A joyous cricketer, who played with splendid verve, 1976

F. R. Foster — a prince of the Golden Age

Rowland Ryder

F. R. Foster was one of the most astonishing performers ever to have played the game of cricket. His career lasted from 1908 until 1914; it was all over when he was twenty-five. A dashing personality, an inspiring captain with tremendous flair, a brilliant all-rounder, his enthusiastic verve set the cricketing world ablaze. At the age of twenty-two he had accepted the captaincy of a sadly struggling Warwickshire eleven and led them to victory after victory. After that, he went to Australia, and with Sydney Barnes, shattered the Australian batting. "Before he was twenty-four" wrote P. F. Warner, "he had done enough to earn everlasting fame in the history of cricket."

Frank Rowbotham Foster was born on January 31, 1889, in Small Heath, Birmingham. He was of Lincolnshire descent, and was not related to the famous Foster family of Worcestershire. He attended what was then Solihull Grammar School, where he played his earliest cricket, and later played for Hall Green, gaining a reputation as a fastish left-arm bowler.

He got his first chance for Warwickshire in June 1908, playing against Derbyshire at Derby. He made an impressive start as a bowler, taking six wickets in the match for 52 runs. Warwickshire's next match was against Surrey, and the nineteen-year-old Frank Foster celebrated his first visit to London by capturing the wickets of Jack Hobbs and Tom Hayward. He played altogether five games in 1908, finishing with twenty-three wickets for seventeen runs each.

By 1909 he had become an established member of the side, under the captaincy of A. C. S. Glover; he played in seventeen matches, taking 48 wickets at 26 runs a wicket and scoring 530 runs for an average of 24: against the Australians he had the satisfaction of clean bowling Victor Trumper for 1. "F. R. Foster, one of the most promising all round cricketers in the county" ran the Warwickshire report in Wisden, "did admirable service with bat and ball..." and he took more wickets than anyone except Santall. It was suggested that he might have been still more effective but for sacrificing accuracy of pitch to a higher rate of speed -- a tactful way of saying that he sometimes tried to bowl too fast! Like a good many left arm bowlers, he was a right-hand batsman, and he was already showing signs that he believed in keeping the scorers occupied.

Warwickshire had a poor season in 1910. A. C. S. Glover had resigned the captaincy and his official successor, H. J. Goodwin, could play in only half the matches. That season Foster came into his own as a bowler, taking a hundred wickets for the first time. For Warwickshire he took 91 wickets at 22 runs each, and in three games for the Gentlemen against the Players he took altogether 17 wickets for 242 runs, his victims including Hobbs, Hayward, J. T. Tyldesley (twice) and Rhodes (twice). The Warwickshire report in Wisden described Foster as "a long way the most brilliant all-round man in the county."

It seemed likely that 1911 would be even more disastrous for Warwickshire than 1910, especially as H. J. Goodwin was no longer available. Who then, should be the new captain? In desperation the committee offered the job to F. R. Foster, who, like a batsman trying to run himself out, answered Yes, No, and finally, Yes again.

Warwickshire's first match in the long dry summer of 1911 was against Surrey, and they lost by an innings early in the second day. It was this disaster which caused Foster, who had not played in the Surrey match, to change his mind and accept the captaincy.

Victories immediately followed, against Lancashire, Leicestershire and Sussex. Against Lancashire Foster showed uncanny flair by introducing the young Jack Parsons (now the Rev. Canon J. H. Parsons) -- a promising batsman but hardly a first-class bowler -- into the attack. The object was to capture J. T. Tyldesley's wicket. The move succeeded brilliantly. Parsons got Tyldesley caught behind and was then taken off. In Warwickshire's seventh match, against Derbyshire at Blackwell, Derbyshire needed 40 to win with five wickets to fall. At this point Foster took off Warwickshire's opening bowler Frank Field and put on A. B. Crawford -- a casual member of the side, a tall, bumpy fast bowler, as Foster described him. Crawford took two wickets and Warwickshire won by 14 runs.

