Caption: William Lillywhite © Getty Images
Caption: William Lillywhite © Getty Images

The story of the introduction and gradual implementation of the round-arm form of bowling in cricket is set in an eventful and often tempestuous phase of the development of the game, and is very instructive for keen students of the game. The induction into cricket of the “round-arm” style of bowling was neither without its fair share of controversies nor without its share of stories, some of them apocryphal. ALSO READ: Bhagwandas Suthar: Youngest Indian to take 5 wickets in a First-Class innings

The Hambledon man, Tom Walker, known as Old Everlasting, was thought to be the original progenitor of this genre of bowling in the 1790s, releasing the ball some way away from the body, and at an appreciable angle from the vertical so that it came at varying angles to the batsman, causing new and perplexing problems that contemporary batsmen had never encountered before. There was an immediate outcry against the legitimacy of this style. ALSO READ: Les Poidevin: Medical practitioner, and champion in both cricket and tennis

An interesting twist in the tale is that of John Willes, the Kent man, using it in the 1800s, inspired by his sister Christiana, who was supposedly in the habit of bowling to her brother in the garden with a high bowling arm, almost waist-high, and a wide angle of delivery to avoid her voluminous dress, and releasing the ball from about the level of the hip. ALSO READ: Monty Noble: Australia’s great all-rounder; supreme captain

Being a batsman himself, Willes soon realized that the concept of the ball being delivered from about shoulder height and from wide of the body was likely to present batsmen with a different set of challenges, and he wasted no time in trying to perfect the new technique with assiduous practice.

The story is told of how Willes tried to popularize his innovative style, to the consternation of the orthodox and the anger of the spectators who felt that they were witnessing an ungainly and inelegant, even illegal, mode of delivery. Morning Herald reported in 1821 that his persistence with this new style would often cause considerable acrimony when used in match play and would sometimes be the cause of play being suspended.

At Lord’s on July 15, 1822, with Kent taking on MCC, Willes was repeatedly no-balled by the umpire, supposedly at the behest of Lord Frederick Beauclerk (the Kent and Hampshire autocrat, said to be descended from King Charles II through a mistress), much to his annoyance, causing him to call for his horse and ride away from the match.

It was felt at the time that Willes was contravening the law promulgated by MCC in 1816 that stated, “The ball must be bowled (not thrown or jerked), and be delivered underhand, with the hand below the elbow. But if the ball be jerked, or the arm extended from the body horizontally, and any part of the hand be uppermost, or the hand horizontally extended when the ball is delivered, the Umpires shall call, ‘No Ball’.”

Being unable to reach any sort of consensus on the issue of what would be deemed to be legitimate bowling, MCC amended their own laws in 1828, allowing the arm to be raised to elbow height, but that did not solve the vexing problem and the schism between the advocates of under-arm and round-arm bowling not only continued but gradually intensified. Matters reached an impasse with both camps refusing to concede their points.

It is with the backdrop of these momentous historical happenings in the world of contemporary cricket that we pause our narrative to introduce our hero, Frederick William Lillywhite, more commonly known as William Lillywhite or as “Old Lilly”, a man of ingenuity and exceptional skill and the patriarch of a famous family.

Frederick William Lillywhite was born on June 13, 1792, at Westhampnett, Sussex, the son of a brick-maker in charge of two large brick fields belonging to the Duke of Richmond. He was himself a brick-maker in his growing years, learning the trade from his father.

Lillywhite was married on July 15, 1822, and moved to Brighton on December 12 of the same year, moving again to Hove a short while later. He became the manager of a large group of brick-makers in the area and, in God’s good time, fathered 12 children. He was, by all accounts, a powerfully built man, having been brought up doing manual labour.

During his 15 years at Hove, he would often be persuaded by the locals, who were admirers of his bowling skills, to turn out for several local teams, often dragging him away from the brick fields. He took to waking up in the dead of night to complete his scheduled tasks by sunrise so he could play in the important cricket matches.

In the archives, he is described as being a right-hand bat and a right-arm slow-medium round-arm bowler, one of the great pioneers of this form of bowling, and one of the most vigorous champions of the cause of the round-arm revolution in cricket.

In a relatively long First-Class span of 1825 to 1853, he played 237 matches, scoring 2,350 runs with a highest of 44 not out. He also took 141 catches.

Bowling being his stronger suite, he bowled 15,265 deliveries in all, taking 1,576 wickets; his bowling average was 10.36, and he took 5 wickets in an innings 155 times and 10 wickets in a match 55 times. Statisticians tell us that his career strike rate was 28.21 and his career economy rate was 1.96. He was one of the bowling greats of the contemporary game, and one of the noted game-changers in the long history of organized cricket.

William Lillywhite appears to have first graced a cricket field in July 1822 in a local match at Goodwood Park against Midhurst. One learns from the archives that he played his first game of senior cricket for East Sussex against West Sussex at Petworth in July 1824, at a relatively advanced age of 32. He remained not out on 26 in the only innings he batted in, in a team score of 61 all out. He took 5 wickets in the match. East Sussex won the match by 9 wickets.

