Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Colin Blythe (born May 30, 1879; died in World War I on the Forest Hall to Pimmern military railway line, Belgium on November 8, 1917) was a Kent and England left arm spinner who is regarded as one of the finest bowlers of the period between 1900 and 1914 - sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age" of cricket.
Blythe first played for Kent in 1899, and in a stunning start took a wicket with his very first ball in first-class cricket. From then on, he was firmly established in the Kent eleven, and with 100 wickets in his first full season showed exceptional talent. An abnormally dry summer with unfavourable wickets in 1901 was his only real setback, for in the very wet summers of 1902 and 1903 Blythe became one of the leading wicket-takers in county cricket. By this time, he had shown himself an exceptionally skilful bowler with the most deceptive flight of any spinner in county cricket. This skilful flight and ability to bowl, without change of action, a much faster ball that went with his arm (that is, from off to leg stump instead of from leg to off) allowed him to be successful even on dry and true pitches (as he showed against a strong Middlesex side in 1903). On sticky or even slightly crumbled pitches, Blythe was almost always unplayable, and he was named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1904.
In 1905, with his main bowling partner, fast bowler Arthur Fielder , losing form, Blythe was kept extremely busy on the many hard pitches and was thus more expensive than in any other year. Injury in 1906 handicapped him further, but on the rock-hard wickets of that August he and Fielder bowled so skilfully that Kent won their first County Championship.
In 1907, Blythe, though aided by a summer of extremely favourable pitches, moved onto the international stage by taking 26 wickets in three Tests against South Africa, including 15 for 99 in the second Test at Headingley - not bettered in England until the extraordinary deeds of Jim Laker in 1956. Though the pitch and the appalling quality of the opposing batting make this much less of a feat, his 17 for 48 (10 for 30 and 7 for 18) against Northamptonshire in a day on June 1, 1907 still stands as the best bowling analysis in the County Championship. It is also the most wickets any bowler has ever taken in a single day's cricket (since equalled by Hedley Verity and Tom Goddard).
In late 1908, Blythe's amazingly imaginative skill reached perhaps its highest point ever: in a period of hot weather and dry pitches Blythe, without the aid of Fielder, still won match after match: he showed that, no matter how well set a batsman looked, he was capable of deceiving them and gaining vital wickets. His ability to relish the challenge of bowling to batsmen who were capable of hitting large scores very rapidly was well-known, and frequently Blythe's skill rewarded him: his duel with Jack Hobbs at Blackheath in 1908 is regarded as some of the highest-standard county cricket ever played.
In 1909, again aided by many rain-affected pitches, Blythe took over 200 wickets and at Edgbaston, took 11 wickets to win the First Test against Australia. He also took nine wickets in an innings against Leicestershire and Northamptonshire - though the standard of batting makes these less noteworthy efforts. However, later Tests of that series suggested that he was starting to lose his skill on good pitches, a fact borne out in 1911, when his average of 19 runs a wicket in an exceptionally dry summer would have been much higher but for a few deadly performances when pitches were exceedingly helpful.
In his last three seasons before World War I halted county cricket, Blythe headed the first-class bowling averages but was seldom as good on unhelpful pitches as in the 1900s, perhaps because his much faster ball was becoming too difficult for him to bowl. However, given a pitch to help him he was further ahead of any other left-arm spinner than ever, and in the remarkably wet summer of 1912 he took 55 more wickets in the County Championship than the next best bowler (George Dennett).
Regarded as a sensitive and artistic person, and a talented violinist, Blythe enlisted as a soldier when the war broke out and soon announced he would be playing no more first-class cricket. Whilst most observers saw this decision as premature, his death in 1917 meant the cricket world never knew if Blythe could recover his former skill.
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