Ashleigh Barty turned up the temperature in the third set of Saturday’s Wimbledon women’s singles final to defeat Karolina Pliskova and become the first Australian women’s champion since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. However, in 2015, it was the cricketing Brisbane Heat that she warmed up.
Having taken a break from professional tennis from September 2014 until February 2016, Barty turned out for the Gold Coast team in the inaugural women’s Big Bash League. She did more than OK too, registering a top score of 39 at the Junction Oval against Meg Lanning’s Melbourne Stars. For the record, she was bowled that day by England’s Nat Sciver, who now becomes one of very few people that can claim to have dismissed a Wimbledon champion.
“It truly was an amazing period of my life,” Barty recalled of her cricket career. “I met an amazing group of people who couldn’t care less whether I could hit a tennis ball or not. I still have those relationships to this very day”.
Ash hails from Ipswich in Queensland, a town 25 miles west of Brisbane which has produced no fewer than seven Australian Test cricketers: Sammy Jones, who was once unfairly stumped by WG Grace, Bert Ironmonger, Len Johnson, Craig McDermott, Greg Ritchie, Andy Bichel and, more recently, everyone’s favourite lbw victim, Shane Watson.
The new Wimbledon women’s champion is, of course, far from the only dual or multi sports star. Cricket, historically, has many including the likes of CB Fry, who seemed to excel at just about everything, as well as a long list of ‘footballer – cricketers’ who played one game in the summer and the other in the winter. That roll of honour includes Denis Compton, Arthur Milton, Les Ames, Chris Balderstone, Brian Close, Arnie Sidebottom and so many others.
Geoff Hurst, the only footballer to score at hat-trick in a World Cup final at Wembley in 1966 also played one County Championship game for Essex in 1962. However, it seems Sir Geoffrey chose the right sport in football, having failed to score in both innings of his only first-class match against Lancashire.
But what of the links between Wimbledon and cricket? Well, look hard enough and Ash Barty does have some company as was excellently recalled some years ago by Wisden editor Steven Lynch. Indeed, Australian tennis should be grateful that Ash didn’t heed the advice dispensed in 1887 by Spencer Gore when he won the first ever Wimbledon’s men’s tournament. Gore, an Old Harrovian, thought cricket a far superior game:
“That anyone who has really played well at cricket, tennis, or even rackets,” he later wrote, “will ever seriously give his attention to lawn tennis, beyond showing himself to be a promising player, is extremely doubtful.”
The Wimbledon authorities at the time seemed to take a similar view: after Gore and William Marshall reached the final, play was suspended over the weekend to allow everyone to attend the Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord’s. Gore, who had played in that game a few years before, was a handy batsman who scored centuries for I Zingari, and played five first-class matches, two of them for Surrey.
Frank Hadlow was Gore’s successor as Wimbledon champion, beating Gore in the 1878 final. Another Old Harrovian, who fitted in the championships during a holiday from his coffee plantation in the former Ceylon, he had also played first-class cricket, scoring 37 on debut for Middlesex against Surrey in 1873.
Another well-known Wimbledon name, George Hillyard, won two men’s doubles titles, and his wife, Blanche, won the singles six times. George also played quite a bit of first-class cricket for Middlesex and Leicestershire. A useful medium-pacer, he took six for 74 against Yorkshire in Leicester in 1894.
So far, so very old school, quite literally, with that school being Harrow. But hold on. Would you believe that whilst Switzerland is hardly a hotbed of cricket interest, none other than eight-time Wimbledon Champion Roger Federer is a cricket fan, having been taught the rudiments by his mother Lynette, who is South African. In 2011, no less than Sachin Tendulkar remarked: “Spent an hour with Roger Federer chatting on the balcony of Wimbledon Royal box and by the way he knows a lot about cricket!”
John Edrich was briefly married to the glamorous American tennis player Pat Stewart, who brightened up the courts in the 1960s (once, presumably before their marriage, apparently writing her phone number on her tennis panties for the benefit of would-be suitors in the crowd). The future champion Virginia Wade’s first singles match at Wimbledon, in 1962, resulted in a three-set victory over Mrs JH Edrich.
The list goes on. William (Buster) Farrer, had played in the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1956, winning his first match before losing in the second round. Farrer also played six Tests for South Africa – his top score was 40 against New Zealand in Johannesburg in 1961-62. The multi-talented Farrer also represented his country at hockey and squash for good measure.
India’s Cotar Ramaswami, who played two Tests in England in 1936 when he was 40, played in the singles at Wimbledon 14 years previously, winning his first match but losing his second. SM Hadi, an occasional team-mate of Ramaswami’s on that 1936 tour and a Davis Cup player too, reached the third round of both the singles and men’s doubles at Wimbledon in 1922.
Paul Winslow was a hard-hitting batsman for South Africa, once reaching a century at Old Trafford in 1955 by despatching Tony Lock into the car park. Paul was clearly of adventurous sporting stock. According to Wisden, “his mother Olive won several South African tennis championships and was, apparently, the first woman player to show an ankle at Wimbledon”.
Derbyshire pace bowler Ollie Mortensen’s brother was a successful Wimbledon doubles player while Gloucestershire legend Mike Procter married Maryna Godwin, who represented South Africa in the Federation Cup and reached the third round at Wimbledon in 1967 and 1969.
In the more relaxed amateur days of the 1960s some of the tennis players used to take part in an impromptu game of cricket on Wimbledon’s middle Sunday. Max Robertson’s Wimbledon history recalls one such encounter in which “the Australian Test batsman Bob Cowper was caught by Dutchman Tom Okker at mid-on, off the bowling of Italy’s Nicky Pietrangeli, the winner of two French Opens.
Ashleigh Barty’s Wimbledon victory is one to be celebrated in Australia and indeed globally. For cricket fans, she is continuing more of a traditional link with cricket than probably even she knows.