(Wizard Homepage)





Some opponents of the Broadshire County Cricket Club were in the habit of referring to it jeeringly as the two-men-eleven. In doing so, however, the critics were playing a big compliment to Bill Preston and Dan Needham, who were the mainstay of Broadshire. Preston, an amateur was a dashing batsman, another Hammond or Bradman, while Needham, who was a professional, was a wizard with the ball, and it was rare for either of them to fail.


Thanks to their efforts Broadshire stood well up on the championship table, but had never yet succeeded in finishing at the top. Towards the close of the cricket season Broadshire occupied third place on the table of first-class counties, and stood a sporting chance of gaining the championship. On their fine ground, in the city of Broadchester, they were playing Loamshire, and looked like gaining another victory, but rain stopped play at lunch-time on the third day. Loamshire had scored 241 runs in their first innings, and Broadshire had replied with 307. Going in again, Loamshire had made 144 for six wickets, so that they were 78 runs ahead with four wickets to fall. Lunch was over, and both elevens were gathered in a large room in the pavilion, gazing out rather disconsolately at the heavy and persistent rain. “Looks like being a wash-out,” remarked Frank Everard, the Broadshire skipper. As he spoke, he glanced at Major Longhurst, chief constable of the county. The major was also a member of the club committee, and chairman of the selection committee. “Yes,” agreed Longhurst. “Even if it stops soon,” he went on, “the wicket will be dead. Don’t you think so, Needham?” “Maybe, sir,” replied the famous Broadshire bowler. “Still, it might play tricks.” “And you’ve got your methods for every type of wicket, haven’t you, Dan?” put in Everard, with a chuckle. His words brought good-natured smile to many faces, for Dan Needham looked on bowling as a science. He was not just content to vary his attack with different types of bowling. He tried to read the minds of the batsmen, to discover weak points and attack them. Though he was regarded with due respect because of his amazing bowling, he had a number of rather curious theories which at times aroused a certain amount of amusement among his fellow players. One of them was that a certain type of muscular development helped a bowler, and he had made a study of the human body, and developed certain biceps which are not usually so prominent among average men. “Getting ready to use those muscles of yours, Dan?” smiled Dr Peterson, an all-rounder who played for Broadshire.” Rain continued to fall, and the subject of conversation was changed abruptly by a player referring to a burglary which had taken place in the city during the previous. “Same chap as before, wasn’t it, Longhurst,” asked the player, glancing at the chief constable. “I guess so.” Replied Major Longhurst, with a frown. “Hang it,” he went on. “I’d give a lot to get on the track of this crook. It’s the same thing every time. He opens safes as easily as you and I turn the handles of unlocked doors. He is a genius at the game.”

This first episode of:

The Baffling Bowler from Nowhere

Is taken from The Wizard #1099

March 30th 1946


“And you have no idea who he is?” asked Bill Preston, the famous Broadshire batsman, speaking for the first time for several minutes. Major Longhurst shook his head, staring in a preoccupied manner at nothing in particular, his gaze resting at length, apparently accidentally, on Bill Preston’s long, slender fingers. “We have got ideas, but, that is as far as we have got at the moment,” he said slowly. Bill Preston, a well-built young man, remained quite still, his hands resting on his knees. He was conscious of the chief constable’s steady stare, but his expression did not alter. “How do these safe-experts go about their job?” he asked coolly. “With the aid of very sensitive hearing and touch,” answered Major Longhurst, still continuing to stare. “As you know,” he continued, “modern safes have intricate locks, and you don’t need me to describe them to you. The expert cracksman moves the tumblers of these locks with his delicate touch, listening all the time, able to pick up the faintest sound with his sensitive hearing until at last he succeeds and is able to open the safe door without the aid of a key.” Bill Preston nodded his head, and then moved one hand to smooth his hair. “Sounds like magic to me,” he said. “I hope you’ll get this crook.” “We will!” exclaimed the chief constable. “Sooner or later he is going to slip up, and then –” He paused and smiled, while Bill Preston rose to his feet, slipping his hands into his trouser pockets. “Not raining quite so hard now,” remarked Frank Everard. “Looks to me as if it might clear up at any moment.” Some of the players walked with him closer to the windows, while others continued to chat, mainly about cricket, though some of them went on talking about the mysterious burglaries. Dan Needham and Dr Paterson began one of their everlasting discussions on the subject of muscular development, and Bill looking out at the sodden ground. Major Longhurst remained seated, puffing at his pipe, but now and again his gaze rested on Bill Preston’s broad back, though not in a manner to suggest that he was paying any particular attention to the batsmen. In a way, Bill Preston was a bit of a mystery to the other players. They all liked him, for he was a cheery companion but none of them had ever learned much about him. He was a young fellow in the very early twenties, and he lived in rooms in Broadchester. Apparently he was wealthy, for he did not follow any occupation – all his time appeared to be devoted to cricket. Presently Major Longhurst took some papers from his pocket. They were confidential documents dealing with the mysterious burglaries. He began to study them, frowning thoughtfully, and then again his gaze went suddenly to Bill Preston’s broad back. At that moment the batsman turned, and their gazes met, the major’s thoughtful and brooding, Bill Preston’s calm and quite untroubled. “Still worrying over your crook?” asked Preston, with a smile. Before the chief constable had time to reply, Frank Everard’s voice rang out. “The rain has stopped!” he said. “Look across over the roofs.” Above the house-tops blue sky could be seen, and fairly quickly the heavy clouds drifted farther and farther away. Spectators who had gone to shelter began to emerge, groundsmen appeared and removed the covers from the creases, and the two umpires went out to examine the pitch, followed quickly by Frank Everard and the Loamshire skipper. Five minutes later the two captains returned. Frank saying that if there was no further rain, play could be resumed in about half-an-hour. “It may be too late for us to force a win,” he said, “unless we can get those four wickets fairly quickly. What do you think, Dan?” “Ground is dead, I guess, isn’t it, sir?” asked Dan Needham. “Dead as mutton. You’ll get no help from the pitch at all,” replied the skipper. “There will be about two hours’ play. All depends on those last four wickets. We’ll have tea now, chaps.” The players sat down to tea, constantly flashing glances at the ground which could be seen through the windows, and presently they saw the umpires pay another visit to the pitch, one of them signaling to members of the ground staff. Along came men with the roller, the players got through their tea quickly, and an air of excitement was evident. “We’ve a chance, a mighty good chance, I think!” exclaimed Bill Preston, his eyes sparkling. “Yes,” agreed the skipper, “if only we can get those last four wickets quickly.”




The stands and rows of seats were filled, and the turnstiles were clicking freely, when Frank Everard led his men out on to the wet ground and tossed the ball to Dan Needham, who was to bowl from the pavilion end.


A heap of sawdust stood in position some distance behind each wicket, and presently a ripple of applause greeted the appearance of the two Loamshire batsmen. Neither were in the top class as batsmen, but they were players of long experience and they knew their job, which was to keep their wickets intact and not to take any liberties, particularly with Dan Needham. The famous Broadshire bowler tossed the ball from one hand to the other as he watched the two batsmen come in, polishing it against his trousers while guard was being taken. Then a hush fell on the ground, and Smith, the batsman facing Needham, waited for the ball to come down. Smith knew Needham of old, but that did not mean he knew what type of ball to expect, for Dan possessed perhaps the most varied attack in county cricket. There was little he could not do with a ball. He could bowl fast, medium or slow. He could make the ball swerve and spin or break in either direction, and he was an expert at disguising the pace the pace of his deliveries. Already he had made his plan of attack. He knew he could not get a lot of spin on the ball on that dead wicket, unless he could find a spot on which to do unexpected things. He could see the slight difference in the colour of the turf where the ground had been covered, and his intention was to try to pitch the ball as nearly as possible on the edge of the part that had been covered. It was this careful thinking, this attention to strategy in attack, that had made him the most dangerous bowler in the country. But muscular development, which enabled him to get work on the ball when most other bowlers could not. He knew he would need every ounce of his skill if he was to succeed on this easy-paced wicket. In his first over, which was a maiden, neither ball was alike, and each had Smith in difficulties, but the batsman managed to keep his wicket intact. Dr Paterson was bowling at the other end. He was medium-paced, and he flighted the ball cleverly, but he, too, was handicapped by the dead pitch. Four runs were scored off his over, and several more precious minutes had gone by. Then Smith faced Needham again, and the batsman, remembering the first over, was very much on his guard. He made no attempt to score runs – he stone-walled dourly. Four ball of Needham’s second over fell more or less on the same spot, but one came through very fast, another broke sharply across the batman’s pads, the third got up quickly, and the fourth turned away, but Smith wisely left it alone. A little fleck of earth flew up when the fifth ball pitched and was played back, and the batsman went out and smoothed down the spot with his bat. The sixth ball landed almost exactly on the same spot, and did exactly what Needham had intended it to do. It kicked up quickly spinning away slightly at the same time, and when Smith tried to play to the bowler he got it on the edge of the bat. Normally there would have been no fielder where the ball dropped, but Needham had anticipated what might happen, and he raced half-way down the pitch, flinging himself forward in time to grab the ball before it could touch the ground. The crowd yelled its delight as the score board registered 148 runs for seven wickets, but nearly ten minutes of the remaining time for play had been used up. In came the next man, and managed to survive the last ball of Needham’s over by smothering a shooter. A quarter of an hour went by, the score rising slowly, all the runs coming off Dr Peterson’s bowling, while Needham had the batsmen in difficulties all the time. Then there was a change of bowling, Frank Everard putting himself on with puzzling slows, but still the score continued to mount slowly, and the crowd looked gloomily at the big clock in the pavilion, fearing that there was little hope of a win for Broadshire now. So far only two runs had been hit off Needham, who continued to pitch his deliveries on the spot he had picked out, and which the batsmen were constantly patting down. Then he began another over, and his first two deliveries landed on the spot and were blocked just in time by the batsman. The third ball came down, seeming as if it were going to pitch in the same place, and the batsman went forward to it. But it spun wickedly, thanks to the work Needham had got on it with his unusual biceps of his, and it shot between the bat and the batsman, and rapped against a pad. “How’s that?” rose a yell, and up went the umpire’s finger, denoting that the batsman was out leg-before-wicket. 104 runs for eight wickets, and about an hour and twenty minutes left for play. In came the next man, a bug fellow who swung his bat with one hand as if it were a walking stick. Needham knew him of old and sized him up quickly. He was a batsman who liked to hit, if he could, but his set expression suggested he was prepared to use up time in defence. Needham changed his tactics. He bowled a couple of very fast ones, each dead on the wicket, and the big Loamshire man played both confidently. The last ball of the over was delivered in precisely the same manner, but it was of a very different type. It was slow, and it hung in the air, and proved too big a temptation to the hitter. Out he jumped, mistimed it completely, and a split second later his balls were flying, and he began his return journey to the pavilion. “You clever old juggler, Dan!” chuckled Bill Preston. Hopes began to revive, but the last wicket did not fall for some time, despite all Needham’s cunning. Eventually he wrecked it with a Yorker, and Loamshire were all out for 173, leaving Broadshire requiring 108 runs for victory. Needham’s four wickets had been taken for two runs. By the time the interval between the innings was over, there was only about fifty minutes’ playing time left, and the Broadshire crowd had practically given up any hope of their favourites winning. In sporting fashion the visitors wasted no time when they came out, and quickly Bill Preston and Dr Paterson were at the wicket. Bill facing the bowling. He took guard