By the end of June, Warwickshire had played eight matches, having won four and lost four. This was not bad going, but they were well down the Championship table and it is doubtful if, at this juncture, Foster himself had any serious hopes of winning the Championship. A new system of scoring had been introduced: there were five points for a win, three for a win on first innings and one point to the side behind, drawn matches with no decision on first innings were not counted. As the sixteen counties competing in the 1911 Championship played varying numbers of matches, positions in the table were worked out on percentages.

During the remainder of the season Warwickshire, playing like a revitalised side, and responding superbly to the leadership of their twenty-two-year-old captain, won nine of their twelve remaining matches, and they very nearly won two of the three drawn games. In doing all this they picked up fifty-four points out sixty.

July was heralded with an innings victory against Hampshire; next Warwickshire had much the better of a draw against Surrey, Foster scoring a chanceless 200 in three hours. Victories followed against Northamptonshire, Sussex and Gloucestershire. Foster scored 98 in an hour and a half against Northamptonshire, and took five for 25 in their second innings; he made 65 and took five for 52 against Sussex; in a seven wicket win against Gloucestershire he took five for 76 and three for 59; he also scored 56 and 87.

In their fourteenth Championship match Warwickshire completely outclassed Yorkshire at Harrogate. Set 257 to win Yorkshire collapsed before the bowling of Field and Foster, and were all out for 58. It is recorded that during this innings, one of the Yorkshire batsmen walked out without an appeal being made, saying that he had had enough. Foster made 60 in forty minutes and 101 in an hour and three-quarters. As a fast scorer he seems to rank second only to Jessop; his big innings were generally scored at 60 at more runs an hour.

There was a drawn game at Southampton, and then the crowds flocked the Edgbaston for the Bank Holiday match against Worcestershire. Nineteen thousand enthusiasts saw Foster score 85 in ninety minutes on the first day, and then later take four of the five wickets that fell before stumps were drawn. Worcestershire however, narrowly escaped defeat.

Next came a win against Derbyshire. Foster made 70 in as many minutes in the second innings, after which he took six for 37 in Derbyshire's total of 180. Lancashire were beaten by an innings -- Foster scored 98 in a hundred minutes -- and Leicestershire were defeated in two days at Hinckley.

The last match, against Northamptonshire, has passed into Warwickshire folklore. In order to win the Championship Warwickshire had to win the match. "Are you going to beat'em, Mr. Foster?" shouted a spectator, as the team left New Street station, Birmingham. "Beat'em? We'll paralyse 'em!" he is reported to have called back.

Northamptonshire won the toss, but were all out before lunch for 73, Foster taking five for 18 in 13.2 overs. At the end of the second day, Northamptonshire with seven wickets down, needed 71 to avoid an innings defeat. Foster recounted that on that night, most of the Warwickshire team were too excited to go to bed at all. Foster himself tried to get to bed at 4 a.m., but was quickly roused to play a game of Farmer's Glory, and he adds that the sun was shining when the team left the card table for the breakfast table. Northamptonshire lost their last three wickets in thirty-five minutes, and Warwickshire returned in triumph to New Street, where a joyous crowd awaited them. Punch celebrated the occasion with a full page cartoon, captioned 'Two Gentlemen of Warwickshire' depicting William Shakespeare shaking hands with a beflannelled Frank Foster. "Tell Kent from me she hath lost says" Foster, and Shakespeare replies "Warwick, thou art worthy."

Warwickshire's success was indeed a splendid achievement; not since the Championship had expanded in 1895 with the introduction of new counties, had any team outside the Big Six -- Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Yorkshire -- won the Championship. Foster himself had played an enormous part in his county's success. Not only had his leadership revitalised the side; he was top of both batting and bowling averages, scoring 1,383 runs for an average of 44.61, and taking 116 wickets for an average of 19 runs a wicket. Foster himself, summing up Warwickshire's success in his memoirs, 'Cricketing Memories,' (by Frank Foster. London Publishing Co.) had this to say:

"The very hot season, the dry and fast wickets, the 'keeping of 'Tiger' Smith, the will to win, the absurd changes of bowling, the friendship between the committee and myself, the advice of R. V. Ryder, the wickets prepared by Bates our groundsman, the friendliness of all spectators, the encouragement from the crowd, the help of the new ball and the help of Frank Field at Harrogate plus the help of Fate at Northampton made Warwickshire the Champion County for the season of 1911."

Wisden chose him as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year for the 1912 issue, the others being Phil Mead, Herbert Strudwick, Jack Hearne and Warwickshire's own Septimus Kinneir. "Not since W. G. Grace in the early days of the Gloucestershire eleven" said Wisden in the Warwickshire report, "has so young a captain been such a match-winning force on a county side. Foster was always getting runs, always taking wickets and over and above all this, he proved himself a truly inspiring leader."

Frank Foster was naturally chosen to tour Australia at the end of the season; and his bowling partnership with Sydney Barnes proved the most important factor in England winning the Ashes. The M.C.C. team was to have been led by P. F. Warner, but, after scoring 151 in the first match, against South Australia, he became ill, and took no further part in the tour, J. W. H. T. Douglas deputising as captain. Foster opened the tour with centuries against South Australia and Victoria. He also acquired the reputation of being the best-dressed man in the team, inspiring an Australian rhymester to write:

"The flannel pants of Foster cost A guinea clear per pair."

In the five Test matches Foster's performances as a batsman were creditable without being remarkable, his scores being 56, 21, 9, 71, 50, 15, 4 - 226 runs for an average of 32.28, his 71 being a most un-Fosterlike innings lasting nearly three hours.

It was as a bowler that he excelled himself. His greatest performance was perhaps in the Third Test match. Australia in their first innings, batting on a perfect wicket, were all out for 133. "Foster was in his deadliest form" wrote Wisden. "He began by bowling eleven overs, six maidens for eight runs and one wicket and finished up with the remarkable average of five wickets for 36."

His final analysis read:

OversMaidensRunsWickets
269365

His five victims were Kelleway, Hordern, Armstrong, Clem Hill and Minnett. The left-handed Clem Hill was out first ball, stumped by Tiger Smith off Foster's bowling, while attempting a glide. P. F. Warner has described this planned piece of stumping as one of the technical masterpieces of the game. Tiger Smith himself, who kept to Foster's bowling through much of the latter's career, and who recalls so vividly this Test match series, claims that Clem Hill should have been given out stumped Smith, bowled Foster 0 in his second innings, and that he was out by about twelve inches. However, the umpire thought otherwise, and Clem Hill went on to make 98. England won this match by seven wickets and the series by four matches to one.

Foster took five for 92 in the second innings of the first Test, six for 91 in the second innings of the second Test, four for 77 and three for 38 in the fourth Test, and four for 43 in 30.1 overs in the second innings of the fifth Test. The final figures of the Foster--Barnes combination for the five Test matches make interesting reading:

OversMaidensRunsWicketsAverage
Foster275.5586923221.62
Barnes297647783422.88

1912 was the year of the rain-ridden Triangular Tournament, involving England, Australia and South Africa, each country playing three Test matches against the other two, so that each country played six matches in all. Foster played in all six Tests for England. He did great things in the first Test match against South Africa, taking five for 16 in the first innings -- all clean bowled, and three for 54 in the second. In general however, the pitches were too slow for him, and a third full season without a rest must have taken its toll. For Warwickshire he scored 600 runs for an average of 19.61, but considering the slow pitches, did surprisingly well with his bowling, taking 85 wickets at 16 runs a wicket.

In 1913 he was clearly not himself, and had to rest for three matches. He scored 782 runs for Warwickshire, including a century against Hampshire, but his ninety-one wickets -- again on the hard fast pitches that he loved -- cost over 24 runs a wicket.

