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Never another like Victor

Trumper the cricketer was a genius, Trumper the man touched Australia's collective soul

Ashley Mallett

June 28, 2013

Comments: 23 | Text size: A | A

Victor Trumper bats at The Oval, 1899
That immortal drive © Getty Images

The cricketing gods must have shed a thousand tears that cold, grey Sydney Monday morning of June 28, 1915 when they knew the greatest batsman of cricket's golden age was nearing his end.

The much-loved Victor Trumper died that very morning, after battling a kidney disease, as the clock struck ten. It would herald a period of great sadness at a time when thousands of young Australians were being killed in the horrific Gallipoli campaign. Trumper's death at the age of 37 stunned the nation. Australia's most brilliant and charismatic batsman was gone. Within hours, news of his death was emblazoned on placards that read "Great Cricketer Dead" at news stands throughout Australia and in London.

An illustrated weekly, the Sydney Mail, was full of the news from Gallipoli, from the epic landing and subsequent operations in the Dardanelles. There were pages of photographs of gallant ANZACs who had given their lives or had been wounded. A single-column photograph and 19 lines was all Trumper was given, but it was a touching tribute:

"Victor Trumper was the greatest batsman Australia had produced and its most accomplished in the history of the game in any country. The solid qualities of Tyldesley and Hobbs, the magnificent skill of Hill and Darling, even the wizardry of Ranjitsinhji, paled before a wonderful grace and orthodox poetry of motion that lifted batting to a standard that had not entered into the dream of those who imagined they had seen all that cricket had to offer when Grace and Shewsbury or those already mentioned had been at the wicket. He was a modest, good-living young man. His courage in his illness was the natural revelation of the Christian character."

A correspondent with the Sydney Referee, "Not Out", wrote:

"The war hits us hard; but this blow has a sadder touch than any we may have felt when other heroes of the athletic world have died on the field of battle. Trumper's name in cricket will never perish. He was the artist of cricket from toes to finger-tips. He was a man of bright, winning personality, upright and generous to a fault, as was recognised by those responsible for placing the proceeds of his testimonial match under trustees, for himself, and after him for his widows and children. I cannot conceive of him having had any enemies, for he was a spotless youth in character and habits. May the turf rest lightly over his grave."

Trumper's funeral took place on Wednesday, June 30, 1915. It was one of the largest and most impressive ever afforded a sportsman in Australia. The cortège left Trumper's Chatswood home. The Reverend EH Cranswick of St Paul's Church of England, Chatswood, read the service and subsequently delivered a singularly appropriate eulogy at the graveside at Waverley Cemetery. Hundreds of cricketers past and present marched four abreast with Trumper's body from Chatswood to Fort Macquarie, where it was met by hundreds more.

The cortège comprised a four-horse hearse, four carriages, and a floral carriage. Victor's body was placed in a solid oak casket with handles, after his remains were removed from St Vincent's Private Hospital. He was interred in the Church of England section of the Waverley Cemetery.

Neither his wife, Annie, or his mother, Louey, attended the funeral. They were far too distraught. The chief mourners were Victor's father, Charles; his two brothers, Charles and Sid; his uncle Thomas; brothers-in-law W Briggs and George Smith; and T Love, James Kelly, G Love, J Kavanagh, V Kavanagh and H West.

Thousands of people stood in silence as the cortège passed and hundreds of others - men, women and children - wept openly. Men from all walks of life joined the procession, sportsmen from throughout Australia journeyed to pay their last respects.

By a lovely mix of consummate skill and a humble nature, Trumper proved that a good guy could also run first. Trumper the man touched the collective soul of the Australia people

A veteran cricketer of Goulburn, William Walsh, was at Trumper's funeral:

"The waters were calm, glorious sunshine overhead and the blue sky flecked by fleecy clouds. The coffin was borne from the hearse to the grave by Monty Noble, Tibby Cotter, Hanson Carter, Syd Gregory and another. I was subsequently informed it was Warwick Armstrong, although I failed to recognise him. They were all his worthy allies in the contests on the various cricket fields of the world, and it was fitting that the final post of honour should be allotted to them. Clem Hill was absent, but we all felt he was there in spirit, for he had a high regard for Victor. Hill, the world's greatest No. 3 batsman of the time, said of Trumper: 'As a batsman I was not fit to lick Victor's boots.'