quickly, glanced swiftly round the field, and down came the first ball, which he played back. He treated the second in like fashion, but danced out to the third, caught it in the middle of the bat, and slammed it into the pavilion seat for six. It was flung back instantly, and Bill faced the bowler again, moving as if to go out to the ball, but guessing it might be pitched shorter. He was right, and he checked his forward movement and stepped across his wicket. Down almost on to one knee he got a glorious pull which landed on the roof of the stand. Two sixes off successive balls was much to the taste of the crowd who were still cheering when the bowler sent down his fifth delivery, which proved to be a long hop, and was hit over cover’s head to the boundary. To try to stop the hitting, the Loamshire man bowled the last ball as fast as he could, and right on the batsman, but Bill was ready for it, and he stepped away and chopped it past point for three. Nineteen runs off the first over and Bill had the bowling again. This time he faced a slow merchant, for the wicket did not suit the Loamshire fast bowlers. It was the case of all or nothing, and he danced out to the slow deliveries, sending the first two cracking against the pavilion rails, and the third into the crowd under the big score board. The next two balls broke awkwardly to the off, and Bill let go. Thinking he had found a way of keeping the batsman quiet, the bowler sent a similar ball down for his last delivery, but Bill patted it and shouted “Yes?”, he and his partner running like hares to snatch a run. 34 runs for no wickets – 74 runs still needed for victory, and about thirty-five minutes left for play. “It can’t be done!” said the pessimists, but Bill Preston did not agree with them. He still had the bowling, and he knew there was nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Broadshire could not possibly lose, but a draw would spoil their chance of winning the championship. So he cast caution to the winds, and he jumped out at the first ball of the next over, and sent it flying into the pavilion seats again. It was flung back, and the bowler evidently told himself it should not happen this time, for he sent down a shooter that did not rise more than an inch. But Bill dealt with it, and away it went, just above the ground, travelling like a bullet for the pavilion rails. The third ball was bowled straight at the batsman, and intended to be a bumper, but the wet ground took the kick out of it, and Bill hooked it with the utmost ease over the rails on the leg side. The excitement round the ground and in the pavilion had risen almost to fever-pitch by now. That last hit of Bill Preston’s had sent up his 50 – 50 runs made off fifteen deliveries, and made in under twenty minutes. Broadshire people had seen some hitting in their time, but none that came up to the present display, and spectators were yelling themselves hoarse. The other Broadshire players were standing together outside the main entrance to the big pavilion talking excitedly. Even Major Longhurst, usually so calm and collected, was moving to and fro like a cat on hot bricks, shouting as vigorously as anybody. “You’re wanted on the phone, sir,” came a voice in his ear. “Tell them I –” began the chief constable, but changed his mind, his sense of duty overcoming his excitement and his intense desire to watch Bill Preston. He turned and raced into the pavilion as the bowler prepared to send down the fourth ball of the over, the shouting dying down for the moment, while spectators waited eagerly, holding their breath. Up to the wicket trotted the Loamshire man, sending down a spinner which broke away sharply to the off. Bill moved across, his bat raised, and third man, gully, slips, all on their toes, raised their hands hopefully, but the batsman sensed the danger and made no attempt to play the ball. A sigh of disappointment rose from the crowd, and was repeated with the next delivery, which was exactly the same and was allowed to go by. The bowler tried the same tactics with the last ball of his over, but this time Preston took a chance knowing that every moment was of value. He slashed at the ball as it was rising, and it flew towards the boundary, the crowd gasping as third man leapt into the air, one arm outstretched, but to the delight and relief of the Broadshire fans, the flying sphere was just out of reach and it cracked against the railings for another boundary. “Bill’s lost the bowling now!” exclaimed hundreds of spectators. So with 54 runs on the board, Dr Paterson took guard. His intention was to try to get a quick single, but the Loamshire men guessed that, and they were on their toes, two of them moving close in. The doctor tried all he knew to get the ball away, but it was bowled more or less straight at him each time, and there was no chance of a run, though Bill started up the pitch with each delivery. Several precious minutes had been lost to Broadshire through that maiden over and Broadshire spectators and players stared at the big clock and at their watches. There were only twenty-seven minutes left and still 54 runs were needed for victory. Now Bill faced the bowling again, and once more the ball came down. It was so far on the off-side that this time it was almost a wide. Preston stepped across, his bat almost horizontal, and he clouted the leather with all his strength of his broad shoulders, lifting it high over the big scoring board. It was an ugly shot, but it meant six runs, and the Broadshire fans began to yell again. At that moment Major Longhurst came back from the telephone, and Frank Everard turned to him. “Not so good!” he exclaimed. “But Bill has started again, and-and-there he goes. Oh, good old Bill!” It was another boundary, bringing the score to 64, but Major Longhurst did not look at the scoring board – he was staring at Bill Preston, and his eyes was a look of dismayed despair. A long time will pass before Broadshire men will forget that amazing over. Apparently