John Willes (cricketer)
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|Full name||John Willes|
Headcorn, Kent, England
|Died||5 August 1852
Staunton, Gloucestershire, England
|Bowling style||Unknown arm, fast (roundarm)|
|Domestic team information|
|1806 – 1822||Kent|
|First-class debut||7 July 1806 Gentlemen v Players|
|Last First-class||15 July 1822 Kent v Marylebone Cricket Club|
|Source: CricketArchive, 5 January 2009|
John Willes (1778 in Headcorn, Kent – 5 August 1852 in Staunton, Gloucester) was an English cricketer who, though he made only five known first-class appearances, had a significant impact on the game's history and development. Willes played for Kent county cricket teams and was a fast underarm or, when he could get away with it, roundarm bowler.
As Arthur Haygarth says in Scores & Biographies, John Willes was: "...the originator, or rather the reviver, of round-armed bowling, and is said (though his daughter has never heard of the fact) to have caught the idea from seeing his sister so deliver the ball to him in practice when he was unwell. The Cricket Field, however, speaking through William Beldham, states: Willes was not the inventor of that kind of round bowling—he only revived what was forgotten or new to the young folk. Whether he bowled round in the present match (i.e., in 1806), cannot now be said, as this kind of delivery was not tolerated till about 1827, when it was permanently established by William Lillywhite, Jem Broadbridge and Mr George T Knight. In the MCC v Kent match on 15 July 1822, Mr Willes commenced playing for his county but, being no-balled, he threw down the ball in high dudgeon, left the ground immediately, and (it is said) never played again. Mr Willes was also a great sportsman, and kept a pack of hounds at Sutton. This place, shortly before his death, he was obliged to leave, and he removed to Staunton, near Gloucester, where he died, in fearfully reduced circumstances on 5 August 1852, aged 74. No tombstone has been erected to his memory".
In fact, as Beldham confirmed, roundarm bowling was first devised back in Hambledon days by the wily Tom Walker but he was barred from using it in matches by the patrons of the day, including George Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea.
After Willes quit the game, his cause was taken up by Knight in particular and the style was used to great effect by Lillywhite and Broadbridge who were generally considered the two best bowlers in England during the 1820s. Roundarm was the subject of trial matches in 1827 but not actually legalised until 1835, though in the meantime the umpires turned a blind eye.
So John Willes got what he wanted but at great personal cost in the loss of a good cricketing career.
- Scores & Biographies, Volume 1 by Arthur Haygarth (SBnnn)