Thomas Barker has more than one ‘first’ to his credit and is assured of his place in the history of Trent Bridge and of Nottinghamshire Cricket.
He made his Nottingham debut in 1821 versus Leicester and played in the Club's first First-Class match v Sheffield in 1826. In 1834, Barker was the first Nottingham professional to appear in the Gentlemen v Players match series.
He was in the first opening partnership – and took the first ball – in Notts’s first inter-county matches against Sussex in 1835. With Redgate, he also formed the first opening bowling partnership for the County eleven.
He was therefore, the first person to appear on the scorecard for both Nottinghamshire and its predecessor, now usually referred to as the ‘Nottingham Old Club’.
No surprise then that when Peter Wynne Thomas, Trent Bridge’s much-missed historian and archivist, set himself the task of listing and numbering every player to have played at least one First-Class match for the County and/or The Old Club, he awarded Thomas Barker the squad number One.
Recent comment – and subsequent diligent research – suggested that the Carlton-born all-rounder may have another, perhaps more contentious, ‘first’ to claim. And one that could even prompt a re-naming of the controversial dismissal now referred to as a ‘Mankad’.
A whimsical piece in the March 2023 issue of Wisden Cricket Monthly suggesting that Barker had run out the non-striker as the latter was backing up, not once or twice but five times, in the first half of the 19th Century set the Trent Bridge heritage team off a quest to verify, or refute, the claim.
Fairly quickly it became apparent that it is true – Thomas Barker was ‘Mankading’ more than a century before the Indian bowler Vinoo Mankad heaped disapproval on his own head by running out Bill Brown of Australia in the second test of the 1947/48 series in Australia.
Six months before the article that set us thinking, Wisden had gone into a little more detail – stating that of all Barker’s 211 First-Class wickets, the five now remembered, in 1835, 1836, 1837, 1842, and 1843, “were all run outs, of non-strikers who were too casual to foresee the threat, leaving the crease prematurely at their peril.”
Indeed, the first recorded incident by Barker – and, given the apparent facility with which he did it, that caveat of ‘first recorded’ is probably wise – was in the second of those Sussex games of 1835, which took place on The Forest, the first inter-county match to be held there.
Barker’s victim that day was George Baigent, opening the Sussex second innings on debut (he played only one more First-Class game) run out backing up for just five.
In 1837, at the same venue and against the same opposition, he did it again. This time his ‘victim’ was William Lillywhite, a member of the illustrious cricketing family – and it resulted in ‘shouts and laughter’ from the spectators but not outraged disapproval.
In August 1836 Barker appeared for Yorkshire – this was before counties insisted on picking only ‘home’ players – to great effect. Against Norfolk, he made the highest score of the match, 30, in the first innings, took three wickets, all members of the great Pilch family, and ran out Charles Wright when he backed-up too far.
Only two of these five ‘Barkerings’ came whilst Thomas was playing for Notts teams. In 1842 he dismissed John Lefeaver (or possibly Lefevre) of Kent whilst appearing for an England XI at Bromley – a dismissal described by a contemporary report in Bell’s Life as an ‘artful dodge’.
He also ran out Edward Martin of Hampshire whilst playing for the MCC at Lord’s in 1843 but, again, without bringing upon himself the sort of opprobrium that has been meted out to Mankad.
Wisden Monthly in 2022 said “In those days, any cricketing incident at Lord’s became the subject of discussion (it still does), but Barker’s was not. Dismissing the non-striker that way was not looked down upon.”
Felix on the Bat, Nicholas Felix’s book of cricket instructions, published two years after Barker ran out Martin at Lord’s, featured an illustration warning non-strikers “too anxious to obtain a run.” The instructions were simple: “It is dangerous to leave your ground before you are well convinced that the bowler is not watching your over anxiety [sic].”
Felix, too, seems clear – there was no attempt to blame the bowler. Neither is there a mention of pre-dismissal warning, as now seems to be ‘required’ by commentators.
The March 2023 Wisden issue reinforces the view that in Barker’s time his innovative method of wicket-taking was both within the Laws (as it is still) and well received: “Far from being demonised or cast as a pariah, Barker was praised for his quickness of thought and his sleight of hand.”
Although the dismissal was rare between Thomas Barker’s exploits and Vinoo Mankad’s run out of Brown in Sydney, it must have happened, and happened without occasioning comment.
It is curious that a method of dismissal that is entirely within the Laws of the game is now seen as somehow disreputable or even ‘cheating’ when the act of a batter trying to steal a run by leaving their ground – which is demonstrably against the Laws and the much-vaunted ‘Spirit of Cricket’ – is not condemned in the same way.
Bowlers, who have long believed that the game is tilted against them, and South Asian commentators, who feel (understandably) aggrieved that Mankad is still vilified 75 years after the event, may take some comfort from knowing that no less a cricketer than the legend that is Sir Don Bradman took a sympathetic view.
In his autobiography, the ‘Don’ said of Mankad: “For the life of me, I can't understand why [the press] questioned his sportsmanship. The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? By backing up too far or too early, the non-striker is very obviously gaining an unfair advantage.”
Bradman’s erstwhile teammate Bill O’Reilly, a bowler so competitive his nick-name was ‘Tiger’, was of similar mind – even to the point of defending in the press West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith when he ran out (Barkered?) Aussie Ian Redpath in a match in the ‘Sixties. O’Reilly believed – and said so unequivocally – that any batsman seeking to take unfair advantage of a bowler deserved all he got.
One solution to the vexed question of running out the non-striker while they are backing up is offered in the 2023 Wisden Almanac in which editor Lawrence Booth suggests that the authorities should revise the Laws. He advocates making ‘Barkering’ a prohibited method of dismissal but to counteract that, umpires – particularly in international matches where television replies and DRS technology is available – should call ‘one short’ and disallow any run scored as a result of excessive backing up.
Whether that will ever happen, we will leave to future administrators but perhaps we should lobby to have being ‘Mankaded’ changed to being ‘Barkered’.