his thigh. At one stage, the great Yorkshire all-rounder threatened to throw the bat at the bowler.

Finally, it was Field who dismissed both Hirst and Drake, the latter for 99. The rest of the batting folded to some relentless attack by Foster, Field and Quaife. At the end of the first innings exchanges, Warwickshire led by 31.

There was one sad development during the innings. The wise old Lilley, the hardened professional, was aware of the penchant of David Denton to loft his drive. He was at short-leg when Denton arrived at the crease. Instead of letting Foster know about his idea, he waved his arms about, asking some fielders to move deeper in a rather uncomfortably loud voice. Even some of the spectators heard it.

Foster walked up to him, and reminded him who the captain was. His words were simple and cutting, “Don’t make me look a fool.” And Lilley walked into the long field and remained there till lunch.

During the interval, he complained bitterly against the ‘young kid of 22’, and tried to convince the professionals to refuse to play under Foster. When the skipper did approach the dressing room of the professionals, he was greeted with staunch silence. Things remained quite strained during the remainder of the Yorkshire innings. However, Warwickshire managed to take the lead.

When the visitors batted, Hirst dismissed the openers cheaply and Foster was in to bat with the score reading a precarious 32 for 3.  And he proceeded to play an innings that made the professionals forget any grievance that they might have had.

He was there for just an hour and 45 minutes, took the match by the scruff of the neck and hauled it out of reach of the Yorkshiremen. The bat flashed with bravado and nonchalance, and four big sixes zoomed through the air. The 101 he scored was a captain’s knock and according to some one of the best innings ever witnessed.

It was his fifth half-century in a row and all of them had beaten the clock. Even Lilley, who shared a 59-run fifth wicket stand with his skipper, walked up to congratulate him, saying, “It’s the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them all.” It was a degree of obsequiousness quite unlike Lilley. He obviously sensed that his dissent of the morning had not been a wise move, especially with a cricketer riding the crest of his form and fortune. Indeed, it was not long before Foster informed the Warwickshire committee that he did not require Lilley’s services any more.

The veteran managed to play the next game because Field had injured his arm. After that there was no place for him in the side.

Hirst and Drake were the two who battled with the ball as well, and once Foster was out there was little resistance on the part of the visiting batsmen. It was a brief innings of 54 overs, amounting to 225. Yorkshire needed 257 to win.

Wine and Win

By the end of this eventful second day, Field had captured the first wicket and Yorkshire stood at 24 runs.

With the wicket dry and fast, Warwickshire were the favourites. Foster, however, had his misgivings. He requested the Yorkshire administrators to guard the pitch against overnight ‘watering’ by the zealous Yorkshire supporters. Having voiced his concerns, he made for the town and had a regaling night out with friends. Some of these friends hailed from Huddersfield, the city where the Foster family hailed from.

He returned to the team hotel at six in the morning, demonstrating amply for the historians that it was not it was not only with the deeds with bat and ball that he resembled the latter day great England all-rounder Ian Botham. Indeed, his middle name — ‘Rowbotham’ — reads significant in this context.

Foster had been asleep for just an hour when Field woke him up. “Skipper, you’re going to have a cold bath and massage,” the fast bowler informed him.

The captain protested loudly, but Field carried him to the bathroom. The tap was run over his head, and for an hour the team trainer and Field ‘thumped and bumped, bounced and bashed, rubbed and dubbed’ him. With the sleep beaten out of him, Foster was handed a steak and a can of beer.

Almost immediately on resumption of play, Field got the edge of the bat of Rhodes, and Foster held the catch at slip. The bowler ran up to him and asked, “How do you feel, skip?” The friendly reply was, “Go to the devil.”

Field was unstoppable that day. Foster just ambled in to bowl at the other end, and dismissed those two obstinate batsmen of the first innings, Hirst and Drake. The rest of the work was done by the fast man.  Haigh was run out, trying to farm the strike. The remaining wickets were whisked away by the former farm-hand. Field finished with 7 for 20 from 10 overs, Foster 2 for 33 from 9.5. The Yorkshire resistance was over in 19.5 overs.

At the other corner of the world

It was not the only defeat for Yorkshire that day. Almost simultaneously, at another corner of the world, in Calcutta, a local football team locked horns against the East Yorkshire Regiments in the final of the Indian Football Association Shield.

A sensationally attacking first half had seen numerous forays on both citadels, but there had been no goal. About 15 minutes into the second half, Sergeant Jackson scored directly from a free-kick for the English side to go one up. The spectators, a large number of Europeans and rich Calcutta babus in the stands, along with plenty of common Bengali men on trees and light poles, prepared themselves for the usual triumph of a European side. There were just about five minutes of play remaining when Sibdas Bhaduri equalised. And then, with minutes to go, Abhilash Ghosh latched on to a cross by Bhaduri and netted the winner.

The home team won 2-1, the first Indian side to emerge champions in the IFA Shield. Indeed, it was the first time a local team had beaten a European side in a match of this importance. July 29, 1911, is remembered as a historic day for Indian football as well as Indian nationalism. As one commentator remarked, “Mohun Bagan has succeeded in what the Congress and the Swadeshiwallas have failed to do so far to explode the myth that the British are unbeatable in any sphere of life.”

What followed?

Foster finished with 1383 runs and 116 wickets in 18 Championship matches, leading both the batting and bowling averages for Warwickshire that summer. Field bowled superbly all through, ending with 122 wickets. By the time their last match came up, against Northamptonshire, they needed a win to emerge the champions.

Rain was closing in and Foster lost the toss. “Lost it? What good are you?” Field asked his skipper incredulously. Syd Smith of Trinidad, the slow-left arm bowler the Northants had recruited, was a match-winner on wet tracks, and the Warwickshire-men knew it. After a pause, Field added, “Leave it to me, I’ll bowl them out.”

Foster picked up 5, Field 4, and the Northants were all out for 73. By the end of the day, Warwickshire were on 226 for 6. It rained all Sunday. When play resumed on Monday afternoon, the lead trickled to 208.

And then Foster took 6 more, Field 3 more, and Warwickshire won on Tuesday morning. “We are champions,” yelled Foster.

The Warwickshiremen, the drab lackadaisical cricketers, whom counties like Kent, Nottinghamshire and Middlesex did not even consider playing, had won the Championship.

Brief Scores:

Warwickshire 341 (Crowers Charlesworth 93, Billy Quaife 45, Frank Foster 60; Schofield Haigh 4 for 54) and 225 (Billy Quaife 48, Frank Foster 101; Alonzo Drake 4 for 35) beat Yorkshire 310 (Alonzo Drake 99, George Hirst 78; Frank Foster 4 for 94, Fran Field 4 for 115) and 58(Frank Field 7 for 20) by 198 runs.

Mohun Bagan Athletic Club 2 (Sibdas Bhaduri, Abhilash Ghosh) beat East Yorkshire Regiment 1 (Sergeant Jackson).

(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.)