Ted Pooley was a top class wicketkeeper, and would have been a superb batsman had his hands not been constantly damaged due to his duties behind the stumps.
Unfortunately he was also the first man to be suspended for “selling a match”.
It happened in June 1873. Yorkshire won the match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, by eight wickets, and Pooley, who had scored 10 and a duck and taken one catch in the match, was found guilty of betting on the game and was not allowed to play for the rest of the season. Pooley was not amused. According to his version, he did gamble on the match, but the bets had been minor. “I took one bet of five shillings to half a crown (two to one) that five Yorkshire players did not get 70 runs.” He did win the bet, and used the proceeds to gulp down a large quantity of champagne during breakfast, finally unleashing an inebriated tirade on the players and the officials. He had to be replaced as wicketkeeper after lunch. Even Wisden, notorious for avoiding references to the many shades of grey touching the game, was forced to write about some “appalling occurrence” during the game. Surrey’s minutes record Pooley’s suspension due to ‘insubordination and misconduct’, but it is no secret that a lot of money had changed hands.
Pooley proceeded to enjoy the break from the remainder of the season, raking in a good amount of money by playing minor cricket.
It was not the last time that Pooley was involved in cricket linked gambling. He went on to become Test cricket’s first betting casualty.
He had travelled to Australia with the English cricketers in 1876-77, and was all set to be the wicketkeeper in what later became the first ever Test match. However, as the England team took on the Australians at Melbourne, he spent his time in a Christchurch prison cell after being arrested for betting. Yes, Pooley was also sent to prison for being involved in cricket linked gambling — more than a century and a quarter before modern players slinked along his dubious footsteps.
Pooley, sidelined by a leg injury, had stood umpire in a match against a Canterbury XVIII team during the New Zealand leg of the tour. During this game, Pooley had taken on the wager of Ralph Donkin, a railway engineer who was staying in town. The odds had been 20-1 that Pooley would not be able to predict the individual score of each batsman. Given the enormous difference between the standards of the Englishmen and the local players, Pooley bet a shilling on each batsman registering a duck. Eleven of them did, and we cannot be entirely sure that Pooley did not help them along with his canny umpiring. So, Pooley set the precedent of an umpire being involved in a betting scandal 136 years before the likes of Asad Rauf.
In those days, it was actually not uncommon for cricketers to bet on matches. Odds were published in the papers. Match reports often recorded the wagers and purses on offer. However, even by the standards of that murky era, Pooley was one heavy gambler.
Finally, the Surrey wicketkeeper stood to gain £36 — a good amount of money in 1877. Donkin, however, refused to pay. In the smoking room of the hotel the cricketers were staying in, Pooley confronted Donkin and threw punches at him, reportedly hitting him three times on the face. And after Donkin spent an evening in the town, he returned to his room to find all his clothes torn to shreds.
Pooley moved to Dunedin with the team, but was arrested and brought back to Christchurch. He was fined for assault and subsequently found not guilty on charges of wilful damage of property. But, by the time he was released, the Test match had been over for a fortnight. Nottinghamshire batsman John Selby had put on the gloves for England during the match.
A whip-round was arranged by the sympathetic locals of Christchrurch and Pooley got £50 for all his troubles along with a gold ring. He returned to England in the early days of July, a month after his teammates, and never played a Test match.
The trendsetter of gambling and match-fixing in cricket passed away bankrupt in a Lambeth workhouse in 1907.
Ted Pooley was born on February 13, 1842.
Text: Arunabha Sengupta