As the coffin was lowered, Monty Noble showed much emotion, and so did Warren Bardsley. The scene was pathetic and I think appealed to most of us as a practical sermon of life. All the mourners have gone home and I am alone looking out over the ocean."

Victor suffered from a condition that was called Bright's Disease. Noted on his death certificate and under the heading, Cause of Death, are the words: "uraemic convulsions… nephritis".

Neville Cardus wrote: "The death of a cricketer before age has fallen on him is sad: it is even against nature. Well may he look down on the fields from his chill hall of immortality, far removed from the jolly flesh and blood of his life, and cry out: 'Another day in the sun and wind and I am not there, I am not there.'"

By a lovely mix of consummate skill and a humble nature, Trumper proved that a good guy could also run first. Trumper the man touched the collective soul of the Australian people. According to Cardus, Trumper was sheer beauty in full flight, whereas Don Bradman, who years after Trumper had passed, took over the mantle of Australia's greatest batsman, was consumed by making runs and being ruthlessly efficient at his craft: Trumper the eagle; Bradman the aeroplane. Trumper could tear an attack apart but upon reaching a hundred he looked about for a bowler deserving of his wicket. Bradman was so ruthlessly different. He built his innings on the bones of an attack that was crushed and broken in spirit.

We all know of Bradman's amazing Test average, 99.94, and alongside Bradman's figures Trumper's statistics pale into seeming insignificance. In 48 Test matches Trumper scored 3163 runs at an average of 39.04. He hit eight centuries, with a high of 214 not out against South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in 1910-11, and 13 half-centuries. The figures don't reflect Trumper's mastery of batting on uncovered wickets which were laid bare to rain, then a searing sun. When those steamy, muddy surfaces started to dry out they were called "sticky dogs".

Bad pitches were a challenge and a joy to Trumper. In January 1904 he scored 74 out of Australia's total of 122 against the wiles of Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst on such a sticky dog. Rain and sun had taken its toll on that MCG wicket. Rhodes took a match haul of 15 for 124, but it was Trumper's genius with the bat on that wicket that enthralled everyone.

Bradman never really understood Trumper's genius. He would ask the likes of Alan Kippax and Arthur Mailey why they thought so highly of him. "How can you speak so glowingly of a batsman who averaged 39?"

Cardus saw both Trumper and Bradman at their best, but he maintained that you could not compare a batsman or a bowler purely on figures alone. Perhaps it was Cardus who could have best answered Bradman's question. "I am concerned with Trumper as an artist, not as a scorer of match-winning runs," he wrote. "You will no more get an idea of the quality of Trumper's batsmanship by adding up his runs than you will get an idea of the quality of Shelley's poetry by adding up the number of lines written by Shelley."

It is now 98 years since Trumper was laid to rest. But his name lives on and will do so as long as the game of cricket is played. The cricketing gods loved Trumper above all others, for whenever he strode handsomely to the wicket the crowd rose as one to applaud and even the blades of grass seemed to bow respectfully in the wake of the great man's entrance, becoming a rolling sea of green, nature's own version of a Mexican wave.

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

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Posted by srikanths on (June 29, 2013, 7:04 GMT)

Excellent and moving article picking the best of what was written at that point of time and stringing it together very well

Posted by   on (June 29, 2013, 5:38 GMT)

Who will ever forget the wonderful comment made by Arthur Mailey in his book 10 for 66 And All That, recalling an incident from the past when he had dismissed his hero Victor in a League match in 1911. It seems that as Victor was going back to the pavilion, Mailey, far from feeling any elation, had felt "like a boy who had killed a dove". I think that that sentiment sums up almost perfectly the great charm of Victor's batting.

