Victor Trumper to Jonty Rhodes, 2000

Images of the century

Patrick Eagar

By happy accident, the dawn of the 20th century coincided almost exactly with the beginnings of cricket photography as a serious proposition. Until about 1900, photographers were still limited by the technology to the inert subjects of the Victorian age. But things were changing fast.

It had suddenly become possible to freeze a fast-moving subject. And an inquisitive young-man-about-London called George Beldam - who was an amateur all-rounder for Middlesex and a scratch golfer as well as a photographic pioneer - began to experiment with the cricketing possibilities.

Beldam was fascinated by the new highly sensitive plates available to him, and revelled in the use of fast shutter speeds that could capture sportsmen in action. In 1905, he published, with C. B. Fry, Great Batsmen: Their Methods at a Glance. Beldam still did not have equipment that was of much use from the boundary edge; everything would probably have been done before play (which is why so many old photographs were taken on the Lord's Nursery). During the project he became so frustrated at the inaccuracy of the net bowlers that he took to bowling himself, firing the camera by use of a long shutter release held in his left hand.

The second major technical breakthrough of the century came after the First World War. One of the spin-offs of the conflict was the development of telephoto lenses, which had been widely used for photo-reconnaissance from aeroplanes and airships. At last, it was feasible to show a match in progress.

But for the next 50 years there was remarkably little change. As late as 1970, some photographers were using cameras their forefathers might have recognised, often very beautiful mahogany and brass contraptions - but dreadful things to lug up staircases. It was in the next decade that high quality long lenses and motor-driven cameras came into general usage, and Fleet Street's cricket photographers were able to move from plates to 35mm film.

There was another difficulty that was not resolved until 1972. Until that time, English Test grounds were closed shops. One photographic agency, Sport and General, had the contracts at Lord's and Headingley; another, Central Press, did the other four venues. In the case of Lord's and The Oval, no other photographer was allowed in, even for minor matches. The quid pro quo for Sport and General - who paid a remarkably small fee - was that they had to be represented at every Lord's game, even Cheltenham v Haileybury. This system clearly became untenable and, these days, seems unimaginable. At the 1999 World Cup final, there were probably 80 professional photographers at Lord's, perched in every nook and cranny.

The ten photographs I have chosen as the Images of the Century reflect all these developments. There is one representing each of the ten decades, which is obviously not quite the same as picking the best ten of the century. Some decades are richer in content than others, and there are many runners-up from the great decades that might challenge some of those chosen. None the less, I hope they are all, in their way, great pictures. The first comes from Beldam: much of his work would qualify, but I have picked the famous shot of Victor Trumper leaping out to drive, the image now used on the green cover of Wisden Australia.

The second decade of the century included the First World War and there is little to find in the archives after 1914. I have chosen a moment of social history - George V meeting the captains of Eton and Harrow at Lord's in 1919. A final glimpse of an age that had already all but disappeared.

Herbert Fishwick of the Sydney Mail used one of the new telephoto lenses in Australia in the 1920s. Probably his best-known photograph of that era is of Walter Hammond cover-driving during his 225 for MCC against New South Wales at Sydney in November 1928. One of the saddest aspects of this famous shot is that no negative appears to exist and thus its reproduction suffers. The original negative would have been on a fragile glass plate, and it would have taken only a moment's carelessness in the dark room to lose it for ever.

For the 1930s, I have chosen the sight of six short legs set to Larwood's bowling in the Brisbane Test of 1932-33. And would Bradman b Hollies 0 be the most famous scoreline of the century? This photographic record of that moment, at The Oval 1948, is almost as famous: the slightly bent knee, the wistful backward glance, the crucial broken wicket.

Also at The Oval, and my choice from the 1950s, is the magnificent picture of Compton and Edrich storming through the crowd following the regaining of the Ashes in 1953. If the movie footage of Compton's winning boundary lingers in the memory, this still image wonderfully sums up the euphoria. In the same decade, mention would have to be made of Jim Laker's 19 wickets at Old Trafford in 1956, but somehow none of the pictures taken conveys the majesty of the achievement itself.

In those more reticent days, the names of the photographers themselves were often unrecorded. From the 1960s, we can give credit where it is due. One of the most unusual Test match pictures was by Dennis Oulds of Central Press at the 1968 Ashes Test at The Oval, showing all 11 England fielders as they surrounded the last Australian batsman. However, Ron Lovitt's superbly timed shot of Meckiff being run out to tie the Test at Brisbane in 1960-61 just gets my vote.

Technical advances in film, cameras and lenses made the job a lot easier from the 1970s onwards. I was lucky enough to be able to take advantage of these changes and, at the editor's insistence, have included an example of my own work: Jeff Thomson in full cry at Lord's in 1975.

For the 1980s, I have chosen an icon of the modern game. Graham Morris will have to forgive me: he has taken many better cricket photographs, but this will probably remain his most famous. Although there were other photographers present, they had already packed up their cameras in the failing light towards the end of a long and tedious day in Faisalabad in December 1987.

I had two possibles on the shortlist for the final decade and, coincidentally, both were of Jonty Rhodes fielding, highlighting one of the most fascinating aspects of the modern game. One, taken during the 1992 World Cup by Indian photographer V. V. Krishnan, is simply stunning: Jonty running out Inzamam in South Africa's match against Pakistan at Brisbane. Unfortunately, The Hindu, the newspaper which owns the copyright, has exceptionally strict rules regarding the publication of its work elsewhere; so I can only commend this photo to anyone who is lucky enough to have the relevant back issue of The Hindu. The alternative is the wonderful photo of Rhodes catching, taken by Adrian Murrell. This was the only one of the ten shot in colour, and certainly the only one in which the player was wearing coloured clothes. It was published in its full glory in Wisden 1999; this time it is black-and-white, reflecting the stark brilliance of the old ways.

Since Fleet Street papers were slow to switch to colour, most pictures were in monochrome until the mid-1990s. In the 21st century, black-and-white will be an extreme rarity. There has been another dramatic development, within the past 12 months: the arrival of digital cameras, which do away even with the need for film, is transforming our trade once again.

Choosing these few pictures to represent the century has been a tough job; and I feel guilty that I have been obliged to leave out the work of people as gifted as Ken Kelly and Hugh Routledge, as well as the talented younger generation who have made such an impact over the past few years. But, all being well, whoever makes this choice in 2100 will have an even tougher time.

Patrick Eagar is chief photographer of Wisden. He has been photographing cricket around the world since 1965.

© John Wisden & Co