Flick of the wrist: Bosanquet’s googly takes over T20 cricket

The Rashid Khans of this world and modern T20 fans need to thank a man born in England in 1877, the year the first Test match was played, for the googly – Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet.

England cricketer Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet who invented googly.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Eighty-three over. Thirty-four wickets. A triumphant pump of the fist every 2.45 overs sent down.

These are stellar numbers that by all conventional wisdom should not even belong to the batsman-eat-bowler-alive world of Twenty20 (T20) cricket. And yet they do. What makes these figures even more unlikely is the fact that the successes belong not to the galloping masters of chin music, the yorker, the knuckle ball and the slower one, but instead to the slow men with mystery in their every stride.

In the first three weeks of the 2020 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the maddest, merriest, rollicking runfest in modern cricket, the bowlers who have almost unobtrusively made the tournament their own are the spinners – men who use the wiliness of the mind and sleight of the hand in equal measure.

Between them, while the batsmen have piled on the runs mercilessly against the rest of their ilk, the eight tweakers have picked up 36 percent of all wickets to fall to the top 20 bowlers (by wickets taken), sending down 37 percent of the overs. What is even more intriguing is that in the elite list of eight, there is not a single finger spinner.

We are in the 13th edition of the IPL, so the effectiveness of a wrist spinner is not a surprise, the previous seasons having demonstrated that indeed leggies make up one of the few genres of the bowling fraternity that have some impact on rampaging batsmen in T20. What has been less evident, however, is the complete dominance of the wrist spinner among the ranks of twirlymen as we see this year.

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Two years ago, when I was writing my book on Indian spinners Wizards, this was something that I, among others, could see being played out as we continued on the T20 journey. I wrote in Wizards:

“There is perhaps a simple explanation for the initial success of wrist spin in this format. The fact of the matter is that with very little time to adjust to the type or quality of bowling and under tremendous pressure to put on high scores, T20 batsmen save precious seconds by not looking at the hands of bowlers and instead watch the line of the ball once it is on its way down the pitch. By this time they have already decided the direction in which they will hit the ball and the stroke they will employ.”

One of India’s best players of spin bowling, Dilip Vengsarkar, confirmed this when he told me: “You read them either from the hand or the seam position as the ball travels. Many batsmen are doing neither today even as they line up to hit the ball.” Bishan Bedi added: “Batsmen today do no self analysis about how they face up to spinners and don’t even watch the hands.”

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Where this all comes to a head is when the wrist spinner bowls his googly. Since the batsman is not watching the hands of the bowler, it’s nigh-impossible to read the direction of spin once it pitches. The best wrist spinners go a step further, leaving nothing to chance. As Stuart MacGill once explained, “People focus on what happens to the ball off the pitch, but a great batsman is beaten before the ball pitches.”

This combination of deceit in flight and break off the pitch from the likes of Rashid Khan and Piyush Chawla, to name just two of the superior craftsmen on display in the United Arab Emirates, is what has ensured that a format that pays scant respect to bowlers also forces the batsmen to take a deep breath before they swing their bat mindlessly to a wrist spinner.

Rashid Khan.   -  BCCI/IPL

 

It is, therefore, perhaps fair to argue that T20 cricket would have been a far-less-entertaining spectacle had it not been for the presence of the googly.

Indeed, in its long history, the game of cricket has had many memorable moments, but only a few can be said to have engineered a paradigm shift. The first time that a googly was bowled, 120 years ago, must surely rank high among them.

And for that, the Rashid Khans of this world and modern T20 fans need to thank a man born in England in 1877, the year the first Test match was played – Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet.

Bosanquet was studying at Oxford, where he started his career as a batsman and a medium-pace bowler just before the turn of the 20th century. Perchance he invented the googly while experimenting as a teenager.

While the carpet on the billiard table at home was being relaid and the boys could not get a game, Bosanquet joined his brothers in spinning a tennis ball across the slats. This set him experimenting to see whether it was possible to spin a ball in such a way that it appeared to be going one way but actually went the other.