In addition to turning out for numerous other teams, he played First-Class cricket principally for Sussex from 1825 to 1853, making his First-Class debut with Sussex against Kent at Brighton in June 1825. Sussex won the match by 243 runs. His performance was a modest one, 41 and 1 with bat and 3 wickets with ball. He was 33 when he made his First-Class debut, quite unusual for the era.

It was in August 1826 against a combined team of Hampshire and Surrey that this Sussex player picked up his first haul of 10 or more wickets in a match, claiming 7 wickets in the opponents’ first innings and 9 in the second. Owing to the fact that the technique of scoring a match was in its infancy in that age, it is not known how many runs he had conceded in the match.

The archives of the New York Clipper of June 14, 1856 states that, “In 1827, he had, with J(ames) Broadbridge, caused a complete revolution in the practice of the game, in reference to bowling, and such complete masters were they over the batsmen, that their round-arm bowling was thought by many to be unfair.”

In 1827, in the wake of this raging debate in England about the legitimacy of the new shoulder-level bowling style, there were 3 matches arranged through the medium of the press between Sussex and a team designated as England to ascertain the relative merits of under-arm, as opposed to round-arm bowling. These three matches were to be played for a purse of 1,000 guineas, a considerable sum.

The first of these was played at Sheffield in June. Playing for Sussex, Lillywhite (5) and his teammate and fellow round-arm bowler James Broadbridge (2) took 7 wickets between them to dismiss England for 81. Then Lillywhite, surprisingly called upon to open the innings, contributed 14 runs in Sussex’s total of 91.

In the England 2nd innings of 112, it was Lillywhite (2) and Broadbridge (5) who were the main wreckers again. Sussex won the match by 7 wickets. The match notes state that “at one period, 83 balls (were bowled) without getting a single run.”

The next match was held at Lord’s, Lillywhite’s first experience of the hallowed turf. In England 1st-innings total of 152 Lillywhite captured 2 wickets and Broadbridge only 1. In the England 2nd, it was 3 wickets for Broadbridge and 1 for Lillywhite. Sussex won this match also, by a margin of 3 wickets.

The success of the round-arm style was fast becoming something of a problem for the established batsmen of the time, so much so that at the conclusion of this match, the following declaration was signed: “We, the undersigned, do agree that we will not play the third match between All England and Sussex, which is intended to be played at Brighton in July or August unless the Sussex bowlers bowl fair — this is, abstain from throwing” signed by T Marsden, W Ashby, W Mathews, W Searle, J Saunders, TC Howard, W Caldecourt, F Pilch and T Beagley.

This declaration was, however, later retracted; the cynical mind may be forgiven for conjecturing that the handsome purse of 1,000 guineas may have had something to do with the change of heart.

The third match of this particular series was played at Brighton in July, a match that England, at last, won by 24 runs. Even so, England were dismissed for a mere 27 in the first innings, Lillywhite (3) and Broadbridge (2) causing much of the damage. Sussex were all out for 77 in response; Lillywhite, again opening the batting, scored 8.

England managed 169 in their 2nd innings, with Lillywhite and Broadbridge being known to take 1 wicket each. In this innings, however, there is no identification available for the takers of 7 of the wickets that fell, the corollary being that these two may well have taken more each. England won this last trial match by dismissing Sussex the second time round for 95.

The upshot of all this was that the authorities of MCC were once again in a dilemma and after much debate and deliberation, they decided to make another change in the laws in 1835 to allow the bowling arm to be raised to the level of the shoulders, in a sense, legalizing round-arm bowling.

However, it was an uneasy peace, for another contentious issue soon surfaced when bowlers of the day began to gradually raise the bowling arm above shoulder height, and forced MCC to revise their laws yet again in 1845 to place the onus on the umpires and to empower them to take final and irrevocable decisions regarding the legitimacy of the height of the bowling arm. That there was still much that was not clear about the interpretations of the law was demonstrated at a later date in an 1862 match of which we shall speak later.

Perhaps “Old Lilly’s” crowning achievement as a bowler came in a match for the Players against the Gentlemen XVI, an “odds” match, played at Lord’s in July 1837. He captured 8 wickets in the Gentlemen 1st innings of 74 and 10 wickets in the 2nd innings of 42. Unfortunately, for this match also, the runs conceded columns are only represented by question marks.

William Lillywhite’s best bowling performance in an 11-a-side (or “evens”) game came when he represented England against Kent at Lord’s on in July 1840. Let us examine the Kent XI for the match in batting order: William Stearman, William Hillyear, wicketkeeper William Clifford, Fuller Pilch, Nicholas Felix, Thomas Adams, Alfred Mynn, Walter Mynn, John Fagge, Charles Harenc and Charles Whittaker, in a sense, the cream of contemporary cricket in England.

