Roundarm bowling

In cricket, roundarm bowling is a bowling style that was introduced in the first quarter of the 19th century and largely superseded underarm bowling by the 1830s. Using a roundarm action, the bowler has their arm extended about 90 degrees from their body at the point where they release the ball. Roundarm fell into decline after 1864 when the current style of overarm bowling was legalised, although W. G. Grace continued to use it to the end of his career.


The spread of roundarm in the 1820s was a natural reaction to the growing predominance of batsmen over the age-old underarm style of bowling. Its adherents argued that the legalisation of roundarm was essential to restore the balance between batting and bowling. However, high-scoring matches were still comparatively rare owing to vagaries in pitch conditions.

The idea of roundarm is sometimes attributed to Christiana Willes, sister of Kent cricketer John Willes. The story goes that when bowling to her brother in the garden at home in the 1800s, Willes found herself inconvenienced by her large, lead-weighted dress which prevented her from performing the underarm action. Elevating the arm to just above waist height, she bowled without interference from her attire. According to John Major in More Than A Game, the story is unlikely to be true for reasons of fashion more than cricket because hooped skirts were out of fashion during the period of the Napoleonic War.

Roundarm was said to have been devised in the 1790s by Tom Walker, known as Old Everlasting.[1] Walker was a famous opening batsman who had a solid defensive technique and was notoriously difficult to dismiss. He was also a more than useful bowler who was always looking for ways to improvise. Legend has it that he and some of his fellow players in the "Hambledon Era" used to practise in a barn during the winters. Walker worked out that he could generate more bounce and variation of pace if he bowled with his arm away from his body and soon realised that these deliveries gave the batsman added problems. He tried to use the style in important matches but was no-balled and had to return to his usual underarm lobs, with which he was by no means unsuccessful.

Prohibition and eventual legalisation

Whatever the origin, John Willes realised that the pace and bounce generated by this raised arm action made the delivery potentially more difficult to play than a conventional underarm one and so he adopted the style himself with his arm coming through at shoulder height. He tried, without success, to have it accepted in senior cricket.

The matter was controversial enough for a law to be introduced in 1816 into the Laws of Cricket to prohibit roundarm:

The ball must be bowled (not thrown or jerked), and be delivered underhand, with the hand below the elbow. But if the ball be jerked, or the arm extended from the body horizontally, and any part of the hand be uppermost, or the hand horizontally extended when the ball is delivered, the Umpires shall call, "No Ball".

On 15 July 1822, in the MCC v Kent match at Lord's, Willes opened the bowling for Kent and was promptly no-balled for using his roundarm action. He had been trying at various times to introduce the style since 1807. Being no-balled on this occasion was the final straw, for Willes reportedly threw the ball away and withdrew from the match, literally going straight to his horse and riding away. He refused to play again in any important fixture.

Although Willes had quit the game, he had made his point and others were willing to pick his ball up and persevere. In 1826, Sussex had the best team in England and were acclaimed as the "Champion County" in some quarters. Their success owed much to the prowess of two top-class bowlers William Lillywhite and Jem Broadbridge, both of whom were champions of the roundarm style, when they could get away with it. Lillywhite was one of the all-time great bowlers and was nicknamed "the Nonpareil".

In 1827, to test the validity of roundarm bowling, three All-England v Sussex roundarm trial matches were arranged, but no immediate decision was made about legalisation. Lillywhite and Broadbridge used roundarm to great effect against the England batsmen who made loud objections.

But the batsmen were losing the argument. In 1828, following the Sussex v England roundarm trials, MCC modified Rule 10 to permit the bowler's hand to be raised as high as the elbow. Lillywhite, Broadbridge and their supporters continued to bowl at shoulder height and the umpires did not no-ball them.

By 1835, powerless to prevent the use of roundarm, MCC finally amended the Laws of Cricket to make it legal. The relevant part of the Law stated: "if the hand be above the shoulder in the delivery, the umpire must call 'No Ball'." It was not long before bowlers’ hands started to go above the shoulder and the 1835 Law had to be reinforced in 1845 by removing benefit of the doubt from the bowler in the matter of his hand’s height when delivering the ball.


T20 final 2009
Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga bowling a round arm delivery against Pakistan

Although underarm bowlers did not fade away, roundarm became the predominant style until another controversy erupted about overarm in 1864. Prominent roundarm bowlers to succeed Lillywhite and Broadbridge were Alfred Mynn, John Jackson and W. G. Grace.

