Robert Thoms

ROBERT THOMS.--For some time before he passed away on June 10 there had been such very bad accounts for Bob Thom's health that no one was at all surprised when the announcement of his death appeared in the papers. It had been known for some months there was no chance of his recovery, but less than two months before his death he had so much to say about cricket and his mind was still so bright that it did not seem as if the end were quite so near. He broke up very rapidly at the finish, and died after one final rally. In him there has gone a remarkable and interesting personality. No one had a more thorough knowledge of cricket, or could speak with greater authority about all the leading players of the last sixty years. Ambitious of being a public cricketer himself, he cam out at Lord's when Fuller Pilch was the best bat in England, and it was his privilege to watch the triumphs of George Parr, Hayward, Carpenter, Richard Daft, Jupp, Tom Humphrey, E. M. Grace, W. G. Grace, and all the other great run-getters down to Ranjitsinhji and C. B. Fry. Even in the season of 1902 he saw Victor Trumper bat at the Hastings Festival, and complimented him on his splendid innings of 120 against the South of England. Thoms always looked at cricket with the eyes of a young man, and was quite free from the fault--so common among men who live to a great age--of thinking that all the good things belonged to the past. This freshness of mind prevented his talk about cricket from ever becoming prosy or flat. In his last years as an umpire--he gave up after the season of 1900--he was just as enthusiastic in his praise of fine work with bat or ball as he would have been forty years ago. To Middlesex cricket, with which he was closely associated from the formation of the county club in the sixties, he was always devoted, and nothing cheered him up more in his last illness than visits from Mr. V. E. Walker and Mr. A. J. Webbe. He was never tired of referring to the Middlesex eleven in the days when V. E. Walker was captain, and was very proud of the fact that he stood umpire in every first class match played on the old Cattle Market ground at Islington. Right up to the end he had a singularly retentive memory, and when in congenial company he would tell numberless stories about the Walkers, C. F. Buller, and A. W. T. Daniel. In those distant days, of course, the modern system had not been adopted, and each county always appointed its own umpire.

The Graces, as cricketers, had no more fervent admirer than Thoms, and he was fond of saying that if W. G. Grace had not been such a marvellous bat he would have been the best slow bowler in England, his head work being so remarkable and his command of length so perfect. Of E. M. Grace's all-round capabilities, too, and especially his fielding at point, Thoms would never weary of talking. Among modern bowlers he, in common with most good judges, placed Spofforth first, while fully recognising the great qualities of Palmer, Turner and George Lohmann. As to the bowlers of his younger days, he thought very highly indeed of Hillyer and John Wisden. Curiously enough the present writer never heard him speak of Buttress, the famous but unfortunately too thirsty leg-breaker, who has been described by more than one distinguished cricketer of the past as absolutely the most difficult bowler England ever produced. Buttress's sovereign gift was his power of bowling a deadly leg-break with a real control over his pitch. He got so much spin on the ball that, according to Mr. Henry Perkins, the man who tried to play him without gloves on was almost certain to have the skin knocked off his knuckles.

In dress, manner and appearance Thoms belonged essentially to the sixties, looking exactly like the photographs of some of the players of those days. He had a keen sense of humour, and told his cricket stories in a short, crisp way peculiarly his own. It was to be regretted that he did not, during the throwing controversy, bring the weight of his authority to bear on the side of fair bowling, but the traditions of his youth were too strong for him, and he always shrank from the task. However, in a quiet way he made his influence felt, plainly telling the leading amateurs that if they wanted to rid the game of an evil they all admitted they must act for themselves and not throw the whole onus on the umpires. Moreover, he was the means of some audacious young throwers dropping out of county cricket, his kindly method being to get them employment in other directions. Though cricket was the main interest of his life Thoms was a good all-round sportsman, taking as a young man a keen delight in foot racing and the prize ring. He was a good runner himself, and could, so it is said, do a hundred yards in ten and a half seconds. Of anything he took up he was bound to be a good judge, his perception of excellence amounting to an absolute gift. He often talked about putting into book form his 60 years' experience of the cricket field, but whether he ever seriously commenced the task one cannot say.

© John Wisden & Co