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SF Barnes


Cricketer Of The Year
I don't know about you, but I've had my fill of threads recently along the lines of "who's better - Keith Miller or Shane Warne" so I wanted to start a strictly factual thread to try to tap the shared wisdom and learning of CW about a strangely mysterious subject, which has cropped up in passing in a couple of recent threads: What on earth did SF Barnes bowl? Was he a spinner or a seamer or a swerver or a cutter, or a swing bowler? Fast or slow? Or something else altogether?

Given that he's commonly reckoned to be the best bowler in history, I think we owe it to ourselves to try to get to the bottom of this. Between us we must have read a good deal about it. So let's hear it.


Cricket Web: All-Time Legend
CB Fry on Barnes

“In the matter of pace he may be regarded as a fast or a fast medium bowler. He certainly bowled faster some days than others; and on his fastest day was certainly distinctly fast”


Cricket Web Staff Member
The most prescient thing I've ever come accross about Barnes is how someone (I forget just who) described "the Barnes ball" as basically being a quick Leg-Break.

This, if nothing else, tended to put it in my mind that he was (primarily) a wristspinner, and I've never found enough, anywhere, to make me change my mind. My first readings on him made me think he was a seamer, and the first change of mind has so far been the only one. Another piece of evidence I've always believed provides firm corroboration is the famous line of "I never needed it" in reply to the question about not bowling the Googly.

What I think is very likely is that Barnes was a capable wristspinner and a capable seam-bowler. An exceptionally poor man's example might be Shahid Afridi or Sachin Tendulkar. Maybe a mixture of the two of them. Afridi can, off no more than a few paces, bowl at 80mph. Tendulkar can bowl passable (if not very quick) seam, and passable wristspin (and fingerspin).

It is not impossible to bowl both seam and spin, and I can't help but think that Barnes may have used the seamer's deliveries as variations.

There will, however, doubtless be many who are better-read on him than me. And given that, unless I'm hugely mistaken, no film of him bowling exists, that is all we can use to discern this very peculiar mystery.


Cricket Web Staff Member
CB Fry on Barnes

“In the matter of pace he may be regarded as a fast or a fast medium bowler. He certainly bowled faster some days than others; and on his fastest day was certainly distinctly fast”
This is one which in itself needs a few questions answered before we know what it means. I've already mentioned Shahid Afridi; 80mph is about his best. Some people tend to suggest that the first bowler to bowl what we now regard as "fast" (ie, 90mph and more) was Harold Larwood in the mid-1920s. Yet it has also been argued also that Larwood was no faster than Charles Kortwright, Charles Harenc and Samuel Redgate. It is very possible that fast has been what we know as fast since the dawn of overarm bowling.

If Larwood truly was the first to scale the true speed-of-light (metaphorical, of course), however, then Barnes' "fast" which CB describes may have been no faster than the fastest of Mark Ealham or Dominic Cork. Which, as I mention giving the example of Afridi, is a speed not beyond someone who normally bowls quick wristspin.
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One of his deliveries could conceivably have been a cutter. Bowlers can use their index and ring fingers to spin the ball from leg to off. It's easy enough to control and the ball sometimes cuts quite a lot off the pitch for a seamer.

In addition to this, one can have a lot of variations- a quicker ball, an inswinger or outswinger, an off-cutter. But the leg-cutter would have been the one that noone else bowled, hence the one everyone remembered. In particular, it could have been one or two high-profile incidents where the ball broke heavily off the pitch that gave a lot of onlookers the impression of a fast leg-break bowler.

I'm only speculating, of course. It's all anyone really can do, given the information available.


Cricket Web: All-Time Legend
I have to concede that of all the quotes I have read about Barnes style of bowling in the last 20 minutes none echo that one of Fry's


Cricketer Of The Year
Yes - an excellent thread and I somehow imagined when I started this thread that we might get a string of pearls of wisdom from SJS. Perhaps someone could merge these threads?


Hall of Fame Member
Here is what I had posted on that thread in November 2005. It doesn't seem like so long ago.

ORIGINAL QUERY : What type of bowler was Sydney Barnes?

