Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 5 — Off to Australia
Off to Australia
I Left Christchurch on September 22nd, 1900; I remember this day as though it were but yesterday. Joining the ship at Lyttelton, I was to go by the same route as that taken by the New Zealand cricket team two years earlier—calling first at Dunedin, then at The Bluff, and across the South Tasman to Hobart. On the one day at the latter port I was to experience the same glorious sunshine as had our cricket team. I have been to Hobart several times since then, and on no occasion have I seen rain in that city.
Back in the great city of Melbourne, I was now far from home and dependent on my own efforts. After booking in at an hotel, I called on Major Wardill, who gave me a delightfully warm reception. He said that of course I would have to play for Melbourne, and without delay put me up for membership. The Melbourne Cricket Club, like the great Marylebone Club, has always a waiting list, but there is provision in the Club's rules for the immediate entrance of players from other States. As a New Zealander, I was made very welcome, especially as I had so recently met all the officials of this club, as well as many of the members of the First XI. In those days the Melbourne Cricket Club had a programme of mid-week matches, and many of the players seemed able to get an afternoon off as they do for golf to-day. These were delightful games in which to play. I had not foreseen that there was a residential qualification of three months required for players in senior cricket. This meant that for this period I had to play in the Second XI, which team included two of the ground staff professionals, and was quite a good side. Striking form quickly, I reaped a good harvest of runs. I remember in my final match for them getting 89 not out against East Melbourne. In the last five minutes of the game I hit a slow bowler straight over his head for six, and the ball was lost among some shrubs at the Old Warehousemen's ground on St. Kilda Road. Time was up with the ball still not found.
Canterbury XI—North Island Tour, 1897—98
F. C. Raphael. H. C. Ridley. C. W. Garrard. F. Wilding. W. C. Pearce. W. C. H. Wigley.
J. Wheatley. A. E. Ridley. C. R. Clark. L. T. Cobcroft.
J. N. Fowler. D. Reese. A. Sims
New Zealand Team—Australian Tour, 1898—99
F. C. Raphael. H. B. Lusk. F. S. Frankish. J. Baker. G. Mills. A. Sims. F. Ashbolt. I. Mills. E. F. Upham.
A. Downes. L. T. Cobcroft. C. Boxshall.
Absent A. H. Fisher. D. Reese.
I envied Hugh Trumble at these evening practices in Melbourne. He was on the staff of the National Bank of Australasia, and some afternoons would have had his practice and be leaving the ground just as I and others would be arriving. This, of course, did not happen every afternoon, for bank clerks could not always get away from their office shortly after three o'clock.
With the completion of my residential qualification, I was in due course selected for the First XI. My first match was against Fitzroy on their ground. It had rained hard on the Friday night, and Saturday turned out a hot, sunny day, so the condition of the wicket will be understood. With Frank Tarrant, the left-hand bowler on their side, the Fitzroy captain, on winning the toss, sent us in to bat. When the score was one for 6, Tarrant did the hat trick, dismissing Graham, Armstrong, and Trumble. It was thus four for 6 runs when I joined Billy Bruce, one of the first of Australia's great left-hand batsmen. With a left-hander at each end, we were at once a foil to Tarrant. page 66 We each took the long handle—the only game to play on such a wicket. I remember in my second over hitting Tarrant clean into the pavilion, straight over his head. Tarrant, being a young player, shortened his length a bit, and we both hit hard on the on side, but, of course, the pace could not last. We were all out for 54, of which I made 27, and Bruce 17, being the only double-figure scorers.
It was certainly an encouraging start in such company, and Trumble put me in first with Charlie McLeod in our next match, against Hawksburn. It was on a very fast wicket on the Melbourne ground. Hawksburn had a fastish bowler named O'Connor—“Dodger” O'Connor they called him. He had a quick action verging on a throw. Like Cuff in Christchurch against Jones, I had my bat up in the air when taking the opening strike. Over went my stumps to the first ball, which came off the pitch like lightning.
