Fast, even on a sticky wicket, 1908

South African bowling

RE Foster

The cricket season of 1907 will always be remembered by two distinct features. 1.-The extremely bad weather. 2.-The South Africans" bowling. The less said about the former the better, though the rain and the consequent soft wickets did raise a very interesting question; namely, would the South Africans have fared better in a good dry season ? Now, looking at their performances against the countries, it seems difficult to conceive how they could have improved on their magnificent record, how ever good and fast the wickets might have been. Before their arrival in this country we were told that they must have hard wickets to really suit their particular kind of bowling, but the way they bowled, not only in representative games, but against the counties on sticky wickets, was a revelation to many a good judge of cricket. The feature of their bowling on these wickets was the extraordinary pace the ball came off the pitch. This was to be expected on fast wickets, but no one had foreseen that the same thing would happen on really slow ones. Truly, as one old hand said in the Test Match at Leeds, it was like playing Briggs through the air and Tom Richardson off the pitch. Now, the opinion of English cricketers who went to South Africa with the M. C. C. team in 1905 is, that there is all the difference in the world between our fast good wickets and the South African matting wickets, and this lies in the varying height in the bound of the ball. On the matting the ball nearly always has be played about chest high, a fact enormously increasing the difficulty of dealing with such bowling. On our fast wickets the ball may turn very quickly and go either one of two ways, but it nearly always comes the same height; and I maintain that the English team would have got any amount of runs under such conditions, and more than that, the South Africans would not have done so well in a dry season. Had the Test Matches been played on matting it quite possibly might have been another matter, though it is open to question (their batting being rather a weak point) if the bowling could have carried them to victory in representative games. South African bowlers could be hit on a good wicket, and it is possible that a little more enterprise might have spelt success. Jessop showed they could be hit, in a magnificent display in the First Test Match, on a good wicket; but he also showed, at Leeds and the Oval, that they could not be hit on a bad wicket, for not only did the ball turn too quickly, but it came a different height and pace. The result of a comparison of the dangers presented by the South African attack on fast and slow wickets seems to point to a preference for the latter, and I know this to be the opinion of most of the players who represented England against them.

Now let us turn to a detailed description of the bowling. The interest in the attack of the South Africans is centred round four men- Schwarz, Vogler, Faulkner, and White. These men all bowled with a leg-break action, and could make the ball come in from the off. Though England can claim the 'proud originator" of this style of bowling in Bosanquet, it has been left to South Africa to improve it-I will not say perfect-as I am convinced that this style is capable of still further improvement, which in time will be brought nearly to perfection. Bosanquet taught Schwarz, and Schwarz taught the others, and the others are better than their mentors, as Bosanquet has practically given up bowling in this way, and Schwarz, possibly because he finds he can get as many people out as he wishes, only breaks the ball from the off, but always with a leg-break action. His has been a great achievement this year, of which he and the South Africans may justly be proud, for he is top of the bowling averages, having taken 143 wickets with an average of 11.51 apiece, a performance that speak for itself. It is rather hard to explain his great success, as, though his bowling is the most difficult to hit of the four bowlers mentioned, it is much the easiest to play, because he only breaks one way, and the batsmen have never got to think of the possibility of the ball breaking the other way. The ball comes very slow through the air, and having hit the ground goes off at the most extraordinary pace. There is nothing very deceptive in the fight, but the break varies from six inches to eighteen inches, and on sticky wickets he is quite capable of breaking a yard. Now, a bowler of this description, you will say, must bowl many loose balls; certainly he does, but the pace the ball comes from the wickets imparted by the spin, makes it very difficult indeed for the batsman to place in various parts it accurately between the fielders, six of whom are placed in various parts of the on side, and hitting at random at such bowling courts disaster, and I am sure is one of the causes of his success this year. In addition to their reason, Schwarz is extraordinarily deadly to the last four or five batsmen, and the man who goes in for his county side in rather a humble position seems to have no notion how to play such bowling. He is a great bowler, but I am convinced he gets many more wickets than he should. Play him with your legs-old pavilion critics forgive, but we have to deal with bowling you never had to trouble about-don"t hit at him, place him for one"s and two"s, and wait for the real bad one which you will occasionally get and can score off. Very often a bowler of Schwarz"s description will suffer at the umpire"s hands, but it must be well nigh impossible to tell if the batsman is out when a ball comes so quickly off the pitch, and knowing how much the bowler is capable of making the ball break; finally, I cannot help thinking that Schwarz would prove more deadly could he control his break-i.e., break nothing to a foot, and I believe that he would get many good batsmen out with the ball that does not break at all.

