John ('Jack') Blackham

BLACKHAM, MR. JOHN MCCARTHY, in the opinion of many people, the finest of all wicket-keepers and unquestionably a player who, in that capacity, had no superior, was born at Fitzroy, near Melbourne, on May 11, 1853, and first played cricket with the Carlton Club at Melbourne. At different times it has been urged on behalf of Blackham that in standing up to fast bowling without a long-stop he set a new fashion--indeed that he first taught Englishmen what wicket-keeeping really could be. This claim is incorrect. Several English wicket-keepers-- George Pinder, of Yorkshire, Tom Plumb, of Buckinghamshire and, most notably, Dick Pilling, of Lancashire--were always prepared to stand up to fast bowling without a long-stop, and often did so, but on the rough wickets of 60 years ago or more the ball flew about to such an extent that the practice of doing without long stop was, generally speaking, ill-advised.

As a matter of fact Blackham, when he first came to England in 1878, had no really fast bowling to take except that of Spofforth, and Spofforth was more often fast-medium than really fast. Incidentally it may be recalled that, whereas Blackham, when Spofforth bowled his fastest, went back, Pilling used to say he himself could not stand back and in no circumstances did he do so. Still, as Blackham's greatness there can be no question whatever: as to whether he was really of higher ability than Pilling, who died when only 35 years of ago, opinions differed. Certainly both men were beautifully neat in all they did, and wonderfully accurate in stumping as well as in catching. Blackham stood exceptionally close to the wicket, was marvellously quick and in what was practically one action gathered the ball and whipped off the bails.

Blackham came over here with every one of the first eight teams from Australia and was captain of that of 1893. Outside his superb wicket-keeping he was a very useful bat. Like most of the early Australian batsmen he had no pretentions to style but was strong in unorthodox hitting and a very difficult man to bowl out. His highest score in England was one of 96 against Warwickshire at Birmingham in 1888.

In view of the fame to which he quickly attained after his arrival in England it is worthy of mention that previously W. L. Murdoch, the great Australian batsman, was generally regarded as the superior wicket-keeper. Indeed, Scores and Biographies in its remarks on what is now classed as the first Test Match--that at Melbourne in 1877 when Australia won by 45 runs--states that Spofforth refused to assist because his own wicket-keeper, W. L. Murdoch, did not play. Incidentally it may be mentioned that England--strictly Lillywhite's team--had no wicket-keeper on that occasion, Pooley, consequent upon some fracas, having been detained in New Zealand. An account of the game states that Selby and Jupp 'kept' in turn, but neither proved equal to the job. The generally accepted belief that at the start of the tour of 1878 in this country Murdoch ranked as the leading wicket-keeper of the side is strengthened by the fact that, in the match in which the Australians made their first appearance at Lord's and proceeded to establish their fame by beating with nine wickets to spare in the course of a single day's play a most powerful team of the M. C. C., Murdoch found a place in the eleven and Blackham was left out. Blackham's first appearance at Lord's was in the match against Middlesex in 1878, when, although the Hon. Edward Lyttleton made 113--the only hundred hit against the Australians that year--the Australians won by 98 runs.

In the course of the memorable tour which opened at Brisbane on November 10, 1877, and closed at Inglewood on January 10, 1879--period of 14 months-- Blackham played 90 innings and, if he averaged less than 13, only one member of the team-- Charles Bannerman--averaged over 20, the average of Horan--second on the list--being 18. One of Blackham's most notable performances as a wicket-keeper was against an Eighteen on a rough, bumpy pitch at Stockport in 1878 when he stumped six and caught four.

For many years a clerk in the Colonial Bank at Melbourne, Blackham was 5ft. 9½ ins. in height and in his early manhood weighed only 10st. 6lb. Like several other members of the first Australian Team he wore a beard as a young man of 23 and kept to it all through life.

He died at Melbourne on December 27, and so was in his 80th year.

© John Wisden & Co