John Willes (cricketer)

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John Willes
Personal information
Full name John Willes
Born 1778
Headcorn, Kent, England
Died 5 August 1852(1852-08-05) (aged 73–74)
Staunton, Gloucestershire, England
Bowling style Unknown arm, fast (roundarm)
Domestic team information
Years Team
1806 – 1822 Kent
First-class debut 7 July 1806 Gentlemen v Players
Last First-class 15 July 1822 Kent v Marylebone Cricket Club
Career statistics
Competition First-class cricket
Matches 5
Runs scored 9
Batting average 1.28
100s/50s 0/0
Top score 5
Balls bowled unknown
Wickets 6
Bowling average unknown
5 wickets in innings 0
10 wickets in match 0
Best bowling 3/?
Catches/stumpings 2/–
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.

Willes played for the Gentlemen in the inaugural and second Gentlemen v Players matches in 1806.[1][2]

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.

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