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Was old George the best of all time ?

George Alfred Lohmann

Although he only played Test cricket for ten years between 1886 and 1896 George Lohmann has a strong claim to be the greatest bowler ever. In 18 Tests he took 112 wickets at 10.75 each with a strike rate of one wicket every 34 balls and they’re phenomenal figures. A lot of people look at the statistics from the last 10 or so years of the 19th century and dismiss them as not worth much. They say the pitches were bad, the overall standard of play not very good, but that’s not fair. You can only judge a man’s performance against his contemporaries and by any standards Lohmann’s achievments with the ball were outstanding. Because they played so little Test cricket in those days the figures look insignificant. But look at it this way; England had 13 Tests in the 12 months from April 2007, over a ten year period that’s 130 matches so if Lohmann kept up his strike rate of 6.2 wickets a game he would have 808 wickets and we would be sitting up and taking notice. The guys of that era had so little opportunity to play big games but it’s wrong to discount them simply because of that.

Batsmen tend to be remembered more than bowlers because they are more aesthetically pleasing and that tends to colour the imagination but I am trying to look at things objectively.

Lohmann played in the inaugural South African series of 1895-96 and while I accept that they were new to Test cricket and not very strong he had 35 wickets in 103.4 overs at 5.8 each, taking one wicket every three balls. At Port Elizabeth in the first Test he had eight for 7 as they were dismissed for 30 in 94 balls and he finished the match with a hat trick. Against Australia, a different cup of tea, he had 77 wickets at 13 each, one every 48 balls and they were good. Altogether he took eight or more wickets in an innings 20 times, four of them in Tests, and 13 or more in a match 14 times.

Born in Middlesex, the son of a well to do stockbroker, he was 5ft 11in and 12 stone and by all accounts a handsome man who played a major role in Surrey winning seven championships during his 11 years with them. He bowled brisk medium pace cutters, what they used to call break backs, with swerve or swing, very similar to Sydney Barnes who followed him, and economical yet penetrative, Lohmann had 1,221 wickets at13.19 for the county, including 200 wickets in a summer in three consecutive seasons, 1888 to 1890. He not only took wickets cheaply but regularly, one every 37 balls.

We tend to look at all sports with a present day perspective and think that these old codgers wouldn’t live with the modern generation but you have to judge them in their own times. Would Fred Perry, a legend at tennis, live with the current crop with their carbon-fibre raquets and 130mph serves ? Probably not, but do you erase the achievements of a previous generation because of that ? The same applies to golf, football, you name it.

Five wickets in an innings 176 times, 10 in a match on 57 occasions; those figures will do for me and make him a must in my side because you have to assess a player on how they performed in their own era and he was exceptional. If you’re picking the best team it’s not fair to rule out Lohmann because he played so few Tests. None of his contemporoaries came close to his figures. You can make any excuse you want, bad pitches, quality of opposition but his performances were mind boggling. It didn’t matter whether it was on the matting pitches of South Africa, the heat of Australia with four and six ball overs or the pitches in England, he did the job.

I don’t care if he is similar to Barnes. If he can take wickets so quickly and cheaply who the hell cares if you have two of the same type. Bowlers hunt in pairs and Australia used to play two leg spinners in Grimmett and O’Reilly, didn’t they ?

Unfortunately, Lohmann didn’t enjoy good health and while only 35 years of age had to give up the game because of tuberculosis for which there was no cure. He moved to South Africa to enjoy the drier climate of the Cape, near Worcester, and recovered sufficiently to manage the South African team which toured England in 1901. But a couple of months after his return he died of the disease at the age of 36, one of the most under rated bowlers in the history of the game.

Extract taken from The Best X1 by Geoffrey Boycott, by kind permission of Penguin Books www.penguinbooks.com <http://www.penguinbooks.com/>   The book is also on sale at The Shop