In 1914, Frank Foster was back on top form. He scored 1,396 runs for an average of thirty-five, and took 117 wickets for a little over eighteen runs a wicket; his bowling figures, in fact, were slightly better than they were in 1911. Against Worcestershire, at Dudley, Foster played the innings of his life, scoring 305 not out in four hours and twenty minutes; during the course of this innings a stand of 166 with Tiger Smith, who made 42, lasted seventy minutes.

The last game that Foster ever played for Warwickshire was against Surrey at Edgbaston on August 27, 28 and 29. He opened the innings, both as a batsman and as a bowler, scoring 81 -- "a delightful innings" says Wisden -- and 7; taking four for 24 and five for 48 in a Warwickshire victory against a fine Surrey side. Eight of Foster's nine victims were clean bowled.

It is difficult to assess F. R. Foster in terms of cricketing greatness, owing to the comparative brevity of his career. It is chiefly as a bowler that he will be remembered; second as a dynamic captain, third, as a batsman. This at least can be said: as a bowler he went through an Australian tour with Sydney Barnes at his zenith, and wicket for wicket, proved himself his equal; as a captain, he evoked comparison with the young W. G. Grace; as an attacking batsman he was not far short of Jessop.

How did Foster bowl? This is what he wrote himself: "I took a short eight-yard run, holding the ball always in my left hand with 'seam-up' and I always delivered the ball from the very edge of the bowling crease." Foster also felt very strongly that no left-hander should ever attempt to bowl over the wicket.

This is how P. F. Warner describes Foster's action. "Bowling left-hand round the wicket with a high delivery -- he was six feet tall -- his action was the personification of ease. A few short steps, a graceful skip, an apparently medium-paced ball through the air, but doubling its speed as it touched the ground, he kept an exceptional length. He did in fact once bowl two consecutive maiden overs to Jessop!"

And a wicket-keeper's eye view -- "I remember the first time I 'kept to him" wrote Herbert Strudwick. "It was at Lord's in an England v The Rest match. Seymour (Kent) was batting. The first ball Mr. Foster bowled appeared to be well on the leg side. Seymour shaped to play it to leg and I moved that way, but, believe me, we were both surprised when the ball flashed over the off stump, and when it went for four byes I thought I was in for a good afternoon."

Foster bowled at the leg stump, and he certainly hit the wickets pretty frequently. In 1911 74 of his 116 victims were clean bowled and 10 were l.b.w. -- a left-hander bowling at the edge of the crease could hardly expect more. Foster would seem to have developed his leg theory bowling during the Australian tour; in certain respects he did what Larwood was doing in Australia twenty-one years later; if Foster's thirty-two wickets, for an average of 21.62, were obtained at a slightly higher cost than Larwood's thirty-three wickets at 19.51, perhaps, all in all, Foster had a greater team to bowl against.

In his field placing for the Tests in Australia, Foster had a mid-off, cover and deep third man; wicket-keeper, long leg, a semi-circle of four close in leg side fielders (two in front of the wicket and two behind) and a mid-on. Foster's four death trap fieldsmen, as he called them, were George Gunn, Frank Woolley, Bill Hitch and Wilfred Rhodes: they took nine catches off his bowling in the Tests.

As a right-handed batsman he was stylish, vigorous and attacking, though Wisden says that his bat was not quite straight and that he took too many risks. An unfortunate motor-cycle accident in 1915 terminated his cricket career. His book of cricketing memories was published in 1930. Frank Foster died in 1958.

He was, above all, a joyous cricketer, who played the game with splendid verve. During the wonderful summer of his achievement that lasted from May 1911 until March 1912, he was probably without equal on the cricket field. The photograph of him in the pavilion at Edgbaston, shows him at the wicket, modestly confident, cap set just so, bat upraised, left leg forward, prepared to meet all comers with a smile: F. R. Foster -- Warwickshire and England.

© John Wisden & Co