Samuel Coe (left) and Bernard Bosanquet: the victim and the predator © Getty Images
Samuel Coe (left) and Bernard Bosanquet: the victim and the predator © Getty Images

On July 20, 1900, a ball delivered with the standard action of a leg-spinner broke the other way and left the batsman stranded and stumped in the middle of the pitch. Arunabha Sengupta recalls how BJT Bosanquet created a new delivery, which went on to be known as the googly.

Samuel Coe was a picture of confidence as Leicestershire consolidated in their second innings at Lord’s. The left-hander had raced into the 90s when the Middlesex skipper Plum Warner brought Bernard Bosanquet into the attack.

Bosanquet, an all-round athlete who had represented Oxford University in billiards and as a hammer thrower, had already stroked his way to 136 in the first innings of the match (he would score another 139 in the second). He now marked out a short run up — preferring to bowl his leg-breaks rather than the fast-medium stuff he used to ply in earlier seasons.

It seemed the easiest way to a century. Coe, on 98, jumped out to drive a flighted delivery towards the onside. And then it happened! He stood transfixed with disbelief as the ball broke the other way, bounced four times on its way to William Robertson. The Peru-born rookie ‘keeper, playing his first season, whipped off the bails and the unheralded googly claimed its first confused victim.

The batsman remained flummoxed all the way back to the pavilion and the incident was largely treated as a joke. Although Plum Warner is said to have quickly realised the usefulness of the delivery, Bosanquet self-deprecatingly feigned surprise when balls spun the other way, and was allowed to experiment only when in low pressure situations.

However, it was far from a sudden mysterious break of fortune. As Bosanquet later wrote: “Somewhere about the year 1897 I was playing a game with a tennis ball, known as `Twisti-Twosti.’ The object was to bounce the ball on a table so that your opponent sitting opposite could not catch it… After a little experimenting I managed to pitch the ball which broke in a certain direction; then with more or less the same delivery make the next ball go in the opposite direction! I practised the same thing with a soft ball at ‘Stump-cricket’. From this I progressed to the cricket ball…”

It would take some years for the googly to be recognised as a special delivery. It started with a lot of comic commotions as well as complaints. Bosanquet recalled that Billy Gunn was stumped more near the bowler’s wicket than his own, and Arthur Shrewsbury maintained that it was unfair.

Yet, as a bowler, Bosanquet was often inconsistent and it was only in early 1903 that the full potential of the delivery was realised. It made a big impact when Plum Warner led Lord Hawke’s XI to the twin tour of New Zealand and Australia.

In Sydney, playing for New South Wales, Victor Trumper faced Bosanquet and struck two leg-breaks beautifully to the covers before a third ball, delivered with a prayer and turning the other way, hit his middle stump. This is remembered widely as the first googly to be bowled on Australian soil.

As the English team prepared for the 1903-04 tour of Australia, Sussex and England legend CB Fry wrote an open letter to Warner in the Daily Express, urging him to “persuade that Bosanquet of yours to practise, practise, practise those funny ‘googlies’ of his till he is automatically certain of his length. That leg-break of his which breaks from the off might win a Test match!”

Incidentally, it was also during the aforementioned twin tour of Lord Hawke’s XI that the term “googly” was first used. Warner, who wrote a book on the tour titled Cricket Across the Seas, claimed that the word had been coined by a writer for the Lyttelton Times. However, this has never been conclusively proved.

Brief scores:

Leicestershire 184 (Albert Knight 62; JT Hearne 4 for 37, Albert Trott 4 for 67) and 342 (John King 41, Samuel Coe 98, Lewis 65; JT Hearne 3 for 83, Albert Trott 5 for 111) lost to Middlesex 224 (Bernard Bosanquet 136; Henry Burgess 3 for 106, John King 3 for 49) and 304 for 5 (Plum Warner 61, Bernard Bosanquet 139; Fred Geeson 4 for 108) by 5 wickets.

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)