In the modern game, the Sri Lankan pace bowler Lasith Malinga has a very distinctive action which is authentic roundarm.[2] This has earned him the name "Slinga Malinga". There are some who question the legality of this action, but it is legal, because his arm does not straighten from a bent position as he bowls. This is the strict definition of bowling vis-à-vis throwing. In fact, many bowlers bowl with a slightly bent arm; the key is that they do not straighten it as they bowl.

See also


  1. ^ Ashley Mote, The Glory Days of Cricket, p.127
  2. ^ CricInfo article

External links

Further reading

  • Ashley Mote, The Glory Days of Cricket, Robson, 1997
  • H S Altham, A History of Cricket, Volume 1 (to 1914), George Allen & Unwin, 1962
  • Derek Birley, A Social History of English Cricket, Aurum, 1999
  • Rowland Bowen, Cricket: A History of its Growth and Development, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970
  • John Major, More Than A Game, HarperCollins, 2007
  • Arthur Haygarth, Scores & Biographies, Volume 1 (1744–1826), Lillywhite, 1862
  • Arthur Haygarth, Scores & Biographies, Volume 2 (1827–1840), Lillywhite, 1862
1807 English cricket season

1807 was the 21st season of cricket in England since the foundation of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). John Willes of Kent first tried to revive the idea of "straight-armed" (i.e., roundarm) bowling, which had originated with Tom Walker in the 1790s.

1816 in sports

1816 in sports describes the year's events in world sport.

1827 English cricket season

1827 was the 41st season of cricket in England since the foundation of Marylebone Cricket Club. It saw the first playing of the University match and the introduction of roundarm bowling as an accepted way of delivering the ball.

The controversy surrounding roundarm bowling came to a head before the season began and three trial matches were played between Sussex and All-England. No firm conclusions were drawn in the immediate aftermath of the trials and it was many years before roundarm was formally legalised, but in practice roundarm was adopted in 1827 as its practitioners, especially William Lillywhite and Jem Broadbridge of Sussex, continued to use it with little, if any, opposition from umpires. Underarm bowling did not cease and continued into the twentieth century with George Simpson-Hayward being the last major exponent.

On 22 August, George Rawlins playing for Sheffield against Nottingham became the first batsman to be out hit the ball twice in a first-class game. This has since occurred only six more times in English first-class cricket, and not since 1906.

1827 in sports

1827 in sports describes the year's events in world sport.

1835 English cricket season

1835 was the 49th season of cricket in England since the foundation of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Powerless to prevent the use of roundarm bowling, MCC finally amended the Laws of Cricket to make it legal.

The relevant part of the Law stated: if the hand be above the shoulder in the delivery, the umpire must call "No Ball". Bowlers’ hands now started to go above the shoulder and the 1835 Law had to be reinforced in 1845 by removing benefit of the doubt from the bowler in the matter of his hand’s height when delivering the ball. The Laws were also changed to enforce a compulsory follow on if the team batting second was 100 runs behind on first innings.

1835 in sports

1835 in sports describes the year's events in world sport.

Ashley Walker

Ashley Walker (22 June 1844 – 26 May 1927) was an English amateur first-class cricketer, who played nine games for Yorkshire County Cricket Club from 1863 to 1870, ten for Cambridge University from 1864 to 1866, and one match for the North of England in 1870. He also played for the South Wales Cricket Club from 1875 to 1876. His cousin, Charles Walker, played one first-class match for the Gentlemen of the North.

Born in Bowling Hall, Bradford, Yorkshire, England, Walker was educated at Westminster School and at Trinity College (1862-3) and Magdalene College, Cambridge (1863-6). and was a blue from 1864 to 1866. He was a right-handed batsman, who scored 531 first-class runs at 15.61, with a top score of 65 against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He took eighteen wickets with his right arm slow roundarm bowling at 16.05, with his best analysis being 6 for 89 against Surrey.

He also played for Staffordshire but, in 1875, he moved to Swansea, before serving in the public education department in Ceylon from 1876 to 1901. From 1890-4 and then in 1895 and 1901 he was Principal Inspector of Schools, Ceylon. Whilst there he played cricket, especially at the Royal College Colombo and, in 1885 and 1886, Walker captained teams to Madras and Bombay. He also played for the Yorkshire Gentlemen team in its early days.

He married Rachel Strick of Swansea on 28 September 1876. Walker died in May 1927 in Harrold, Bedfordshire, England and was survived by family and friends.

