Cricketers pick their favourites

'Probably the greatest bowler of all time'

Part one: Geoff Boycott picks the versatile and wilful England bowler Sydney Barnes as the first of his 11 favourite bowlers, in a new series (00:00)

Producer: Ranjit Shinde

February 7, 2012


Sydney Barnes

'Probably the greatest bowler of all time'

February 7, 2012

Sydney Barnes demonstrates his bowling action, 1910
Sydney Barnes: had magic deliveries © Getty Images

Sydney Barnes - many people would say, "Who the hell is he?", because he played quite a while ago, but Sydney Barnes is regarded by many people, many, many people, as probably the greatest bowler of all time. And people are going to say, "Really?"

I will just read his statistics, because I think statistics are important to the point. There has never been a great player with poor statistics, but I know that statistics don't tell everything. We have got to try and judge the players we didn't see on what we read about the players that played against them, how strong the teams were and what conditions the pitches were in. Sydney Barnes only played 27 Tests against Australia and South Africa and he got 189 wickets at 16.43.

Now, what did he bowl? He was a tall man with big hands, big fingers, and he bowled a kind of quickish cutter. People remember Bill O'Reilly - Barnes was probably a bit quicker than O'Reilly, and he swung the ball in and then cut it away. Or he had the other magic ball, where he swung it out and cut it back. Now the Australian great players at that time, like Clem Hill, said that he just bowled magic balls.

He was quite a character. He went to South Africa, played four Test matches, got over 40 wickets in the series, and he wouldn't play the fifth Test match because he said that the MCC, who ran English cricket then, had promised to pay for his wife and they hadn't done so. And because they hadn't paid for her, he wasn't going to play. He could have got over 50-odd wickets in a series.

He went to Australia, bowled well on the flat pitches against their very best batsmen. There he played a match where he wasn't given the new ball by the captain, and he was so miffed, he bowled but didn't bowl his best. He got [three wickets] in the first and one in the second. He played hell about it, and in the next Test the captain gave him the new ball and he bowled Australia out. So he was a fiery character.

He wouldn't always play county cricket. He played a little bit for Lancashire, quite a bit for Warwickshire. But he didn't play all the time. He refused to play county cricket all the time because he could make more money bowling in the leagues or playing for Staffordshire in the minor counties. And his overall record in every minor county match - that's second team - first team, first-class cricket, Test cricket, everything he ever played, he got a wicket for about six runs. It's unbelievable, isn't it?

Posted by   on (February 7, 2012, 21:57 GMT)


Posted by Charindra on (February 7, 2012, 9:42 GMT)

Greatest bowler ever? Really Mr. Boycott?? He played 27 matches! On uncovered pitches! Against just TWO teams! No disrespect to him, but that's not a career. It's a streak. Muralitharan has had streaks longer than 30 matches where he has got on average 5 wickets each innings. And if you really want to talk statistics in judging the greatest bowler ever, I've got four words for you. 133 matches - 800 wickets!

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