SJS : I was always thought to my self that Sydney Barnes was a seam bowler. But reading through his profile on cricinfo, its seems he was similar to Gary Sobers. It looks like used to bowl seamers with the new ball, in a attempt to swing the ball and then bowled leg breaks with the older ball. Also he apparently develop a off break as he got older. So what do we classifly him as a fast bowler or a spin bowler, or just a slow bowler? Also does anyone else have more information on the type of bowler he was.

He bowled leg breaks at medium pace. He also swung them in at the same pace and worse of all he swung them in, very sharply from oustside the off stump, they pitched on the leg stump, broke away like leg breaks and knocked off stumps out of the ground !!

Barnes had..... in the eyes of most mature batsmen of the day - an aloof 'lone wolf' appearance, six feet tall, a hatchet jaw, piercing, unsmiling eyes, and a lean hungry look, hungry for wickets....

He remained a man apart, a 'mercenary', so to say. I remember him as a p[layer who most times seemed to isolate himself on the field; he wasn't given to chatter at the fall of a wicket. He sent a wind of antagonism blowing over cricket fields everywhere.

...Orielly was supposed to announce in his every motion...that he hated the sight of all batsmen. Compared with Barnes, O'rielly was a font of beneficence and geniality.Yet A.C. Maclaren vowed that no bowler ...was so easy to manage as Barnes. ' I would toss him the ball, let him set his own field - and that was that....'

On a certain historical occasion, an England captain did not toss the ball to Barnes...Douglas (captaining in the absence of Warner) ran ahead and cammandeered the new ball. Barnes said to a colleague, ' What's he taking the new ball for - is he opening with Mr Foster'

Douglas did open the England attack that day at Sydney, December 15th 191. Australia compiled 411....and won by 146 runs. Barnes : 35 overs; 5 maidens: 107 runs: 3 wickets and 30 overs: 8 maidens: 72 runs: 1 wicket.

In the next match...Douglas tossed the new ball to Barnes....It is as wel known in cricket history, as in history proper the batles of Hastings and Waterloo are known...

Barnes demolished the strong first line of Australian batsmanship by overthrowing Bardsley, Kelleway, Hill and Armstrong in five overs for one run only.
At lunch Australia had somehow acquired 34 for 4; after an hour and ten minutes of ruthless, smooth, rythmic action, Barnes had bowled 9 overs: 6 maidens: 11runs: for 4 wickets.

The astounding fact of this renowned piece of bowling is that Barnes was suffering from some dizziness, actually saying to his captain that he'll have to 'chuck it - I can hardly see the other end'

In this Australian first innings his final figures were 23 - 9 - 44 - 5

In the series , which England won eventually, Barnes had 32 wickets at 21.6 runs each. He was 38 years old then.

There is a popular misconception that Barnes took most of his wickets against South Africa. This is not true. While he did demolish South Africa in the 7 games he p[layed against them, his performance against Australia was not to be scoffed at.

In 20 Ashes games, Barnes took 106 test wickets at 21.6 each getting a five wicket haul 12 times.

England played Australia 43 times between 1901 (when Barnes made his debut) and 1914 (when he played his last game) of these Barnes played less than half.

This, inspite of the fact that he was by fasr the most devastating bowler IN TESTS during this period with 189 wickets in 27 tests(87 against SAF in 7 games besides those against Australia.

He was easily the most successful bowler in the Ashes in this period (with his 102 in 20 games) which included great bowlers on both the sides,

England used, besides Barnes...

  • - Rhodes 81 in 33
  • - Braund 46 in 20
  • - Hirst 46 in 19
  • - Blythe 41 in 9 games
  • - Foster 34 in 8 (32 in one series mentioned above)

And its not as if he had bad form because of which he was dropped.

There is also a fallacy about easy wickets against South Africa. Well England disnt include him in all games. They plated three series against South Africa during this period without Barnes and here are the results.

  • - 1905-06 (In SAfrica) England lost 1-4 !!
  • - 1907 (In England) England won 1-0 ( 2 games drawn)
  • - 1909-10 (In S Africa) England lost 2-3 !!

A grand score of 4 to 7 (with 2 draws - Clearly if any team looked like being the minows. it wasnt S Africa

Then, with Barnes ending his career, at the age of 39 he was played in the series in England in 1912 (also involving Australia).

- England won 3-0 Barnes doing it single handedly with 34 wickets in 3 games at 8.3 runs each !!!