careless of the risks he took, Bill Preston went for every ball, though the bowler tried everything he knew, short of bowling wides. Six off the first ball, then three boundaries running, and a mighty smash on to the roof of the pavilion off the fifth, while the last ball was square cut, not intended for a boundary, but it just trickled to the edge of the ground, making 28 runs in all off the over, bringing the score to 82, all off Bill’s bat. “We’re going to do it! We’re going to do it!” chortled Frank Everard, turning to the chief  constable. “Did you ever see such hitting? Did you –” The skipper, paused, staring with puzzled eyes at Major Longhurst’s grave eyes. “What’s the matter?” he asked. “Had some bad news?” The chief constable nodded his head, but did not speak, and after waiting a moment, Frank Everard turned to watch Dr Paterson play the first ball of the next over back to the bowler. Down came the next, and this time the doctor got it away, steering it between point and cover, and he and Bill raced like hares as the ball came whizzing in and the bails were whipped off. “How’s that?” rose the yell, and up went the umpire’s hand. The doctor was run out. He did not waste a second. He raced to the pavilion, passing Frank Everard on the way, the skipper running, too. Bill had the bowling again, with 26 runs needed, and about twenty minutes left to get them in. Up to the wicket trotted the Loamshire slow bowler. He was using all his wiles and the next three deliveries just could not be scored off. They were really good balls. So was the last ball of the over, but Bill electrified the crowd by racing half-way down the pitch and sending the leather crashing against the front of the pavilion. Now only 20 runs were needed, but Frank Everard had the bowling, and only quarter of an hour remained for play. There was a change of bowling, and some precious time was lost to Broadshire while the field was re-arranged. The visiting skipper was trying one of his fast bowlers, for the wicket had dried somewhat under the hot sun and was beginning to show signs of playing tricks. Frank Everard could do nothing with the first three balls, except to play them back to the bowler, but he clouted the fourth past cover, and he and Bill ran three, and Bill faced the bowling again. Like most good bats, Bill Preston had a partiality for fast bowling, but he could not get either of the last two balls of the over away. Seventeen runs for victory, ten minutes to go, and Frank Everard batting. Spectators could hardly breathe for excitement, and they gasped again and again while Broadshire skipper strove desperately for runs, but the wicket was now decidedly tricky, and the Loamshire slow bowler was now getting a lot of work on the ball. Off the last delivery Frank hit a lovely square-cut that looked like a boundary all the way, but an amazing piece of fielding cut it off and the batsmen ran three runs. Now 14 runs were needed, but Frank still had the bowling, and the long hand of the clock was getting dangerously near the half-hour. The skipper tried his hardest, but three balls came down and he could not score off either. He ran out to the fourth, cracking it past long on, and he and Bill ran three again. Again time was lost to Broadshire as the bowler altered his field for Bill Preston, and the long hand of the clock drew very close to the half-hour. There would not be time for another over. Up to the wicket raced the bowler, slinging down a ball that looked as if it might be a Yorker. Crack! Bill met it when it was about two inches above the turf, and away it screamed into the pavilion seats while the crowd yelled. The ball went under some seats, and was not recovered quickly, and there was only one minute left, only one more ball to be bowled, and still five runs were needed for victory. The Loamshire bowler plainly intended that those runs should not be obtained, for he bowled straight at Bill, sending down a full-toss that was shoulder-high. It seemed almost impossible to get any runs off it, but there was just one chance, and Bill took it, playing the most remarkable shot any of the spectators had ever seen. As the ball flashed down at him, he turned almost completely round, and swung his bat shoulder high. The Loamshire stumper dropped on to his hands and knees, but the bat did not hit him, it his the ball a mighty punch which sent it flying on the way it was going, to drop over the sight-screen behind Bill’s end of the pitch for six! Broadshire had won – had won a dramatic victory which their supporters expected would give the county a chance for the championship. For a few moments there was dead silence of utter stupefaction, and then pandemonium broke loose. The crowd raced on to the ground, cheering madly, collaring Bill as he began to run for the pavilion, and carrying him there in triumph. Waiting to greet him were the Loamshire players and members, with one exception. That one exception was Major Longhurst, who had hastily gone inside, his face drawn, his eye clouded. He nodded his head slowly as he looked at a sturdy man in plain clothes. “Wait till he is away from other folk, Mansfield,” said the chief constable. They had to wait a long time, but at last, laughing happily, Bill Preston broke away from his admirers and ran into the pavilion, only to come to a sudden standstill as he saw the two men waiting for him. He stopped short, the smile dying on his lips. “William Preston,” began Detective-Inspector Mansfield, “it is my duty –” “Stop him!” shouted the chief constable, but he was too late. With an amazing leap Bill Preston cleared a broad table and raced through a doorway which opened on to a passage leading through to the back of the pavilion. Along it he sped, getting away from his pursuers, despite the fact that he was still wearing his pads, out into the broad space behind the pavilion, where stood a number of cars. One of them had its engine running, the owner standing by it. Bill barged into him and sent him spinning.




