Les Poidevin. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Les Poidevin. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Leslie Oswald Sheridan Poidevin, cricketer, lawn-tennis player and medical practitioner, was born November 5, 1876. He won several titles in tennis (including both Olympics for Australia and Wimbledon), and played in both Sheffield Shield and County Championship as well as for WG Grace’s London County. Pradip Dhole has more.

LOS Poidevin was born at Merrilla, New South Wales, the only child of the grandly named Napoleon Richard Poidevin, schoolteacher, and his wife Emma. Grown to man’s estate and having studied in various public schools, he spent some time as a school-teacher. With an Arts Degree from the University of Sydney in 1900, he turned his scholastic attention to the acquisition of a professional education and finished his first-year medical education in Sydney by the beginning of 1902.

His interest in lawn tennis and cricket began at a relatively early stage of his life. He was to popularize the “Poidevin grip” of the tennis racquet in later years, a means of playing both forehand and backhand shots from the same side of the racquet. He honed his tennis skills to the extent that he won the Sydney University Singles title in 1899 and the Queensland Men’s Singles titles in 1899 and 1900.

Poidevin made his First-Class cricket debut while touring New Zealand with New South Wales in 1895-96, against Canterbury at Christchurch, scoring 64 and 58 not out. On the tour, he was to score 286 runs from 4 matches, with 3 fifties; he headed the batting averages with 40.85.

In all, Poidevin played 8 First-Class matches in Australia between 1896-97 and 1901-02, making his Sheffield Shield debut for New South Wales against South Australia at Sydney in 1900-01, and scoring 140 not out while batting at No. 7, his maiden First-Class century, of a then record team total (in Sheffield Shield) of 918. This mammoth innings also included centuries by Frank Iredale (118), Monty Noble (153), captain Syd Gregory (168), and Reggie Duff (119). NSW went on to win this match by the colossal margin of an innings and 605 runs, the second-highest in the history of the Australian Domestic First Class competition till date.

In 1902, Poidevin went over to England to continue his medical studies at Victoria University of Manchester, graduating in 1908. During this time, he was never far away from the cricket field. He was prevailed upon to sign on for the London County Cricket Club by WG Grace, no less, person; at this point Grace was captain and guiding light of London County. Poidevin played 25 matches for the club, amassing 1,323 runs at 37.80 with 3 centuries and 7 fifties, and a highest of 172 not out. Apart from his county stint with Lancashire, he played 6 other non-Championship matches in England for various teams including the Gentlemen against the Players at The Oval in July 1903.

Poidevin played 105 matches for Lancashire between June 1904 and August 1908, making his Championship debut against Surrey at Old Trafford, scoring 55 in the only innings in which he batted. His final appearance for Lancashire was against Yorkshire, also at Old Trafford, where he scored 35 and 1. In all, he scored 4460 runs for Lancashire with 8 centuries and 17 fifties, a highest of 168 not out and an average of 29.93. He also took 131 catches for his county.

His cricketing exploits, however, did not deter Poidevin in any way from pursuing his competitive tennis career. He won the Swiss Open Singles title in 1906, the European Doubles title with HA Parker in 1909, and represented Australasia with Anthony Wilding in the Davis Cup of 1906, losing narrowly to the USA team. He also reached tennis singles quarter-final in the 1908 Olympics as well as Wimbledon Doubles semi-final 1910.

While he was in England engaged in his medical studies, he often supported himself by writing articles on sport for sundry journals, including Manchester Guardian and Times. He made contributions to anthologies and books on cricket. Back in Australia in 1911, and registered as a Medical Practitioner, he contributed reports to Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Mail and Referee.

A married man by now, he was appointed as a Medical Officer in the Department of Public Instruction. He became a State Selector and continued to coach and mentor young cricketers upon his retirement from his active cricket playing days. Along with an admirer and fan, FPJ Gray, he instituted the Poidevin-Gray Shield Competition 1926 to encourage young cricketers. His other interests included rowing and golf at which he won many trophies.

After a brief illness, Poidevin passed away on November 19, 1931 at his Waverley home.

Although he was to be later named as a reserve for the Australian Test team in England in 1902, this multi-faceted person had his only brush with Australian cricket history when in the first Test of the home series between Australia and England at Sydney in December 1901, he was named 12th man. Unfortunately, this was as far as Poidevin ever got to winning a Test cap. He goes down in history as the first Australian to be nominated as a 12th man and never to play Test cricket for his country. It was not a very desirable statistic in his CV, but a pioneering event in its own way (from a list courtesy Dr Aslam Siddiqui and Ross Dundas).

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)