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1864: Overarm bowling

Steven Lynch

Bert Geary shows a female pupil how to bowl overarm at a Winter cricket school
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The earliest bowling was underarm, although that wasn't always quite as genteel as it might sound. The early cricket historian John Nyren wrote of David Harris, who propelled fast underarms from somewhere near his armpit for Hambledon in the 1780s: "How it was that the balls achieved the velocity they did by this mode of delivery, I never could comprehend." The next step, around 1800, was to roundarm bowling. By legend this was started by a woman, Christina Willes, whose voluminous skirts meant she couldn't lob the ball underarm. It's a nice story, but is generally thought to be fanciful these days. What is true is that Christina's brother, John, was no-balled for roundarm bowling in a match at Lord's in 1822: in high dudgeon he jumped on his horse and galloped off, vowing never to play cricket again.

By the 1860s, roundarm bowling was the norm, but the bowlers were trying to sneak the hand above the shoulder, as what we would recognise today as bowling developed. In 1862 Edgar Willsher, playing for England against Surrey at The Oval, was no-balled for overarm bowling. Like Willes before him, Willsher left the field, although he doesn't seem to have had a horse handy to ride off into the south London sunset. The match resumed next day with a new umpire, and overarm bowling took hold as bowlers began to understand the possibilities. Two years later overarm bowling was legalised - which is why cricket historians usually date the start of "modern" cricket to 1864.