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Ashes Heroes Part 1-Fred Spofforth “The Demon”

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Fred Spofforth was born on 9 September 1853 at Balmain, Sydney and died on 4 June 1926 at Ditton Hill, Surrey, England at the age of 72. “The Demon” was Australia’s greatest match-winner during the first decade of Test cricket and remains one of the outstanding fast bowlers of all time. Tall and gaunt, he was originally a tearaway bowler but later reduced his pace and relied on superb control and subtle, almost undetectable, variations of pace.

Ashes Hero- Spofforth, The Demon
Ashes Hero- Spofforth, The Demon

Like all great bowlers he was especially adept at identifying and exploiting batsmen’s weaknesses. He possessed a devastating yorker, clean bowling an exceptionally high proportion of his victims, and could cut the ball sharply off pitches which rendered assistance. A moderate lower order batsman, he once scored a Test 50, despite batting at No.11.

He declined to play in the first-ever Test at Melbourne in 1876-77, in protest at the non-selection of his NSW team-mate and wicketkeeper, Billy Murdoch, though he did play in the Second Test. He made the first of his five tours to England in 1878 and quickly established himself as Australia’s outstanding bowler, being instrumental in Australia’s famous nine-wicket victory in a single day over a powerful MCC team at Lord’s, by taking six for 4 and four for 16. No Tests were played on that tour, but soon after the team’s return to Australia he had match figures of 13 for 110, including the first hat trick in Test cricket, in the one-off Test.

This was the first of three occasions he captured ten wickets in a Test in Australia, the others (both at Sydney) being in 1882-83 (when he equaled his best Test figures of seven for 44) and in 1884-85. He was again the leading bowler on the 1880 tour, but missed the only Test, the first to be played in England, because of a broken finger. Australia lost by five wickets; a result that may have been reversed had he been fit.

On his third tour, in 1882, he produced the most famous bowling performance of his career. In the sole Test at the Oval he captured seven for 46 and seven for 44 to give Australia an astonishing three run victory, a result which gave rise to the legend of the Ashes. He captured 157 wickets at 13.23 on that tour and was even more successful in 1884 with 205 first class wickets (though he performed only moderately in the Tests).

Early on his final tour of England, in 1886, he obtained the best figures of his career, nine for 18 against Oxford University (15 for 36 in the match) but soon after suffered a serious injury to his bowling hand. He was out of action for nearly a month, and on his return his bowling was less effective, though he still captured 14 wickets to head the bowling averages in the three Tests. He played only one more Test, in 1886-87.

In 1888, after his marriage to an English heiress, he moved permanently to England, where he established a successful career as a tea merchant. His county cricket in England was for Derbyshire (1889 to 1891), but this was at a time when their matches were not counted as first class. However he played a good deal of first class cricket for other sides, especially the MCC and Gentlemen of England, appearing regularly in the Scarborough Festival for many seasons. He remained a formidable bowler both at first class level and in London club cricket with Hampstead.

Stay tuned for more on the series- Ashes Heroes.

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