Tom Wills: The first great Australian sportsperson

Tom Wills.jpg

by Mayukh Ghosh

Just weeks before the English team arrived to play in Australia, the father of the best Australian cricketer quietly took his son away to a remote location so that he could not take part in the matches. 
If he had not done so, history of cricket could have been slightly different.

Tom Wills was educated at Rugby School in England. His father thought that Tom would get the best education there and hence, at the age of 14, Tom set out for a six month long sea-journey. 
He did well at Rugby. 
When he returned to Australia in the mid-1850s, he was a changed man. He walked out to the newly opened MCG in his I-Zingari uniform. He batted like no one could. He bowled so fast that batsmen complained that they were not able to see the ball after it left Tom's hand.
He had single-handedly developed Australian cricket.

In 1861, his father thought that was enough of cricket for Tom. He had sent him to Rugby so that Tom could become a lawyer. He,along with Tom, left Victoria to settle in central Queensland.
Weeks later, as Tom came back to Victoria for some work, 19 white people were attacked and killed by the Aborigines in central Queensland. One of them was Tom's father. The white men took revenge by killing hundreds of Aborigines. 
Tom went back to a blood-stained house and slowly developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Alcohol came to his rescue.

A year or so later, Tom went back to Victoria to play for the team in a match against New South Wales. As the NSW team were on the brink of a defeat, their supporters started throwing stones at Victoria's cricketers. One of them hit Tom. He thought that he had seen enough of the 'cricket played by so-called educated white gentlemen'.
He went back to Queensland and formed a team with 10 aborigines. Some of them had killed his father.
On Boxing Day in 1866, he marched his team to the MCG to play against the local club. Tom Willis, the white captain and 10 aborigines.
He wanted to visit England in 1867 but financial difficulties was too big an obstacle to overcome.
The tour did happen in 1868 but by then Tom was usurped by Charles Lawrence.

Tom played cricket for a few years but the alcoholism took its toll on him. 
In April 1880, he decided to not touch alcohol anymore. But that proved to be fatal. He quickly developed delirium tremens. 
On May 1st, he was admitted to a hospital in Melbourne but they couldn't keep him there for more than a few hours.
The very next day he took his life by stabbing himself with a pair of scissors. 
His mother, when asked about her son's death, calmly replied that she never had a son named Tom.

In 2006, Tom Wills was named as one of the '100 most influential Australians ever'.
Tom's cricket played a part.
But there was more.
On a dark, gloomy evening in 1858, he, accompanied by a few friends, went to a pub in Victoria. There on a piece of paper Tom wrote down ten points. Those were later used as rules for 'Australian football'.
Tom discovered the game to keep the cricketers fit during winter.

The first great Australian sportsperson was born on August 19, 1835.