Posted by Rowayton on (June 29, 2013, 3:18 GMT)

Many years ago now, around 1970, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours at a cricket match with former Australian player Hunter 'Stork' Hendry (Mr Hendry to me), who in his lifetime played with or against both Trumper and Bradman. He told me that Bradman was a 'very good player' which sounded like the understatement of the year; I asked him if he'd seen Trumper and he looked off into the distance and said, "Ah yes, Victor..." Didn't need to say anything else really.

Posted by   on (June 28, 2013, 23:43 GMT)

What a great quote by Neville Cardus: 'You will no more get an idea of the quality of Trumper's batsmanship by adding up his runs than you will get an idea of the quality of Shelley's poetry by adding up the number of lines written by Shelley." Perhaps the same could be said of his character, based on all that has been written.

Posted by peterhrt on (June 28, 2013, 18:51 GMT)

Trumper's figures have always been widely misunderstood. When he died in 1915, his first-class career batting average (44) was higher than any batsman in history whose career had ended. He had also scored more centuries (six) in England v Australia Tests than anybody on either side. There is no need to make excuses about Trumper's numbers, any more than there is about Grace's. In each case their records confirm what the vast majority of their contemporaries always said - that they were the greatest batsmen to have appeared by the time they finished playing. You cannot do better than that.

Posted by Yagga175 on (June 28, 2013, 16:18 GMT)

It says a lot that all his contemporaries (firend and foe alike) admired him so much. And for the brilliant Clem Hill to think so highly of Trumper in view of his own talent is quite something. The point has been made again and again that VT cared little for averages and would willingly gift his wicket when he felt that a bowler deserved a wicket and another batsman a hit. The polar opposite of Bradman as batsman (particularly sticky wickets), businessman and character and yet, like Bradman, one of the two automatic batting choices for an All-time Australian XI. Would have given anything to see him bat. Christain Ryan's book Australia: a cricket country has a wonderful story abot VT writing to a young boy who asked his advice on batting. He reminded the boy to watch the great batsmen and how they played their strokes and then to imitate them but IN HIS OWN STYLE. "Never another like Victor", indeed!

Posted by Hobhouse on (June 28, 2013, 15:48 GMT)

@B.C.G. - There's no doubt that there were many other great players in that era, Hill and Faulkner included. But whereas there is always debate among their peers as to whether Lara, Tendulkar or Ponting was the tougher opponent, Viv Richards or Barry Richards, the players of Trumper's day pretty much all agreed that Trumper was streets ahead of them. Several peers averaged more than him but, as Charles Davis' stats website shows, none of them scored quicker. Trumper in good health was devastating, and its just a shame that that was all too infrequent.

I'm a little biased though. I started collecting old cricket books in the early 90's from the age of ten. I saved for months one year so that I could buy Great Batsmen and their Methods at a Glance by Fry and Beldham, all for the pictures of Trumper. The picture of him driving is the most famous, but my favourite is of a late cut. Amazing photograph, and you can see why Trumper was so admired.

Posted by endofageofaquarius on (June 28, 2013, 14:54 GMT)

One can appreciate the sentiments of watching a true master working his art. Like Zaheer or Gower - It did not matter how many they scored but what they scored was scored poetically.

Posted by B.C.G on (June 28, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

@Hobhouse-Im not deriding his record.Just feel that he wasn't that far ahead of the others.Clem Hill,Aubrey Faulkner & Zulch averaged just as much or higher in Faulkner's case.Faulkner didn't have a good technique;but his scores on "wet wickets"was as good as/better than Trumpers.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (June 28, 2013, 14:24 GMT)

It wasn't just that Trumper was the consummate artist of batting, it wasn't just that his technique was without parallel on some of the most spiteful wickets Test cricket has ever been played on, it was the quality of the man himself who seemed to capture all who have written about him. His complete lack of business acumen in favour of a deep & warm humanity is something that has always struck a chord with me. For those of you who haven't heard it before, I'll repeat a couple of stories told concerning his treatment of the young. Many small lads went into Trumper's sports shop with their savings (all in coppers) to buy a bat, only for the great VT to refuse to take their savings & present the lad with a brand new bat for free. And of course he famously picked up a boy's bat to use from his shop, went out & made a century with it, before selling it cut-price in his shop - because it had been used! How I would have loved to see him play or speak with him, if only for a couple of minutes!

