The Lost Art
Author: Gerald Brodribb
Publisher: Boundary Books
Rating: 3 stars
By Martin Chandler
16 Mar 2009
The lost art in question is underarm, or lob, bowling and this book is its history.
When first framed the laws of the game only provided for underarm bowling however following a period of some controversy and unease roundarm bowling was legalised in 1835. Finally, in 1864, the rule requiring the delivery arm to be no higher than the shoulder was abolished and bowling became what we know today.
The change to roundarm had marked the beginning of the end of underarm bowling although it had one more great exponent, William Clarke, who in all cricket took as many as 2,327 wickets between 1848 and 1854.
As the game moved on first class and then Test cricket began with underarm bowlers being no more than occasional variations, until the dawn of the 'Golden Age' whereupon amidst all the celebrated batsmanship the lob had a brief renaissance with the careers of George Simpson-Hayward, Digby Jephson, and Walter Humphreys. Simpson-Hayward was the best of them enjoying conspicuous success on the MCC Tour to South Africa in 1909-10 taking 23 wickets in the Tests. Brodribb concedes that the matting wickets then encountered in South Africa were ideally suited to the sharp spin Simpson-Hayward imparted but nonetheless as the only real success of the lob in Test Cricket history it remains a notable achievement.
When the first class game resumed in 1919 Jephson, Humphreys and Simpson-Hayward were all gone and only Trevor Molony, who played three times for Surrey in 1921, has since been selected by a first class team purely as an underarm bowler. Molony's career record is 4 for 89 so he was not a failure but even such a maverick as Surrey skipper Percy Fender felt unable to play him again.
Since then, and Brodribb gives us details of each occasion, a number of players have bowled lobs in first class matches generally as some form of protest or to gift runs to the batting side. An exception is Mike Brearley, who contributes a foreword to the book, who experimented with lobs as an attacking option on one occasion and who clearly, to a degree at least, shares Brodribb's fascination with the subject.
The book's history of the use of the lob and its biographical sketches are its strengths. It is clearly a labour of love and meticulously researched by a man whose exploration of this somewhat quirky aspect of the game has left a rich vein of material for his reader to enjoy.
There are photographs and sketches as well as diagrams of field placings and some description of the varying styles and techniques of different bowlers but what is lacking is a technical analysis of the skills involved. This is disappointing because Brodribb's enthusiasm for the subject, no doubt by design, infects his reader with the desire to go to a net and try and become the next great 'lobster' yet he provides no starting point.
I am sure that a shrewd cricketing brain such as Brearley's could, given access to the games earliest coaching texts, have put together a coaching manual sufficiently detailed to give us all a chance to discover 'the lost art' and its absence is the book's weakness.