This was the most advertised 0 I ever made, unless one counts those two o's up on the principals of the roof at Andersons' foundry. We went on to make a big score, Trumble getting 210. The following Saturday it rained, so my 0 was up on the score board for another week. In those days, open-air concerts were held on the Melbourne ground every Monday evening during the summer months. All the best musical talent of Melbourne performed there. A platform was erected in one of the grandstands, and the audience, according to their choice, sat in the stand or strolled round the cricket ground, on which they were allowed. Due precaution was, of course, taken to protect the wickets by having them roped off. For a number of years these concerts were immensely popular. They gave great opportunity for the youth of the city to entertain their lasses as they do at the pictures to-day. Of course my friends would walk round past the score board on these three successive Monday nights when the first name on the board was—Reese, o. I was kept being asked, “What! Made another ‘blob’?” Once, in the paper on Monday morning, was surely enough.
The summer of 1901 was an extremely hot one in Australia—one day in Melbourne it was 109° in the shade. This meant hard and fast wickets. The Merry Creek soil used in Melbourne gave them the fastest wickets in Australia. I found it difficult to become accustomed to them, and failed several times.page 67
One day, when walking to open the innings with McLeod, he said, “Have a ‘crack.’ I think you're playing too carefully.” Taking his advice, I ran to 30 in a few overs, then threw my wicket away with a rash stroke. As I walked out past him, he said with a laugh, and in his soft voice, “You blithering idiot, why didn't you slow up when you had got a start?”
At any rate I had now got off the mark, and continued to make useful scores, although in those years in Melbourne I was never to run into centuries. As a matter of fact, from a cricketing point of view, I should have been better advised to play for some other club team, for Melbourne was such a powerful side that an individual success or failure hardly mattered. I doubt if there has ever been a stronger side in Australian club cricket.
Jack Worrall once said to me, “Why didn't you come and play for Carlton, where you'd have been wanted to make runs every Saturday?” There may have been something in favour of this point of view, but my three years with the Melbourne Club stand out among my happiest cricketing days, and the friendships made have been something of real value. In later years I was to make many business trips to Australia, and my M.C.C. friends played an appreciable part in making my stay in Melbourne pleasant in the extreme.
It was very interesting to be playing against men like Worrall of Carlton, Tarrant of Fitzroy, Trott of South Melbourne, and so on, but the keenest struggle was always against East Melbourne. All clubs liked to beat the M.C.C. side, but there had developed over the years a strong rivalry between these two clubs whose grounds so closely adjoined one another. East Melbourne also had a fine club record, dating back to the days of Harry Boyle and Tommy Horan.
In my time it was Frank Laver, McAllister, and McMichael, with Collins, a good bowler of the Trumble type, that formed a quartette in a side not to be despised. Our side always felt the pressure of East Melbourne's rivalry, and in this match a different atmosphere prevailed from the hilarious afternoons we spent in most of the other games. The cheeriness of the incorrigible Harry Graham, and the subtle humour of Bruce, Trumble, and Charlie McLeod, all with the same happy outlook on life, turned our Saturday afternoons into jolly picnics, with Major Wardill waiting for us in the pavilion page 68 when we came off the field. Against East Melbourne it was a different matter. We always reckoned Trumble wasn't trying until he cocked his head over on one side, as he was wont to do in Test Matches. It went over all right in this game. The first match I played against East Melbourne was on the Melbourne ground in this, my first season. They won the toss, and on a hot, sunny afternoon, on a hard wicket, opened with their usual pair, McAllister and McMichael. It was a tussle from the word go. In New Zealand cricket I had always fielded at cover-point, but in Melbourne I was, at first, a sort of handy-man anywhere. This day I was fielding long-on to Trumble, and the score had reached 60 for no wickets when McAllister hit one hard and low straight at me, but falling short. I had been taught in my youth that an outfield should never get right back against the fence, as one frequently sees outfields do, but to leave four or five yards to run back and also make possible the catching of short hits. The latter is just what happened to me on this occasion. A football-cricketer can usually run fast, and stoop to pick up the ball at the same time. Running at full speed, I caught the ball a few inches off the ground. It was, I think, one of the best catches I ever made. Hughie Trumble purred like a kitten: I was his friend for life. A dangerous partnership had been broken, and our opponents' best batsman was out. We dismissed them for a moderate score, and I remembered Major Wardill's enthusiastic, “Well caught, Reese!” as we came off the field. It certainly was a turning-point in their innings.
Those few years in Melbourne were a great joy to me, and my close association with such famous players provided a sound cricketing education. Batting at the nets to Trumble, McLeod, Armstrong, and the professionals, was, perhaps, the greatest advantage I enjoyed. To see them all in action, and to talk of old Test Matches, and cricket of earlier years, was a thrill to me, for I had always been a student of the history of the game. These sidelights on the great players of those times, and of the past, were a feast to my cricketing mind.