A wondering silence fell on the astounded onlookers – a silence broken when Major Longhurst and the inspector dashed out from the back of the pavilion. “Stop him!” shouted the chief constable, but again he was too late, for Bill had leapt into the car, pushing over the gear lever, taking off the brakes, and treading on the accelerater almost in one action.


The car roared forward, steered for the open gateway, startled men running out of its path with scarcely a moment to spare. But one man had not even that short time. That man was Dan Needham, who slipped as he turned to run. He stumbled sideways, and wild screams rang out as the noise of a sickening thud was heard and Dan Needham was flung, a twisted heap, to one side as the car hit him. A groan came from Bill Preston’s white lips, but he kept his foot jammed down on the accelerater pedal, and the car leapt through the gateway, the tyres screaming as the vehicle turned almost at right angles. “After him!” shouted Major Longhurst. “Get to it, Mansfield. I’ll send out a general call.” As the inspector hastily commandeered the most powerful car he could see, the chief constable turned and ran into the pavilion, nearly colliding with Frank Everard, who stood in the doorway gaping with dismayed amazement. “What’s it all mean, Longhurst?” gasped the skipper. “Preston is the man we’ve been after! He’s the wanted cracksman!” snapped the chief constable as he ran by. Frank Everard’s lower jaw dropped with stupefaction. He stared wide-eyed as the powerful car carrying the inspector began to move out towards the road. Quickly however, the skipper had something else to think about as he ran towards the little crowd surrounding Dan Needham and heard one of them calling for a doctor. Luckily Dr Paterson was near at hand and quickly he was kneeling beside the famous bowler, who had fainted with pain. “Telephone for an ambulance – quick!” snapped the doctor, looking up after a brief examination of the injured man. Some one raced away to send the message and Frank Everard pushed his way through the crowd. “Is it bad?” he asked. “Very bad!” replied Dr Paterson. The grim news had already spread all over the ground, where a great crowd had been waiting in the hope of seeing Bill Preston again. The shock seemed to have struck them dumb and they were still more aghast when they heard that Dan Needham had been badly injured. Police appeared on the ground and cleared it of spectators, but for hours the streets were crowded with people eager for news. And at last, as dusk was beginning to fall, news came that shocked the people of Broadchester. Dan Needham’s right leg had been so badly smashed that it had had to be amputated. The wonder bowler’s career was ended. Never again would he play for his county or for England. People stood about in silence, too dismayed and distressed to talk at first, but gradually a change came over them, and a bitter anger against Bill Preston seized them. Crowds swarmed to the police station, and extra constables had to be called out. They ordered the crowds to disperse, saying that there was no news of Preston, and little by little the turmoil died down again. Nevertheless, until long after midnight the streets were thronged with people waiting for news, but nothing more came through until the following morning, when the newspapers appeared with prominent headlines, such as:-




