Cricinfo made me come up with what I thought the most influential innovation in cricket is. I did this. The rest are here.
No one flighted them like the lobster.
The lobster, or Digby Jephson as his mother named him, got more flight than Ramesh Powar, Nathan Lyon and Holly Colvin combined. His first-class bowling average was 25. He took a hat-trick against Middlesex, once took 77 wickets in a season, and his best figures were 7 for 51 against Gloucestershire.
The lobster did all this while being RUA: right underarm.
While in modern terms underarm bowling is generally associated with Australian arrogance and one family not being welcome in New Zealand, it is actually far more important to cricket.
Underarm bowling was the original bowling. While the lobster might have been one of the last first-class lobbers of underarm deliveries, until cricket came of age, it was just how people bowled. It was perfectly acceptable to lob a ball over a batsman’s head to get him out. It was a different kind of sport back then.
Of course underarm bowling was kind of rubbish. Okay to your three-year-old nephew, but not really a demanding athletic endeavour that would captivate millions of people, like Wes Hall in full flight did. So bowlers tried to change it. The story goes (you weren’t there, you don’t know it’s not true) that John Willes started bowling roundarm when he saw his sister Christina do it because her dress wouldn’t allow her to bowl underarm.
Either way, bowling roundarm caused Wiles so much trouble that he quit cricket and apparently rode off into the sunset, never to play again, after being repeatedly no-balled. Cricket then did what cricket does – protect batsmen at all costs and generally make the ignorant conservative reaction first. A law banning roundarm bowling was brought in.
It wasn’t until 1835 that roundarm bowling became legal in cricket, and overarm bowling was born in 1864, only 13 years before the first-ever Test.
But what if they hadn’t allowed roundarm or overarm bowling?
What would cricket be?
It would be treated in much the same way polo, croquet and fox hunting are. As a weird sport of the English elite. The best athletes would have gone to other sports. It would barely be a sport at all, more an eccentric novelty.
There would have been no Ashes, no reason for the ICC to ever exist, and the English language would be poorer. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh would never have been swept up in leg glances and doosras. Don Bradman would have been a grumpy accountant, not a symbol of Australian pride. The West Indies would never have come together as one.
The world would essentially be cricketless without the invention of overarm bowling.
Sure, occasionally you’d pick up an American sweater catalogue and see men in white cable-knit jumpers lobbing the ball, and yes the illuminati would play it as they plotted a global government. But the cricket we know wouldn’t exist without overarm bowling. It wouldn’t be exciting, no cricket administracrat would call it a product, and no shady bookmakers would be taking bets on it. This website would not exist without overarm bowling.
It is the single most important thing that has ever happened to cricket, and it is not overly surprising that the cricket officials tried to stop it.
The lobster retired in 1904. Underarm bowling was finished (Trevor Chappell aside) shortly after World War I. By then, overarm bowling had turned a novelty game into one of the greatest sports ever invented. You can thank English dressmakers, frustrated bowlers, and those who believed the game they loved could get better.
We lost the lobster, but we gained an obsession.