Bruce—Billy Bruce, as he was called—was the veteran of our side, although thirty-seven years of age does not sound much of a veteran these days. Bruce was both dainty and dashing in his play, for he could back-cut as late as Syd. Gregory, and drive past mid-off with the power of a much page 69 more robust player. He used a bat weighing 2lbs. 2½ ozs., and would break several in a season as he flashed and flicked in a manner not possible with a heavier blade. As will be imagined, back-cuts through the slips made Bruce's play both daring and risky, but daring he was by nature, and no player of any period started off the mark quicker than this left-hander. He played cricket for fun and for runs, and got both. George Ulyett, after one of his trips to Australia in the 'eighties, when telling some Yorkshire friends of his experiences, said, “Ba goom, there's a laad named Bruce oot there who makes 50 quicker than anyone I ever saw, but he never makes more than 70.” That was Bruce, the most graceful of all the lefthanders until Woolley arrived. I was indebted to him for the interest he took in my play. He was a great enthusiast, and used to stop behind after practice and exchange catches with me. Years afterwards, Vernon Ransford told me that a year or two after I left Melbourne, Bruce did the same to him. Ransford was not only a fine left-handed batsman, but became one of the world's greatest outfields, and pays tribute to Bruce for the proficiency he developed. We both were very fond of Billy Bruce.
Harry Graham was another picturesque figure on our side. “Grummy” he was called by his intimates—“The Little Dasher” by the public, and he certainly earned this title. Graham was not what you call just a hitter, he was a hitting batsman. He went to England with the 1893 Australian XI and headed the averages for the tour. I had seen Graham play a whirlwind innings against Canterbury in New Zealand, when he scored 169, and fairly tore into our bowlers with sheer delight, and in the most aggressive manner. What must rank as his greatest performance was his 105 in the fourth Test against Stoddart's team in 1894, the year following his first English tour. Richardson, Peel, and Briggs were playing havoc with the Australians on a dangerous wicket when Graham went in. At this stage it is said that Richardson had three slips and no outfields, and at the finish he was bowling to Graham with three outfields and no slips! He seemed to hit the fast bowling just as easily as he hit the slow. He would go farther down the pitch than any other player of his time, and I believe of any other time. Graham lost interest in the material side of life, and lack of ambition for his own advancement still per- page 70 sisted. Later, he took a position as coach to the Otago Cricket Association in New Zealand, and was not destined to return to Australia, for he died at Dunedin when still a young man.
Hugh Trumble! How should one begin a pen picture of this great player? Not only one of the game's greatest players, but one of its outstanding personalities. His subtle humour, his fund of cricket stories, his kindness, and, above all, his judgment, made him a man of exceptional character. When Trott or Darling got perplexed at the difficulties created by opposing batsmen, it was Trumble's long head they turned to for advice, just as I have seen MacLaren have a word with Dick Lilley or Tom Hayward. Trumble was a great player, and leaves behind him a record that will be handed down in the annals of Australian and world cricket.
There is no need here to record details of his magnificent bowling. His last Test Match will suffice. When the English team of 1904–5 arrived in Australia, Trumble had already retired, but events went so badly for Australia in the first Test that Trumble was induced to don the flannels again, and he played in the remaining Tests. In the last innings of the final Test he took seven for 28, and this performance included the hat trick, so the manner of his exit may be imagined. There is a wealth of meaning in the title once used by C. B. Fry for a photograph of Trumble: “Knowledge is power.” More than twenty years later, Wilfred Rhodes was to make a similar kind of retirement. They were both favoured by conditions that contributed to a bowler's success, but nevertheless were fitting farewells for two great bowlers.
