The tale of the cricketer who perfected the googly
The son of a German-Jewish merchant father who settled outside of London, Schwarz was born in Lee in 1875, and played three rugby Tests for England between 1899 and 1901.
His summer game was cricket but, certainly at first, he achieved little success. He hovered around the edges of playing for Middlesex but didn’t play regularly for the county, emigrating to South Africa in September 1902 where he joined the South African Railways.
Like many men of his class (he was Cambridge educated) he caught the mail ship to Cape Town in search of fame and fortune. Although he was unsuccessful as a cricketer in England, he had been exposed to the wiles of Bernard Bosanquet, two years younger than he.
Bosanquet has been widely credited by cricket historians as inventing the googly, (or, as it was once called, in honour of its founder, the “bosie”).
The googly is bowled with a traditional leg-spinner’s action, but instead of pitching from the leg and spinning towards the off, it does the opposite, spinning from off to leg.
From a batsman’s point of view, it’s difficult to predict (because it looks like a leg-spinner) and therefore difficult to play – a magic delivery, if you will. A mis-read googly is liable to bowl a batsman or hit his pads. If he survives with his wicket, the befuddled batsman is liable to look slightly stupid at the very least.
While Bosanquet invented the googly, he was seldom able to perfect it, interspersing the dangerous deliveries with some poor ones easy to score runs off. With a note of exasperation, the famous English cricketer, “Plum” Warner once called Bosanquet the “worst-best bowler in the world”.
First in the Cape and then in Johannesburg, Schwarz found the ideal, far-from-prying-eyes conditions in which to practise bowling Bosanquet’s bosie. Although he wasn’t immediately successful, he honed his craft, and was often a feature in the nets while others were having lunch or had gone home.
In 1904, he was chosen to tour England as a member of the South African team, the qualifications for playing for another country far more elastic than they are today. He was picked for South Africa essentially as a batsman, but in the fourth match of the tour against Oxford University, the students were cruising in their second innings and he was tossed the ball.
He was an immediate success. “Precisely 7.2 overs later, he had five wickets, all clean bowled,” reports a recent article on Schwarz in The Guardian, “and Oxford were all out for 167. He ended up as the tour’s leading wicket-taker, with 96 of them at an average of 14.81 per wicket.”
Upon his return to South Africa after the 1904 England tour, Schwarz did for others as Bosanquet had done for him. He generously shared his conjurer’s secrets, and by the time the South Africans were ready to tour England again three years later, they arrived with a legendary four-pronged spin attack.
Team-mates Aubrey Faulkner, Gordon White, and Bert Vogler had all caught the googly bug. England batsmen found them tricky customers. Schwarz took 143 wickets on the tour, some finding him virtually unplayable. Those who knew him as the likeable mediocrity lingering on the fringes of Middlesex when he left five years earlier, couldn’t believe their eyes.
As is the case with all those who broaden and deepen a tradition, whether in music, sport or the arts, Schwarz put his own unique spin on what Bosanquet had taught him. He had started out as a medium-fast bowler before falling under Bosanquet’s spell and it was natural for him to bowl his googlies at a brisk pace.
The speed at which he bowled added to the difficulty of facing him, and he carried on being a handful back in South Africa, particularly because coiled hessian (or matting) wickets were still widely in use and they encouraged the ball to grip, thus aiding spin.
Photos of Schwarz show why he was well-suited physically to spin bowling. He had long – almost delicate – fingers, perfect for imparting revolutions on the ball, and he was tall, so he let the ball go from a reasonable height, which added bounce.
Hard as he worked on his art, however, he was unable to master the orthodox leg-spinner. Had he been able to bowl the googly (with a leg-spinner’s action) and the conventional leg-spinner, like, say, Imran Tahir, the Pakistani-born South African, he would have revolutionised the game rather than providing it with a charming footnote.
Having returned to England, Schwarz fought on the Western Front as a major at the beginning of World War I, later being promoted to the position of deputy assistant quartermaster general. He survived the hostilities, but in a cruel twist of fate, died of the Spanish flu seven days after the armistice had been signed in November 1918, the victim of a virus rather than war itself.