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Sydney Francis Barnes was born on April 19, 1873 at Smethwick, Staffordshire. He was the second son of five children, three boys and two girls. Richard Barnes, his father, left Shropshire as a baby and spent the rest of his life in Staffordshire, though he worked for a Birmingham firm for 63 years.

Barnes was first introduced to cricket at the age of 15 when he played for a local side that had its ground at the rear of the Galton Hotel, Smethwick. Soon he became a member of the town club that at that time ran three teams. It was at this time that he learned that a ball could be made to turn after pitching. Smethwick's first eleven were members of the Birmingham League and they’re professional Billy Bird, of Warwickshire, coached the players one evening a week. Bird asked Barnes to practise at his net and he taught Barnes to spin the ball from the off as he himself bowled medium-paced off-breaks. According to Barnes all the coaching he ever received did not amount to more than about three hours all told.

Barnes first came into the limelight as a bowler when Smethwick were playing Handsworth Wood and lost the toss. He was keeping wicket and their opponents had made only eight runs when the skipper, Dick Thomas, told him to take off the pads and bowl. In those days he was bowling fast-medium off-breaks-he knew nothing of the leg-break- and was so successful that when the last man came in he had taken six wickets for seven runs. The last man had a go and hit three fours off him before Barnes had his revenge. He finished with seven wickets for 19 runs. His performance for Smethwick eventually brought him to the notice of the Warwickshire County Club and he was asked to play the last match of the 1893 season against Gloucestershire at Bristol. (In those days it was enough to play for a club near Birmingham to qualify for Warwickshire). He played matches for Warwickshire in the 1894, 1895 and 1896 season.

A professional career beckoned and he signed for his first club, Rishton, in the Lancashire League, at a salary of 3 10s. a week, his duties including those of grounds man. The contract further added 'that 7sh. 6d be paid Barnes for batting when his scores reached 50 and also 10sh. 6d per match for bowling when he captured six wickets per march and not unless'. Although 3 10s was quite a decent sum in those days, when beer was three halfpence a pint and cigarettes five a penny it does not compare favourably with present day rates.

In his first season he took 71 wickets at a cost of slightly under 10 runs a wicket, as well as averaging nearly 20 with the bat. The following summer he did even better with 85 wickets, followed by 87, and in 1898 he was only three short of his 100 wickets at an average cost of 8.46 runs. In his five seasons with Rishton he learned to bowl the leg-break that he was to develop so devastatingly and took 411 wickets for an average of 9.10. During his last season with this club he played for Lancashire second eleven.

Barnes played a total of only 27 Test matches, 20 of them against the archenemy, Australia, and he took 189 wickets for an average of 16.43 runs each-106 wickets against Australia for 21.58 runs each and 83 against South Africa for only 9.85 each. He was six feet one inch in height, lean but muscular, with long arms and long fingers with two or three long, springing strides in his run-up, he delivered the ball when it was at the highest point above his head. His armoury included the leg-break, the off-break, in-swingers, out-swingers, top-spinners although his chief asset was the leg-break. In all first-class matches he took 719 wickets for an average of 17.09 runs each. To be added to these are his 1,437 wickets for Staffordshire at a mere 8.10 runs each, a feat without parallel in Minor Counties cricket and his 4,069 wickets in league and club cricket. In all classes of cricket, Barnes took 6,225 wickets at an average of only 8.31 runs each.

In 1903 Barnes parted ways with Lancashire. He wanted Lancashire to find him a winter job, so that he would have something to look forward to when he finished playing cricket. But, as Wisden commented some time afterwards 'this the Lancashire Committee could not, or would not, find him'. Years later in an interview Barnes drew attention to all those who 'after fleeting years as famous cricketers, feted and fussed, dropped out, returned to the mine or factory or at best, took a fourth-rate beer house, trading as best they could upon their faded glories'.

Between his first two tours to Australia, Lord Hawke tried to induce Barnes to go to South Africa, but Barnes then had a good position with good prospects, with a firm of Staffordshire iron-masters and when he declined the invitation Lord Hawke's commented: 'We can't understand you-you only play when you like'.

He was always business-like, on and off the field, whether there was humour in it or not, as in a match between Porthill and Burslem in the North Staffordshire League when Albert Hollowood, father of a future editor of Punch, came in first wicket down to face Barnes. Hollowood was very strong on the off and his captain advised Barnes to put another man out at backward point. 'No, replied Barnes in a voice loud enough for Hollowood to hear, 'leave the field; he can't cut-especially me'.


The finest bowler ever to play the game? Possibly, certainly one of the most effective and versatile. His county and international career (only 27 tests) were sadly brief, due to disputes with the establishment, but Barnes was capable of troubling the best batsmen in the world on a good wicket, and was unplayable on a bad wicket.