It will surprise cricketers to learn that Trumble practised slip fielding by throwing a tennis ball against a brick wall, catching it on the rebound, his theory being that it is impossible to retain hold of an air ball if one snatches at it. This practice accounts for the easy manner in which he always allowed the ball to fall into his hand, for it is also fatal to snatch at a cricket ball. The old maxim, “Practice makes perfect,” is also to be found in Trumble's early training as a bowler, for his father used to get him up early in the mornings to bowl at a white feather stuck into the pitch at the spot of a perfect-length ball. In telling me of this, old Hughie said, “Of course I couldn't repeatedly hit the feather, but I soon reached the stage when I was always pretty close to it.”page 71
Another interesting character was Charles McLeod, the contemporary of Trumble in club, inter-State, and Test cricket. It does not, somehow, seem quite right to call him Charles. You may say Charles Fry, as MacLaren called him, but for McLeod it was always Charlie, and this was a term of endearment, for he was indeed a dear companion. He was, unfortunately, a little hard of hearing. Deaf people usually speak too loudly or too softly; McLeod was of the latter kind, and this characteristic seemed to make him more attractive. He made you feel you were his confidant. Trumble made us laugh when he told of an incident in the Essex match in the 1899 tour, which was McLeod's first trip to England. A. P. Lucas of the county XI was also a little deaf, and when McLeod spoke to him on the field, Lucas did not answer. At the luncheon adjournment McLeod said to Trumble, “What sort of a chap is Lucas?”—and explained what had taken place.
Trumble, with his quick wit, at once saw the humour of the situation and replied, “Oh, he's one of those stuck-up fellows who thinks no end of himself.”
Later in the day, Lucas was to address a remark to McLeod, but this time it was McLeod, feeling somewhat hurt, who did not answer. The Australians had a good laugh in the dressing-room that evening. Lucas and McLeod were eventually to become warm friends.
McLeod was to be the butt of another of Trumble's little jokes. It was in the county match at Manchester. MacLaren and Spooner opened the innings for Lancashire, and McLeod bowled to Spooner, who took first strike. Just before the start of play, McLeod turned to Trumble and said, “What sort of a batsman is Spooner?”
The artful Hugh replied, “Oh, he's just a stonewaller. Pitch him up a slow one to begin with.”
McLeod could bowl the slower ball very well, but the first one he bowled to Spooner, this brilliant batsman hit straight over the bowler's head for six. The look of disdain that the incredible McLeod gave to Trumble was the high-light of this humorous incident.
McLeod was a very good bowler of the type of Trumble, but a little faster. On a worn, dusty wicket his extra pace sometimes made him almost as dangerous as his tall club-mate, but on a good or rain-affected wicket there was no comparison. page 72 Trumble nicknamed McLeod “Lightning,” because he was always the last on the field, last out of the dressing-room, and sometimes last out in our innings, for he was a stolid batsman. This name stuck to him throughout his cricketing career. For some obscure reason, McLeod called Trumble “Gertie.” We thought it was a legacy from an English tour, but undoubtedly Hugh was at his best in men's company. We had lots of fun with Charlie McLeod. Unfortunately, he died in early middle age.
Warwick Armstrong is the remaining giant of this great Melbourne side. I have never seen anyone make more rapid strides from a good player to a champion. At this time he played fast bowling better than anyone in Australia. Jones, on the South Australian side, was a terror to many players, and at the beginning of their innings Victoria would invariably lose one or two wickets quickly. I remember in one match, when several wickets had fallen, the tall Warwick went to the wickets and changed the whole position. Against fast bowling, he had the necessary knack of holding a firm grip and not taking the bat too far back. He would, at times, play forward firmly to Jones, and the ball seemed to fly to the boundary with the speed of a swinging off drive. On this occasion he made 139, and to me it was the best batting display that I had seen against very fast bowling. Jones was indeed fast. When C. B. Fry first saw the South Australian in England in 1896, he said he was too fast! When Armstrong played slow bowling he did not look quite so comfortable, but nevertheless played it skilfully. When he first shaped up to Braund, who came out with MacLaren's team, we thought he was in difficulties. However, the score sheets that season did not suggest that Armstrong was any less effective against slow bowling than fast.
At the end of his practice at the nets, Armstrong always finished by opening out and having a few hits, when it was positively dangerous to bowl to him, for the power of his straight drive was tremendous. A half-volley would come back like a cannon-ball, and I have seen bowlers deliver the ball from a few yards behind the crease in order to have time to get out of the way! He forced his way into the Australian XI in 1901, was selected for the 1902 Australian team for England, and from this time never looked back. It is remarkable that in the page 73 season before leaving for England, Armstrong took few wickets in our club matches, but on the English tour was to take eighty-one. Neither he nor I got much bowling in those Melbourne C.C. days. It is possible that Trumble may have nursed Armstrong's bowling to allow his batting to develop, for Warwick was then in his very early twenties. With his leg breaks that did not break, he was later to become one of the most accurate of all length bowlers.
