There are two things that are most likely to come to mind when you hear mention of the name "Albert Trott". One is that he is supposedly a distant relation of Jonathan Trott. The other, that he was the first - and so far only - man to hit the ball over the pavilion at Lord's.
The latter feat is rightly responsible for his enduring fame, more than a century after it took place. But while clearing the iconic old terracotta building at cricket's most famous venue goes some way to sketching the outline of Trott's appeal as a charismatic showman of the late-Victorian era - cricket's original one-hit wonder - it does not come close to telling the full story of his life and career; which is where Over and Out by Steve Neal, winner of the 2017 Cricket Writers' Club Book of the Year award, comes in.
Neal has painstakingly researched the first biography of this "neglected cricket hero", going right back to Trott's Antiguan ancestry, his upbringing in Collingwood, Melbourne, amid the threat of "typhoid, diphtheria and measles", through to an untimely death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 41 and burial without ceremony in Willesden, north London - a sadly ignominious end for a man who played Test cricket for both Australia and England. It was not until the 1970s that Middlesex, the club he served as a professional for 12 years, arranged a headstone for his grave.
There ought to have been no shortage of positive reasons to remember him. "Albatrott" was a high-flying bird: (still) holder of the record for best innings figures by a Test debutant; the first man to score 1000 runs and take 200 wickets in a county season (which he did twice in a row); the first man to take two hat-tricks in the same innings; one of a select few to play Tests for two countries.
Perhaps the root of Trott's tragic demise lay in his early rejection by Australia. Having made scores of 38 not out and 72 not out, batting at No. 10, he claimed 8 for 43 on debut against England in Adelaide in 1895, a match that sparked Australia's comeback from 2-0 down in the series (although they ultimately lost 3-2). After three Tests, Trott averaged 102.50 with the bat and 21.33 with the ball; however, he was subsequently overlooked for the tour of England in 1896. Tom Horan, the former Test batsman and chronicler known as "Felix", summed up the mood:
"His fame is trumpet tongued to the world not only as a batsman but as a bowler and field, and now the famous selection committee give him the cold shoulder and proclaim him unfit to represent Australia on the cricket fields of England. I have seen some queer things done by selection committees in my time, but this caps all."
No matter, Trott would make the trip regardless. Having already received offers to ply his trade in England, he secured a contract with MCC, which would allow him to serve a two-year qualifying period to represent Middlesex. He quickly made an impression, his changes of pace and ability to curve the ball - learned from playing baseball - making him a particularly canny operator in English conditions. "He became known as one of the best all-round men in England," Neal writes, "but it was his bowling that was dominant at this point."
A couple of summers later, in 1899, now a Middlesex player, Trott scored 1175 runs and took 239 first-class wickets; but it was to be one big hit, against the country of his birth, that secured his legacy. The ball rose until it was "a pea in the sky", before landing in the garden of the Lord's dressing-room attendant, who lived behind the pavilion (meaning the shot was only worth four, since sixes had to be hit clean out of the ground). No one has yet managed to emulate Trott, though Kieron Pollard came close for Somerset in 2010, and in recent years Middlesex players have lined up to have a crack in laboratory conditions to publicise the T20 competition.
Trott had by then abandoned his allegiance to Australia completely, having made two Test appearances for England under Lord Hawke on the 1898-99 tour of South Africa. He was 26 and should have been at the peak of his powers, but after scoring 1337 runs and taking 211 wickets (including all ten in an innings against Somerset) during the 1900 season, his decline was steady.
A teetotaller in his younger days, Trott had acquired a taste for beer (often bought for him by a well-wisher). After a brief return to the spotlight with his unprecedented feat of taking two hat-tricks in an innings during his benefit match in 1907, he was quoted by a newspaper as recommending "dry ginger ale" when bowling. "This was a little rich from a man who enjoyed nothing more than 'a cooler' during and after a game," writes Neal. After being effectively sacked by Middlesex in 1910, Trott's health worsened and he suffered badly from the build-up of fluid caused by oedema - or dropsy, as it was known.
Financial issues also weighed heavily and another blow was to come when Trott's wife and two children left to return to Australia without him. When he took his own life, during the summer of 1914, he had 4 to his name and left a will written on the back of a laundry ticket. An inquest recorded the verdict: "Suicide during temporary insanity."
But let that not be the final word on "Dear Old Trottie". Over once more to Neal, author of this meticulous and sympathetic portrait:
"His life was shaped by his character and temperament, the man within, as much as his skills with the bat and ball. Over the years, he was someone who struggled to come to terms with his own cricketing talent. In the process, he brought about his own downfall, suffered a reverse of fortune, losing everything - a last desperate act, the life of an Edwardian cricketer tinged with shades of the Shakespearean tragic hero."
Over and Out - Albert Trott: The Man Who Cleared the Lord's Pavilion
By Steve Neal
Pitch Publishing, 2017
12.99, 224 pages