22 November 1828|
Little Halden Farm, Rolvenden, Kent, England
|Died||7 October 1885
Lewisham, London, England
|Batting style||Left-hand batsman|
|Bowling style||Round arm/Left-arm fast|
|Domestic team information|
|FC debut||11 July 1850 Kent v Surrey|
|Last FC||19 August 1875 South v North|
Source: Cricket Archive, 26 May 2012
Edgar “Ned” Willsher (22 November 1828 in Rolvenden, Kent – 7 October 1885 in Lewisham, London) was an English cricketer known for being a catalyst in the shift from roundarm to overarm bowling. A left-handed bowler, and useful lower-order batsman, Willsher played first class cricket for Kent between 1850 and 1875. He took over 1300 first-class wickets, despite only having one lung. He led a tour of Canada and the United States in 1868, and after retiring from his playing career became an umpire.
Willsher was born at Little Halden Farm, in Rolvenden, Kent. His older brother, senior by over ten years, William Willsher, would go on to have an inauspicious career with Kent three years before Edgar's own debut when, in 1847, he appeared in one first class match, scoring a pair at number eleven and not bowling. Edgar Willsher made his own debut on 11 July 1850 at the Kennington Oval against Surrey. He took four wickets in Surrey's first innings, but was not required to bat again as Kent were dismissed successively for 52 and 84 when following on after Surrey's 248. Willsher waited over a year for his next game, against the All England Eleven on 24 July 1851. This time Kent secured a draw, with Willsher taking four wickets in a match truncated by rain. He played only one other game in 1851, finishing the season with only eleven wickets though they were taken at an economical 17.50 runs per wicket. He gradually became a more regular feature of the Kent side from 1853, with thirty-nine appearances over the next four years. He took thirty-two wickets in 1854, including a then career-best 7/22. He then passed fifty wickets in the season for the first time during the 1856 season, taking 66 in total at 10.76 runs per wicket from only eight games. This included four ten-wicket match hauls. He then bettered his efforts with 71 wickets from ten games in 1857, though could only take 29 scalps in 1858 playing only six games. Seventy-nine wickets in 1859, and one better in 1860 established Willsher as a key bowler for Kent, as he regularly featured in their starting XI with fourteen games in each season. The 1860 season also saw his career-best innings figures of 8/16, as well as his first noted successes with the bat, scoring his maiden half century, one of four for the season. Fifteen more games in 1861 yielded another career-best 87 wickets in the season, and his second eight-wicket haul.
By the early 1860s, roundarm had replaced underarm as the standard form of bowling but overarm was still illegal, even though it was in use. Laws were modified in 1845 in an attempt to limit the ever increasing height of the bowlers arm. On 26 August 1862 at The Oval, Willsher became the first cricketer to be no-balled for bowling overarm. Playing for an England XI against Surrey he was called six times by umpire John Lillywhite for delivering the ball with his hand above his shoulder. Willsher left the field with eight of his professional colleagues (the two amateurs in the England team remained on the field) and play was abandoned for the rest of the day. When Lillywhite refused to accept the legality of Willsher's action, he was replaced as umpire so that the game could continue. Willsher went on to take 6 for 49. As a result of this incident, which may well have been planned in advance to force the issue, the laws were changed and overarm was legalised from the beginning of the 1864 season. Meanwhile, the 1863 season saw another 80 wickets for Willsher, as well as 494 runs with the bat, including three half-centuries. The runs scored during the season, and his highest score of 89, would remain his career best.
1864 saw more success for Willsher in the County Championship with 79 more wickets at 13.84 runs each, though he failed to pass 50 with the bat. Though he then struggled with only 47 wickets in 1865, he remained consisted with 52 scalps in 1866 and 51 more in the following season, though again failing with the bat with a best over both years of 46. The 1868 season, however was the best of Willsher’s career with the ball, taking in a hot and dry summer 113 wickets at only 9.98 runs per wicket, the second occasion - and one of only three in his entire career - where Willsher’s season average was under 10.00. This included twelve five-wicket hauls, and six ten-wicket hauls, both career-best performances. Though once again struggling with the bat, scoring 246 runs at 10.69, Willsher’s 113 wickets was second in the list of wicket-takers for the 1868 season, behind only future Test player James Southerton, and Willsher's average easily out-performed Southerton's 13.76. Willsher enjoyed successes in 1869 and 1870, with 64 and 84 wickets respectively, and took 70 more wickets in 1871; however Willsher, by then forty-two years of age, began to enjoy fewer returns for his bowling. From 1872 until retirement in 1875 he never bettered 35 wickets in a season, though he averages remained strong and his five-wicket hauls consistent. His appearances for Kent began to diminish, and in 1874 he played only seven matches, not passing fifty with the bat after 1869, and taking only two ten-wicket hauls in his final four seasons compared to thirteen in the proceeding four.
Willsher played only two games in the 1875 season. The first, on 17 June against Hampshire, saw Willsher take four wickets in a convincing Kent innings victory, It was his final appearance for his county. In the last game of his first class caree on 19 August between two invitation XI's representing the North and South of the country, Willsher, playing alongside WG Grace, made only one run and was not called on to bowl.
- "Player Profile: Edgar Willsher". CricInfo. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- "Kent v Surrey - County Match 1847". Cricket Archive. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- "Surrey v Kent - County Match 1850". Cricket Archive. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- "Kent v All England Eleven - All England Eleven matches 1851". Cricket Archive. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- "First-class Bowling in Each Season by Edgar Willsher". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 26 May 2012.[permanent dead link]
- "First-class Batting and Fielding in Each Season by Edgar Willsher". Cricket Archive. Archived from the original on 20 January 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- Williamson, Martin. "The evolution of bowling". CricInfo. Retrieved 26 May 2012.
- Frindall, Bill (2009). Ask Bearders. BBC Books. pp. 138–139. ISBN 978-1-84607-880-4.
- This was last achieved by a regular bowler when Alfred Shaw in 1880 took 186 wickets for 1589 runs
- "First-class Bowling in England for 1868 (Ordered by Wickets)". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Kent v Hampshire - County Match 1875". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 28 May 2012.[permanent dead link]
- "South v North - Other First-Class matches in England 1875". Cricket Archive. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Arthur Haygarth: Scores and Biographies