Some of our opponents met on the field should be mentioned. Worrall, who had gone to England with an Australian team as early as 1886, was still a very good player. Hitting 6's over the long-on or long-off boundary are natural hitting strokes, but to hit a 6 over cover-point's head is another matter. I had read of either Bean or Brann, the Sussex batsmen, playing this remarkable shot, but I had not seen it done. In our match against Carlton, I saw Worrall, in one over, hit Trumble twice on the half-volley clean over cover-point's head for 6. On the second occasion, Trumble, knowing the dangerous nature of the stroke, enticed him to repeat it, but Worrall hit the second one even better than the first. I may say I have not seen that shot made since. Jessop once hit a 6 off a long hop clean over point fielding square, but a 6 over cover-point demands accurate hitting.
We always looked upon Frank Laver as our most likeable opponent. He had a charm of manner and a nature that endeared him to everyone; his smile will ever be remembered by those who knew him. He was a really good bowler, and a brilliant field at point, but a clumsy batsman. His enthusiasm, all-round ability, and captaincy made him the mainstay of the East Melbourne XI.
It was a great loss to Australia when Frank Tarrant, to whom I have referred earlier, accepted an engagement with the Middlesex County Club, just when he was due to step into the Australian XI. In him a great player was lost to Test Match cricket, for he had an outstanding record in county cricket in England.
These sketches will enable readers to appreciate the happy atmosphere which prevailed, and the standard of club cricket in Melbourne at that time.
I cannot end this story of my cricketing days in Melbourne without referring to the Melbourne Cricket Club, second only page 74 to the great Marylebone Club of England. Here was a club with its cricket, football, lacrosse, tennis, and bowling sections, all controlled by the governing committee, but with sub-committees managing the activities of the players in the different games. When I first went to Melbourne there were splendid bowling greens to the right of the members' main entrance, and immediately behind the players' old dressing-rooms. Tennis courts were behind the present Sir Edwin Grey stand. Extensions to grandstand accommodation have encroached upon these areas, but M.C.C. bowling and tennis teams still prosper on other grounds.
Most cricket clubs run their First, Second, Third and Fourth XI's, but Melbourne has just its First and Second XI's, and then about six other teams are entrusted to individual captains, who pick their own sides, and make all arrangements through the Club Secretary for the season's matches. It is an excellent arrangement. The games are played in the spirit of house or village cricket in England. Any promising young player is helped up quickly towards the Second XI, and consequently there is no retarding a young player's development on account of the holiday nature of the games of these teams, led by men who possessed personal qualities above the average. Dr. Daish, Dr. Strong, and Charles Robertson are some of the names of the captains of those years, who played no small part in maintaining the very special position the Melbourne Cricket Club holds in the hearts of cricketers.
When district cricket was introduced, the Melbourne Cricket Club was faced with a threat to its very existence as a participant in club matches, and this caused much heart-burning. The proposal to make a residential qualification apply to all the different suburban teams came at about the same time as the controversy between the players and the Board of Control, which, to some extent, involved the Melbourne Club. Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and a reasonable compromise made provision for the special circumstances and position of this great central club, which had no particular residential district to support it.
The magnitude of the Melbourne Cricket Club and its operations may be gathered from the fact that it has a membership of several thousand, and a waiting list nearly as big. Its figures for income and expenditure read more like those of a page 75 great commercial undertaking. The administrative side of the club's operations, and its influence in International cricket, call for special mention. With Board of Control management having settled down as the natural form of control for Australian cricket, it may not be generally known to the present generation how great a part was played in the past by the Melbourne Cricket Club. From 1878 until 1909, all Australian teams were a private venture by the players themselves, although the Melbourne C.C. sponsored the teams, and advanced sufficient money for their fares and early expenses. The players appointed their own selectors, made their own arrangements with the counties in England regarding the matches to be played, and the terms governing these games. Mr. C. W. Alcock, the Surrey Secretary, acted as their agent for many years. They thus took all the risk themselves, and there were many risks in those early days. Teams have been known to strike a wet season, or not prove an attractive side, and find themselves not very much in pocket when the tour was concluded. In the main they were successful, some tours providing a very good dividend for each member of the touring side. It was, of course, in the interests of the tourists to make the play attractive, and there is little doubt that the counties benefited by this attitude of the Australians towards the success of the matches. The tourists would make sure that the Saturday afternoon crowd would see their stars at the wickets, or, in some way, help to make the match profitable to the home county.
