November 22, 2012

Another like Victor and the Don

Watching Michael Clarke's innings in Adelaide was like rewinding the clock to two other remarkable innings at the venue

Michael Clarke is an amalgam of Victor Trumper and Don Bradman. He possesses the majesty of Trumper, whose batting in full flight was that of an eagle, and much of the efficiency of Bradman, who collected runs like a frequent flyer clocks miles.

Before this Test, Clarke had belted an amazing 1041 runs at an average of 115.66 in 2012. His brilliant double-century in Adelaide wreaked maximum damage upon a South African attack of Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, and legspinner Imran Tahir, whose ill-directed and scattered seam legbreaks were simply not up to first-class standard.

Bradman is considered the greatest of all batsmen, yet the gods of cricket also acclaim Trumper, the favourite of the genteel Victorian age, when men in their boater hats and starched collars, accompanied by ladies in their finery, turned up in their droves to the cricket. It was an age of chivalry, when Trumper would blaze an unforgettable century, then look about for a deserving bowler and hand him his wicket on a platter. Clarke is forgiven on this score. At 130, he looked about the field and found it in total disarray, and not one bowler was worth his wicket. So he batted on and thrashed Morkel for five fours in one over to race to 150.

When he hit Morkel over mid-off off the front foot, there was the style of Greg Chappell and the power of Viv Richards. As a cricket stroke it provided sheer ecstasy.

Just over a century ago at Adelaide Oval, Trumper hit the first double-hundred of the 20th century by an Australian batsman. The majestic unconquered 214 against Percy Sherwell's South Africans came after an unusually circumspect Trumper had amazed all and sundry by playing defensively on what was described as a rare sluggish Adelaide Oval pitch. Here was the greatest batsman of cricket's golden age defending as though his life depended upon it, and then after a hearty lunch, getting stuck into the bowling.

The correspondent with the pseudonym "Point" wrote in the Register:

For 20 minutes before luncheon Trumper was strictly defensive and clearly feeling for the pace of the wicket, which was unusually slow for Adelaide. As the batsman said, the ball squatted and did not come along fast from the pitch so that they found themselves unable to play some of their customary shots.

Before luncheon not a single four was scored. During the interval Trumper apparently thought out the problem, decided that the wicket was true and made up his mind that while he would have to play back more often than was his wont, he would have a go at the ball. He immediately started to score fours, and he began at 2.15pm, so he continued for the rest of the afternoon.

Other batsman stay for longer or shorter periods and make useful scores, but Trumper, like the brook, went on merry all the time and at the end of the day was still unconquered.

Trumper played at a time when wickets were uncovered, and most bowlers capable of wheeling away for hours under a murderous sun. Uncovered wickets meant pitches were baked in good weather, the grass scythed to a close shave. The resultant bounce was as honest as the day. But this wicket of 1911 in the city of churches was on the dodgy side, and yet it was ordained that Trumper should be blessed with having scored the first double-hundred of the century by an Australian batsman on it.

Some 20 years after that double-hundred, Bradman scored an unbeaten 299 against South Africa on Adelaide Oval in January 1932. This fourth Test of the series was Bill O'Reilly's first Test, and he watched in fascination the guile of Clarrie Grimmett who took seven wickets in each innings. Today - a hundred years on from Trumper's innings - the Adelaide Oval wicket is hard and fast and will spin as the match wears on. Nathan Lyon will be licking his lips.

This Adelaide Test has seen Clarke at his most adventurous, his best. And his best is a combination of Trumper and Bradman. Short of playing the dog shot - a unique Trumper stroke - Clarke exhibited every stroke in the book with a style and power to have the greatest batsmen to walk the earth stand and applaud. Clarke is the reincarnation of the two best of them all - Trumper and Bradman.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell