The story of Billy Bates is a tragic cricket story from yesteryears. He was an Ashes hero whose life turned upside down post a freak accident. 


While bowling in nets in Australia a straight drive hit him on his face and damaged his eyesight so much that he had to retire from all first-class cricket. The year was 1887 and Bates was just 32. This brought severe depression for him and he died even before reaching 45 at the turn of the century.

But during his playing days, he was a classy off-spinner with multiple bowling feats during the early days of Test cricket. The most famous of those came on this day, 20th January, 136 years ago.

Billy Bates (Image – Wikipedia)

The great Australian fast bowler Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth became the first player to take a Test hat-trick during England’s 1878/79 tour in the great Melbourne Cricket Ground. So fittingly during England’s next tour, the great MCG became the venue for Test cricket’s first hat-trick by an Englishman and the Englishman was Billy Bates. With a wonderful display of round-arm off-spin bowling, Bates got the Australian batsmen Percy McDonnell, George Giffen, and George Bonnor on three consecutive deliveries to complete his hat-trick. In fact, Bates’ final analysis was 7 wickets for 28 runs in 26.2, four-ball overs as was the norm those days. Bates did not stop there and once Australians were asked to follow on by English captain Honourable Ivo Bligh, he promptly took 7 more wickets in the second innings to get them all out for 153. With this England won the Test match by an innings and that was the first such instances in the short history of the game and Bates’ match figure of 14 for 102 was pivotal.

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Interestingly Billy Bates’ all 15 Test matches were played in Australia as he was part of 4 different touring parties and took 50 wickets with a bowling average of 16.42. His batting average was 27.33 which was quite respectable for that period and he even opened the batting in Test matches for England.

Bates’ hat-trick was the first of the 14 Test hat-tricks taken by English bowlers. Stuart Broad has two and the latest person to add his name in the list of Test hat-trick owners is English off-spinner Moeen Ali, who achieved this feat against South Africa in the Oval in 2017.

Overall, there are 43 Test hat-tricks till now with England leading the way, followed by Australia (11). No other country has more than four hat-tricks in their credit.

Along with Broad, three more players have two hat-tricks in Test cricket. One of them is Pakistan legend, Wasim Akram. Other two are Hugh Trumble and Jimmy Matthews, two Australian bowlers in the bygone era. Also, there are interesting instances like Peter Siddle taking a hat-trick on his birthday or Irfan Pathan taking a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match. There were no Test hat-tricks in 2018 and with 2019 having very few Test matches, let us wait to see who will take the next Test hat-trick.

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