Posted by WhoCaresAboutIPL on (June 28, 2013, 14:00 GMT)

HumungousFungus - I have your recommended book, and bought it just because I had read many years ago how great was VT. I think we have to accept the eye witnesses. Sad though it is however, I suspect only a small proportion of CricInfos readership will have even heard of him.

Perhaps this well written article will whet some more appetites. Sadly I suppose these is no film stock available?

I am also expecting a few comments saying he could not possibly compare with certain contemporary players - we have already had comments saying he only faced second rate bowlers….

Posted by HumungousFungus on (June 28, 2013, 13:17 GMT)

If you can find a copy, I thoroughly recommend to all interested parties "Victor Trumper And The 1902 Australians" by Lionel H Brown, which is a match by match analysis / opinion of said Ashes Summer. It is clear throughout the book, even though the author is slightly prone to hyperbole, that Trumper is in a completely different class to all of his contemporaries, both Australian and English. Given that amongst these outshone batting talents were names such as Maclaren, Tyldesley, Ranji, Jackson (England) plus Armstrong and Hill (Australia), and given some of the horror, rain-affected pitches he played on, we simply have to accept that Trumper was a quite extraordinary talent whom we should not simply be judging on averages and numbers. In some cases, when and how can be as important, or even more important, than how many, and I think that Victor Trumper was a great example of this...

Posted by Penkridge on (June 28, 2013, 11:27 GMT)

"For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast, And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost, And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host"

Posted by Hobhouse on (June 28, 2013, 10:50 GMT)

@B.C.G - Nonsense. While Hirst never quite made it as a test match bowler, Rhodes was a brilliant one for many seasons and his battles against Trumper in the 1902 and the 1903/04 series career highpoints for them both. It was only then that injury to his spinning finger led Rhodes to concentrate on his batting. No wildly fluctuating form, just an acceptance that he couldn't spin the ball like he used to. And by that stage England had the likes of Barnes and Blythe.

The South African googly bowlers, while not up to the standards of say O'Reilly or Warne, ripped their way through English and Australian batting in those initial years when googly bowling was new. Only a handful of batsmen led by Trumper could deal with them. I would love to have seen Trumper score 214 against them when the next highest score was 54.

Considering his ill-health, the bad pitches he often played on, and having to bat in an era when swing and unorthodox wrist spin were new, Trumper's record is excellent.

Posted by DustBowl on (June 28, 2013, 10:33 GMT)

Great article; particularly the non comparison with the Don. Am eager to read some of his books. It is therefore a little 'strange' that AM writes the Michael Clarke is an amalgam of VT and the the Don elsewhere - perhaps just for those handful of innings last year only.

Posted by   on (June 28, 2013, 8:57 GMT)

Imagine what he could have been on covered pitches and with better equipment, gloves, pads etc. Both him and Hill were far and away the best Australian batsmen of the Golden Age !

Posted by B.C.G on (June 28, 2013, 8:30 GMT)

@LillianThomson-Trumper scored a large percentage of his runs v/s the mediocre googly bowlers from Safrica on hard home pitches.He only played 3 matches in which Hirst & Barnes played & performed below par.W Rhodes was an all rounder & not that great a bowler in tests.His bowling form fluctuuated wildly.

Posted by Hammond on (June 28, 2013, 8:00 GMT)

@LillianThomson- I agree 100% with you. I think from my own point of view (and that of many Australians who know their cricket) Trumper is the greatest batsman who ever lived. Gee we could do with someone of that calibre at the moment!

Posted by tickcric on (June 28, 2013, 6:34 GMT)

Give us a time machine we want to watch these guys playing. Amazing article.

Posted by   on (June 28, 2013, 3:46 GMT)

Given that Victor regularly gave his wicket away when he thought he had scored enough runs he may have just been the greatest ever. I remember reading a story about his benefit match, he scored 60 odd with the wicketkeeper nominating every shot before the ball was bowled. I don't think we will ever see the like again.

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