Sid Barnes: 18 facts about the eccentric Australian cricketer

Sidney George Barnes, or simply Sid Barnes, was a former Australian cricketer who played 13 Tests for his country between 1938 and 1948. A part of Don Bradman’s ‘invincible side’, Barnes was a top order batsman who could open the innings as well as at lower down the order. He was one among many such unfortunate players whose careers were hampered by the Second World War. Also known for his eccentric ways, Barnes would pull off shenanigans on the playing field and be in the news for all the wrong reasons. After quitting the game, he dabbled in journalism and business with fair amount of success. But he went away from this world at the age of 57 after battling with depression. On his 100th birth anniversary, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 18 facts from the life of the cricketer, who will forever be remembered for his unusual yet memorable antics. Also Read: Sid Barnes: Genius on the field, a character off it

1.  Confusion over date of birth: Barnes’ official birth year in record books is 1916. However, his autobiography claims that he was born in 1918 or 1919. Also his military service record states that he was born on June 5, 1917.

2.  Introduction to cricket: Barnes was introduced to the game by his elder brother Horrie, who would play in the local leagues and pay Barnes six pence to bowl at him after he finished work. This is when Barnes developed a keen interest in the game and went for school team’s trials. He was selected in the first XI and from there the journey began.

3.  The Governor-General: A string of good performances for his school as well as local club St. Augustine earned Barnes the nickname ‘The Governor-General’, which incidentally was the nickname of Australian player Charlie Macartney.

4.  Left Bill O’Reilly speechless: Barnes was successful at whatever level he played in his early years. While playing first-grade cricket, he once faced Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly — regarded as one of the greatest bowlers ever — with sheer confidence. When Tiger praised the young man for his batting, a confident-looking Barnes responded, “Thanks very much, you did not bowl too badly yourself”, leaving the legendary bowler speechless.

5.  Jobs: While playing cricket, Barnes simultaneously did some jobs for earning his livelihood. He first took a job at a garage in Mosman, but as too much travelling was affecting his playing cricket, he left that job and started demonstrating motorbikes in the city.

6.  Umpires’ nemesis: On multiple occasions throughout his career, Barnes was involved in controversies with the umpires. As early as his days with the school team, Barnes was suspended for three weeks for disputing an umpire’s decision. On another occasion, while fielding on his First-Class debut, Barnes managed to land himself in another controversy with the umpire when he ran out the opposition captain Vic Richardson after the end of the over was called. The square leg umpire, who had not heard the call of “Over”, upheld the appeal but barnes’ captain Stan McCabe later withdrew the appeal.

In 1952, while captaining NSW against South Australia at Sydney, Barnes had another showdown with the umpires, when they turned down his appeal for a catch. A furious Barnes then led his side off the field, and returned only when the umpires ordered for the same. After returning though, Barnes called for drinks even as only twenty minutes were remaining before the tea interval. This was not the last such instance though, as on another occasion he was again involved in an ugly incident with the umpire. During a match in England in 1948, a strong appeal had been turned down by the umpire. Soon after that, a dog ran on to the field. Barnes captured the dog and carried it to the umpire and said: “Now all you want is a white stick.”

7.  Injury before debut: Barnes was named in the Australia squad for the 1938 tour to England. However, he broke his wrist on the sea voyage. Fearing he might be sent back to Australia, Barnes did not disclose his injury until the ship crossed Gibraltar. As a result, he had to miss half of the 30 First-Class games his side was scheduled to play on the tour.

8.  Career coincided with War: Barnes, who made his international debut in 1938, saw his career coincide with World War II. As a result, it was cut short significantly. During the war period, he did not get to play any international game as all foreign tours were suspended. He joined the Second Australian Imperial Force in 1942, but left it early as he wanted to join a tank-making firm. He resumed playing First-Class cricket for New South Wales (NSW) in 1945-46 with great success and was subsequently appointed the captain of the state team in the following season.

