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Edgar Willsher: The Lion of Kent

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Written by Giles Phillips

A hundred and fifty years ago, on a warm August afternoon, Ned Willsher, a left-arm quick bowler from Kent playing at The Oval for England against Surrey, was no-balled six times in succession.

Ned threw down the ball in exasperation, and left the field with his fellow professionals. A compromise was reached. Ned apologized for his quick temper, and the game restarted the following day, without any noticeable change to his bowling style. But the incident put the game’s authorities, who had long failed to enforce the rules consistently, on the back foot.

Ned’s transgression – his hand was higher than his shoulder – led to a change in the Law in 1864 and the legalising of overarm bowling, the biggest ever single change to the conduct of cricket.

Willsher himself served his county team loyally for over 20 seasons, taking well over 1,000 first-class wickets. He was a regular in the bigger representative matches of his time. In recognition of his status in the game, he captained an England side to North America before such a position was thought to be an amateur prerogative. Poacher turned gamekeepr, he was ‘there’ when listing first-class umpires started in 1883. Giles Phillips traces the career of a farmer’s son from East Kent as a successful player and umpire, and his struggle to make a living off the field of play.

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