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The talented Mr Trumper

Victor Trumper bats at The Oval Getty Images

This is an edited version of a speech given by Ashley Mallett during a celebration dinner to honour the memory of Victor Trumper, on June 26 in Sydney. Trumper died on June 28, 1915, and the New South Wales branch of the Australia Cricket Society implemented three days of celebration - a dinner, a seminar at the SCG, and a guided tour of Trumper's various residences in and about Sydney town - to mark the anniversary.

As kids growing up in Chatswood in the 1950s, my older brother Nick and I would play backyard "Test" matches, as most boys did in those days. However, there was a catch. Nick wasn't interested in tossing for innings. We both wanted to be Australia, but again my brother held sway. Nick always batted and inevitably he opened Australia's innings with the legendary Arthur Morris and Les Favell.

No Victor Trumper?

Sacrilege.

I decided to go to bat on Vic's behalf.

"Can't Trumper open my "England" with Jack Hobbs?" I asked in hope.

Nick eyed me quizzically. "Victor Trumper? Don't know him. He's yours."

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Since reading Johnny Moyes' A Century of Cricketers, Trumper has been a hero to me; that immortal image of Vic leaping out to drive is ever etched on my memory.

When Trumper strode onto the green sward of his beloved SCG, the crowd rose in a standing ovation. Even the blades of grass seemed to bow respectfully in the wake of the great man, and in a gentle breeze the grass became a rolling sea of green: nature's own version of a Mexican Wave.

By all accounts he was born on November 2, 1877, although I could find no evidence of his birth date, either in Sydney or in Auckland, where his father once lived. Sydney has long claimed this handsome, self-effacing champion, the greatest batsman of cricket's Golden Age - 1894-1914.

Vic's father, Charles Trumper, was born in New Zealand. His mother, Louise (Louey) Trumper (née Coglan), a jolly, robust woman, met Charles when he migrated from New Zealand to settle in Sydney. The Trumpers had nine children, but sadly only six survived into adulthood. After Victor came Alice (known as Nancy), Una, Jackie (a little girl who was born blind and died aged three), Sidney, May Louise and Charles.

"Victor was a hopeless businessman. He once grabbed a bat off the 7/6d rack, hit a glorious century for Paddington and returned it to the rack with the note: "Used bat. Special 3/9d"

Charles Trumper (senior) was a thin man of medium height with short cropped hair, beard and moustache. This gentle soul suffered from asthma and in the summer months often slept under a mosquito net in a tent in the family backyard.

A boot clicker by trade, Charles worked for Wards Slipper Factory until he had saved enough money to open his own business in Paddington, manufacturing "Cats Head" velvet slippers. In 1907 the Trumpers moved from Paddington to Help Street, Chatswood.

Vic grew up in and about Paddington. He attended Crown Street Superior Public School in Darlinghurst, where his batting prowess was soon evident. Those who saw him at the crease marvelled at his poise and power. Long before Vic began playing for Paddington, people would ask, "Have you seen Trumper from Crown Street bat?"

As with most Australian boys, Victor loved playing cricket in the family backyard with his father (and the ever-present, albeit unwitting, hindrance of their St Bernard dog and pet magpie). Charles Trumper also introduced Vic to cricket at Moore Park, the vast tract of playing fields a Steven Smith cover drive from the SCG.

There are so many stories about Trumper, as there have been about Bradman, both true and apocryphal, that it is difficult to know which is which.

We do know Vic was generous to a fault. That he loved his mother's cooking and his favourite food was toad-in-the-hole. He was said never to have smoked or touched alcohol, nor did he bet. He learnt to play euchre and he became an accomplished pianist. At the Paddington club he became friendly with James Kelly, the Test wicketkeeper.

