S.N. Don's blog

The Cricketing Greats: Sydney Francis Barnes

Many years ago, I was given a book on cricket records which made for great reading while otherwise disposed. This was when I came across the records of the incredible S F Barnes. For a player to have been “selected” by Cricinfo in their all-time England XI and by no less than Richie Benaud in his greatest XI speaks volumes. To put his achievements in the game in some sort of perspective, he remains the only cricketer to have been selected for England whilst playing league and minor counties cricket.


Barnes was an obdurate man which probably explains why he played very little county cricket, preferring instead to earn his living as a professional in the various leagues and for Staffordshire in the Minor Counties championship. His averages take some beating. In Tests, he took 189 wickets at an average of 16.43. For Staffordshire, 1441 at 8.15 and played for them into his sixties. In league and club cricket, 4,069 at 6.03. His overall, lifetime figures show that he took 6,229 wickets at a ridiculous average of 8.33.


This record has to be put into context. He played in the Golden Age of cricket which effectively ran from 1890 until the outbreak of World War 1. The players from this era could quite easily form a veritable Who’s Who of the game; Victor Trumper, C B Fry, Jack Hobbs and so on.


Barnes made his Test debut against Australia in Sydney in 1901 and in the first two Tests, took 19 wickets. In 1912, Barnes was unplayable at Melbourne on an outstanding batting wicket. In his first seven overs, he had taken four wickets for one run. He was described as being able to bowl fast-medium. He could swing the ball late both ways and also get the seam to grip and turn away from the swing. One such delivery was described as the sort which you would see if you were either drunk or dreaming. That 1912 series saw Barnes take 34 wickets in an outstanding 4-1 series win.


It wasn’t just Australia that he enjoyed playing against. His record against South Africa was even more astonishing. Even though South Africa had only started playing Test cricket in 1888, Barnes took 49 wickets in 4 Tests at an average of 10.93. In 7 Tests in England against South Africa yielded 83 wickets at 9.85 each.


That Barnes only played in 27 Tests highlights one of the greatest shames in cricket. He was a difficult person to get on with and rubbed many a team-mate up the wrong way. The captain on the 1901/02 tour, Archie MacLaren famously comforted one of his men with the words: “If we go down, at least that bugger Barnes will go down with us”. No batsman ever mastered him. When asked which of them he found most difficult he used to answer: “Victor Trumper”. When asked who next, the retort would be: “No one else ever troubled me*.”


To finish, Barnes was one of Six Giants of the Wisden Century. To celebrate the publication’s hundredth edition, Sir Neville Cardus was invited to select the most notable players of the previous hundred years. Barnes was chosen alongside Bradman, Grace, Hobbs, Richardson and Trumper. Branes was also selected in the Wisden All-Time World Test XI and in 2009, an inaugural member of the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. He was that good.


(* courtesy of www.cricketcounty.com).


S.N. Don





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