Christiana Willes

Christiana Willes (1786–1873), also known by her married name Christiana Hodges, was an early nineteenth century cricketer and the sister of John Willes. She has sometimes been attributed as the founder of roundarm bowling but it is known that the style was originated by Tom Walker. Many cricket sources name her as Christina rather than Christiana, but John Major and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are adamant that Christiana was the correct spelling of her name.

Cricket in Sussex

Cricket in Sussex refers to the sport of cricket in relation to its participation and history within Sussex, England. One of the most popular sports in Sussex, it is commonly believed that cricket was developed in Sussex and the neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey. Records from 1611 indicate the first time that the sport was documented in Sussex; this is also the first reference to cricket being played by adults. The first reference to women's cricket is also from Sussex and dates from 1677; a match between two Sussex women's teams playing in London is documented from 1747. Formed in 1839, Sussex County Cricket Club is believed to be the oldest professional sports club in the world and is the oldest of the county cricket clubs. Sussex players, including Jem Broadbridge and William Lillywhite were instrumental in bringing about the change from underarm bowling to roundarm bowling, which later developed into overarm bowling. For some time roundarm bowling was referred to as 'Sussex bowling'.Sussex's 'golden era' was in the 2000s when the club won 8 competitions including the County Championship three times, winning the County Championship for the first time in 2003. Formed in 1971, the Sussex Cricket League is believed to be the largest adult cricket league in the world, with 335 teams in 2018.

Enoch Tranter

Enoch Tranter (27 April 1842 – 23 September 1910) was an English cricketer active in the mid-1870s. Born at Old Park, Shropshire, Tranter was a left-handed batsman and left-arm roundarm fast bowler who made three appearances in first-class cricket.

During the 1870s Tranter played his club cricket for Sefton Park in Liverpool, and was selected to play for Lancashire in 1875, making his debut in first-class cricket against Derbyshire at Old Trafford. He made two further first-class appearances for Lancashire, one in 1875 against the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord's, and against Kent at Rochdale in 1876. Tranter took 3 wickets with his roundarm bowling, with best figures of 2/11. When fielding he would often field at slip.His occupation outside of cricket was as a coal miner. He died at Donnington Wood, Shropshire on 23 September 1910.

Frederick Jellicoe

Frederick Gilbert Gardiner Jellicoe (24 February 1858 – 29 July 1927) was an English first-class cricketer who played as a right-handed batsman and bowled left-arm roundarm slow-medium. He was the elder brother of Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe.Educated at Haileybury College and New College, Oxford, Jellicoe made his first-class debut for Oxford University against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1877 and played 14 matches for Oxford University, the last of which came against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1880. Jellicoe was a poor batsman, scoring just 21 runs and an average of 1.31. With his roundarm bowling Jellicoe took 55 wickets at the brilliant average of 16.74, with career best figures of 8/36 against the Gentlemen of England in 1879.

Jellicoe also represented Hampshire in one match in 1877. He made his debut against Derbyshire. Jellicoe represented Hampshire in three further first-class matches in 1880, two against the Marylebone Cricket Club with his final first-class match coming against local rivals Sussex. His batting average was much improved when playing for Hampshire, where Jellicoe scored 37 runs at an average of 9.25. His bowling for the county yielded 23 wickets at the average of 10.56, including 7/23 against the Marylebone Cricket Club.

After leaving university, Jellicoe taught at St Edward's School, Oxford for 10 years before being ordained as a Church of England clergyman. He served at various parishes in Hampshire. He died at Guy's Hospital, Southwark, London on 29 July 1927.

George T. Knight (cricketer)

George Thomas Knight (22 November 1795 – 25 August 1867) was a famous English amateur cricketer. He was a prominent member of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) who played a significant part in the introduction and legalisation of roundarm bowling between 1825 and 1835.

Knight was born at Goodnestone Park in Kent, the second son of Jane Austen's brother Edward Austen Knight. Knight's brothers, Edward, Henry and Brook, grandsons Edward and Lewis D'Aeth, and nephews Philip, Wyndham and Gerald Portal all played first-class cricket.

Knight's cricket career spanned the 1820 to 1837 seasons. He made 23 known appearances in first-class matches as a right-arm fast roundarm bowler and a late order right-handed batsman and was an occasional wicketkeeper.

He married Countess Nelson, born Hilaire Barlow, daughter of Admiral Sir Robert Barlow and the widow of William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson. He had no children and died in 1867 at Moorfields, Hereford.