His friendship with Kelly took him to his greatest partnership, for Kelly was courting the sister of the girl who was destined to become Mrs Victor Trumper. Kelly introduced Victor to Sarah Anne Briggs at Melbourne Station on March 9, 1899. They did not meet again until December 22, 1899, when New South Wales played Victoria in Melbourne, but Victor was hooked. He made many a journey to Melbourne right up until the day he married the girl he always called Annie at St Patrick's Cathedral in the city, on June 7, 1904. Victor was by then the world's best and most charismatic batsman. He and Annie returned to Sydney, where they lived with Victor's parents, first in Paddington then in Chatswood. In 1907, Victor contracted scarlet fever - the beginning of years of ill-health which beleaguered the champion.

Victor began his working life in the New South Wales Government Stores Department. Later he worked in the Probate Office, under the wing of ex-Test cricketer, Tom Garrett, who played in Vic's first State game, for New South Wales versus South Australia.

In 1899, Vic went into partnership with Hanson "Sammy" Carter, the New South Wales and Australia wicketkeeper who doubled as an undertaker, in a sports business. The Trumper and Carter Sports Depot was situated at 108 Market Street, Sydney. By all accounts Victor was a hopeless businessman. He once grabbed a bat off the 7/6d rack after a hectic Saturday morning trading, hit a glorious century for Paddington that afternoon, and on the Monday returned the bat to the rack with the note: "Used bat. Special 3/9d."

Former New South Wales governor Sir William McKell, who once sent me a fading photograph of Trumper, told me that as a boy he once went into Trumper's shop with a few mates. He asked Vic for a real ball, a six-stitcher, but Vic talked the boys out of buying it, saying it would quickly scuff on the asphalt pitches. He advised them to buy the cheaper composition ball. Sir William said over the phone: "Eventually Victor gave us a few balls, a bat, and a pair of pads, a set of stumps and a pair of batting gloves… all this for the cost of the compo ball." No wonder the kids loved him.

Soon Victor lost Carter as a business partner. Sammy - who often used to turn up to Paddington club cricket matches in a horse-drawn hearse - returned to his father's undertaking business. Maybe he was sick of Vic giving away all the profits. But he remained firm friends with Vic.

Victor then teamed with James Giltinan in a cricket depot and mercery business. The pair also figured prominently in the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League. Vic played a few seasons for South Sydney as full back. He twice broke his collarbone, and every time he kicked the ball he had to remove his boot and sock on his right foot and put his double-jointed toe back into place.

Vic was concerned about how rugby union had no practical insurance scheme in place for injured players. When Sydney player Alec Burdon broke his arm in 1907, he spent weeks off work during his rehabilitation, but he received not a penny in compensation from the New South Wales Rugby Union administration.

At that time the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket (formed in 1905) too was riding roughshod over the players. No longer were the players in charge of profits. Trumper found himself fighting a battle on two fronts - cricket and rugby union - and he was in the frame of mind to fight back on behalf of all sportsmen. His fight to help form a breakaway rugby league succeeded, but his clash with cricket officials five years later didn't go quite so well.

Trumper was one of six men (the others were Warwick Armstrong, Vernon Ransford, Hanson Carter, Tibby Cotter and Clem Hill) who refused to tour England in 1912 because the board refused their request to have Frank Laver manage the tour. Before the board was formed in 1905, the players organised tours themselves. They arranged the itinerary, they picked the team and they shared the profits. The board came along and gradually began to loosen the players' hold on purse strings, until eventually the players came to be treated like schoolboys.

Had he lived in another era, Trumper almost certainly would have joined the Chappells and Dennis Lillee in playing World Series cricket. Had he not died so young, he might well have been a successful shop steward before going to bat for the nation as a politician.

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Trumper had a bizarre superstition. While bowlers held no fear for him, the sight of a clergyman wearing a "dog collar" worried the life out of him. Once, the great SF Barnes got Trumper early in his innings and Vic said: "I knew I would not score with all those clergymen in the crowd… "

Clem Hill always maintained that Trumper was only ever really troubled by Barnes, who took a record 49 wickets in a five-Test match series against South Africa in 1913-14. "In the latter stages of his career, Trumper was greatly worried by Barnes. Time and again Trumper left the dressing room saying that he would have a go to try and knock Barnes off. He was determined at last to do or die. But instead there was our champion driven further and further back on to his wicket, and made to play a defensive game. I have seen Barnes bowl to Trumper without an outfield," Hill said.

