Allowing for the excellence of the wickets on which he had to bowl added to the fact that in his day only one ball was used per innings, Tom Richardson was perhaps the greatest of all fast bowlers. He made 305 appearances for Surrey between 1892 and 1904, taking a club record 1,775 wickets at an average of 17.87 runs apiece.

Tall, splendidly built and well proportioned, Richardson sported swarthy looks. He was black-haired, moustached and had gypsy eyes if not gypsy blood. From 1893 to 1897 he was beyond compare. In three matches he bowled unchanged through two completed innings. He took fifteen wickets on six occasions and in 1894 claimed all ten in an innings against Essex at The Oval. The most remarkable feat of all was collecting 200 wickets in 1895, 1896 and 1897. In all, Richardson took 100 wickets in a season ten times for Surrey:

Year Runs Wkts Average
1893 1817 124 14.65
1894 2023 196 10.32
1895 3513 252 13.94
1896 3171 202 15.70
1897 3387 238 14.23
1898 2806 136 20.63
1900 2786 117 23.81
1901 3697 159 23.25
1902 2607 106 24.59
1903 2596 115 22.57
Left: Tom Richardson pictured at The Oval

There are only a few bowlers in the history of the game to match Tom for sustained pace over the course of a long innings. But, in addition to his pace, he could also unleash a pronounced off-break that would fizz off the pitch. It is said that Richardson never deliberately ‘bounced’ at batsman and he if did ‘hit’ anyone he was the first to rub the bruise.

Tom Richardson took 88 wickets at an average of 25.22 in fourteen Test appearances, including five wickets in each innings on his debut against Australia at Old Trafford in 1893. Three years later, again at Old Trafford, he put in arguably his best performance to capture thirteen wickets in the match and take England to the brink of victory.

When asked if he approved of increasing the number of balls in an over from five to six, Tom said “Give me ten!” But so much was exacted from him that he was passed his best by the age of 28. On both of his tours down under Richardson collected more wickets than any other Englishman. After returning from the second tour in 1897-98, however, his decline was plain for all to see. A well-documented increase in weight - he was said to enjoy an ale or two at the end of a day’s play - also contributed to Tom’s downfall.

He still managed to capture a total of 161 first-class wickets in 1898, but that was the last time he averaged less than twenty-two over the course of an English season. Furthermore, Surrey only won one further championship title - in addition to those in 1892, 1894 and 1895 - with Richardson in the side.

In 1911, at the age of 41, Tom Richardson passed away in unusual circumstances; though it has since been proved that he died of natural causes. As Neville Cardus later wrote: “It is hard to believe that with so large a heart and such a noble physique he could have taken his own life.”