Tom Goddard began his career as a fast bowler, but turned to off-spin and with great success. He picked up 2,979 wickets from 593 First-Class matches © Getty Images
Tom Goddard began his career as a fast bowler, but turned to off-spin and with great success. He picked up 2,979 wickets from 593 First-Class matches © Getty Images

Gloucestershire mainstay Tom Goddard was born October 1, 1900. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a giant who turned to off-spin to emerge as one of the leading wicket-takers in history.

It comes as a surprising revelation that Thomas William John Goddard, one of the most prolific wicket-takers in the history of First-Class cricket, had started his career as a fast bowler. Theoretically he was right: at 6’3″, Goddard was an absolutely huge man with broad, strong shoulders.

It was, however, as an off-spinner, that Goddard rose to heights head and shoulders above his peers. The palm was so large that the ball hid completely inside it; and his powerful, very long fingers and supple wrists ensured that he could give the ball a serious tweak that was almost audible.

Goddard’s mastery over length and flight were legendary, making it almost impossible for batsmen to score off him even on a featherbed. He could make the ball turn by the proverbial mile, which, in a combination with his accuracy, made him virtually unplayable if the pitch provided with some assistance.

Then there was the bounce, which was a natural given his frame; watching Goddard, with his huge frame, long hands, and tall Greek nose, send down over after over, mostly from round the wicket, with a phalanx of short-legs prowling like menacing birds of prey, was a familiar sight in Bristol in the 1930s. Along with Charlie Parker he formed one of the most feared attacks in Championship cricket of his era.

He had also earned a reputation as a voracious appealer. The umpires often had to be at the receiving end of an intimidating “how were ‘ee then?” whenever the ball hit the pads. As Gerald Hudd wrote, “the volume of his appeal and his fierce accompanying looks belied a gentle character, one who often felt hard done by umpires who tended to think ‘it’s only Tom letting of his steam again’.”

Goddard’s off-breaks (and fast bowling in his earlier days) fetched him 2,979 wickets at 19.84 from 593 First-Class matches. This puts him fifth on the all-time wickets tally after Wilfred Rhodes, ‘Tich’ Freeman, Parker, and Jack Hearne. His 251 five-fors place him fifth on the list (after the same four bowlers) and the 86 ten-fors are only after Freeman’s and Parker’s tally.

With 6 hat-tricks, he is joint second (with Parker) in history after Doug Wright. The following table lists Goddard’s hat-tricks:

Tom Goddard’s First-Class Hat-tricks
Hat-trick For Against At Season Batsmen Dismissal type
1 Gloucestershire Sussex Eastbourne 1924 Harold Gilligan bowled
Tich Cornford caught Harry Smith
Thomas Cook caught Edward Dennett
2 Gloucestershire Glamorgan Swansea 1930 Wilf Jones caught Fred Seabrook
Jack Mercer bowled
Frank Ryan caught Ces Dacre
3 England South Africa Johannseburg 1938-39 Dudley Nourse caught and bowled
Norman Gordon stumped Les Ames
Billy Wade bowled
4 MCC Rhodesia Salisbury 1938-39 Denis Tomlinson LBW
Mark Napier bowled
Percy Mansell bowled
5 Gloucestershire Glamorgan Swansea 1947 Willie Jones LBW
Haydn Davies bowled
George Lavis stumped Andy Wilson
6 Gloucestershire Somerset Bristol 1947 Maurice Tremlett caught George Emmett
Jack Meyer LBW
George Langdale bowled

Among Goddard’s other achievements there are:

Tom Goddard began his career as a fast bowler, but turned to off-spin and with great success. He picked up 2,979 wickets in 593 First-Class matches.

- Most wickets in a Championship match (17): the number has been reached 11 times (thrice by Gloucestershire bowlers) but never bettered.
- Fourth-most wickets in Championship cricket (2,678).
- One of only 4 ten-fors (in an innings) for Gloucestershire.
- Second-highest wickets by a Gloucestershire bowler.
- Most wickets in a season by a Gloucestershire bowler (222); he has reached the mark twice.
- Most five-fors (29) in a season for Gloucestershire; he also holds the second position with 25.

