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When England's selectors pulled a 37-year-old googly bowler out of the hat for the Ashes
July 19, 2008
The whims of selectors often attract raised eyebrows and brickbats, and occasionally, as with the naming of Darren Pattinson in the England side for the Headingley Test, bemusement. Sometimes their hunches even pay off.
But even Pattinson's call-up cannot match that of 37-year-old Douglas Carr at the end of the 1909 Ashes series. Australia, who had come back from a defeat in the first Test to win at Lord's and Headingley, had taken a 2-1 lead with two games to play.
The selectors turned to Carr for the Old Trafford Test at the end of July though his career at that point consisted of three first-class matches, none of which were in the Championship, and he had never played outside the home counties, which meant few had ever seen him bowl.
The decision was not as desperate a gamble as it might seem. England had been looking for a match-winning googly bowler ever since the success of South Africa's quartet a few years earlier, and Carr fit the bill. As the summer progressed, his name was increasingly promoted by the newspapers despite his lack of experience.
Until that summer, Carr's career had been completely anonymous. At Sutton Vallence, and then Oxford University, he played sport, mainly football and cricket, to a reasonable standard. He had played in the Freshman's Match in 1891 as an ordinary medium-pace bowler, but got no further than that as he was hampered by a knee injury sustained playing football.
For the next decade and a half he played good club cricket in Kent while working as a schoolmaster. "I was always a legbreak bowler of sorts, but often used to bowl medium-fast stuff," he told Wisden at the end of the 1909 season. "I started trying to acquire the googly about four years ago, and practised hard all that winter and the following spring, only to find that directly I had got the offspin I lost the old legbreak entirely... in fact for that season I hardly made the ball turn at all either way.
"In the following year I got a bit better, and in August 1908 I really got the thing going, and met with some success in club cricket." He attracted a little attention in 1908, taking seven wickets for Free Foresters against Oxford University, and rumours started circulating in Kent about Carr's success at club level, but the county only took him on board as an amateur at the start of 1909.
His first-class debut was against Oxford University in May 1909, where he took 5 for 65 in the first innings, opening the bowling, but the Times was unimpressed, noting he "hardly puzzled the batsmen" and adding that his googly "was hardly hard to spot". He bowled at almost medium pace with a low trajectory, and his critics struggled to see what all the fuss was about.
He returned to teaching for the next six weeks while still playing club cricket, taking all ten wickets for 47 in a strong game at Hemel Hempstead in late June. That, plus word of mouth, helped him get selected for the Gentlemen in their prestigious match against the Players at The Oval in early July. He took 8 for 138 in the game, and in the return fixture at Lord's, which followed immediately, he took 6 for 71 on a slow pitch that did not suit him.
In three games Carr had taken 22 wickets for 351 runs and, even though he did not play for Kent after the Lord's match, he was summoned to Manchester before being left out of a 14-man squad. Few had been surprised at his inclusion, or that he was not played on a pitch completely unsuited to his style. He returned to Kent where he made his Championship debut, and in three games took 20 wickets before heading to The Oval for the final Test.
|So much had his reputation grown that on the morning of the match the Times predicted that England's best chance "largely depended on Mr Carr getting the Australians out for a moderate score"|
But by common consensus Archie MacLaren kept Carr on for too long and Bardsley and Victor Trumper rebuilt the innings. Carr "tired to all appearance" in the afternoon, although he took two more late-order wickets in the last session to finish with 5 for 142 as Australia made 325. After a poor start when Australia batted again on the second evening, where he struggled to find his length, Carr was back to form on the third day, taking 2 for 136 and again shouldering the bulk of the bowling. The match ended in a draw.
Carr played solidly for the remainder of the summer, finishing with 95 wickets at 18.27 as Kent won the Championship. His work commitments meant he was unavailable to tour South Africa that winter, although he continued playing for Kent, albeit only from July onwards, for the next five summers with continuing success, winning two more Championship titles in 1910 and 1913. His patchy availability meant he never added to his one Test.
When the World War One came, Carr was 42, and he had retired by the time cricket resumed five years later. He died in a nursing home in 1950 in relative obscurity. But for a few weeks in the summer of 1909 he was England's great hope as the selectors bowed to public and media opinion.
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