When it came to English teams visiting Australia, it was the Melbourne Cricket Club that invited men like Lord Harris, Lord Sheffield, A. E. Stoddart and A. C. MacLaren to bring teams to Australia.
All the teams to New Zealand prior to 1894, in which year the N. Z. Cricket Council was formed, were, in the same way, brought by individuals or associations, who, while acting independently, rendered a great service to the game.
With the Marylebone Club now managing for England, the Boards of Control arranging all matters for Australia and for South Africa, and the Council for New Zealand, it is well to remember that while official control does the job well to-day, the players of those early years, and the Melbourne Club, did yeoman service for the game long before the present organizations came into existence.page 76
Leading citizens play a big part in the management of the Melbourne C.C. Sir Edwin Grey, Chairman of the National Bank of Australasia, was President of the club in my time. Trumble, who was on the staff of this bank, was thus fortunately placed for getting leave of absence for overseas tours.
Two great Secretaries enhanced the reputation of the club. Major Wardill was an outstanding personality and a most efficient officer, while Hugh Trumble, whose name is known throughout the cricket world, maintained the great traditions of the club over the twenty-six years he held office. With the popular Vernon Ransford succeeding Trumble, the club goes on with a smoothness in its management that rivals Marylebone in the Old Country.
During these three seasons I saw all the players of the other States in their matches against Victoria. George Giffen fascinated me more than anyone else. He was now approaching the end of his great career, but was still a force to be reckoned with. To have 100 runs scored off his bowling in an innings become a frequent occurrence was one of the records he established. His persistence was amazing: one or two for 70 would be turned into, say, seven for 120. “Take yourself off, George!” someone would yell from the bank, and presently it would be taken up round the ring, but nothing perturbed him. I was present on one occasion when barrackers had been particularly insistent. He threw the ball to Reedman, and the crowd, thinking it had forced the change, laughed and cheered. The field was then set with palpable delay, and just as Reedman was ready to bowl, Giffen walked over, took the ball and went on bowling. The crowd enjoyed the joke, and left him alone after that. He was soon to take several more wickets, and thus justify his belief in himself. Sometimes he would go off only to recommence bowling from the other end. The subtleness of his methods of attack kept the batsman ever on the alert; he would give away a 4, give two 4's, when angling for a catch at mid-off or in the covers. It was extraordinary how often the shrewd South Australian would get a batsman caught and bowled; the player would be on his way back to the pavilion before he realized that the fateful ball had been slower—just a trifle slower.
Present-day cricketers find it hard to believe the tales of Giffen's greatness. Some remember him as the batsman who page 77 refused to go out, as he once did in a club match in Adelaide. I was to hear the circumstances of this incident when on a visit to Adelaide many years later. There was an appeal for a catch behind the wicket, and the umpire at the bowler's end, after some hesitation, said he could not see, and an appeal was then made to the square-leg umpire who gave him out. It was in protest against the square-leg umpire giving a decision which he could not judge that Giffen sat on his bat and refused to go out.
I believe there was a stage in George Giffen's career when he reached such heights in both batting and bowling, simultaneously, that it could be said he was the greatest all-rounder the game has known. Two performances in 1891 illustrate his dominating position in Australian cricket of that time. Playing for South Australia against a strong Victorian side at Melbourne he made 237 runs, and took five for 89, and seven for 103. In the next match against Victoria, played at Adelaide, when the South Australians again won by an innings, Giffen made 271, took nine for 96, and seven for 70:508 runs in two innings, and twenty-eight wickets in two matches! Were there ever such all-round performances? I met players who took part in these games, and they all told of the magnificence of these notable feats. They referred to the effect of his great name, and how he had the “Indian sign” on some of the batsmen. Old players, able to span the years of Giffen's greatness and the arrival of Albert Trott, M. A. Noble, Warwick Armstrong, Jack Gregory, and Frank Tarrant, always maintain that Giffen was the greatest all-rounder of them all.
When batting, Giffen had a tantalizing habit of bending his left knee in front of the wicket as the bowler ran to deliver the ball. Harry Trott told the story of how, on arriving home one evening, he found young Albert Trott bowling at a wicket with a kerosene tin straight in front, but outside the popping crease. Harry said, “What are you doing?”
“That's George Giffen,” replied Albert. “I'm trying to get past him with an off break!”
