August 11, 1870, Byfleet, Surrey
July 02, 1912, St Jean d'Arvey, Chambery, Savoie, France, (aged 41y 326d)
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast
Tom Richardson, whose tragic end caused such a painful shock to his friends, was born at Byfleet, August 11, 1870; died at St Jean d'Arvey, July 2, 1912. He will live in cricket history as perhaps the finest of all fast bowlers. Among the only men who can be placed with him are George Freeman, John Jackson and William Lockwood. Many famous batsmen, among them Ranjitsinhji, contend that on his good days Lockwood was more difficult to play than Richardson, but for consistent excellence there was no comparison between the two bowlers. While he was at his best - from 1893 to 1897 inclusive - Richardson scarcely knew what it was to be out of form. Allowing for the excellence of the wickets on which he had to bowl, it is quite safe to say that his work during those five years has never been surpassed. Too much was exacted from him, but he ought not to have gone off as soon as he did. He began to lose efficiency before he was 28, and though for a year or two longer he did brilliant things he was never again his old self. A great increase in weight rather than hard work was responsible for his comparatively early decline. Looking at the matter in the light of after events, it was no doubt a misfortune that he paid a second visit to Australia. When in the autumn of 1897 he went out with Mr Stoddart's second team, he was at the top of his fame, having just completed a wonderful season's bowling. In English first-class cricket in 1897 he took 273 wickets for less than 14½ runs each. One remembers that when Mr Stoddart's team sailed from Tilbury, Maurice Read was full of forebodings as to the effect the tour might have on Richardson's future, thinking that a winter's rest after his strenuous labours would have been far better for him than Test matches on Australian wickets. After Richardson came home his falling off was plain for all to see. He took 161 wickets in first-class matches in 1898, but his bowling had lost its superlative quality, and only in two or three matches at the end of the season - notably against Warwickshire at The Oval - was he the old Richardson of the previous year. He continued to assist Surrey for several seasons, playing for the county for the last time in 1904. After that he lived for a time at Bath and appeared once at least in the Somerset XI, but he had become bulky in figure, and his day for serious cricket was over.
In his prime Richardson had every good quality that a fast bowler can possess. Lithe and supple in figure he combined with his splendid physique an inexhaustible energy. While he kept his weight down to reasonable limits no day was too long for him. There have been faster bowlers - WN Powys, 40 years ago, and CJ Kortright and Ernest Jones, the Australian, in our own day - but for sustained pace through a long innings he perhaps never had an equal. Pace, however, was only one of his virtues. It was his pronounced offbreak in combination with great speed that made him so irresistible. He took a long run up to the wicket and kept his hand very high at the moment of delivery. Purely a fast bowler, he did nearly all his best work on dry, run-getting wickets. A firm foothold was so essential to him, that he was far less effective after heavy rain than offbreak bowlers of less pace, such as Spofforth and Charles Turner. Still, when the ground was dry on the surface and soft underneath he could be very deadly. One recalls a Surrey and Notts match at The Oval that began under these conditions. Mr JA Dixon won the toss for Notts and, as it happened practically lost the game before luncheon. Richardson on that August Bank Holiday was literally unplayable, fizzing off the pitch and breaking back five or six inches at his full pace.
As regards sustained excellence Richardson never did anything better than his wonderful effort in the last innings of the England v Australia match at Manchester in 1896. After having made England follow on the Australians were left with 125 to get to win. They won the match by three wickets, but it took them three hours to get the runs. It was said at the time that during those three hours Richardson did not send down one really bad ball. He took six wickets and would have won the game if Briggs and Hearne had given any effective help. In the Test match at Lord's in the same season he did one of his finest performances, he and George Lohmann getting the Australians out for a total of 53. Richardson in that innings bowled 11 overs and three balls for 39 runs and six wickets. As contradictory statements have been made on the point, it is only right to say that at the outset of his career the fairness of Richardson's delivery gave rise to a great deal of discussion. When he came out for Surrey in 1892 his action was condemned by, among others, the late WL Murdoch, and when in the Whit Monday match at Trent Bridge in 1893 he gained for Surrey an easy victory over Notts, half the Notts XI expressed a positive opinion that he threw his very fast ball. However, he soon learned to straighten his arm, and little or nothing more in the way of adverse criticism was heard. Like a wise man, Richardson in his great days treated himself as a bowler pure and simple. He once scored 60 against Gloucestershire at The Oval, but he never took his batting seriously. His business was to get wickets and, with that end in view, he kept himself fresh, seldom staying in long enough to discount his bowling. He was one of the pre-eminent cricketers of his generation.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding