June 28, 2013

Never another like Victor

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

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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