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In the land of the googly

The wrong'un was nurtured in South Africa? Who knew?

Aubrey Faulkner returns to the pavilion, 1920
Aubrey Faulkner could choose on any given day to be regarded as South Africa's most brilliant batsman or most deadly bowler © The Cricketer International

The other day, Piyush Chawla bowled a googly. The big screen flashed the replay and the crowd went "Wow". Not many know, it's in this land, known for its pace bowlers, that the wild googly was tamed. Bernard Bosanquet, who bowled the legendary Victor Trumper off the very first googly bowled in Australia, in March 1903, couldn't quite control his creation. That was left to South Africa's spinners.

Reggie Schwarz, a batsman who bowled medium pace, played alongside Bosanquet in the Middlesex team. Schwarz was fascinated by the "Bosie" and took a keen interest in the Englishman's experiments with this strange weapon. However, at the end of 1901 season he emigrated to South Africa. Schwarz got a chance in 1904 to renew his friendship with Bosanquet and his creation when he was selected to play for South Africa on the tour of England. He ran into the wiles of Bosanquet in the very first match of the tour, where Bosanquet picked up nine wickets for MCC.

That art is truly international was proved when the eager disciple, Schwarz, found a willing guru in Bosanquet, who passed on the secrets of the wrong'un. By the time the fourth match began, against Oxford, Reggie was amusing his team-mates by practising the delivery in the nets. To their amazement, in the second innings, he grabbed five wickets for 27 runs in seven overs. By the end of the tour he had gone on to top the bowling averages, taking 96 bewildered victims at 14.81.

Schwarz then spread the gospel. Albert "Ernie" Vogler, the legspinner; Gordon White, South Africa's premier batsman; and Aubrey Faulkner, an allrounder, were his disciples. Soon, on the matting wickets of South Africa, they deceived hapless batsmen with bounce, turn and the break-back. The fab four waylaid the Englishmen who toured under Plum Warner in 1905, and demolished them again when South Africa toured England in 1907 - Schwartz with his googlies, Vogler with his legbreaks and surprise wrong'uns and a slow yorker with which he dismissed CB Fry twice in Test matches, Faulkner with his faster breaks, and White with well-concealed googlies.

After World War I, South Africa introduced turf wickets, which were not conductive to spin bowling, and spin slowly died away from the country. The googly, though, found a new home in Australia.

Bosanquet, the creator, lost his way as a bowler, fading away from the scene. Vogler, whom RE Foster rated in 1908 as "the greatest bowler playing cricket in either hemisphere at the present time", strangely did little after the heady days of 1907.

Faulkner was a supreme allrounder with a strange batting grip. In the words of AA Thomson, he "seemed to be able to do everything he wished and to do it serenely... Over a period of years [he] was almost in a position to toss up in any given game, whether he wished to be regarded as South Africa's most brilliant batsman or most deadly bowler". Sometimes, though, even Faulkner found his match - once, memorably, in Jack Hobbs. Herbert Strudwick, the former England wicketkeeper, tells a delightful anecdote about the two:

"I remember G. A. Faulkner after an England tour in South Africa, saying to Jack: 'I only bowled you one googly.'

'Why,' said Jack, 'I didn't know you bowled one.'

Faulkner said: 'You hit the first one I bowled for four. If you didn't know it, how did you know it would turn from the off?'

'I didn't,' answered Jack. 'I watched it off the pitch.'"

Faulkner went on to become a very good coach, and ran a cricket school. Ian Peebles and KS Duleepsinhji were his among his famous pupils. However, he was prone to manic depression and on September 10, 1930, he locked himself in the storeroom of his cricket school and turned on the gas, leaving behind a poignant note: "I am off to another world, via the bat room."

Schwarz, the man responsible for the spread of the googly, served in WWI and died of influenza one week after the armistice ending the war was signed. White died of wounds in the war, again tragically just one month before the signing of the armistice.

It's ironic, against this backdrop that the South Africans don't have a high-quality spinner these days. However, they might point out that Schwarz himself was a convert from pace to spin, or for that matter that the inventor himself in his Oxford days used to bowl medium pace.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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