- Then they took him to S Africa at the ripe old age of 40 and in the four tests that he played, he took a record (most likely never to be equalled) 49 wickets (in 4 tests mind you) at 10.9 each. England won the series 4-0.

Surely it was only Barnes who made S Africa look like they couldnt tell which end of the bat to hold not anyone else in England. This was more a commentary on the ever improving genius of Barnes rather than South Africa being such no-hopers.

England during this period were not a very strong side. They could ill afford to keep a bowler like Barnes out, yet they did. It is anybody's guess what his tally (189 in 27 tests) would have been had he played those additional 20 games against Australia and the 15 juicy ones (for Barnes alone) against the Proteas !!

Coming back to what he bowled, this is what Clem Hill, one of the greatest left handers produced by Australia had to say after being dismissed by Barnes

I was in first wicket down, after Bardsley had gone for 0. I got four, probably from Foster...I wanted to get away from Barnes. I played three different balls. Three balls to play in a split second - a staight 'un, an in swinger and a break back !

Then along came one which was staright half way, not more than medium pace. (Then) It swerved to my legs, perfect for tickling round the corner for a single. But the ruddy thing (again) broke across after pitching, quick off the ground and took my off stump !'
- Clem Hill​

Consider that he could do the same thing exactly in reverse (Its mirror copy) for right handers and you can now start thinking what he bowled.

Those who will never be convinced there ever was a better bowler are not toptally stupid it would appear.

Charled Macartney (Australian skipper and great batsman) maintains that at Leeds in July 1909, Barnes bowled the legendry Victor Trunper .....'with a sort of ball that a batsman sees only when he is tight (drunk). I was at the other end, I should know !'

More on what he bowled ...

It is ...at any rate clear that Barnes executed his leg break without turning the wrist, an action which gives some notice to the batsman. Appartently Barnes manipulated the leg turn mainly by leverage of the third finger - as most leg spinners do, though most of them need to twist over the wrist."

This probably explains his maintaing the seam position as would an inswing bowler so that the ball would swing inwards in the air and still break away on pitching.

....Mentally mingle the best of Tate and Bedser; length, pace, swing, then add a tincture of Orielly, then maybe some adumbration will emerge or loom of Barnes in full spate.

Boy, did he last !!

In his sixtieth year he was fit and able enough to hold his own in the tight and technically and tempramentally challenging air of Lancashire league contests; for Rawtenstall, in 1932 (he was born in 1873) his bowling figures were 440 overs, 819 runs, 113 wickets at 7.25 ! In 1929, he took 114 at 6.62 !

It was in 1929 that Patsy Hendren journeyed to Lancashire to play as professional in place of an injured pro. It was allowed in those days for leagues to call up Lords for replacements. As Middlesex weren't playing Hendren packed his bags and left, Here is how he puts it.

' A lovely day and the groundsman was putting the finishing touches to the pitch. I pressed the turf

' " Plenty of runs in it?" I said

' " Yes Sir, a beauty for a one day match, though I say it myself"'

Patsy fondled the turf

' " Yes it IS a beauty.... By the way, its a good game this afternoon?"

' " Oh ay, Sir - a local Derby; Castleton Moore against Rochedale. There'll be a full house"

' " I am told if the Pro does pretty well they send the collection round the crowd?"

' "Oh ay Sir - and there will be a good 'un this match believe you me" "

Once more Patsy admired the pitch.

' " Yes its a beauty. And a good collection(from the crowd) for fifty runs ? By the way, who's the pro for the other side today"

' " Sydney Barnes, Sir"
' " Oh gawd"


' We won the toss and I managed to hang on. They didnt put up a batsman's score on the board - just fall of wickets and last man out; you know, 120-7-13.

'When a new batsman came in, he called down the pitch "You are forty-nine"

'If I'd had any sense I'd have said to Barney, 50/50 shares in the collection. But I didnt and next ball from him pitched on my leg stump and tok the off, a brute of a ball !'

Jack Hobbs on Barnes

Most of the quotes so far have been from Cardus's book.

Here is what the greatest opening batsman of all time had to say of Barnes.'

