"Charlie" Blythe as caricatured in Vanity Fair, August 1910
|Full name||Colin Blythe|
30 May 1879|
Deptford, Kent, England
|Died||8 November 1917
near Passendale, Belgium
|Bowling style||Slow left arm orthodox|
|Test debut (cap 130)||13 December 1901 v Australia|
|Last Test||11 March 1910 v South Africa|
|Domestic team information|
|1899 – 1914||Kent|
|Source: CricInfo, 6 April 2016|
Colin Blythe (30 May 1879 – 8 November 1917), also known as Charlie Blythe, was a professional cricketer who played for Kent County Cricket Club and the England cricket team. He was a left-arm orthodox spin bowler and is regarded as one of the finest bowlers of the period between 1900 and 1914 – sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of cricket. He was named as one of Wisden's five Cricketers of the Year in 1904 and played in 19 Test matches for England.
Blythe served with the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers in the First World War and was killed in action at Passchendaele in November 1917. A memorial at Kent's home ground, the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, is dedicated to Blythe and other members of the club who died on active service in the war.
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Blythe first played for Kent in 1899, and in a stunning start took a wicket with his very first ball in first-class cricket. From then on, he was firmly established in the Kent eleven, and with 100 wickets in his first full season showed exceptional talent. An abnormally dry summer with unfavourable wickets in 1901 gave him what turned out to be his poorest record in first-class cricket in England; though, with Rhodes not permitted by the Yorkshire committee to tour Australia, Blythe surprisingly went in his place but did not prove a totally adequate substitute. On a crumbling wicket at the SCG he proved below his best and Victor Trumper's hitting mastered him very quickly.
However, in the very wet summers of 1902 and 1903 Blythe became one of the leading wicket-takers in county cricket and the undisputed leader of the second-strongest (after Yorkshire) bowling attack in the country. By this time, he had shown himself to be an exceptionally skilful bowler with the most deceptive flight of any spinner in county cricket. This skilful flight and ability to bowl, without change of action, a much faster ball that went with his arm (that is, from off to leg stump instead of from leg to off) allowed him to be successful even on dry and true pitches (as he showed against a strong Middlesex side at Tonbridge in 1903). On sticky or even slightly crumbled pitches, Blythe was almost always unplayable, and he was named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1904.
In 1905, with fast bowler Arthur Fielder, losing form, Blythe was kept extremely busy on the many hard pitches and was thus more expensive than in any other year apart from 1901. Injury in 1906 handicapped him further, but on the rock-hard wickets of that exceptionally dry summer in the Home Counties he and Fielder bowled so well in July and August that Kent won their first County Championship with eleven successive victories.
In 1907, Blythe, though aided by a summer of extremely favourable pitches, moved onto the international stage by taking 26 wickets in three Tests against South Africa, including 15 for 99 in the second Test at Headingley – not bettered in England until the extraordinary deeds of Jim Laker in 1956. Though the pitch and the appalling quality of the opposing batting make this much less of a feat, his 17 for 48 (10 for 30 and 7 for 18) against Northamptonshire in a day on 1 June 1907 still stands as the best bowling analysis in the County Championship. It is also the most wickets any bowler has ever taken in a single day's cricket (since equalled by Hedley Verity and Tom Goddard).
In late 1908, Blythe's imaginative skill reached perhaps its highest point ever: in a period of hot weather and dry pitches, Blythe, without the aid of Fielder, still won match after match: he showed that, no matter how well set a batsman looked, he was capable of deceiving them and gaining vital wickets. His ability to relish the challenge of bowling to batsmen who were capable of hitting large scores very rapidly was well-known, and frequently Blythe's skill rewarded him: his duel with Jack Hobbs at Blackheath in 1908 is regarded as some of the highest-standard county cricket ever played.
In 1909, again aided by many rain-affected pitches, Blythe took over 200 wickets and at Edgbaston, took 11 wickets to win the First Test against Australia. He also took nine wickets in an innings against Leicestershire and Northamptonshire – though the standard of batting makes these less noteworthy efforts. However, later Tests of that series suggested Blythe was starting to lose his skill on good pitches, a fact borne out in 1911, when his average of 19 runs a wicket in an exceptionally dry summer would have been much higher but for a few deadly performances when pitches were exceedingly helpful.
In his last three seasons before World War I halted county cricket, Blythe headed the first-class bowling averages but was seldom as good on unhelpful pitches as in the 1900s, perhaps because his much faster ball was becoming too difficult for him to bowl. However, given a pitch to help him he was further ahead of any other left-arm spinner than ever, and in the remarkably wet summer of 1912 he took 55 more wickets in the County Championship than the next best bowler (George Dennett).
Personality and death
Regarded as a sensitive and artistic person, and a talented violinist, Blythe suffered from epilepsy yet enlisted as a soldier in the British Army when the war broke out in 1914. He soon announced he would be playing no more first-class cricket. Blythe joined the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Sergeant Blythe was serving with the 12th (S) Battalion when he was killed by random shell-fire on the railway between Pimmern and Forest Hall near Passchendaele on 8 November 1917. He is buried in the Oxford Road CWGC Cemetery in Belgium.
In 2009, when the England cricket team visited the Flanders war graves, a "stone cricket ball was laid at the grave of England and Kent bowler Colin Blythe, who died at Passchendaele." "It was a deeply moving and humbling experience", said Captain Andrew Strauss.
- Keeting F (2007) A poignant reminder of the talents stolen from sport, The Guardian, 2007-11-13. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
- Renshaw A (2014) 'Kent' in Wisden on the Great War: The Lives of Cricket's Fallen 1914–1918 pp.23–26, A&C Black. (Available online), retrieved 2016-04-06.
- Profile, national-army-museum.ac.uk; accessed 9 September 2015.
- Serjeant Colin "Charlie" Blythe - profile at Find a Grave