Dawn of the Demon
They were right to call Fred Spofforth, who was born this day, the Demon: he could do magic. Never more so than in the famous Oval Test of 1882, which gave rise to the legend of the Ashes. England were set only 85 to win, but the fiendish one had already taken 7 for 46 in the first innings. Now he bowled maiden after excruciating maiden, finishing with 7 for 44 and winning the match for Australia by seven runs. If that was his greatest day, others came close. At the MCG in 1878-79, employing hostility and change of pace, he took 13 wickets to beat England by 10 wickets. In 1878 he took 11 wickets for 20 to beat MCC in a day. He and George "Joey" Palmer exchanged the world record for most Test wickets; as usual, the Demon came out on top, finishing with 94 at 18.91 in only 18 Tests. Even his natural successor Dennis Lillee, who matched him for guile and sinister facial hair, was never so cunning an exponent of the dark arts.
The England selectors may have been rather hasty in pigeonholing Neil Fairbrother, who was born today, as a purely one-day batsman. Although his Test average of 15.64 is disappointingly low, and he looked frantic at times, that might be explained by his having played in only 10 matches. He made 83 for a losing side in Madras in 1992-93, and his hand-eye coordination might have won him further chances. Instead he consoled himself with an ODI century against West Indies at Lord's and a 62 that was easily England's top score in the 1992 World Cup final.
For a batsman who has scored so many one-day international hundreds, Sachin Tendulkar had to wait an inordinately long time for his first. In his 78th ODI, a Singer World Series day-nighter against Australia at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium, he hit 110, the first 50 in 43 balls. India won by 31 runs and went on to take the trophy.
If ever a wicketkeeper lived up to the alternative name of stumper, it was Bert Oldfield, who was born today. He was the first to make 100 dismissals in Test cricket, and 52 of his 130 victims were stumped, still a world record. Sometimes stubborn with the bat, he made four Test fifties, all at home, three of them against England, including a gutsy 52 in Sydney against the Bodyline bowlers of 1932-33. Earlier in that notorious series, he made 41 before ducking into a Harold Larwood bouncer that fractured his skull. Slick as a stoat behind the stumps, he took great satisfaction in helping Australia regain the Ashes in 1934.
A car crash in England injured Garry Sobers and killed his close friend, an allrounder who might have gone on to rival his achievements. Two years earlier, while West Indies were losing the Test series in England, O'Neil Gordon "Collie" Smith had scored 161 at Edgbaston and 168 at Trent Bridge. "A joyful character," according to the Wisden Almanack, "he won many admirers." Smith scored 44 and 104 on his Test debut, against the powerful Australians on his home ground in Kingston in 1954-55. His offbreaks brought him 48 Test wickets, including 5 for 90 in Delhi in 1958-59, a series in which he scored his final Test century. A crowd of 60,000 attended his funeral in Jamaica.
There was something of the soldier about Syed Abid Ali, who was born today. Straight back, toothbrush moustache, military-medium bowling. There were times when he did nothing much more than take the shine off the ball for India's battery of spinners, but he had figures of 6 for 55 on his Test debut, in Adelaide in 1967-68. A genuine allrounder, he also had six Test fifties and hit the winning runs in a nail-biter at The Oval in 1971, India's first Test (and series) win in England.