The challenge for cricket authors to write, entertain and inform is ongoing. Just how do you give your book bestselling appeal, one that simply can’t be put down?
It was while pushing the third and heaviest of three crates containing 51 boxes of cricketana uphill to our garage that my wife Susan started shaking her head and seriously pondering my sanity. Again.
My acquisition of a mammoth collection of books, ephemera, photographs, posters and pamphlets lovingly collected over a lifetime by Bradman disciple Gordon Vidler in northern New South Wales was a once-in-a-lifetime treasure trove.
It took weeks to unpack and assess.
The books and magazines were amazing and included a run of the ever-so-rare issues of the 1924-25 Australian Cricketer which I’d heard about but never seen, not even in the great libraries at the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds.
The Depression-era catalogues from some of the champion Australian cricketers like Alan Kippax and Bert Oldfield, the cigarette and trade cards, the Walkers Studios originals — and all the Don Bradman photographs and assorted material… it was a stunning treasure trove.
A Pictorial History of Australian Test Cricket was born then and there and the five subsequent years it has taken to publish this pictorial history with a difference have flown.
As a writer and cricket collector of 50 years standing, I fully realised no sport has been more photographed.
To truly interest even the most committed collectors, my pictorial history needed to be different, exciting and adventurous and include many images never before published in book form.
With the assistance of fellow cricket buffs both in Australia and England, my book, with all its tangents, will hopefully delight and entertain even those with libraries like me spilling from one room into two or three.
Rare images and colourful postcards, letters, badges and blotters are part of what I am hoping is an irresistible collection which sets a new benchmark in sporting pictorials.
Old panoramic images from The Australasian, including one of Ernie Jones about to pitch one at Tom Hayward in Sydney underline just why Prince Ranjitsinhji, among many, were indignant at the legality of Jonah’s action. It’s reproduced in sepia over two large pages and is simply magnificent.
By chance I met Geoff Spring, the grandson of ‘The Father of NSW Cricket’ Syd Smith jnr who had inherited an old trunk containing his grandfather’s papers including priceless letters from 1912 when ‘The Big Six’ including Trumper, Hill and Armstrong abdicated in a critical powerplay the players emphatically lost to the fledging Australian Cricket Board.
A brawl between the Australian captain (Clem Hill) and a co-selector (Peter McAlister) at a Saturday night selection meeting in Sydney detonated one of the most sensational chapters in Australian cricket.
A never-before-published letter from Victorian official Ernie Bean to Smith saying how Hill had come to Sydney ‘to get even with Peter’ was part of the Smith collection and kindly lent, amongst many gems.
Bodyline series postcards from the Melbourne Herald-Sun belonging to one of Australia’s largest current collectors Gerard Conlan are displayed over three pages from Bradman’s pull shot for his solitary century of 1932-33 through to captain Bill Woodfull being carried off by joyous members of the Melbourne public after Australia’s only win of the most acrimonious Ashes series of all.
Len Darling’s daughter, