Bill Bowes

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Bill Bowes
Bill Bowes Cigarette Card.jpg
Personal information
Full name William Eric Bowes
Born (1908-07-25)25 July 1908
Elland, Yorkshire, England
Died 4 September 1987(1987-09-04) (aged 79)
Otley, West Yorkshire, England
Height 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Batting style Right-handed
Bowling style Right arm fast-medium / medium
Role Bowler
International information
National side
Test debut (cap 264) 25 June 1932 v India
Last Test 25 June 1946 v India
Domestic team information
Years Team
1928–1937 Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC)
1929–1947 Yorkshire
Career statistics
Competition Test First-class
Matches 15 372
Runs scored 28 1,531
Batting average 4.66 8.60
100s/50s 0/0 0/0
Top score 10* 43*
Balls bowled 3,655 74,457
Wickets 68 1,639
Bowling average 22.33 16.76
5 wickets in innings 6 116
10 wickets in match 0 27
Best bowling 6/33 9/121
Catches/stumpings 2/– 138/–
Source: ESPNcricinfo, 12 April 2009

William Eric ("Bill") Bowes (25 July 1908 – 4 September 1987) was an English professional cricketer active from 1929 to 1947 who played in 372 first-class matches as a right arm fast bowler and a right-handed tail end batsman. He took 1,639 wickets with a best performance of nine for 121 and completed ten wickets in a match 27 times. He scored 1,531 runs with a highest score of 43* and is one of very few major players whose career total of wickets taken exceeded his career total of runs scored. He did not rate himself as a fielder but he nevertheless held 138 catches.

Bowes played for Yorkshire and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He was a member of the ground staff at MCC for ten seasons and they had priority of selection, which meant he played against Yorkshire for them and he did not play against MCC until 1938. He made fifteen appearances for England in Test cricket and took part in the 1932–33 Bodyline series. He took 68 Test wickets at the creditable average of 22.33 with a best performance of six for 33. Bowes represented Yorkshire in thirteen County Championship seasons, his career being interrupted by the Second World War, and the team won the championship eight times in that period, largely due to their strong attack which was led by Hedley Verity and himself.

During the war, Bowes was commissioned in the British Army as a gunnery officer and served in North Africa until he was captured, along with over 30,000 other Allied troops, after the fall of Tobruk in June 1942. He spent three years in Italian and German prisoner-of-war camps and lost over four stone in weight. He continued playing for two seasons after the war but, weakened by his experiences, could only bowl at medium pace. After he retired from playing, he became a coach with Yorkshire and worked for The Yorkshire Post as a cricket writer. He was born in Elland, West Yorkshire, and died in Otley, West Yorkshire, aged 79.

Early life[edit]

Bill Bowes was born in Elland on 25 July 1908. His father, John Bowes, was a railwayman whose job with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway caused the family to relocate often. In 1914, they settled in Armley, Leeds, after he became a goods superintendent there. In his 1949 autobiography, Express Deliveries, Bowes says that he never had any boyhood aspiration to become a professional cricketer, rather he "just slipped into the game".[1] He played street cricket with other boys and he began watching the local Armley club, whose ground was near his home. He particularly admired an Armley pace bowler called Tommy Drake and decided to copy his action so that, throughout his career as a top-class bowler, his delivery was always "as near Tommy Drake's as possible".[2] Bowes went on to represent his two schools, Armley Park Council School and West Leeds High School, at cricket. At the latter, he gained his school cap after taking a hat trick.[2]

After leaving school in 1924, Bowes worked in a Leeds estate agency but continued to play cricket at weekends for a Wesleyan Sunday school team in Armley and he was the club secretary for a time.[3] He did this for the next two years until, just after Easter in 1927, he was invited by a casual acquaintance to join the Kirkstall Educational Cricket Club[4] in northwest Leeds. In his debut match for the club's second team, he took six wickets for only five runs, including a hat trick, and the spectators organised a collection for him.[5] Bowes now found a mentor in John Kaye, one of the club's committee members, who was to play in instrumental part in his eventual career with Yorkshire.[5] Bowes had a successful season with Kirkstall in 1927 and began receiving offers from other league clubs to turn professional, some of the offers being more for one match than he earned in a week at the estate agency. However, Kaye and his colleagues were determined to keep him at Kirkstall until they could arrange for him to play professionally at county level.[6]

With no apparent interest from Yorkshire at this stage, an approach was made to Warwickshire and they responded by offering Bowes a trial in April 1928.[6] However, at the end of the 1927 season, MCC announced an intention to play against all first-class counties in 1928 and wanted to increase its professional ground staff, based at Lord's Cricket Ground. Bowes decided to apply and was invited to a trial in January 1928.[7] At the trial, he bowled to Pelham Warner and made a distinct impression on him which resulted in his being offered a place on the ground staff for the 1928 season.[8] He quit his job at the estate agency and joined MCC on 15 April 1928 for £6 a week.[9]

Cricket career[edit]

1928 to 1929[edit]

Bowes gained valuable early experience with the Lord's ground staff and began his first-class career playing for MCC in 1928.

He played a number of times for Yorkshire in 1929.

1930 to 1932[edit]

Bowes really established himself in 1930 when, despite not being a regular choice early on, he took 100 wickets in a season for the first time.

In the following two years, combined with Hedley Verity's unplayability on sticky wickets and the batting of Herbert Sutcliffe, Bowes' fast bowling allowed Yorkshire, after slow starts, to win match after match; in 1932 they won 15 of their last 16 games.

1932–33 tour of Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Bowes was a late selection, just three days before the ship sailed, for England's tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1932–33. He played in only one Test, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, in which he bowled Don Bradman first ball and that was his only wicket in the match.[10]

1933 to 1935[edit]

In the following two years, Bowes' frequent use of the bouncer was widely criticised but he continued to be the most potent bowler in the country on good pitches.

In the 1934 Ashes series, Bowes was arguably England's best bowler with good performances in the Tests at Old Trafford and The Oval.

In 1935, Bowes was disappointing in the Tests but his bowling was a significant factor in another Yorkshire championship.

1936 to 1937[edit]

Yorkshire undertook a pre-season tour of Jamaica in February and March 1936, playing three first-class matches against Jamaica and some minor matches. Bowes played in all three games against Jamaica and took eleven wickets with a best return of four for 64.[11]

In the 1936 season, Bowes was plagued by a series of minor injuries. Doubts about his fitness prevented him touring Australia though he headed the County Championship bowling averages.

In 1937 a major ankle injury, sustained in the opening match, restricted his appearances.

1938 to 1939[edit]

Fully fit in 1938, Bowes headed the first-class averages and his bowling helped England to a massive win at The Oval after Len Hutton had scored a world record 364. In 1939, poor weather conditions restricted his opportunities in the Tests against the West Indies, but Bowes proved unplayable on a wet pitch at Old Trafford and was second to Verity in the Test averages.

Second World War[edit]

In the Second World War, Bowes was commissioned in the British Army as a gunnery officer and served in North Africa until he was captured, along with over 30,000 other Allied troops, after the fall of Tobruk in June 1942. He spent three years in Italian and German prisoner-of-war camps and lost over four stone in weight.

1946 to 1947[edit]

After the war, Bowes could only bowl medium pace for short spells, due to his age and the effects of his incarceration. His final Test appearance was in the first match against India in 1946.[10] Nonetheless, he was still near the top of the first-class averages as Yorkshire retained the championship.

In 1947, Bowes received a then record benefit of £8,000 raised in the match against Middlesex. He retired from playing at the end of the season.

The cricket correspondent, Colin Bateman, summarised Bowes' career by writing: "Bowes' Test bowling average of 22 runs per wicket is outstanding for his era, his career average of 16 is quite astonishing".[10]

Style and technique[edit]

In Barclays World of Cricket, Bowes is described as a bowler who "missed no opportunity to learn by tutorial and experiment". He rapidly developed into a new-ball bowler of "uncommon liveliness and control". His deliveries achieved significant and disconcerting "lift" thanks to his great height and high action. This, coupled with his ability to "swing" the ball and his "line and length" control made him a formidable opponent.[12]

Colin Bateman wrote that Bowes "never looked like a cricketer" as "his fielding was clumsy at best and his batting so poor that he scored fewer runs than he took wickets".[10] As a bowler, however, he had few equals during his best years in the 1930s. Very tall and willowy, Bowes was, after his early years, only medium-pace through the air but, thanks to his high action, could make the ball bounce very fast off the Yorkshire pitches of his time. He was able to sustain his attack for lengthy periods and, with the new ball, could generate an extremely deceptive "swerve" with the ability to swing the ball in both directions. At times, he was criticised for pitching too short, but in later years, with loss of pace, Bowes found greater reward in attacking the stumps.[10]

Retirement and personal life[edit]

After he retired, Bowes was a bowling coach at Yorkshire for many years and worked with the young Fred Trueman, but he had ability as a writer and became a cricket correspondent for Leeds-based The Yorkshire Post.[13] He wrote numerous articles for Wisden Cricketers' Almanack in which he showed how he experienced the game as a bowler, and his response to the problems (negative bowling) that cricket faced during the 1950s and 1960s. His responses focused on the everyday cricketer and showed a belief that club cricket, not county or Test cricket, should be seen as the core and building block of the game.[10]

A devoted family man, Bill Bowes died following a heart attack on 4 September 1987, in Otley, West Yorkshire, at the age of 79.[10]


  1. ^ Bowes, p. 11.
  2. ^ a b Bowes, p. 12.
  3. ^ Bowes, p. 13.
  4. ^ Note – this club is a current member of the Airedale-Wharfedale Senior Cricket League.
  5. ^ a b Bowes, p. 14.
  6. ^ a b Bowes, p. 16.
  7. ^ Bowes, p. 17.
  8. ^ Bowes, p. 18.
  9. ^ Bowes, p. 19.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bateman, pp. 30–31
  11. ^ "Yorkshire in Jamaica 1935–36 : first-class bowling". CricketArchive. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Barclays, p. 469.
  13. ^ Trueman, p. 35.


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • "Growing Pains Of Cricket" (1956 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack)
  • "Don't Tamper With The Laws" (1957 Wisden Cricketers' Almanack).