Monday, 26 November 2018

Spofforth, the Demon Bowler

Image result for Fred-Spofforth
In the 140 years since Test Match cricket began, there have been many bowlers who were greatly feared by the batsmen who faced them, but the original Demon Bowler; the first great bowler to appear on the international stage; was the Australian F. R. Spofforth.
Frederick Robert Spofforth was born at Balmain, near Sydney, in 1853, and was brought up in the Australian bush. He grew to be well over six feet tall, lean and strong, with a piercing eye and a great bristling moustache.
   In those days, cricket in Australia was played with underarm bowling, but when the young Spofforth watched the fast overarm bowling of  the touring Englishman George Tarrant he decided to copy him. A few years later he watched another touring Englishman, Alfred Shaw, with his changes of pace and flight, and resolved to use these methods too. He experimented with different grips of the ball whilst using the same bowling action. If he can be said to have had a single stock delivery, it would be a medium-paced off-cutter, placing two short-leg fieldsmen for close catches, but often bowling batsmen "through the gate" between bat and pad. Incidentally, this shows that intelligent pad-play was still in its infancy, since at the time a batsman could not be out LBW to a ball that pitched outside the off stump.  
   He was soon taking an impressive number of wickets, and although he was not selected for the first-ever Test Match between Australia and England, at Melbourne in March 1877, he did play in the second a fortnight later; his first victim, ironically enough, being his unwitting mentor Alfred Shaw. He was then duly selected to visit England with an Australian cricket team in 1878. 
   Oddly enough, no Tests were played on that tour, but Spofforth announced his powers, and the strength of Australian cricket, when in a single day at Lord's he took 10 wickets for 20, bowling the great W.G. Grace for a duck and twice dismissing M.C.C. for very low scores. Then, when an England team returned to Australia six months later, he scored his first international triumph, taking 6 for 48 and 7 for 62 at Melbourne in the only Test. In the first innings of this match he achieved the first-ever Test hat-trick.

  It was in 1882, at the Oval, that Spofforth attained immortality. In a very low-scoring match played on a wet pitch, he took 7 for 44 in the first innings and 7 for 44 in the second, dismissing England for only 77 and winning the match by 7 runs. It was this debacle that caused a journalist to lament "the death of English cricket", with the comment that "the body will be creamted and the ashes taken to Australia"; thereby unwittingly establishingthe symbol of the oldest rivalry in Test cricket. 
   Other notable performances followed, all at Sydney: 7 for 44 in 1883; 6 for 90 in the second Test in 1885, followed by 5 for 30 in the third. On the 1884 tour of England he took 207 wickets in all matches 

Spofforth played his last Test in the 1886/7 series against England; being succeeded by the likes of Turner, Ferris and Trumble as spearheads of the Australian attack. His final tally was 94 Test wickets in 18 matches for an average of 18.41. Not long afterward his final Test he moved to live in England.

    After settling in England, he played some matches for Derbyshire, where his family had originated, and also played club cricket for Hampstead, taking a great number of wickets at less than 10 runs apiece. 
 His final appearance in first class cricket was at the Scarborough Festival in 1896, finishing with 8 wickets for 74 for M.C.C. against Yorkshire: a Demon to the very last.
   Unlike many sportsmen, he had a successful career after retirement. He became director of a tea importing company, and when he died in 1926 he left the very substantial sum of £164,000. He was clearly as effective as a businessman as he had been as a Demon Bowler. 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

To the North

Last month we were invited to our niece's wedding, up near Inverness, so we thought we might make a whole week's trip out of it.

Our first stop was at Penrith, where I used to live. A few mikes to the south of the town, we visited Lowther Castle. This monstrous Victorian pile has been a roofless shell for many decades, though a start has recently been made in restoring the gardens.

The chapel is some distance away, and has some fine tombs of the Lowther family
The Lowthers were a dominant political force in the Lake District and beyond for many centuries, sometimes controlling as many as nine M.P.s. To this day, the Conservative colours in the area are yellow,because this was the Lowther colour.

In St. Andrew's churchyard in Penrith is the so-called "Giant's grave"

It is actually some Viking-era hogbacks between two battered Celtic crosses

The next day we drove up to Pitlochry for two nights, and spent a day exploring around

This is looking westwards along Loch Tummel; said to be Queen Victoria's favourite view.
   We then drove to the western end of Loch Tummel and a few miles south to the eastern end of Loch Tay

A shorth distance down the Tay we found Menzies castle.
This was built in the 16th century, replacing an earlier castle. Clan Menzies seems to have been Noerman in origin. Because the clan supported the government during the Jacobite revolts, their home escaped destruction.

We continued north the next day. Because were were in good time, we diverted through Grantown-on-Spey to Nairn, where a cold northerly gale was driving the breakers onto a deserted beach.
The rocky headland in the distance is the Black Isle. Inverness is out of sight round to the left.

The wedding was held at Achnagairn castle, a Victorian mansion in "Scottish Baronial" style, a few miles west of Inverness.

Here is the happy couple; Ayesha and Andrew. We wish them well.

Friday, 2 November 2018


Emily sprinkled the chocolate shards on her breakfast cappuchino and wondered what picture the random blotches would conjure up in her mind today. But she had no time to waste daydreaming, so she took a quick snap of it with her mobile and then slurped it down before hurrying off to work. Later on, she could observe it at leisure, or even discuss it with her friends to see what they made of it.
Sometimes it was a fish, and once it was a rodeo rider whirling a lariat, but most often it was a dog. Emily loved dogs. Yes, this one was a dog: a short-legged, flop-eared little mutt, standing on its hind legs and looking straight at her. A dachshund or terrier of some kind; how cute!
Examining the photo again before she went to bed, Emily noticed that the dog appeared to be wearing glasses, and carried a bag or basket in its left paw. So, a cartoon dog. Perhaps the pictures she’d seen on previous days had been cartoon creatures too. Now that was an idea: stories about cartoon animals and people that came to life on a cup of cappuchino! She could become a famous children’s author! Emily was confident that she might have the ability to do this, but doubted whether she would have the time or the energy. She enjoyed her job, which was an important and responsible one, and well remunerated, but it was very exhausting, and often she felt completely drained when she came home. This was one of those evenings. As she sat slumped in her chair, she wondered what was in the dog’s bag, and the answer came into her head, “Cocaine”. Now that would make it something very different, she mused: a cartoon for adults, dark and probably violent …..
In bed, waiting to go to sleep, she wondered; Why did cocaine suddenly occur to her then? Was it something to do with that colleague at work, a senior director, no less, whom they suspected of being a user? And didn’t he once hint to her that she might like to visit him and try some? But Emily didn’t want to go there, and she had avoided the issue by pretending that she hadn’t understood the hint.
She was still picturing the little dog with the mysterious basket when she fell asleep.