Bosanquet would write later: “Somewhere about the year 1897 I was playing a game with a tennis ball, known as ‘Twisti-Twosti.’ The object was to bounce the ball on a table so that your opponent sitting opposite could not catch it... After a little experimenting I managed to pitch the ball which broke in a certain direction; then with more or less the same delivery make the next ball go in the opposite direction! I practised the same thing with a soft ball at ‘Stump-cricket’. From this I progressed to the cricket ball...”

It was a discovery that would stun the cricketing world. At the turn of the century, playing against Leicestershire, Bosanquet had scored 136 for Middlesex and now had the ball in his hand. Facing him was Samuel Coe, batting on 98.

Bosanquet had a word with skipper Plum Warner and decided an experiment on the big stage was in order. From a shortened run-up he tossed up the ball at Coe. The batsman stepped out of the crease to dispatch the ball from the middle stump to the leg-side boundary, waited for it to pitch and then watched transfixed as the ball broke the other way. It bounced four times before reaching William Robertson behind the stumps, who flicked the bails off.

Coe had become the first official victim of the googly (or Bosie as it would be called at the time after its first exponent), but he would not be the last. Reporting on this and the dismissals that followed, The Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack was to remark: “How he manages to bowl his off break with a leg-break action one cannot pretend to say.”

In 1901 Bosanquet took 36 wickets, in 1902 he claimed 40, and in 1904 he snared 132 victims. On four separate occasions during this time, he bagged 10 wickets in a match. He played seven Test matches and took 25 wickets at a modest average of 24.16, helping England win the Ashes in 1903-04. For his feats, the inventor of the googly was picked as Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

Despite being the original witness to its destructive abilities, and having the hard pitches that magnified its efficacy, Australia was not the first to embrace the googly. Instead, they wasted precious time and allowed their indignation at this “unfair delivery” to overwhelm them rather than embrace the new find. It would be Bosanquet’s performance against South Africa the following summer when playing for Marylebone Cricket Club against them that he would run through the batting taking 9/107 at Lord’s that helped spread the gospel. Watching him closely would be a South African bowler, Reggie Schwartz, one of Bosanquet’s many victims who were out stumped.

A few days later, Schwartz experimented with the googly against Oxford University and took 5/27. He would follow that up with four wickets in each innings against Middlesex at Lord’s, including Ranjitsinhji both times, leg-before in the first and stumped in the second. By the end of the tour, Schwartz was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker, with 96 victims at an average of 14, much of them victims of the new weapon in his arsenal.

In 1905-06, when the MCC arrived for a tour, the South Africans were ready. They knew that this new invention would play out even better on their matting wickets. In their XI were four spinners who could now bowl the googly – Schwartz himself, Gordon White, Aubrey Faulkner and Ernie Vogler. In the first innings, the South African leg spinners took eight wickets, following that up with six in the second. For the first time in 17 years of playing at the highest level, South Africa won a Test match.

It did not stop there. The South African leg spinners would take 43 wickets in the five Tests and the hosts swept the series 4-1 against Warner’s team. England had been “Bosied.”

Bosanquet was not destined to dazzle the world with his bowling performances, but the legacy he left behind would stand the test of time. Wrist spin would never be the same again. For a long time, the term “bosie” would be used for anyone who was a bit deceptive or dodgy. But no matter what they called it and how they derided it, the googly was here to stay.

One hundred and forty-three years later, this week the cricketing world celebrates the birth of the Englishman whose indoor experiment enabled a boy from war-torn Afghanistan to become the globe’s most destructive exponent of the googly in cricket’s shortest format.

As batsmen struggle to survive the mayhem wrought by Rashid and his friends at the home of Desert Storm, Bernard Bosanquet is undoubtedly smiling from above at the vagaries of fate while he plays out a game of Twisti-Twosti on a celestial billiard top.