Through In the news columns it was stated that Dan Needham was getting on as well as he could be expected, but Preston’s body had not been found. A tyre had blown out as the car was screaming round a sharp turn on the road over the hills near the moorland town of Swillton. A shepherd had seen Bill Preston try to jump too late as the car swerved to the edge of a precipice and then had plunged over, taking him with it down into the deep gorge through the River Swilly poured almost like a torrent. For a long way downstream hundreds of men had been searching, but the famous batman’s body had not been found. It is difficult to discover how Broadshire supporters were affected by the startling news about Preston, but, generally speaking, they seemed more upset by his loss as a cricketer than by the knowledge that he had been the mysterious cracksman. The bitter anger that had been aroused against him died away – everybody now knew that it had not been possible for him to avoid running Dan Needham down. For days the story of the tragedy remained a sensation, while the search for Preston’s body went on, though in vain, the police at last coming to the conclusion that it had been washed out to sea. While Needham lay in a critical condition in hospital, Broadshire played its remaining matches and was badly defeated in each. Without its two stalwarts the county eleven was tremendously weakened, and, after having a good chance of winning the championship, it finished ninth on the table.





Autumn was nearly over before Dan Needham left hospital. He came out on crutches, but otherwise in excellent health, and his good spirits astonished most people. Before the winter was over he was fitted with an artificial leg which he learnt to manage so well that he was able to trot, and by the spring he was bowling at the nets, but was too handicapped ever to take his place in first-class cricket again.


