Though Lasith Malinga, who picked up four wickets in four balls, has been immortalized in the annals of cricket, another Sri Lankan bowler who picked up six wickets in six balls continues to be in oblivion. Even though this rare feat was achieved in a club game in England, Holsinger’s accomplishment merits a lot of recognition since not often do bowlers produce such an unusual phenomenon.
However, it is not just this record that makes him a standout. He is a unique figure in the Sri Lankan cricket history, or rather he should have been. More than a century since he started playing professional cricket, he doesn’t even have the luxury of residing in the record books, let alone in the memory of cricket fans.
Born on the 23rd of August, 1880, Alfred Holsinger pursued his education at St. Thomas College, then located at Mutwal circa 1895. However, he was not a part any of the Royal-Thomian big match. The Manchester Evening Chronicle describes him as “Cingalese, a modest man, educated in Colombo, and the son of a printer.”A supreme wicket taker both in school and club cricket, Holsinger is said to have been Ceylon’s fastest bowler prior to 1900. According to the Janashakthi Book of Sri Lanka Cricket, the Ceylonese fast bowler of Bloomfield played a two-day match between Colts Cricket Club and George Vanderspar’s XI in 1896 but failed to pick up a wicket in either of the innings.
The Thomian bowler migrated to England in 1899 in search of fortune and fame, neither of which he could harvest in his life. He was Sri Lanka’s first professional cricketer and was also the world’s first professional cricketer of color to play in the English cricket leagues.
In search of a professional career in England
Holsinger’s career began in the Isle of Wight, an island in the English Channel off the shore of Hampshire, when he started playing for Ryde Club. It was in a game between this club and Haslewood Club that Holsinger produced the spectacular effort of picking up six consecutive wickets. A report in May 1899 by the Ceylon Independent says “Holsinger took 6 wickets with six consecutive deliveries for Ryde Club vs. Haslewood (Isle of Wight), and a wicket with the first ball in England.”
He married in Isle of Wight in 1901, but, unfortunately, lost his newborn son in 1905. Alfred then moved to the Ribblesdale league in Lancashire and played for St. Andrew’s Burnley Club. He averaged 26.1 with the bat in 1901 for St. Andrew’s scoring 522 runs with the highest score of 76. With the ball in hand, he picked up 94 wickets at 9.6 runs apiece. He followed that up by picking up 102 wickets in 1902.
Venturing into the Minor Counties League
By 1907, he started playing in the Minor Counties League by representing Lincolnshire. In 1908, against Staffordshire, for whom erstwhile English player Sydney Barnes played, Holsinger picked up 6 wickets for 37 runs in 27 overs, which were his career best figures.
In 1910, he began playing for Llanelli in Wales. He played for the Players of Glamorgan against Gentlemen of Glamorgan twice, once in 1912 and again in 1913. He also happened to play a benefit match in 1914.
In 1915, Holsinger picked up six wickets playing for Mirfield against local rivals Hopton Mills, a team for which he also played at some point. He also appeared for Liverpool Nomads, Lincoln Lindrum, and Eppleton in the Durham League.
Despite being a specialist bowler, Holsinger was denied chances of bowling in certain matches raising concerns about color discrimination since players of color were uncommon in English leagues. However, as certain scorecards suggest, this may have also been due to the opening bowlers managing to run through the entire batting order of the oppositions even before Holsinger was required to bowl.
A dream that never materialized
The Ceylonese fast bowler lived a nomadic life often moving from one region to another to pursue his dream of life for 20 years. Although he could never clinch what he was after, he did impress with the limited opportunities he got.
Holsinger settled down in Yorkshire and on the 19th of January, 1942, he rested in peace. Alfred Holsinger was a pioneer to the many a Sri Lankans to come in the future for he was the first to take the perilous risk of attempting to make a career out of a pastime.
Though hardly spoken of, Alfred Holsinger deserves every bit of our respect not only as a cricketer but also as a fellow countryman who ventured to dream big and aspired to fly high.