"Syd Barnes, SF, I've always put at the very top. He was the best bowler ever. I dont think even now there was anyone better, although, I admit, there are others almost his equals, like Bill ORielly. Syd hated batsmen. He had the leg break, the off-break and he was FAST...tall and made the ball get up unpleasant heights"
- Hobbs​

Some more on what he bowled !!

My trump card in the Spofforth-Barnes-Trumble dispute is this - Spofforth's most dangerous ball, as everybody agreed, who saw him, was the off break. As everybody knows ....... the "Barnes ball" spun the other way - from the leg to the off.

Now there is a counter, an answer, to the off-break, which comes into the bat. There is a stroke for the off break - and on a good wicket even the 'modern' leg-cluster of fieldsmen is no guaranteed answer.....

The spinning away ball, at Barnes' pace, only subtely short of length that impels a forward push, is nine times out of ten.....certain to find the bat's edge. There is another point in favour of the claim for ascendency of Barnes: his velocity off the pitch off the beautifully-prepared wickets laid down in Australia in the 1900's onward......The most marvellous fact of all the marvellous bowling conquests of Barnes is that it was in Australia, in the days of Australia's prolific run harvest, that the greatest of them were witnessed.
- Cardus​

The Don on Barnes

"Barnes and O'Rielly were the two greatest bowlers who ever lived. Each was undoubtedly the greatest of his time...

From all accounts, they were similar in style. Barnes was faster, but he didn't have the googly. They were both aggressive and could deliver perhaps the hardest of all deliveries to keep out - the very quick leg-break.

O'Rielly was reletless and unforgiving if you managed to strike him to the boundary. Reports suggest that Barnes was in some ways similar in character.

He may have had more variety in his deliveries than O'Rielly. Barnes bowled fast off-breaks (besides the leg-breaks), out swingers and in swingers. Like O'Rielly he would have been a handful for the best batsman of any era"

- Don Bradman​

COMMENT : ... well is seems that he bowled leg breaks at similar pace to Afridi, but a lot more accurate. But with his extra pace he was capable of doing more with the ball then the average leggie and could bowl in swingers and out swingers at similar pace to his leg breaks. Well all in all he seems to be a freck of a bowler that could do about anything with the ball.

SJS : He was much much faster than Afridi.

He is compared to Orielly who was pretty quick though a spinner and with Bedser and Tate who were medium pacers.​

COMMENT : I become quite confused with these old players, I always thought Hugh Trumble to be an off-spinner but Peter Sharpman (writer) claims that he was in fact a lot faster.

Also 'Terror Turner' was once clocked at 55 miles an hour?

And we have the 'Demon' Spofforth credited with a stumping by Jack Blackham off his bowling, and this when he was quite young?

SJS : 1. Cardus was talking of who was the greatest bowler, till then, ever. It seems he had a difference of opinion with Hugh Trumble who favoured Spofforth over Barnes. So Cardus calls it the "Spofforth-Barnes-Trumble dispute"

2. Re Turner draw your own conclusion from this...

He stands about 5 ft. 9 in., and bowls right hand, above medium pace, with a beautifully easy delivery, his hand not being very high at the moment the ball quits it. He has a fine break from the off, and bowls a wonderful yorker, but the great thing about him is that he makes the ball rise from the pitch faster perhaps than any bowler we have seen.

Turner in his rather long rhythmic run and beautiful right-arm action without any effort to make the most of his medium height--five feet nine inches. He delivered the ball almost facing square down the pitch, and, added to his off-break with slightly varied pace about fast-medium, was ability to turn the ball from leg, send down a fast yorker, and, above all, to get quick lift from the turf. As sufficient evidence of Turner's skill, Sir Stanley Jackson said in last year's Wisden, I always regarded Charles Turner as the best medium-paced bowler I ever played against....-

- Wisden 1889​

3. As for the stumping, yesterday the England keeper was standing right on the stumps to Hoggard when Afridi was batting and cooly collected the deliveries outside the off stump !! I am sure he wanted to stump Afridi if he went out of the crease and missed. It is possible if the bowler has control and both he and keeper know what he is going to bowl.

Here are some more cases of stumpings of medium to real fast bowlers that you may find interesting.