He captured 7 wickets in the Kent 1st innings and 8 more in the 2nd with his customary round-arm style, stamping his authority over the leading batsmen of the day in no uncertain terms with his accuracy, and variations of pace and length. The round-arm innovation had been well and truly tested against the finest of the land.

From 1844, he became one of the mainstays of MCC as well. In the following 4 years he formed a deadly combination with William Hillyear, and won almost all matches for them against all comers with his by now trademark round-arm style of bowling.

One match in particular against the hapless Cambridge undergraduates tickles the sensibilities. Played at Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, in May 1845, we find Lillywhite not only opening batting in the MCC 1st innings, but also carrying the bat for 18 in a team score of 38 in 49.3 (4-ball) overs. A young Cambridge bowler, Thomas Hughes, covered himself with glory by capturing 7 wickets in this innings and 5 in the 2nd. Old Lilly, not to be outdone by a beardless youth, picked up 7 wickets of his own in the only Cambridge University innings of 143.

It became more and more clear that age could not wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety, to borrow an expression from William Shakespeare. His mastery of the round-arm variety of bowling, slowly gaining popularity in England, increased by leaps and bounds, and his bowling feats in the later stages of his career became the stuff of legends.

Archives show the amazing fact that “Old Lilly” had taken 5 or more wickets in an innings a staggering 77 times after the age of 50 years, a record that no one has ever come even close to achieving. His last 5-wicket haul came in the match Over 36 v Under 36, at Lord’s, in July 1850, Lillywhite being a sprightly 58 years 46 days old the day the match began. He took 6 wickets in the Under 36 1st-innings total of 144 and 2 more in the 2nd-innings of 151. Not for nothing did his contemporaries refer to him as the “Nonpareil”.

His benefit match was his last First-Class match of all, fittingly, at Lord’s, for Sussex against England, in July 1853; by then he was 61. He had to retire due to an injury after bowling only 11 overs for no wickets in the England 1st innings. He took no further part in the match and was replaced by Hamilton Hoare for the duration of the game. Old Lilly, however, had the satisfaction of having his kin, John and James Sr, playing alongside him during his final appearance.

In many ways, William Lillywhite was the torch-bearer of the round-arm revolution and perhaps its staunchest champion in First-Class cricket.

Let us now call a roll of the cricketing relatives of this 5’ 4”, stocky patriarch:

Richard Lillywhite (brother): A 2-day match for East Sussex against West Sussex in July 1935

James Lillywhite, Jr (nephew): 256 First-Class matches and England’s first Test captain

John Lillywhite (nephew): 4 Second-Class matches in England and Ireland between 1868 and 1875

James Lillywhite, Sr (son): 20 First-Class matches between 1850 and 1860, and an umpire in later years

John Lillywhite (son): 185 First-Class matches between 1848 and 1873

Fred Lillywhite (son): A Second-Class match in 1851

Harry Lillywhite (son): 6 Second-Class matches in USA and Canada

Apart from being a player of exceptional quality, history also portrays William Lillywhite as a shrewd businessman.

We learn that in 1837, he became the genial host of the Royal Sovereign Inn and the owner of a cricket ground, known, among other titles, as Lillywhite’s Ground.

In 1844, he had started a shop selling cricket gear from his own doorstep in Buckingham Street, near King’s Cross. He established his own Scoring Tent at Lord’s cricket ground and began selling his own version of blank scorecards.

He published his magnum opus, Lillywhite’s Illustrated Handbook of Cricket, also in 1844. While two of his sons followed him on the cricket field, his namesake, Fred, took up the scorecards and publishing business and soon established Lillywhite’s as a popular and marketable commodity.

In 1849, Fred brought out the first of the Guide to Cricketers, thought to be the fore-runner of Wisden.

In 1859, Fred was partly instrumental in organizing the first tour by an English team abroad, to North America and Canada, under George Parr.

In his later years, then, “Old Lilly” had the satisfaction of seeing the next generation of his family being firmly entrenched in whatever enterprise that each chose individually. History tells us that William Lillywhite contracted cholera in the early morning of August 21, 1854, and passed away at about 7 o’clock the same evening, leaving behind his grieving family.

He was buried at the Highgate Cemetery in London. The only inscription on his tombstone was LILLYWHITE because the MCC committee, who had arranged for it, felt that that word itself embodied everything there was to be said about the champion bowler. In case there was ever any doubt in anybody’s mind about the issue, Lillywhite has left behind his own version of what the ideal cricket situation should be,” Me bowling, (Fuller) Pilch batting and (Thomas) Box keeping wicket”, the final verdict, as it were.

It was, perhaps, one of the ironies of cricketing history that it was the son of “Old Lilly”, John Lillywhite Sr, who, upholding the law passed by MCC in 1845, had persistently called Edgar “Ned” Willsher for bowling over-arm (a logical extension of the round-arm style perfected so painstakingly by his father) for England against Surrey at The Oval in August 1862, calling him 6 times in the Surrey 1st innings.

To dust William Lillywhite did return, as is the normal course of human habitation on the earth, but he will always be very fondly remembered for his various wondrous deeds, not the least.

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