Despite the presence of more than a few men of the cloth among the spectators at Lord's in June 1899, Trumper and Clem Hill flayed an England attack that included such luminaries as Wilfred Rhodes, Gilbert Jessop and FS Jackson. Hill made 135 and Trumper remained unconquered on 135, his first century, in his second Test match, as Australia amassed a match-winning total of 421.

"Vic was just as likely to get a couple of fours off the first two balls of the day as he was off the last two. But he could not relax at the crease if he saw a clergyman in the crowd" Clem Hill

Watching Trumper's artistry from the non-striker's end, Hill was fascinated as Trumper used his feet time and again to dance down the track and hoist Rhodes' left-arm spin effortlessly over mid-off.

Hill would tell emerging first-class players that "all the bowling came alike to [Vic], and he was just as likely to get a couple of fours off the first two balls of the day as he was off the last two. But he could not relax at the batting crease if he saw a clergyman, either on the way to the wicket or in the crowd while he was out in the middle."

Trumper's first Test match was at Nottingham a few weeks before the Lord's Test of 1899. It was also WG Grace's last Test match appearance. But WG didn't miss Trumper's brilliant 135 at Lord's. Soon after Vic's triumphant return to the Australian dressing room there was an urgent knock on the door. An attendant rushed back to Vic and blurted, "There's a huge, bearded chap at the door demanding to see you, sir." When Vic arrived at the door, there stood the incomparable Grace.

He was holding a bat, the very piece of willow he used in his last Test match at Nottingham a few days before. WG handed Vic his bat bearing the inscription: "From the past champion to the future champion." As far as I am aware that bat remains in the Trumper family.

The genius of Trumper's batting was never better illustrated than by his century before lunch at Old Trafford in 1902. The wicket was rain-affected and the England captain, Archie MacLaren, was delighted when Australian captain Joe Darling won the toss and decided to bat.

MacLaren rushed back to the England dressing room, "It's all right boys, they're batting. The sun's coming out; we only have to keep them quiet to lunch." In the crowd was 12-year-old Neville Cardus, later universally acclaimed the greatest of cricket writers.

As the boy Cardus watched Victor Trumper and Reg Duff walk confidently to the wicket, he said quietly to himself, "Please god, let Victor Trumper score a century today for Australia against England - out of a total of 137 all out!"

Trumper flayed the England attack, which included the wily left-arm spinner Rhodes, Fred Tate, Jackson and William Lockwood. MacLaren did not call upon his fastest bowler, Lockwood, until the score had rushed to 129.

Despite his years as a tearaway fast bowler being behind him, Lockwood was genuinely quick. He was also tough, physically and mentally, having survived being mauled by a shark, the ravages of alcohol, and the tragic and accidental death of his wife and one of his two children. Trumper hooked Lockwood to bring up his century, compiled in 108 minutes. It was the first time any batsman had scored a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match.

When researching my book Trumper: The Illustrated Biography I found brief notes in Vic's personal 1902 diary. On the night of Thursday, July 24, the self-effacing Trumper wrote: "Wet wicket. Fourth Test. Won toss, made 299. Self 104. RAD [Reg Duff] 50. Ist w 135. England 5 for 70. Tate first Test. Fire G Peak and Co." All he wrote about his amazing century before lunch on the first day of the Test was "Self 104".

In the third Test, at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, Vic scored 1 and 62 in Australia's crushing 143-run victory. For a teetotaller, Vic's diary note of July 5, 1902, the last day of that Test, might raise the odd eyebrow: "Hurras. Won match. Glorious. All drunk. Left for Birmingham. Arrived 12pm."

In the wake of Australia's narrow victory in the fourth Test, at Manchester, Vic wrote these words (Saturday, July 26): "Won by three runs. Australia 86, England 120. MacL [MacLaren] 35. Theatre Knowles… glorious time."