Bowler......Stumpings in test match bowling
  • Barnes......4
  • Turner.......6
  • Davidson...1
  • Bedser......3
  • Tate..........1
  • Constantine...2

I am sure there are many more​

COMMENT : All this talk about pace bowlers bowling off breaks and leg breaks still happens now. Kaspa bowls a off break (off cutter) these days and guys like Stryis and Kluesener bowl a lot of fast off breaks, but all these guys would still be classifed as pace bowlers.

SJS : And off-cutter was a later terminology. As was a tendency to equate off-break with off-spin with slow bowling.

Originally, with over arm bowling almost all bowlers tried to move the ball in from the off. This was called an off-break. Whether it was slow off-break or fast offf-break was an appendage to the description.

Almost all the early fast bowlers bowled off-breaks.

Later when bowlers like Barnes started bowling leg-breaks(purely called so due to the movement from leg to off from the pitch) and did it at high pace and did it with consistent line and length (not associated then with leg break), it became clear that a new weapon had been discovered and more and more bowlers started learning to master the control of this type of bowling.

Another fact to remember is that in the earlies times mid 19th century, the grounds were horrendous (not that the wickets were great) so that the ball got roughened up quick time. Thus swerve wasnt available to the bowlers and breaking off the wicket was the best bet. The wicket conditions encouraged that too​

I'll try and add to this.


International Debutant
I can't really add to SJS, but David Frith wrote that when he asked Barnes if he cut the ball, as Derek Underwood did, Barnes shook his head and said "I SPUN the ball!". He also complained that spinners didn't open the bowling anymore, as he had done.


Cricket Web Staff Member
I can't really add to SJS, but David Frith wrote that when he asked Barnes if he cut the ball, as Derek Underwood did, Barnes shook his head and said "I SPUN the ball!". He also complained that spinners didn't open the bowling anymore, as he had done.
In Barnes' day, the fact that new balls swung more than older ones yet not yet been discovered.

In fact, the bowler who is widely thought to have been the first to deliberately use the seam (Maurice Tate) was still years away from debuting, never mind becoming a seamer (he was originally a batsman, then a spinner), in Barnes' day.


Evil Scotsman
Reading those descriptions, the best way I can imagine how Barnes might have bowled is to picture Warne's Ball of the Century, replace the drift with swing and up the pace to something similar to someone like Hoggard would bowl.


Cricket Web Staff Member
Which, admittedly, doesn't seem very likely.

Mind, if we were not so fortunate that the start of Bradman's career coincided almost exactly with the dawn of the newsreel era, we might, to my mind, also write-off what made him so special (ie, just to keep playing the right shot ball after ball) as not-very-likely.

If newsreels and film footage were so widespread in Barnes' day as they were in Bradman's, maybe people would have as little doubt about his hedgemony as they do of Bradman's.


International Captain
Reading those descriptions, the best way I can imagine how Barnes might have bowled is to picture Warne's Ball of the Century, replace the drift with swing and up the pace to something similar to someone like Hoggard would bowl.
I am not sure how a bowler should get inswing and leg cut together. in an inswinger the seam is tilted like "/" towards RHB. That is the angle of the seam for the off break. If we suspect that Barnes was able to put so much of backspin on that ball, so it will swing in and then break away, it will not produce spin close to that of a wrist spinner.

The other possibility is he kept the seam as "\", putting heavy overspin on the ball. At this position, the ball will drift, but haven't heard of swinging with the forward spin. but if you send it quick, it will not drift.

I think that he bowled a finger spun leg break with a seamers action, and with some pace, and a quick inswinger. additionally he might have possessed the orthadox outawinger, and a off cutter, which tended ro drift away from RHB, and can be easily done with seamers action.

The "swere" that batsmen were rescribing i would think as exaggerated drift, which only best of spinners had. Bishan Bedi and Dilip Doshi had the exaggerated drift with their bowling.


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Benaud described him as something of a precursor to Alec Bedser. He mentioned this on the TV here this summer when interviewed about his all time XI, in the context o fhaving met Barnes when he was asked to come and bowl either the first over or first ball of a tour match v the Aussies in the early 50s. I gather from his comments he may have had a bit of a chat with him, but can't be certain.


Hall of Fame Member
Yea solid post from SJS.

I have always personally understood Barne's bowling to fast leg-breaks, bowling in the bill O'Reilly style but with an approach to the crease of an Alec Bedser.