Wilfred Flowers – Cricket’s First ‘Double’ All-Rounder

Wilfred Flowers was one of the longest-serving players of Nottinghamshire cricket. He was one of the leading all-round players of his era, known for his slow off-break spin bowling and for his powerful batting. He was a potent bowler on ‘sticky wickets’ and one of the players who took his chance at the club during difficult times. Born in the village of Calverton, Nottinghamshire, on 7 December 1856, Flowers emerged as a promising cricketer after joining the well-renowned cricket nursery in Sutton-in-Ashfield. He was given a chance by the young Notts Colts team to compete against the first team County XI and he made a mark by taking five wickets for only eight runs conceded. He then represented the England Colts, and had the honour of dismissing the great WG Grace twice in one game.

This enabled Flowers to fully impress the Nottinghamshire Cricket Club first team, and he was selected to play for them in the same season, 1877. He was part of a strong Notts team with a bowling attack dominated by Alfred Shaw and Fred Morley. He however shown his true potential with eleven wickets in a game in 1878, and figures of 7 for 16 during a match in 1879. Like several professionals at the county, Flowers was involved in the players’ strike in 1881. Undeterred, he made amends with the club committee despite the contract dispute, and emerged from his hiatus to compete for the team again in the absence of the big time players. In his first game back, Flowers had the extraordinary figures of 8 for 23 in 12.2 overs. This would turn out to be the best bowling performance of his career for the team. The following season, he came into his own by taking over a hundred wickets, 103 in total, at an average of 13.44 runs per wicket. He took five wickets in an innings nine times, and ten wickets in a match five times. He went on to trump that with a career-best 113 wickets in the following year.

Allied with his record wicket-taking haul, Flowers added 1144 runs at a personal season best average of 24.86, to become the first professional cricketer in history to achieve the ‘double’ of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in a season. He represented the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) on numerous occasions, and had an outstanding match for them in 1884, when he picked up 14 wickets for only 80 runs, bowling unchanged in both innings, and then smashing 122 runs in over two hours against the Cambridge University side. He was picked for the England team for the winter tour to Australia, and had his top test match bowling analysis in his third test at Sydney, when taking five wickets for 46 runs in 46 overs bowled, as the home team were dismissed for 181 runs. Batting at number seven, he then went on to make a crucial fifty in the second innings, and featured in a century partnership for the seventh wicket with Maurice Read. Chasing 214 to win, England were just seven runs away from victory, when Flowers was the last man to be dismissed caught off the bowling of fast bowler Fred Spofforth.

These two performances turned out to be the highlights of a short test career, which saw him compete in only eight matches. He did however have some other notable batting displays against the touring Australian team playing for other teams, with individual scores of 90, 93, and 130. In 1893, he accumulated a 1000 runs during the season for only the second time in his career, and when he represented Notts for the final time in 1896, he signed off with a century in his last match against Sussex. Flowers was granted two beneficiary matches in his honour, but both contests turned out to be short affairs, with one game ending in just over a day and the other lasting just three hours after heavy rain! Flowers became a first-class umpire for five years before working back in the hosiery trade. He passed away in November 1926.

Wilfred Flowers was an early stalwart of Nottinghamshire cricket, with a 19 year association with the club. He played over 400 first-class matches and recorded in excess of 12,800 runs at an average of just over 20, as well as taking 1188 wickets at 15.89 runs apiece. He also held over 200 catches in the field. A true all-rounder of the times!

*Article provided by Hitesh Darji (Cricket Correspondent)

*Main image @TrentBridge Wilfred Flowers became the first professional player to take 100 wickets and score 1,000 runs in a season.

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