A king without a crown
Biographies and essays have been written about celebrities, fools, crooks, bores, and exhibitionists; but, so far as I know, no one has written a short book (he'd never stand for a long one) on Arthur A. Mailey, one of the great personalities of the last fifty or sixty years.
That he played cricket, as a leg-break-cum-googly bowler for New South Wales and Australia, is merely incidental. As a Test Match bowler, he ranks among the great. But, as a man, he already stands, for those who have had the wonderful luck to know him, among the immortals.
I first met Arthur Mailey in May of 1921, on the Christ Church cricket ground at Oxford. I was to bat, more or less, at No. 11. Behind the stumps that day was the brilliant, neat, and courteous wicketkeeper, Bert Oldfield. The bowler that mattered was Mailey.
He smiled as I came in, a wide and sympathetic smile. He has always, I fancy, regarded batting as a necessary but inferior part of cricket. He had reason, this time, I knew, and he guessed that I knew, nothing at all about the art of playing leg-spin bowling of quality. No discernment. So, he smiled; and bowled three high and harmless non-spinners just outside the off stump. I swished at them, and three times connected. Mailey had deliberately presented me with twelve runs.
Then he had me stumped by a wide margin of space and time. `Enjoyed yourself?' he said, as we walked in. That was Arthur Mailey; the giver of good things; especially to the young and ignorant.
In the preceding Australian season he had taken 36 wickets during a Test series against England, in spite of missing the second of the five matches, at Melbourne. As to technique, he used his broad strong fingers to impart spin even on the truest surface; and he was ever a lover of experimental flight. He has been called `the millionaire bowler', because he was willing to `buy' a wicket at a price.
Remember, too, that in those Australian teams of 1920 and 1921 there were runs to spare in the bank. Not till 1926, eight years after the end of the First Great War, did England's cricket catch up with Australia's. It is also worth remembering that in quite a number of Tests J. M. Gregory and E. A. McDonald, that great pair of fast bowlers, made Mailey's job hardly necessary.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive description of Mailey the cricketer. But it should be recorded that he took 9 for 121 in 47 overs in the Fourth Test against our 1920-21 team at Melbourne, including the wickets of Jack Hobbs, Wilfred Rhodes, and Frank Woolley; that in 1921 he took all 10 Gloucestershire wickets in their second innings at Cheltenham, including that of a boy called Walter Hammond, who was greatly to trouble Australian bowlers and batsmen, in after years. And that in December 1924, at Sydney, he shared with J. M. Taylor (108) in a last-wicket Test stand of 127. Mailey's own score at No. 11 was 46 not out. They say he still laughs disbelievingly when the feat is mentioned.
But, with all respect to Australia, which has bred so many great, and some rather grim, games-players and athletes, she has produced only one Arthur Mailey. He is so different from the typical Aussie player of games or runner of races. In Mailey, humour ranks higher than success, kindness above personal triumph. Not in money, but verily in character he is the richest man that his country has produced. There is something still of Huckleberry Finn about him, something of the boy who interrupts adventure to help or to laugh.
He is free from worry, because, not having made precise arrangements, he cannot be disappointed by any lack of their success. I remember that he never used to look up the starting-time of a train. He went to the station, and waited for the next one in. As the years passed, he became even more of a will-o'-the-wisp; not to be pinned down; difficult to track.
Considerably gifted as an artist, he has been a professional cartoonist as well as a Test cricket reporter. Typically, in his cartoons, his own face has often been the funniest feature. But his greatest delight, I think, has been to paint in watercolours the English countryside in summer; the fruit country, the Evenlode, and the severer beauties of the North.
For such expeditions he used a car with the necessary appurtenances for painting and sitting and sleeping. And he would leave behind no address for forwarding correspondence. The poet was at large.
And poet he is, though I doubt if he has ever written a sonnet or even a couplet. When he was a young man, he once took the wicket of his hero, the only Victor Trumper. So far from regarding this as a triumph, he said `I felt as if I'd shot a dove.'
Many are the stories, true or fanciful, about Arthur Mailey. The one that I like best is of moderately recent date, and refers to his starting a meat business in the purlieus of Sydney with a large placard above his shop on which he had written his name, then-'used to bowl tripe; used to write tripe; now he sells tripe.'
I fear we may not see Arthur Mailey over here in the 1964 summer. He is 75 years old, and has retired from the work of commentary and drawing. But, wherever he is, he will, I know, be encouraging the young and hopeful, and helping the old and despairing. Anyhow, for me, Arthur Mailey is the greatest man I've ever met in cricket. A king without a crown.