James Baker (English cricketer)

James Bray Baker (1792 – 30 January 1839 at Hailsham) was an English professional cricketer who played first-class cricket from 1816 to 1828. He was born at Hailsham in Sussex and was mainly associated with Sussex cricket teams. He made 15 known appearances in first-class matches, including four matches for The Bs. He scored a total of 219 runs in 27 innings with a batting average of 8.42.

Baker was a member of the Sussex team in two of the three roundarm trial matches against All-England in 1827 to decide whether roundarm bowling should be legalised.

James Hodson

James Hodson (30 October 1808 – 17 March 1879) was an English cricketer. Hodson was a right-handed batsman who bowled right-arm roundarm medium pace. He was born at Ditchling, Sussex.

Hodson made his first-class debut for Sussex against Kent in 1838. Sussex County Cricket Club was formed the following season, with Hodson playing in the team's first-class debut against the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord's. In total, he made 51 first-class appearances for Sussex, the last of which came against Surrey in 1854. He took 95 wickets with his roundarm bowling, at an average of 15.58. He took three five wicket hauls during his career, achieving best innings figures against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1839. Hodson took 8 wickets in the Marylebone Cricket Club's first innings, though his exact bowling figures are not recorded. These figures made Hodson the first person to take a five wicket haul for Sussex County Cricket Club. With the bat, Hodson scored 554 runs at a batting average of 7.48, with a high score of 44. In addition to playing for Sussex, both before and after the county club was founded, Hodson appeared for an England XI, the Players and the All England Eleven.He died at Hunston Mill, near Hunston, Sussex on 17 March 1879.

Jem Broadbridge

James "Jem" Broadbridge (1795–1843) was an English professional cricketer who is widely accounted the outstanding all-rounder in England during the 1820s. He is best remembered for his part in the introduction of roundarm bowling. He played mainly for Sussex and made 102 known appearances in first-class cricket from 1814 to 1840. He represented the Players in the Gentlemen v Players series and the South in the North v. South series.

John Richard Hardy

John Richard Hardy (18 May 1807 – 21 April 1858) was an English-born Australian pastoralist and gold commissioner.

He was the son of vicar Robert Hardy and Sophia-Adair Hale, of Walberton in Sussex. He

was educated at Charterhouse School, then went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1826 but moved to Peterhouse in the following year. He played cricket for Cambridge University in 1829

and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1831. He migrated to Sydney in 1832 and edited the Australian for two years. He was credited with introducing roundarm bowling to Australia. He married Clara Stephen, sister of Sir Alfred Stephen, on 18 May 1837. In that year he was also appointed police magistrate at Yass, where he also acquired property. He was suspended in 1843 on suspicion of irregular procedures. He was later police magistrate at Parramatta from 1849 to 1851.Hardy was appointed chief gold commissioner in 1851 soon after gold was discovered; he was considered an able administrator by Godfrey Mundy and John Erskine. He supported the accessibility of gold found on private land, but was accused of giving preference to his brother and also, erroneously, of appropriating funds. A Legislative Council select committee found him "of a character wholly incompatible" with holding his office in 1852 and he was forced into retirement. He published a pamphlet on goldfield issues in 1855, and in 1857 was a founding member of the Yass Mechanics' Institute. He died, childless, in 1858.

Roundarm trial matches

The roundarm trial matches were a series of cricket matches between Sussex and All-England during the 1827 English cricket season. Their purpose was to help the MCC, as the game's lawgivers, to decide if roundarm bowling should be legalised or if the only legitimate style of bowling should be underarm, which had been in use since time immemorial.

Tom Walker (cricketer)

Thomas Walker (16 November 1762 – 1 March 1831) was an English cricketer who played for Hampshire in the days of the Hambledon Club and later for Surrey. He was famous for his brilliant defensive batting. He is also credited with introducing, roundarm bowling, the predecessor of modern overarm bowling.

William Paris

William Paris (29 April 1838 – 12 January 1915) was an English first-class cricketer. Paris was a right-handed batsman who was a right-arm roundarm bowler.

Paris made his first-class debut for Hampshire in 1875 against Kent. Paris made five first-class appearances for Hampshire from 1875 to 1876. His final County match came against Kent.

Paris returned in 1881 to play for Hampshire in a first-class match against the Marylebone Cricket Club. This was to be Paris' final first-class match for the club. Paris scored 81 runs for the club at an average of 8.10. Paris scored a single half century that yielded his highest score of 51*. With his roundarm bowling Paris took five wickets at an average of 10.40, with best figures of 3/28 on debut against Kent.

In 1878 Paris stood as an Umpire in first-class match between Hampshire and Kent.

Paris died in Winchester, Hampshire on 12 January 1915.

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