Aubrey Faulkner: professional success hid personal tragedy
On the face of it, Aubrey Faulkner had it all. A classic strokemaker, a prodigious spinner, a wonderful fielder; at over 6ft tall and weighing 200 pounds he cut an imposing figure on and off the field; his handsome features and dark brooding eyes earned him many female admirers.
Yet for all that, the story of the great South African all-rounder is a tragic one. It is made all the more poignant in the latest Famous Cricketers Series by being written by Brian Bassano who has just died, only days after his son Chris had played his first Championship game for Derbyshire, becoming the only player to hit a century in both innings on his Championship debut.
The work on Faulkner is number 59 in the series and offers an innings-by-innings guide to the player's career, from his debut as a 21-year-old for Transvaal in the Currie Cup in 1902-03 to his final Test in 1924, an unhappy occasion when he was called up to play having retired and was in no condition to play Test cricket.
But in those intervening years, Faulkner stamped his name indelibly in cricket's history books. He scored 6,366 runs in his career at the commendable average of 36.58 while his leg-spinners and googlies brought him 449 wickets at 17.42 apiece.
As Bassano points out: "The yardstick for assessing a great all-rounder is whether or not he could play Test cricket purely as a batsman or purely as a bowler. Faulkner was unquestionably one of the rare breed."
Probably his two best series came against the MCC in 1909-10 and in Australia in 1910-11. In the five-Test series against the visiting MCC he totalled 545 runs at 60.55 and took 29 wickets at 21.89 - more runs than any other player on either side and second only to Ernie Vogler as top wicket-taker.
A year later he went with South Africa to Australia where the tourists encountered alien conditions - hard, fast pitches which became a batsman's nightmare after rain. It was difficult for the visitors to adjust yet in 14 first-class games Faulkner hit 1,534 runs at an average of 59.00 and took 49 wickets at 25.59. His batting aggregate on tour remains the third best by a visiting player.
While all appeared rosy on the field, away from it Faulkner suffered his share of misfortune. His upbringing had been less than happy; the son of an alcoholic father, Faulkner was a lifelong teetotaller.
He quickly enlisted when the First World War broke out and encountered much hardship, contracting malaria which was to affect him for the rest of his life. Having settled in England before the war, he returned to his wife but the relationship did not last long and divorce ensued in 1920.
He became games master at St Piran's Preparatory School in Maidenhead where, among his protégés, was the future England captain, Freddie Brown. Faulkner went on to establish the world's first cricket school and despite attracting large numbers of pupils, he always struggled to make ends meet. He found himself forced to bowl far more than he would have wanted, changing arms when his right one became too tired. His second wife took over secretarial duties at the school but financially life was a struggle.
Although Faulkner was outwardly happy and gregarious, Bassano points out: "Lurking below the surface were demons which caused moods of deep depression, exacerbated by his attacks of malaria. As the years passed he became more prone to what was probably manic depression, and on September 10th 1930 he could stand it no longer and gassed himself in a storeroom at his cricket school, leaving a poignant note. His young widow was left with an estate of under £300."
Bassano concludes: "Faulkner's death at the comparatively early age of 48 robbed the world of an exceptional cricket brain, which still had much to offer."
Bassano has produced a well researched book with thorough statistical analysis as well as the narrative. It is particularly sad that the author did not live long enough to see his work published.
Aubrey Faulkner from ACS Publications is available price £4. Buy This