9.  Record stand with the ‘DON’: During the second Ashes Test of 1946, Barnes shared a record fifth wicket stand of 405 runs with Bradman. Co-incidentally, both the batsmen scored an equal 234 runs during their partnership, which is a record even today. It remains the highest identical score by two batsmen in the same innings.

10.  When the Invincible got hit: In 1948, Barnes was a part of Bradman’s ‘Invincible’ side, which did not lose a single match on its England tour. His batting and fielding both were instrumental in his team’s victories. On that tour, he started a new trend of standing very close to the batsman on the forward short-leg position, which worked. However, after being hit by a shot on his ribs, he had to sit out of the game and give up on that fielding position.

11.  Prankster: Barnes was a fun loving character and his team’s biggest pranksters. Once, during the 1946-47 Ashes, he got a huge block of ice and threw it on the roof of the English dressing-room during the match. His act resulted in a loud voice and a lot of commotion, bringing the entire English squad out. Barnes described the situation as, “those English words certainly did stand out”. Some of his other famous pranks include ‘abducting’ the twelfth man Ernie Toshack during one of the tour matches to play tennis, parking his car in a VIP area, allowing children on the field of play, and offending the Royal Family.

12.  Turnstile incident: Another interesting anecdote from Barnes’ life is the turnstile incident. During one of the matches of the 1946-47 Ashes, Barnes left the ground to give two complimentary tickets allotted to him to his friends and was returning back when a turnstile attendant stopped him from entering the ground. An argument followed and eventually Barnes jumped the turnstile and resumed batting.

13.  Souvenir: During the 1948 Ashes, another hilarious incident involving Barnes happened. Chasing a modest 98, Australia were cruising towards win with Barnes in middle. With five runs required, Barnes hit a boundary towards the fine-leg and assuming it was victory, collected a stump as souvenir and sprinted towards the dressing room. However, when he was forced to come out to complete the winning formalities, he came out in disgust with the stump. The single was completed by his partner and as it happened, Barnes was eventually deprived of the souvenir.

14.  £8 bet: During the Lord’s Test of the same series, Barnes had placed a bet of £8 at the odds of 15:1 on scoring a hundred. Though he fell for a first-inning duck, he went on to score 141 in the second innings to win his bet.

15.  Escaped the custom officers: While returning from the Ashes tour of 1948, which eventually proved to be his last outing for Australia, Barnes had signed several business deals which earned him a lot of goods and cash. He somehow learnt that the customs officers were waiting for him at Sydney, and in order to escape them, he disembarked at Melbourne and reached Sydney by train. He later ended up selling the cargo at an amount equivalent to his tour fee.

16.  Libel: After playing his last game in 1948, Barnes made a surprise comeback in 1951-52 season for NSW in order to revive his international career. Some good performances earned him a place in the team as the selectors picked him and sent his name to the board, which vetoed their decision and excluded him ‘on grounds other than cricket ability.’ There was a huge furore as media questioned board’s decision. Later, a reader Jacob Raith wrote to a newspaper that board was correct in not picking Barnes because of his character. Barnes took the author to court over it and also targeted the board, which later admitted mistake on their part and made a public apology.

17.  The most stylish 12th man: In 1952-53, during a state match against South Australia, Barnes acted in a weird way as the 12th man of his side. During a drinks-break on Day 2, he turned up dressed in a suit instead of whites, carrying items such as cigars, iced towels, a mirror and comb, a radio and a clothes brush. His joke was taken well by the crowd initially, but later they accused him of causing the delay. He was asked to express regret by his state board, but he refused. The NSWCA regretted on his behalf.

18.  Life after cricket: Barnes left the game with a healthy international as well as First-Class average of over 63 and 54 respectively. After quitting the game, he ventured into property development and also tried hand at journalism by writing columns for Daily Express. It is said that his columns, which carried his candid opinion, cost him his friends from the game. He later developed the bipolar disorder and suffered from depression, which eventually forced him to end his life on December 16, 1973. He was survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)