Bernard Bosanquet’s googly just wasn’t cricket – batsmen couldn’t even see where it was headed! But he changed the way the game was played.

Bosie only played seven Tests for England, but they’ll be remembered. Bosie only played seven Tests for England, but they’ll be remembered.
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In the 1970s the “wrong ‘un”, or googly, was still called a “bosie”, or “bosey”, after its inventor, Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet. Today the wrong ‘un, in all its forms, is accepted as an essential part of the leg spinner’s armoury. Not so at the turn of the 20th century. For a man to depart from his stock ball and bowl its opposite, disguising his intentions the whole time, was deeply deceptive practice, and therefore, of course, “not cricket”.Bosanquet was not renowned as a great bowler. His greatest surprises often came when he departed from his normal shabby line and found a length. Then he proved almost unplayable. His googly didn’t just have batsmen in two minds. Australia’s media considered him England’s worst bowler. Yet its cricketers feared him.

Bosanquet was a renowned player of games. At Oxford he represented at hammer throwing and billiards. In his down time, he’d play a game called “twisti-twosti”. Two opponents would sit opposite each other at a table. A tennis ball would be bounced on the table and spun. The idea was to spin the ball enough for the opponent to be unable to catch it. It was during a game in 1897 that Bosanquet saw the possibility of making the ball turn in a direction opposite to that expected, “with more or less the same delivery. From this I progressed to the cricket ball. The method merely consisted in turning the wrist over at the moment of delivery far enough to alter the axis of spin, so that a ball which, normally delivered, would break from leg, breaks from the off,” he wrote.

Bosanquet unveiled his new delivery for Middlesex against Leicestershire and immediately took a wicket. Not untypically, the ball bounced another three times after it spun, but the batsman was deceived enough to be stumped. “This small beginning,” he recounted, “marked the start of what came to be termed a revolution in bowling.”At the Lord’s Test in 1902, Bosie introduced his new ball to the Australians. “I had two overs and saw two very puzzled Australians return to the pavilion. Not one of them tumbled to the fact that it was not an accident.”

The next year, in Australia, under his Oxford and Middlesex team-mate Pelham “Plum” Warner, the much-ridiculed Bosie, notorious for some terrible bowling lapses, repaid his captain’s faith. In the final Test, he bowled to Victor Trumper, who had scored 40 runs in about 20 minutes. “Two leg-breaks were played beautifully to cover, but the next ball, pitching in the same place, saw the same graceful stroke played – and struck the middle stump instead of the bat!” He took six second-innings wickets, destroying the Australians in less than an hour, and England secured the series 3-2.

The complaints began before that expedition, though, when Bosey, touring New Zealand with Lord Hawke’s team, produced his googly against Canterbury. The ball ducked the wrong way and bowled Walter Pearce, who thought he was playing a conventional leg break. Obviously the umpire, Charles Bannerman, was unused to such a spectacle, and, as the batsman’s body obscured the ball as it crashed into the stumps, couldn’t believe it had happened at all. Arthur Sims, the non-striker, urged Pearce

not to walk. In the ensuing ruckus, Bosie called Sims a “nice cheat” – an early example of on-field abuse for which he was forced to apologise.

That establishment bastion, the MCC, considered banning the delivery, but with an Australian tour ensuing, they hesitated. (After all, the English had lost the previous three series.)The googly caught on quickly. It took Australia longer than anyone else to cotton on (shades of reverse swing!), and even when it did, we invented the derisory term “wrong ‘un’”, used to describe antisocial types.Though he only played seven

Tests for England, Bosanquet made quite an impression, taking two five-wicket hauls and winning that series for the Poms.In later life, he reflected on the googly’s impact: “Poor old googly. It has been subjected to ridicule, abuse, contempt, incredulity and survived them all. But it’s merely a ball with an ordinary break produced by an extra-ordinary method. It’s not difficult to detect, and, once detected, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be treated as an ordinary break-back.”

A tweak of a ball, a twist of irony. Bosey wasn’t bad at either.

– Robert Drane