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Fredrick Spofforth: Birth of the 'Demon Bowler'

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Last updated on 09 Sep 2023 | 05:47 AM
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Fredrick Spofforth: Birth of the 'Demon Bowler'

The Australia pacer, who 94 wickets in 18 Tests, was born on this day in 1853 in New South Wales

Widely credited with being the first bowler in cricket to intimidate batsmen by staring at them, Australian fast bowler Fredrick Spofforth was born on September 8, 1926, in Balmain - a suburb of Sydney.

Popularly known as the “Demon Bowler” by his contemporaries, Spofforth ended his career with 94 wickets and 217 runs in 18 Test matches. The first genuine fast bowler from Australia, Spofforth not only ended his bowling career with an average of less than 20 but was also the first bowler ever to take a Test hat-trick and all 10 wickets in a match. 

Quite interestingly, Spofforth had started his bowling with an underarm-lob action and decided to transform it into an overarm action only after getting inspired by the visiting England quick bowlers on the Australian tour of the colonies during the 1863/64 season.

Spofforth spent quite a few years getting expertise on fast bowling while playing for New South Wales before he turned heads in 1874 by taking two wickets against WG Grace’s English eleven. Though Spofforth was a bankable batsman and wielded his willow reasonably well during Australia’s tours of England in 1878 and 1880, it was also during this time that he especially excelled in his bowling.  

An out-and-out pacer, Spofforth had unveiled his wrath during the second Test match on May 27, 1878, when the touring Australian team had dominated MCC. The man at the centre of it all was Spofforth, with figures of 10/20, which started by clean bowling Grace out for a duck.

His teammate had gone on record to describe an ecstatic Spofforth in the dressing room, stating, “Ain't I a demon? Ain't I a demon?” It is believed he had given the name to himself. 

Following the ‘78 tour, Spofforth was documented to master medium pace and slower bowling with the sole objective of concealing his intent from the batsmen.

Former Australian cricketer John Trumble had described Spofforth’s new bowling action as “a completely disguised combination of the three paces, and those who saw him bowling at his best will remember to what perfection he attained in this direction. His action on delivery was exactly the same for all of the three paces, and it was in his magnificent concealment of change in the pace of his bowling that he stood out from all other bowlers of all time."

Spofforth would soon discover that England’s softer cricket pitches aided his slower deliveries well, and he could execute the “break back” ball to devastating effect. He was at his brilliant best against England at the Oval on August 29, 1882, when his figures of 14/90 left England short by just seven runs while chasing a paltry target of 85 runs. 

A 6’3” lean bowler who weighed 80kgs, Spofforth never had a long run-up. However, he compensated for that with witty variations coming from identical bowling action. At his peak, Spofforth remained unplayable, and when Lord Harris’ England toured Australia in 1979, the Australian pacer took Test cricket’s first hat-trick by dismissing Vernon Royle, Francis MacKinnon and Tom Emmett on consecutive deliveries. 

The greatest batsman of Spofforth’s era, WG Grace, had credited the Australian as the pioneer of swing bowling. Though no one could point out if Spofforth produced out-swinging deliveries, many attested that he brought the ball inside towards right-handers.

Spofforth died just before the 1926 Ashes series started in Surrey due to chronic colitis. However, he continues to inspire numerous aspiring fast bowlers of his country and was posthumously inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 1996.

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