Few Edwardian cricketers can claim to have played a part in future Ashes successes - particularly the Bodyline series. However extensive research by Edwardian cricketing historians has revealed one 'not-so-humble' professional from Scotland to have played a major part in that particular piece of sporting history, Arthur Begbie.
Begbie was born in the slums of Glasgow in the late 1870s, a time when most Glaswegian men were frequently drunk and abusive to all and sundry. How the world changes. The son of a labourer, Begbie built up his physique as a young lad working on building projects in the Glasgow East End, but also showed a passion for an emerging new game north of the border, Association Football. When his family all perished in the year of 1892 Begbie was orphaned, and moved to a 'development house' for young boys in Lancashire.
No stranger to petty crime, Begbie by all reports could 'handle himself' even at a young age. Thanks to the patronage of a philanthropic Lancashire member, Lord Renton, Begbie and other young boys of his age were introduced to cricket. With his physique it was not long before Begbie took a shine to the game, emerging as a ferocious young fast bowler by the turn of the century. Such was the erratic nature of his bowling in his youth, Begbie was banned from Lancashire County nets in 1900 after injuring three amateurs in practice, including Lord Burnley.
Not one to be tied down too much by authority, as soon as Begbie reached the age of 21 he was free from the patronage of Lord Renton and he left Lancashire to make his way in life elsewhere. Little is known of the time between 1899 and 1903 in Begbie's life, although it is probable that some of it may have been at 'His Majesty's Pleasure'. By 1904 Begbie emerged as a raw and quick fast bowler in the Lancashire Leagues for Todmorden, and was soon taken onto the playing staff as a professional in 1905. On the county circuit, Begbie quickly gained a reputation as the most threatening fast bowler around, mostly because he had no respect for professionals and amateurs alike (at the time most pros would treat amateurs with a considerable degree of respect).
In one particular game in 1906, Begbie was so annoyed by the audacity of both CB Fry and Ranjitsinji of Sussex at the crease, he opted to bowl an over around the wickets at them in a game at Old Trafford. Up until this point, no bowler had ever felt the need to do this and although it had been mentioned by some players in passing, it was not felt to be the 'done thing' in such a gentlemanly game. Begbie was refused the option to do this for a second over by the umpires and was so indignant he unleashed a barrage of short pitched bowling to both Fry and Ranji which led both to retire hurt. His captain soon removed him from the attack, soon noticing how politically dangerous these antics were.
Begbie by all accounts used this tactic several more times that season, and in 1907 began every game by operating round the wicket and bowling fast and short. A combination of injuries and excessive drinking had reduced Begbie's raw pace by this stage, but he was still seen as a menace by leading amateurs in the game, and by most professionals. His final game for Lancashire in 1907 at Lord's against Middlesex was reportedly watched by a young and inquisitive lad called Douglas Jardine. By 1908 Begbie was repeatedly drunk and disorderly in the pubs of Manchester, had fallen back into a world of crime and aggressive behaviour, and by 1910 was reportedly back in prison on a charge of grievous bodily harm.
However, the sight of such intimidating bowling clearly left an impression on Jardine, who in 1931 sought out the by now extremely ill Begbie to seek his advice about this form of bowling. From Jardine's memoirs, it is clear that watching Begbie operate around the wicket that day was a clear inspiration in advance of the infamous Bodyline series. Begbie was sadly to die just as the England team set sail on that fated tour to Australia, but his impact on the game and English cricket has only been recently fully understood. Larwood, Voce and Jardine owe all their infamy to this tetchy, impetuous and crazy Scotsman.