Given such a phenomenal career, it was astonishing that Goddard played only eight Tests for England — that too over a period of nine years. He picked up 22 wickets from these matches at an impressive 26.72, but just like Freeman and Parker, he was never given a proper run at the top level.

He was, however, a non-batsman, often being a quintessential tail-ender. His career tally read 5,234 runs at 9.37 with four fifties. His huge hands also pouched 312 catches.

Early days

Born in Gloucester, Goddard came under the tutelage of the former cricketer Arthur Parish. He went for the Gloucestershire trials and played his First-Class debut against Middlesex in 1922 as a fast bowler. He picked up a single wicket for the cost of 48 runs.

In his first match the next season, Goddard picked up five for 19 and two for 46 against Surrey; he eventually finished the season with 25 wickets at 29.12 and the one after that with 22 wickets at 18.46. However, it was from 1924 that his bowling became less and less penetrating, and went on the decline at a rapid rate.

The fact that Gloucestershire already had three outstanding spinners in Parker, Edward Dennett, and Percy Mills did not help his cause at all. Their presence “in the early to mid-twenties had meant no attention had been paid to Goddard’s ability as a spinner,” wrote Hudd.

He won the Gloucestershire cap in 1926, but his form reached its ebb the next season when he picked up only 26 wickets at 58.80. Gloucestershire still offered him a contract, if somewhat reluctantly. Goddard turned down the offer and joined the ground-staff at Lord’s, which entitled him to unlimited bowling practice. He decided to skip the 1928 season entirely.

It was during this phase that he had started experimenting with his off-breaks. Fortunately for Goddard, Bev Lyon, the Gloucestershire captain, happened to watch him practising his art in the Lord’s net (after a hat-tip from Joe Hardstaff Sr). Lyon insisted Goddard be offered a contract, this time as an off-spinner.

The shift to spin

Lyon played a crucial role in Goddard’s resurgence. As Wisden wrote, “In other ways, and especially in setting a field, Lyon extended much help to Goddard. Hammond and Charles Parker also gave much valuable advice to their colleague.”

The change worked wonders for Goddard. Shortly after his return he found himself bowling at the ground where he had honed his newly-found art: Middlesex were routed for 70 as Goddard picked up 7 for 25; he picked up 6 more for 95 in the second innings and Gloucestershire won by plenty.

Parker took the other seven wickets in the match. This was the match where the Goddard-Parker duo came into prominence for the first time. The off-spinner and the southpaw would go on to torment the batsmen in the Championship in subsequent years.

The touring South Africans lost to Gloucestershire as Goddard picked up 6 for 68 and 3 for 62 (Parker took 6 wickets as well). He took 10 more wickets against Hampshire and in the next match he routed Worcestershire with 8 for 117 and 5 for 37 (Parker took the other 7).

Things kept getting better. Goddard picked up 9 for 21 against Cambridge to bowl them out for 82 (Hammond played spoilsport with the other wicket). He eventually finished the season with 184 wickets at 16.38; he had 16 five-fors and 6 ten-fors.

To put things into perspective, Goddard had picked up 153 wickets in the 6 previous seasons put together. The following table shows Goddard’s numbers as a pace bowler and as a spinner.

W Ave 5WI 10WM
Pace 153 34.07 7 0
Spin 2,826 19.07 244 86
Career 2,979 19.84 251 86

Goddard’s outstanding form continued the next season as well (he finished with 144 wickets at 19.57 with 10 five-fors and 2 ten-fors). For the first time in their history, Gloucestershire became runners-up in the Championship. His excellent form, along with Don Bradman’s record-breaking performance, also meant that he made his debut later that season in the fourth Test of the Ashes at Old Trafford.

