From confabs with ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly at the Pineapple Hotel to a little known net’s session between Ian Chappell and Shane Warne, Ashley Mallett’s The Magic of Spin is one of those impossible-to-put-down books which will delight again and again.
Hard-spinning, dipping deliveries just above the eye level have been sorting out even the most confident and sure-footed batsmen for years, he says.
Mallett mixes ‘skin care’ advice for sore and split spinning fingers with an array of insightful essays on 40 of the most prominent of all Australian spin bowlers.
Mallett’s 100 Test wickets came even quicker than Shane Warne’s first 100… on a balls bowled basis. He may have taken 200 but for the presence of Lillee and Thomson.
His intimate knowledge of many of the bowlers, especially his WA-mate Terry Jenner, the only Australian cricketer to be jailed and meetings with O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett, the two outstanding Australian spinners between-the-wars makes this latest offering maybe his most rewarding yet.
He and O’Reilly chatted over a few beers near the ‘Gabba, after finishing their Test duties one day in the early ‘80s.
In 1925 the young Tiger had bowled to Don Bradman in highland town Wingello (not Bowral), the teenage starlet making 234 on a tiny sloping ground which would have made O’Reilly look like a giant.
Their reminiscing is a sheer delight, the Tiger being one of the great personalities of them all.
A lesser-known meeting was between a 52-year-old Ian Chappell and Test spin star Warne in Adelaide one afternoon.
Like a Neil Harvey, Chappelli was renowned for his dancing feet and was always telling a young Warne that he’d always have to employ a deep fielder at cow corner against him.
The two had chatted over a cordial at Augusta late one night, Warne insisting he wouldn’t need a deep mid-wicket and Chappelli sure that he did.
He may have been long retired but Chappell was still a fine player and had a 20-minute indoor session against Warne and Brad Hogg in Adelaide one afternoon.
Warne bowled mainly hard spun leg breaks aimed at middle and leg stump, limiting Chappell’s ability to play his favorite off and cover drives. Afterwards he quipped: ‘You are allowed to go up in the air around off stump you know…’
‘No way,’ came the reply. ‘I’ve seen your cover droves off Hoggie.’
It was a master-class, said Chappell. ‘Warnie had the ability to quickly notice a batsman’s strengths and weaknesses. Importantly he also had the rare skill to then land the ball where he wanted to in order to take advantage of his observations.’
Chappell provides the foreword and said Mallett, like Warne, was at his best when cornered. ‘The better the batsmen, the better he bowled,’ he said.
The Magic of Spin is not without its errors: the MCC toured in 1946-47 (not 1945-46) and Cec Pepper made 2000 runs in a bush season (not 200).
But the pace of the book and the anecdotes and homespun philosophies are most rewarding. It’s a pity it wasn’t released as a hardback.
Having just visited the main Dymocks bookstall in Adelaide and seen dozens of the new Mallett book on display, I have no doubt that it will be a Christmas best seller. And deservedly so.