As Trumper and Monty Noble stepped out of the theatre that night, there stood a small boy selling sheets of music, shivering in the fog. Light rain began to fall as the Australians' hansom cab arrived at Noble's beckoning. Vic strolled over to the boy, put out his hand and gave the boy enough money to purchase all the sheets of music. He then casually got into the cab without uttering a word to his skipper. The lad shrieked in delight as he skipped down the cobbled alleyway.

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Cardus wrote of Vic: "Trumper will always remain the greatest batsman that ever lived… Trumper's winged batsmanship was seen in the Golden Age of cricket; he was, at his finest, master of some of the greatest bowlers the game has known…

"We make an artist's immortality by thinking upon and loving his work, Trumper was an artist-cricketer; let him live again in the mouths of men whenever Test matches are in action."

Some 13 years after Trumper's death, Australia's new batting phenomenon, Don Bradman, first strode on to the Test match stage. Unlike Trumper, who often threw away his wicket after he completed his century, Bradman upon reaching his first ton would narrow his eyes and set his sights on the next milestone. In contrast to Trumper, whose batting soared majestically like an eagle, Bradman's batting was ruthless, relentless, ever pressing with the efficiency of a giant A380 airliner.

"You no more get an idea of the quality of Trumper's batsmanship by adding up his runs than you will of Shelley's poetry by adding up the number of lines he wrote" Neville Cardus

At the start of his Test career Bradman heard a great deal about Trumper's batsmanship from the players who had played with and against Vic. These men included Alan Kippax, Johnny Moyes, Herbie Collins, Clarrie Grimmett, Charlie Macartney, Hill and Arthur Mailey. Their glowing reports were said to have infuriated cricket's newest batting wonder. Kippax often said within earshot of Bradman that Trumper was undoubtedly the greatest batsman of all time.

Of course, the fact is undeniable that Bradman's Test average of 99.94 makes Trumper's Test average of 39.04 pale into relative insignificance. However, statistics, as Cardus points out, do not tell the whole story of a cricketer's worth: "You 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."

There seems little doubt that Trumper was a greater batsman than Bradman on a wicket ravaged by rain, wind and sun. 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 what was called in those days a "sticky dog". Rhodes took a match haul of 15 for 124, but it was Trumper's mastery on that treacherous wicket that enthralled good judges.

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Anyone who has seen the famous 1905 George Beldam photograph of Trumper jumping out to drive is immediately taken by the power of the movement. It is a strikingly brilliant image for a photograph taken more than a hundred years ago. To many cricket enthusiasts, it is the greatest of all cricket photographs ever taken.

In Arthur Mailey's famous piece about the day he first got the chance to bowl to Trumper, he wrote: "I sat on my bed and looked at Trumper's picture still pinned on the canvas wall. It seemed to be breathing with the movement of the draught between the skirting. I glanced at his bat standing in a corner of the room, then back at the slowly moving picture.

"I just couldn't believe that this to me ethereal and godlike figure could step off a wall, pick up a bat and say quietly, 'Two legs, please, umpire', in my presence. My family, usually undemonstrative and self-possessed, found it difficult to maintain that reserve which, strange as it may seem, was characteristic of my father's Northern Irish heritage.

"'H'm,' said father, 'Playing against Trumper on Saturday. By Jove you'll cop old Harry if you're put on to bowl at him.'

"'Why shouldn't he,' protested mother, 'You'll never know what you can do 'till you try.'"

Mailey's first ball was hard-spun and dipping, but Trumper effortlessly moved down the track and like a cat nailing a mouse he pounced, driving it majestically through the covers to the fence.

His next ball, a wrong'un, defeated the great man, and after the wicketkeeper took off the bails to effect the stumping, Mailey watched his hero depart and his heart sank: "I felt like the boy who had killed a dove."

Trumper's grace and timing were disarming, for the sheer beauty of his movement at the crease disguised the great power in his strokeplay. He had all the shots you can find in the best batting techniques, and some of his own invention. Anyone who marvelled at the way Viv Richards smacked the fastest of full deliveries, aimed at off or outside off stump, past mid-on in a flash, would have loved watching Trumper. The manner in which he drove off his pads in the area from square leg to wide mid-on remains an essential part of the repertoire of all good batsmen to this day. How Trumper would have loved the switch-hitting of David Warner or Glenn Maxwell, and the ramp shot - for it was Trumper's "dog shot", which confounded every fast bowler who faced him in the heat of battle.