When Harry Graham first met the famous George, he had plenty of advisers telling him to look out for old Giff's wiles. Nothing daunted, the youthful Graham dashed in straight away and hit with great vigour. He raced along to 84, but then old George prevailed; caught at long-on. Higher and page 78 slower; it was always there for the unwary or over-venturesome batsman.
Giffen was a man of fine physique. In his youth he was a noted gymnast, and one of South Australia's best footballers. In the dressing-room he stripped like a modern Hercules. He could hit a 6 as easily as any player of his time, but his batting was noted for its soundness and he rarely indulged in big hitting.
But South Australia had a quintette of great players at the end of last century. Jack Lyons! How everyone sat up when he went in to bat. Here was a hitting batsman if ever there was one. Not a hitter in the sense of a Jessop, for he just stood up and played in-front-of-the-wicket strokes like any first-class batsman, but the power of his shots was amazing. In the days when the Adelaide Oval had a curbing round the ground, a ball would not last the 200 runs if Lyons got set. He and Darling would open the innings for South Australia, the latter, playing the rock until Lyons was out, would then open out into his natural Joe Darling game, for he, too, hit fiercely at times. Darling's mightiest efforts were against Stoddart's second team to Australia, when he hit Tom Richardson as he had never before been hit. With Giffen and Hill to follow, the great batting strength of South Australia will be appreciated. Joe Darling was a man of fine character and a splendid influence in the game. It can be said that the reputation of Australian touring teams was never higher than during the period of his captaincy.
Clem Hill was now in his middle twenties, and at the height of his career, even though his 188 against Stoddart's team in 1897 is always considered his greatest innings. Like Grace, he had been famous as a cricketer before he was twenty. The popular Clem was a colourful personality: in the dressing-room he was always the play-boy of the team; on the field of play he was of the type that could carry a side on his back, and this fighting spirit often enhanced the value of the performance. It was this characteristic which made him the greatest of all left-handers, with Woolley and Bardsley following close behind. For fifteen years Hill was a mighty force in Australian cricket. Holding his bat with a rather short grip of the handle, he put great power into his strokes. No other player so naturally placed the ball on the on side, and his range of strokes between page 79 short-leg and mid-on was amazing. At this time it was necessary to go back to the days of Murdoch to find a player so predominantly Australia's champion batsman.
Hill ranks high on the list of the world's greatest players. Although in later years he was to lead Australian teams in Australia, it was unfortunate that the Board of Control's differences with the leading players, which resulted in their withdrawal from the 1912 tour, should have deprived him of the honour of captaining an Australian team to England where he was a great favourite with the public, and held in high esteem by the authorities.
Fast bowler Jones completes the list of champions that made South Australia such an outstanding side in those days.
I end these sketches with a glimpse of the superb Trumper. Ranjitsinhji alone equalled him in his variety of strokes, which covered all points of the compass from slip to fine-leg. Of all the great batsmen, Trumper had the most devastating effect upon the bowlers. When at the zenith of his powers, it mattered little how the field was placed. His unlimited choice of direction, backed by the timing and power of his strokes, often bewildered even experienced bowlers. As I fielded to his batting when he made scores of 253 and 293, I can speak feelingly. In 1902 he wrested from Clem Hill the laurels of Australia's cricketing idol, but it was a generous tribute when, after an amazing innings by Trumper on a difficult wicket, Clem said, “I take off my hat to Victor.”
There was a charm about Trumper that won a warm spot in the hearts of all who knew him. He was one of the most modest and unselfish of players. He accepted umpires' decisions as a matter of course, and no one ever heard him say there was a doubt about any ruling that sent him back to the pavilion. Australians and Englishmen alike honour the memory of Victor Trumper. He was to die at the early age of thirty-seven, but left behind him a record and a reputation that shine like a planet in the history of the game.
The New South Wales XI I had already seen and played against, but the matches against Victoria enabled me to obtain a more lasting impression of their best players. Trumper's brilliant play, Gregory's cleverness, and Iredale's graceful batting were a revelation to me.
Great though were the Victorian and South Australian page 80 sides of those years, they had to “bite the dust” to what was generally admitted to be New South Wales's greatest XI. The Trumper-Duff first-wicket partnership was a departure from all previous conceptions of tactics by opening batsmen. It was always considered that one, at least, should be a steady player. Instead, both played dazzling cricket. Two hundred before lunch may never again be equalled. Is there any wonder that people wanted to be present at the beginning of a match in case New South Wales won the toss?