Test debut

Off-spinners were, in that era, not the “flavour of the month” for England. The spin attack was usually led by Hedley Verity, and in case a second spinner was required it was usually a leg-spinner — one of Ian Peebles, Walter Robins, or Tommy Mitchell. Goddard, however, broke through with his performance.

The series was levelled 1-1 before the Test. After Bill Woodfull won the toss and decided to bat, Goddard was introduced first-change after the initial burst of Stan Nichols and Maurice Tate. Goddard returned impressive figures of 32.1-14-49-2, picking up the wickets of Alan Fairfax and Percy Hornibrook.

For once Bradman failed and Australia were bowled out for 345. Rain, however, played spoilsport and the match ended in a draw with England on 251 for 8. Goddard did not bat.

Inexplicably, Goddard was left out of the final Test at The Oval. England went in with a single spinner in Peebles (who picked up 6 wickets), having to fall back on Maurice Leyland as a second spin option as Australia amassed 695 and won by an innings. Of the Australian spinners, Clarrie Grimmett picked up 4 wickets in the first innings and Hornibrook 7 in the second, and Australia regained the Ashes.

Goddard would run into the tourists again later that season: after Grimmett and Hornibrook bowled out Gloucestershire for 72 Goddard struck back: from 78 for 1 the Australians collapsed to 157 with Goddard picking up 5 for 52 (Parker took 3).

With the Australians requiring only 118 for victory Parker and Goddard bowled unchanged throughout the innings, sending down 69.1 overs between them. With the scores levelled and a single wicket in hand Goddard hit Hornibrook on the pads; the batsman was, to quote Hudd, “leg-before-wicket to probably the loudest appeal that Tom Goddard ever made.”

Back to Championship cricket

For some inexplicable reason, it took Goddard 7 more years to make a comeback in the Test side. Meanwhile he made merry in the Championship. He toured South Africa with the side in 1930-31 with limited success but came back to pick up 141 wickets in 1931 at 18.69 with 8 five-fors and 2 ten-fors. Gloucestershire became the runners-up for the second consecutive time.

The next season saw Goddard play perhaps the only outstanding innings of his career against Essex. Stan Nichols and Ken Farnes bowled with fire on a pitch that assisted their style, and reduced Gloucestershire to 34 for 6. Goddard, promoted to No. 7, played some excellent strokes and top-scored with 71 out of 149 but he could not stop Essex from winning by an innings.

He made up for this by picking up 10 for 160, 14 for 198, 11 for 133, and 11 for 185 in his next 4 matches. However, despite his 14 five-fors and 6 ten-fors, he missed out on the 200-wicket mark; he finished with 170 at 19.16. The next season (1933) saw him get a shade closer (183 wickets at 17.41, 18 seven-fors, 7 ten-fors).

The 200-wicket club

The magical figure was eventually reached in 1935: in the last match of the season — against Warwickshire — Goddard clean bowled Bill Fantham to reach the milestone. He finished with a round 200 wickets at 20.36 with 18 five-fors and 6 ten-fors.

1936 was his benefit season, and he celebrated it with 153 wickets at 20.30. In his benefit match, he himself picked up four for 49 to bowl out Nottinghamshire for 200, and was somewhat worried when Gloucestershire finished the day on 107 for three: what if the match got over on Day Two?

The assurance came from Hammond: “Don’t worry, I’ll bat all day tomorrow and ensure you get a third day tomorrow.” Hammond did not exactly keep his word, but he lit up the ground with a regal 317. Nottinghamshire lost by an innings on Day Three. Goddard’s benefit season eventually earned him £2,097.

The ten-for and the top of the crop

If the past few seasons had been excellent for Goddard they had been virtually nothing when pitted against his superlative performance in 1937. He seemed to conquer everything that came his way. There were 248 wickets (a record 222 for Gloucestershire) at 16.76 with 32 five-fors (a record 29 for Gloucestershire) and 13 ten-fors.