Of the remaining three of this interesting quartette, Faulkner and White can be considered together, but Vogler claims our attention all to himself. He was undoubtedly the finest bowler of a very good lot, indeed many good judges consider him the best bowler in the English cricket season of 1907 . He has rather a hesitating run up to the wickets, but in the last few steps never gets out of his stride. The ball is well concealed from the batsman before delivery, and the flight and variation of pace are very deceptive indeed. With a new ball, Vogler makes the ball swing quite a lot and often starts bowling fast medium off-break, with a swerve. He then will have two slips and a short leg, and perhaps no man out in the country. With the newness worn off the ball he will settle down to his ordinary slow mediums, in which case his field will be, with the exception of three men, disposed of on the on side of the wicket. Vogler, like Schwarz and other bowlers who have cultivated this particular type of bowling, imparts that spin to the ball which enables it to leave the pitch at such a wonderful pace. His usual ball is the leg-break, but once in two overs perhaps he will bowl what the South Africans have designated the wrong "un. Now it is almost impossible to see this ball coming; it seems to the batsman that the ball is delivered in identically the same manner and yet it comes the other way, i.e., from the off. After very careful watching the only difference one can detect, and this is possibly fancy, is that the hand seems to be turned rather more over in the action of delivery. The ball seems to come more out of the back of the hand, and the batsman may be able to see almost the palm of the bowler"s hand. But it is almost impossible to notice any difference, and I was told Sherwell had said that Vogler was the bowler he found most difficulty in detecting. Vogler"s ordinary leg-break will turn from two or three inches up to eighteen inches, but the other one coming from the off rarely breaks more than three or four inches and frequently comes perfectly straight through, and in this case will come even faster off the pitch than the balls that turn. This possibly is due to the bowler intending to bowl the off-break, and through not quite turning the hand or fingers sufficiently, imparts a top spin. This makes the ball come straight through very quickly and is one of the most difficult balls to deal with- lbw so often resulting. Vogler bowls a slow yorker or well pitched up ball that is very deceptive in the flight and seems more to quiver than swing in the air. He clean bowled C. B. Fry with this ball both at Leeds and at the Oval in the Test Matches. As will be seen then, Vogler is a bowler of infinite variation, unbounded resource, and what is better than all, of great natural ability. He can bowl for a long time and does not seem to tire or lose his length. His performances at Lord"s this year against a very strong M.C.C. XI. and again in the First Test Match were as good as anything seen at headquarters for years. Vogler"s average for the season works out at 133 wickets for 15 apiece, and in Test Matches he was, taken all through, much the best and most consistent bowler on the South African side, though actual figures bring Faulkner out above him, due mainly to a great performance in England"s first innings at Leeds. Schwarz does not come out so well, a third of his total number of wickets being obtained in the last innings at the Oval when the English side were risking wickets in order to obtain runs quickly, another instance of the argument that Schwarz cannot be hit recklessly. In Vogler the South Africans possess undoubtedly a bowler of the highest class, and in the writer"s humble opinion the greatest bowler playing cricket in either hemisphere a the present time, and we may dismiss him with many congratulations on his great performances, and many thanks for the great interest and pleasure his bowling has afforded this summer to all lovers of cricket.

Faulkner and White are to all intents and purposes the same bowler. They deliver the ball from practically the same height, and the flight, pace, and break are almost identical. But Faulkner is certainly the more dangerous bowler, and, if there is any difference, comes through the air and off the pitch a shade faster, and is undoubtedly capable of bowling a more unplayable ball. His performance at Leeds in the first innings against England is surely the greatest that has ever been achieved in this unorthodox style of bowling. Gordon White it is true comes out with a better average, having taken 72 wickets for 13 runs apiece against 73 wickets for 15 runs each, but Faulkner did not get into form till practically July and was hardly ever called upon. These two bowlers in the ordinary way deliver much the same ball as the English batsman is accustomed to expect and receive from a leg-break bowler of the Braund-Vine type with two notable differences-(a) the ball comes from the pitch at a far greater pace; (b) the terrible wrong " un. In the first case as has been said above, this characteristic is evident in each of the four bowlers under consideration, and the reason for it is very difficult to explain. A possible cause may be found in the fact that ordinary leg-break bowlers deliver the ball chiefly by the swing of the arm and allowing the ball to come from the back of the hand, whereas the South Africans seem to deliver the ball with a flick, relying entirely on finger and wrist for spin. In the second case both bowlers can effectively bowl the ball that comes from the off with a leg-break action, but again in a measure differ. Faulkner makes the ball break quite a lot from the off and practically always makes it break; White on the other hand makes the ball break comparatively little and very often comes straight through, therefore Faulkner is more likely to clean bowl a batsman and White to get him lbw. Neither has a deceptive flight, and it is possible to see the off-break coming in both cases occasionally. Indeed I venture to think that with more practice against such bowling, batsmen would soon find far less difficulty in seeing the break and possibly might never be at fault. In Vogler"s case and in future artists of his class that may arise (as this type of bowling and the art of concealing a break will greatly improve), I doubt if the batsmen will ever be impossible to deceive.

