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Sidney George (Sid) Barnes (1916–1973)

by Brian Stoddart

This article was published:

Sidney George Barnes (1916-1973), by unknown artist, 1938

Sidney George Barnes (1916-1973), by unknown artist, 1938

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24680173 [detail]

Sidney George (Sid) Barnes (1916-1973), cricketer, was born on 5 June 1916 at Annandale, Sydney, third and posthumous son of Alfred Percival Barnes, grazier, by his wife Hilda May, née Jeffrey, both native-born. Having attended Stanmore Public School, Sid undertook advanced training as a mechanical fitter. He played first-grade cricket for Petersham from 1934 and competed against such established Test players as W. J. O'Reilly, showing scant respect for their achievements and brash confidence in his own ability.

After one full season for New South Wales, in 1938 Barnes was the youngest player chosen to tour England in the Australian team led by (Sir) Donald Bradman. Despite missing half the matches because of injury, Barnes managed to score 720 runs (average 42.35) and to play in the fifth Test. In 1940-41 he scored six successive centuries. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 May 1942; after dislocating his shoulder, he was discharged on 1 September for service in a reserved occupation. On 11 June that year he had married a schoolteacher Alison Margaret Edward at St Augustine's Anglican Church, Stanmore. Except for coaching tours in the country with Jack Chegwyn, he played little cricket for three years, but scored centuries in five successive matches for New South Wales in 1945-46.

In December 1946 Barnes and Bradman set an Australian Test record of 405 for the fifth wicket in the Sydney Test against W. R. Hammond's touring English team: each of them scored 234, which was to remain Barnes's highest Test score. As an opener with Arthur Morris, Barnes changed his batting style from free-flowing strokes to 'dogged and defiant' stonewalling, and became a complete back-foot player, with square strokes both sides of the wicket. He was also a competent leg-break bowler, a substitute wicket-keeper and 'a glorious and versatile fieldsman'. On his second tour of England in 1948, Barnes was outstanding: he amassed 1354 runs, averaged 56.41 in all matches and 82.25 in Tests, and scored 141 at Lord's. Competitive and audacious, 'Suicide Sid' was much criticized for fielding at point or short leg, just five yards (4.6 m) from the batsman: at Old Trafford, Manchester, he received a full-blooded stroke in the ribs that sent him to hospital for ten days.

Barnes had become known as a stormy petrel with a penchant for antagonizing administrators and for humorous displays of disaffection. When an Australian appeal was turned down during the 1948 tour, Barnes gathered up a stray dog and presented it to the umpire with the comment: 'Now all you want is a white stick'. Moreover, he had been the only player to take his wife to Britain and had returned with a home movie of the tour and shown it around Australia for charity.

Irked by this sort of behaviour, the authorities reacted savagely: in 1951-52 the selectors chose Barnes for the third Test against the West Indies, but were overruled by the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket on grounds other than his ability. The matter became a cause célèbre after Barnes sued the writer of a letter to the editor of the Daily Mirror (24 April 1952) for damages. At the court hearing, the board's secretary was obliged to produce the minutes of all relevant meetings. The case was settled and in the public eye the board was seen to have acted on such trivial incidents as when Barnes jumped a turnstile at the Melbourne Cricket Ground against an attendant's wishes.

During the 1952-53 season he was passed over for Test selection against the touring South Africans. Named twelfth man for New South Wales in a match against South Australia, Barnes appeared at the drinks interval dressed in a grey suit, complete with red carnation, and carrying a tray with scented spray, a portable radio and cigars. He caused further controversy by criticizing the behaviour of A. L. Hassett's Australian team in England in his book, Eyes on the Ashes (London, 1953), and by his autobiography, It Isn't Cricket (Sydney, 1953). His cricket career was over: he had scored 8333 first-class runs at an average of 54.11, while in 13 Tests he amassed 1072 runs at 63.06.

He published The Ashes Ablaze (London, 1955) and turned to full-time writing, especially for the Daily Telegraph: his attitude and style were critical of players and officials whenever possible. Barnes rarely forgave a slight or forgot a good turn. Stocky, with blue eyes and powerful wrists, he had a passion for physical fitness, and was an enthusiastic big-game fisherman and golfer. He died on 16 December 1973 at his Collaroy home from barbiturate and bromide poisoning, self-administered; the coroner was unable to determine intent. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, Barnes was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (Syd, 1982)
  • P. Derriman, True to the Blue (Syd, 1985)
  • People (Sydney), 15 Mar 1950
  • Australian Cricket, Feb 1974, p 26
  • Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1974
  • Age (Melbourne), 17 Dec 1973
  • Times (London), 17 Dec 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Mar 1945, 18 Dec 1946, 23 Aug 1952, 6 Nov 1953, 17 Dec 1973, 8 May 1974
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 27 June 1983.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Stoddart, 'Barnes, Sidney George (Sid) (1916–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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