He was a high class spin bowler, but operated at pace. Right arm medium or fast medium bowler, leg breaks, off breaks, late swing, perfect length, and often dismissed great batsmen for small scores with unplayable balls. Could bowl very fast if it suited him to do so. A ball with which he bowled Trumper was described by Charlie McCartney, the non-striker as the sort of ball a sick man might see in a dream, fast on the leg stump, moving late in the air to the off stump, and cutting on off the pitch to take the leg stump out of the ground. Not impressed by captains, he usually set his own field.

He allegedly deliberately let Jessop hit him all over Old Trafford as Maclaren had set what he considered an unacceptable field for him. In the second test of the 1911-12 series at Melbourne, Barnes produced one of the great bowling spells. After a poor performance in the first Test (likely in part due to his annoyance at not opening the bowling), he destroyed the Australian innings. He took 5 of the first six wickets to fall, with an analysis at one point of 4 for 1, later 5 for 6 runs. He and his opening partner, Foster, took 66 wickets in the five tests of this tour, against an Australian side boasting Trumper, Armstrong, and Hill. A competent bat, but not really interested in batting or fielding. He did, however, put on 29 runs for the last wicket with Arthur Fielder to win the Melbourne test of 1908 "to the astonishment of everyone concerned" as Wisden stated.

He was chosen to tour Australia in 1901-2, after only 6 first class matches in the preceding 7 seasons. He died in 1967, and in his final year expressed the opinion that he would have taken over 500 test wickets if he had played in the modern era (based on the number of games played). He took 14 wickets in the 4th test against South Africa on the 1913-14 tour (to take his total for the series for 49). He refused to play in the 5th, due to a dispute over accommodation for his wife, and was never picked for his country again. Bradman thought he was the best bowler he faced in the course of the 1930 tour (Barnes was 57 at the time). (Dave Liverman, Jan 1998)

Grand Old Man

During the later years of his life Barnes received many honours of varying kinds. In 1951 he was made an honorary member of the M. C. C. and in 1953 became a life member of the Staffordshire Society in London. In 1954 Staffordshire County Committee commissioned his portrait and Mr. Harry Rutherford, the Lancashire artist did the studies for the painting in the large room of the Swan Hotel in Stafford. The painting hangs in the Long Room at Lords alongside W. G.. Grace.

In April 1963, the Staffordshire County Committee honoured his 90th birthday by sending him a hamper of food and wine. Since 1939 when he was 66 he worked for Staffordshire County Council at Shire Hall and exercised his great gift of copperplate writing that he learned at school from a master who, if his pupils did not hold the pens correctly, rapped their knuckles.

Barnes, despite his age and fitness, did not come of a long-lived family. When he finished with Stone in 1940 when he was 67, he was in perfect physical condition and possibly could have played for years. When he was 48 they asked him to go to Australia. He did it by just keeping fit, regular habits and a determination to succeed. He used to do a lot of gardening at one time and during the winter months played football and hockey and went skating and rowing. He never had to diet. He smoked a pipe since a youngster, but only occasional cigarettes, and enjoyed a drink and a cigar.

Sydney Barnes died on the 27th December 1967, at the age of 94.


Test Debut: England v Australia at Sydney, 1st Test, 1901/02

Last Test: England v South Africa at Durban, 4th Test, 1913/14

Wisden Cricketer of the Year 1910

189 wickets in only 27 tests at an average of 16.43- easily the lowest of 20th century test cricketers.

Took a wicket every 41.6 balls (the next best amongst England's top 10 wicket takers is Trueman- every 49 balls).

Took 9-103 against South Africa, 1913-14 (second only to Laker in tests, (17-159 in match).

He took 49 wickets in 4 tests in this series, the record for a series.

8-29 against South Africa in 1912.

His last 100 wickets were taken in only 11 tests (21 innings), by far the fastest 100 wickets ever.

All his test wickets were taken against Australia and South Africa.

The only man to be picked for England whilst playing league and minor cricket.

1432 wickets for Staffordshire at less that 9 runs each, and played for the county until he was over 60.

Career Statistics:


  M I NO Runs HS Ave 100's 50's Ct St
Batting & Fielding 27 39 9 242 38* 8.06 0 0 12 0
  O M R W Ave BBI 5 10 SR Econ
Bowling 1312.1 356 3106 189 16.43 9-103 24 7 41.6 2.36


(career: 1894 - 1930)            
  M I NO Runs HS Ave 100's 50's Ct St
Batting & Fielding 133 173 50 1573 93 12.78 0 2 72 0
  Balls M R W Ave BBI 5 10 SR Econ
Bowling 31,527 1,598 12,289 719 17.09 9-103 68 18 43.8 2.33


Duckworth, L. (1967), Barnes S.F.- Master Bowler. Hutchinson.

Staffordshire university (http://www.staffs.ac.uk/schools/humanities_and_soc_sciences/pgstudents/Barnes.htm) Web link no longer available.

Cricket Database

A Hyndburn Chronology by Paul Ledham.