In this modern time of reverse swing, even the late inswing at the breakneck pace of Test cricket's Waqar Younis would have held no fear for Trumper, who developed the "dog shot" to dispatch a fast yorker to the square-leg boundary. To execute this shot, he had to judge the speed and the length perfectly. His consistency in playing the "dog shot" exasperated many a fast bowler of his time and he would have loved to have faced Waqar, for late inswing at furious pace was the sort of challenge Vic loved.

Former Victorian and South Australian batsman Johnnie Moyes was selected for the intended Australian tour of South Africa in 1914, but the trip was called off due to the outbreak of the Great War. Moyes was a good judge of the game and the players. He became a prominent writer and broadcaster on cricket and he played in the Victor Trumper Testimonial match. Apparently Vic once believed the umpire had given him a let-off, so, as Moyes told it, "he decided to give us a 'chance'. I saw him, with a flick of the wrists, lift a fast-rising ball from Jack Crawford on to the cycle track, which, in those days, used to encircle the playing area. I saw him vary it by cutting a similar ball for four. In the same over, he jammed down on a fast yorker and turned it away past square leg to the fence."

While the old England batsman CB Fry attempted to define Vic's batting by saying that Trumper played his strokes "with a swing from the wrists which was not a flick but rather, as it were, a stroking effect", others thought differently. Some likened his drives as being similar to a master golfer in that he had fast hands, a high backlift, fluent arc and immaculate follow-through.

It appears Trumper had a computer-like ability to detect the trajectory, length and pace of the ball quicker than anyone else. Does this explain his unrivalled skill on uneven, bumpy, sticky and wet wickets?

Trumper's extraordinary 1902 England summer, where he scored 11 centuries in 2570 runs in 53 innings at an average of 48.49, was all the greater for he batted mostly on soft and sodden pitches where the ball lifted and shot and seamed.

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When Trumper died, Hanson and his father Walter Carter made all the necessary arrangements. Even today bringing the cortege from Chatswood on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour would not be easy. But in 1915 there was no Harbour Bridge, no tunnel. The coffin had to be ferried across the harbour and lifted into another horse-drawn hearse at Circular Quay. Special trams for the hundreds of mourners had to be arranged.

"Trumper's funeral was one of the largest and most impressive ever afforded a sportsman in Australia. Hundreds of cricketers past and present marched four abreast with his body"

An illustrated weekly, the Sydney Mail, was full of the news from Gallipoli, from the epic landing and subsequent operations in the Dardanelles. A single-column photograph and 19 lines was all that Trumper could be given, but it was a feeling tribute. Australia had lost its greatest sporting hero:

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.

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. Hundreds of cricketers past and present marched four abreast with his body to Fort Macquarie, where it was met by hundreds more. Vic 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. Thousands of people stood in silence as the cortege passed and hundreds of others, men, women and children wept openly.

A veteran cricketer of Goulburn, William Walsh, was at Trumper's funeral, and recalled it later: "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. [The Warwick Armstrong of pre-Great War Australia weighed round 10 stone; not yet the 21 stone giant of 1921.] 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."

Victor died of nephritis, a kidney disease that in 1915 was labelled Bright's Disease. While war news took precedence over almost every other happening, news of Trumper's death was emblazoned on the newspaper placards in front of newsstands throughout Australia and in London: "Great Cricketer Dead."

Among the 20,000 mourners lining the funeral route was my grandfather Alexander West, the man who introduced me to cricket. My last big game was against England at Lord's, the Centenary Test of 1980. Kim Hughes hit a sublime century, playing all the strokes imaginable, but for Vic's famous dog shot. Surely this Hughes knock was the very reincarnation of Victor Trumper?

One hundred years after he left the mortal batting crease for the last time Victor Trumper remains an Australian hero, as a cricketer and as a man of strength, humility and never-ending charm.