Alfred Holsinger – the first Sri Lankan professional in Wales

Alfred Holsinger was the first professional cricketer from Sri Lanka and the first black professional to appear in club cricket in both Lancashire and Wales.

The son of a printer, he attended the prestigious St. Thomas’ College in Colombo where, during the 1890s,  he developed a deserved reputation as a fast bowler and in 1896 appeared for the Ceylonese against the Europeans, besides winning selection for the Colombo Colts CC. However, at the age of nineteen he travelled to England in 1899 seeking fame and fortune – he never found the latter as over the course of the next three decades, Alfred played for a number of clubs. But he did find love and a devoted wife Elizabeth, who he married in January 1901, and who subsequently looked after their children as their father plied his cricketing trade across the UK.

Alfred Holsinger. Photo Credit – Glamorgan Cricket Atchives.

His first professional appointment was on the Isle of Wight with Ryde CC, for whom he is reputed to have taken a wicket with his first-ever ball, before in a 12-a-side match against Hazlewood taking six wickets during an over, en route to completing the very rare distinction of claiming all eleven wickets in the Hazlewood innings with each batsman being clean bowled by the Ceylonese pace bowler.

Alfred’s success on the Isle of Wight led to an engagement in the Ribblesdale League in Lancashire, and then an appointment with Lincoln Lindum, with the fast bowler also making his Minor County debut for Lincolnshire in 1907. He took 19 wickets at 19 runs apiece for Lincolnshire, including 6/37 against Staffordshire at Grantham in 1908, but was second fiddle behind their other professional bowlers.

The man, who had been described in his youth as “the fastest bowler in Ceylon” still harboured ambitions of breaking into county cricket, so he must have been pleased when, over the winter of 1909/10, a decent offer came from Llanelli CC for the 1910 season. It stemmed from the decision by Carmarthenshire to give the Llanelli club £10 for the use of Stradey Park for their Minor County Championship matches, and “to assist them in securing a good bowler who might qualify for the county.” With the Glamorgan selectors also starting their campaign for recognition as a first-class county, it seemed a fantastic offer so Alfred agreed terms with Llanelli.

He could not have made a finer start for the Llanelli club as, on his debut for them against Briton Ferry Town in May 1910 he claimed 6/12 as the opponents were dismissed for a mere 25, and his figures might have been even better, had a catch from only his second delivery not been dropped by one of his new team-mates. Newspapers also described how “he kept up a good length throughout. His deliveries were of an almost endless variety and puzzled the batsmen to such an extent that their innings ended in disarray.”

A few weeks later at The Gnoll, Alfred took a hat-trick against Neath as, in the space of one incredible over, he claimed five wickets before ending with the figures of 8/38 as Llanelli recorded another facile victory. Other outstanding returns that summer included 8/14 against Ammanford, 7/8 against the Welsh Regiment plus 6/18 against Cardiff as they were also humbled for just 25.

As Bob Harragan wrote in his ‘History of Llanelli Cricket Club’, “ Alfred Holsinger was the talking-point throughout the town, even though the then thriving seaport had seen plenty of Lascar seamen. They , however, did not mix with the leading professional men of the town, but Holsinger not only mixed with them, but also helped teach them how to play.”

In keeping with the custom at the time for professionals to nominate a particular game as their Benefit Match, he wisely chose the local derby with Swansea. It was a measure of his success and popularity that over 2,000 tickets were sold for the contest. As the local newspaper reported, “long before the advertised time for pitching the wickets, people were wending their way Stradeywards in such unusually large numbers one would have thought that there was a football match on!”

In addition to taking the lion’s share of the gate receipts from this game, Alfred also benefitted from a decent collection on his behalf of £19 16 shillings and sixpence. By the end of the summer he had taken 52 wickets at 11.8 runs apiece, but his dream of regularly playing county cricket was dealt a series of blows. First, the Carmarthenshire officials, who were facing mounting debts indicated that they would be withdrawing from the Minor County competition. Later, a lack of financial support, plus a downswing in the local economy also scuppered Glamorgan’s bold plans, so when Mirfield CC came in with a lucrative offer for 1911, Alfred returned to Yorkshire.

He kept in contact however with several people in the Llanelli area, and during September 1912  Alfred appeared for the Players of Glamorgan against the Gentlemen of Glamorgan in their two-day friendly at Neath. During the winter months, he had worked as a commercial salesman and in the winter of 1912/13 he worked for a while in Swansea. There was talk of him having a second stint with Llanelli but they had acquired the services of Bert Vogler, the South African googly bowler, so Alfred’s sole appearance in Wales in 1913 came, once again, in the Gent-Players match at Neath.

Alfred remained in the UK during the Great War and, when hostilities were over, he continued to ply his trade with various clubs in Liverpool, West Yorkshire, Tyneside and Durham, before in 1928 accepting a position as groundsman at Rishton CC near Blackburn. He remained there for several seasons before moving back to West Yorkshire where he died, aged 61, at his home in Spen Valley.

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