BLACKHAM, John McCarthy (1853-1932)


BLACKHAM, John McCarthy (1853-1932)
cricketer
son of F. Blackham, a newsagent, was born at Fitzroy, Melbourne, on 11 May 1853 (Wisden, 1933). Like his contemporary, Spofforth (q.v.), he became a bank clerk, and held a position in the Colonial Bank of Australasia for many years. He was included in the first eleven of the Carlton Club when only sixteen, in 1874 became wicket-keeper in the Victorian team and held that position for over 20 years. He was a member of the first eight Australian teams to visit England. In what might be called the first test match, which was played in Australia in March 1877, Blackham was chosen as wicket-keeper. Spofforth, who was used to Murdoch (q.v.) taking his bowling, refused to play, as he thought Blackham not good enough. However, Blackham caught three and stumped one, and in the next match, a fortnight later, though Murdoch was chosen in the team Blackham retained his position as wicket-keeper. Moreover, he stumped Shaw off Spofforth who was then a really fast bowler. He played in 35 out of the first 39 test matches and was generally considered the finest keeper of his time. In these matches he caught 36 and stumped 24. He was also an excellent bat and had an average of 15.68 for 62 innings in test matches. Scoring was of course generally much lower in those days. Playing for Victoria in intercolonial matches he had an average of over 22. His value as a bat, however, cannot be judged by averages, as he was often at his best when the game was at a critical stage. He was not a success as a captain as he worried too much when off the field. After his retirement in 1895 a match for his benefit was arranged and an annuity was bought with the proceeds. He died at Melbourne on 28 December 1932.
Blackham was of a rather retiring disposition but in his later years, as a regular attendant at all matches, he liked to have his old friends about him and was full of anecdotes, reminiscences, and comparisons between players of various periods. As a cricketer he was the essence of fairness, and his enthusiasm for the game never slackened. It is usually claimed that he was the first wicket-keeper to dispense with a longstop to a fast bowler, but that is not strictly correct as it had sometimes been done in England. Blackham, however, was so expert that he demonstrated that it would pay to do so. He stood remarkably close to the wickets and when stumping gathered the ball and took off the bails in practically one action. He also took the ball beautifully from the field and never lost his alertness. In the opinion of many good judges he was the greatest wicket-keeper of all time. Other men both in England and Australia have done remarkably fine work, but in Blackham's day less attention was paid to preparing the wicket and there was no certainty as to how the ball would behave.
The Age, Melbourne, 29 December, 1932; The Argus, Melbourne, 29 December 1932; Wisden, 1933; E. E, Bean, Test Cricket in England and Australia; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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