Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Victor Saunders (1876–1927)

by Peter Pierce

This article was published:

John Victor Saunders (1876-1927), cricketer, was born on 21 March 1876 in Melbourne, son of English-born John Saunders, stevedore, and his Australian wife Mary, née Leeds. He played district cricket for Carlton and North Melbourne and made his first-class début for Victoria as a left-arm spin bowler in the 1899-1900 season. His abilities were soon confirmed, and a haul of 11 wickets for 130 runs against New South Wales won him a place in the Australian side for the fourth Test in Sydney in the 1901-02 series with England. In an outstanding début, Saunders took 9/162 in Australia's win, but was dropped for the fifth Test because selectors wanted to look at J. F. Travers. They preferred the former for the 1902 tour of England, where Saunders—according to Wisden—'favoured as he was by a wet season, met with considerable success'. In Australia's victory in the only Test ever played at Sheffield he took 5/50 in the first innings. His most famous single delivery bowled hapless Fred Tate to win the fourth Test at Old Trafford by three runs. A genuine no-hoper with the bat (his Test average was 2.29), Saunders joked later that his score of three in the first innings had given Australia its winning margin.

In two Tests against South Africa on the way home, Saunders took fifteen wickets and had his best Test innings figures with 7/34 at Johannesburg. After a less successful series against England in 1903-04, he was not selected for the tour next year. He returned to the Test side in 1907-08 for the series against England that, according to Johnny Moyes, 'materially he won'. Saunders' 31-wicket tally was more than that of any other two bowlers. Soon after, he dropped out of first-class cricket in Australia. Moving to New Zealand, he played in representative games for Wellington and New Zealand between 1910 and 1914 and also worked as a cricket coach. Largely because of Saunders' persuasion, the great spin bowler Clarrie Grimmett left New Zealand to pursue his career in Australia.

Contemporaries regarded Saunders as one of the greatest left-handed bowlers that the game had produced. In Moyes's judgement he was 'a grand bowler, even though some thought his action not always free from suspicion'. Yet in fourteen Tests, in which he took 79 wickets at 22.74, Saunders was never called for throwing. After an angled run in from mid-on, he achieved exceptional lift and turn from deliveries of near medium pace, bowled with a sharp flick of the wrist. According to Christopher Martin-Jenkins, he was 'a holy terror on sticky wickets'.

Tall, lean, heavily moustached, Saunders returned to Australia and worked as a clerk for the Victorian Railways. He was able to attend a Sheffield Shield game on 16 December 1927, but died during an operation for cancer on 21 December. The Victorian Cricket Association had recently decided to devote the proceeds of the next Test trial match as a benefit to him. Saunders was survived by his wife Margaret, née O'Brien, whom he had married at St Michael's Roman Catholic church, North Melbourne, on 29 August 1910; they had no children. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Moyes, Australian Cricket (Syd, 1959)
  • C. Martin-Jenkins, The Complete Who's Who of Test Cricketers (Adel, 1980)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (Syd, 1982)
  • Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1928
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Dec 1927
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 Dec 1927
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Dec 1927.

Citation details

Peter Pierce, 'Saunders, John Victor (1876–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 March, 1876
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


21 December, 1927 (aged 51)

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