With 215 wickets, Goddard emerged as the top of the wicket tally in that season’s Championship at 16.41. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year that season. Despite several excellent performances he perhaps reached his epoch against Worcestershire. It was probably the best in his career.

Worcestershire batted first and posted 310, Goddard picking up 6 for 68; with Hammond failing Gloucestershire conceded a 114-run lead. Then the drama began. After a few overs of seam Goddard was brought on, and he bowled unchanged for the rest of the innings.

The alliteratively named Harold Harry Haywood Gibbons was the only one to offer some resistance as he remained unbeaten on 72; Goddard picked up 10 for 113 in the second innings. Worcestershire were bowled out for 202, Hammond scored 178, and Gloucestershire won by 3 wickets with Goddard at the crease.

The recall

As a result of his phenomenal performance Goddard was selected to play two Tests against New Zealand. He did not pick a wicket in the first innings but with New Zealand chasing 265 for a victory, he routed them for 134 with 6 for 29. It would remain his only Test five-for. He picked up 2 more wickets in the next Test at The Oval.

Goddard did a decent job on the South Africa tour that followed as well, including a hat-trick in the first innings of the first Test at Old Wanderers. He finished with 8 wickets from 3 Tests at 35.25 but had impressive tour numbers of 31 wickets at 26.35.

The day he took seventeen

Back home, Goddard picked up 200 wickets yet again, this time at an outrageous 14.86. This also included 2 Tests against West Indies at Old Trafford and The Oval. In a hard-contest series, Goddard finished with 4 wickets at 28.50, but never played a Test again.

He finished at the top of the Championship chart again, this time with 181 wickets at 14.66. His magnum opus of the season came against Kent. Gloucestershire batted first and were all out for 284 at stumps. It was virtually a two-way contest between Hammond (153 not out) and Wright (9 for 47).

On Day Two, Goddard bowled out Kent single-handedly with figures of 9 for 38 and 8 for 68. The tourists lost by an innings and 40 runs. The only other bowlers to have taken 17 wickets in a single day’s play are Colin Blythe and Verity. The 17 for 106 remains his best match figures.

Post-War

Goddard would have ended with a lot more wickets had he started as an off-spinner straight away, had his career not coincided with Parker, had he not missed the 1928 season completely, and most significantly, had he not several crucial years to War.

He spent his war years with the RAF, and re-emerged in 1946 at the unlikely age of 45; and when he did, he emerged as the top wicket-taker in the Championship the next season. He picked up 238 wickets that season, 206 of them in the Championship. It remains the last time a bowler had picked up 200 wickets in a single Championship. If that was not unbelievable enough, he did an encore two seasons later; he topped the charts again with 152 wickets at 18.59.

Goddard’s form never waned even after the war. When The Invincibles toured England, Bradman himself asked Ian Johnson to study Goddard’s methods. That season, 1948, was also Goddard’s second benefit season — that made him richer by £3,355.

Goddard continued to top the 100-wicket mark season after season till he was affected by pneumonia and pleurisy in 1951. He finished the season with 37 wickets; his career tally read 2,937 wickets at this stage.

He came back again in 1952 with a desperate attempt to make it to the 3,000-mark. He even managed to pick up a ten-for — 3 for 16 and 7 for 93 against Somerset. He took 2 other five-fors, but it was evident that his body was no more capable enough to support his immense will-power. He had to call it a halt a mere 21 wickets short of his desired mark.

Even in this match, he had 4 for 73 against Northamptonshire. He quit at the age of almost 52, leaving Gloucestershire’s off-spin heritage in the safe hands of John Mortimore, ‘Bomber’ Wells, and David Allen.

Post-retirement

Since his playing days Goddard ran a carpet shop in Barton Street, Gloucester with his wife Flo. They said the shop was so close to the Wagon Works Ground that when Flo wanted a second opinion regarding the price she shouted at Goddard if he was playing at the ground.

Tom Goddard passed away on May 22, 1966.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)