He was given a permanent position on the staff of the county side, helping in the office as well as helping to try out and train bowlers. That enabled him to earn a comfortable living, but it took only second place in his plans. Above everything else he was eager to find somebody who would be another Dan Needham for Broadshire. Many people expected him to be bitter against Bill Preston, but he never showed this feeling openly, if he possessed it. Only very rarely did he speak of his famous companion of days gone by. He plunged into his task with tremendous zest, spending most of his spare time looking about for the type of player he had in mind and, to some extent it became almost a standing joke with club members. Every now and then he would bring a likely lad to the ground and take him to a particular net apart from the others to try him out. Very often he sought the advice of Dr Paterson as regards the muscular development of the players he was trying, for he could be successful only if he found someone whose muscles could be developed like his own. Many people regarded this as an amusing eccentricity on Dan’s part, but Dr Paterson did not agree with them – he knew there was something in the idea, but he also knew that few men had developed their biceps as Needham had done. But this particular type of muscular development was not all that Dan sought among bowlers. He also sought for brains, for a man who would study the batsman he was bowling against, a man who would have the ability to read the mind of the player he had to get or to prevent from scoring. Another season went by, during which Dan Needham travelled many, many miles in his search without complete success. Often he found a likely lad, but one and all failed to reach the high standard he had set. Broadshire finished well down the table that season. They had brought in some new players, but had made no outstanding discovery. Another season came round, and Dan’s search continued, while Broadshire remained one of the weaker counties, and then came a day when Needham heard of a works eleven which had been winning matches chiefly through the excellent bowling of one of its members, a young fellow named Bob Gregory. This club’s ground was on the other side of the county, but Dan never minded how far he travelled, and on a Saturday afternoon he sat on a bench, puffing at his pipe, watching the players troop on to the field. Almost instantly his attention was attracted to a broad-shouldered young fellow whose shirt-sleeves were rolled well up. He was moving about briskly, taking catches and flinging the ball back, and he was near enough for Dan to be able to see the rippling muscles of his arms. A sudden thrill ran through Needham, and his hopes, which had had so many set-backs, began to revive again. “Who’s the lad?” he asked. “Bob Gregory!” replied a bystander. Dan’s eyes shone. He told himself that it was not just a coincidence that he had picked out the man he had come to see – picked him out before he knew who he was. Ten minutes later, Needham was biting on the stem of his pipe, as he watched Gregory bowling. The visiting side was very strong, and the two batsmen were well known in league cricket – men who were very hard to get out. What interested Dan so much was that while it was plain that Bob Gregory was striving hard to get wickets, he was also bowling with such skill that hardly any runs were hit off him. It was obvious to Needham that Gregory had studied the methods of the batsmen and so knew how to keep them quite. Runs came freely off the other bowlers, but Gregory pegged away, varying his attack with remarkable skill, and when at length the opening batsmen lost their wickets, he ran through the rest of the side in a manner that brought a happy grin to the old Broadshire player’s face. “Maybe I’ve found him at last!” he whispered, when the innings ended and Bob Gregory had taken eight wickets for 31 runs out of a total of 148. Dan was no particularly interested in Gregory’s batting, at least, not at first. The young fellow went in seventh wicket down, and faced the bowling confidently, though there was something in his style which puzzled Dan, until he made up his mind that Gregory wanted to hit out, but was deliberately restraining himself. Presently a long hop came down, and Gregory could not resist the chance. He clouted it out of the ground with a lovely shot which brought the following exclamation from Dan – “Like Bill Preston used to punch ‘em,” he muttered suddenly. After the match, Dan wasted no time in tackling young Gregory, who shook his head slowly when it was suggested that he should have a trial for the county. “I’m not keen!” he said, turning away almost as if the idea was distasteful to him. “Why not, lad?” persisted Dan. “The county has had a tough time. You’d like to see it doing well again, wouldn’t you?” He went on to talk of the old days when Broadshire had been a powerful side, pleading with Gregory in his eagerness, but still the lad hesitated. “You know who I am,” went on Needham. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help Broadshire. Mind me having a look at your arms?” It seemed an odd request, but Gregory did not refuse, and Dan whistled softly as he studied the muscular formation of the arms and shoulders. “You’ve got the makings, Gregory!” he said, unable to conceal his excitement. “Take a chance, lad!” In the end Gregory agreed, though not very willingly, and on Monday afternoon he was at work in Needham’s particular net at the county ground. Presently, Dr Paterson, Frank Everard and Major Longhurst came over in a little party, and Dan seized the chance to get the doctor to look at Bob Gregory’s arms and shoulders. “You’re right, Dan,” said the doctor, with a smile. “This chap is the nearest you have to what you want.” “His name is Gregory,” said Major Longhurst softly frowning thoughtfully. “Don’t seem to know the name, yet I’ve got a hunch I’ve seen him before.” “I haven’t!” responded Frank Everard. “His face is quite unfamiliar to me.” “So it is to me,” said the chief constable. “All the same, I still have the feeling that I’ve met him somewhere or other.” “I like his action,” remarked the skipper. “Maybe Needham has clicked this time.” That evening, the skipper tackled Needham, asking him if he thought he had found his man at last. “I don’t know, sir,” replied the ex-professional slowly. “I don’t know.” Apparently, however, Dan had failed again, for Gregory vanished from Broadchester. When Needham was questioned, he refused to commit himself, and he did not reveal the fact that he had taken Bob Gregory away to a quite spot, where the lad’s training was continuing in secret. Broadshire finished bottom but two on the table that season, but Dan Needham was not dismayed, and few people noticed that no longer was he searching.


THE BAFFLING BOWLER FROM NOWHERE - 9 episodes appeared in The Wizard issues 1099 1107 (1946)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003