Jimmy Anderson rearranging Kraigg Brathwaite’s stumps to become the first Englishman to 500 wickets was a glorious moment. The Burnley Lara deserves his place in the pantheon of Test bowlers, alongside Walsh, McGrath, Kumble, Warne and Muralitharan. All operated in the past twenty years or so, of course, and the fact that, unlike bowlers of old, they were allowed 129 or more Tests to reach such giddy heights in no way diminishes the achievement. In fact, the ability to remain fit and performing at the highest level for so long in times where there are so many matches, when most do not, is a marvel in itself.
Media conversations turned to the other great English seamers of times passed. How was Jimmy compared to Beefy? How many would Fred have taken in 129 matches? In our post-1945 focussed world, it was good to hear the names of Larwood, Voce and Tate. Even the great S F Barnes got a mention (thanks to the soon to be much-missed Blowers) – 189 Test wickets at an average of 16.43 in just 27 matches. That’s 27 matches, folks.
But one name always seems to be missing from such diversionary discussions: George Alfred Lohmann. Let’s put that right.
Surrey and England’s George Lohmann was one of England’s greatest bowlers. He played only 18 Test Matches between 1886 and 1896 but still managed to take 112 wickets at an average of 10.75. To put into context, if that form had continued over a career of Jimmy Anderson’s length he would be sitting on 802 wickets. Yes, we know pitches could be bowlers’ paradises back then and Lohmann took a bunch of those on the matting wickets of South Africa where he was near unplayable but, if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. George Lohmann’s Test strike rate of a wicket every 34.1 balls is not just good, it is one that stands above every other major bowler to play international cricket still today.
His first-class record stands up too, as you would imagine. He also has three first-class centuries, so clearly was no mug with the bat, and was the outstanding slip-fielder of his time. In one Test, he sent Alec Bannerman on his way with a catch so impressive, it is said that Bannerman spoke of nothing else for the rest of the day.
Delivering the ball at a brisk medium-pace, what strikes you about Lohmann is just how modern a bowler he seems. Listen to CB Fry’s description of his bowling, taken from Wisden’s obituary:
“He made his own style of bowling, and a beautiful style it was–so beautiful that none but a decent cricketer could fully appreciate it. He had a high right-over action, which was naturally easy and free-swinging…. Most people, I believe, considered his action to have been perfect…. His normal pace was medium; he took a run of moderate length, poised himself with a slight uplifting of his high square shoulders, and delivered the ball just before his hand reached the top of its circular swing, and, in the act of delivery, he seemed first to urge forward the upper part of his body in sympathy with his arm, and then allow it to follow through after the ball. Owing to his naturally high delivery, the ball described a pronounced curve, and dropped rather sooner than the batsman expected. This natural peculiarity he developed assiduously into a very deceptive ball which he appeared to bowl the same pace as the rest, but which he really, as it were, held back, causing the unwary and often the wary to play too soon…. He was a perfect master of the whole art of varying his pace without betraying the variation to the batsman.”
High action, good follow through, variety of pace, well-disguised slower ball, handy with the bat, top-drawer fielder. He should be playing T20. True, perhaps loopier than many modern bowler and he looked to spin the ball more than the occasional off-cutter of today’s medium pacer and much of what he did Spoffoth had shown before, but in many ways Lohmann has to be seen as the ancestor of England’s modern day pacemen. The Hon. R H Lyttlton once said that he “sooner have had Lohmann on my side as bowler, field, and batsman than anybody, always excepting, of course, W G Grace.”
He did much of this too with a body that was failing him. 1892 saw the onset of his health problems – lungs attacked by tuberculosis – that would eventually bring his career and life to a premature end. Dead by 36.
When we come to talk again of Anderson, Broad, Botham, Willis and Trueman, let us carry on down the list to Larwood, to Barnes and end up at Lohmann.