Before passing to what must be henceforward termed the ordinary kind of bowlers, it may be interesting just to see if this new type of bowling is likely in the future to improve or deteriorate batting from the spectator"s point of view. Personally, I think it will deteriorate batting. For this new kind of bowling is a very great invention, and it is possible it may completely alter cricket, and no one who has not played against it can realize the difference it makes to a batsmen and his shots. It much again be reiterated that this type of bowling is practically in its infancy, and if persevered with-as it surely will be-must improve and become more difficult to deal with. Now a batsmen when he goes in may receive a ball which either breaks from the off, perhaps from the leg, or again may come straight through very quickly. If he survives half-a-dozen overs he ought to be getting set, but such bowling never allows a batsmen to get really set, because he can never make or go for his accustomed shots. The ball just short of a half volley he is accustomed to drive between cover and extra cover fearlessly, now bothers him, and prevents him doing so owing to his inability to discover which way and how much the ball is going to break. And as this bowling improves the difficulty will become increased, till those beautiful drives we are wont to expect from some of our great batsmen will become a thing of the past. Hayward was stumped in both the first two Test Matches, playing that shot through the covers, and after experiences such as these will give up attempting the stroke. No ! such bowling will enormously increase defence at the expense of safe scoring shots, such as drives and cuts, and scoring will be confined to hitting. Many people may maintain that this will be a good thing, but if Hayward"s off-driving and Tyldesley"s cutting are to be seen no more and such strokes to be a lost art to future generations, cricket as far as batting is concerned, must lose a great deal of its attractiveness.

And finally let us turn to the ordinary bowlers. These comprise, Sinclair, Kotze, Nourse, and Snooke. Sinclair is a very fine bowler, and had he played on any other side would have done a great deal better. He never had a chance, and was not put on unless the quartette were unable to get a side out, which was a very rare occurrence. I think he might have been used more, though Sherwell had a very difficult task, having really too much bowling at his command. Sinclair has a nice easy run up to the wicket, and a great command over the flight and pace of the delivery. He uses his great height well, and though bowling quite medium could send down a very fast yorker-a useful and often fatal ball. The members of the English Team had a high opinion of his bowling and were secretly delighted he was not called upon more. His spin enabled him to break the ball on nearly any wickets, and on a pitch that suits him is very difficult to deal with, as he makes the ball get up very quickly from the pitch, as well as come back sharply.

Kotze had a very unfortunate experience, the wet season rendering him of little value to his side. It is impossible to criticize his bowling as he hardly did any, but he did not seem to be very dangerous and rather to have decreased in pace since his last visit to England in 1904 . But he continues to have such great success in South Africa that the cold and wet weather in this country this summer never probably allowed him get loose or into form, and had it been a summer of hard wickets he would undoubtedly have been a very useful member of the side. Nourse is a fast-medium left-hand bowler with a big swerve, and occasionally makes the ball break back off the wickets. He bowls absolutely naturally, and might get a wicket any time-but ought not to defeat a batsman who has defied him for three or four overs. Snooke is a fast, right-hand bowler and gets up rather straight from the pitch; but as the two last mentioned were not called upon to any extent, they can hardly be classed among the regular bowlers of the side.

This brings to a close a brief description of the South African bowling, which from its varied nature and novel characteristics affords a most interesting study to the cricket enthusiast. Taken as a whole they were undoubtedly a magnificent bowling side, to be compared with advantage to any Australian side that has visited England in recent years. Had their batting been of the same calibre, England might well have come off second best.

In conclusion, they have won the admiration of everyone with whom they have come in contact, not only for their cricket capabilities but because they have played the game in the right spirit, being led by a man who has only the best interests of cricket at heart. And all will agree that it has been the greatest pleasure to have met and played with the South African Team of 1907.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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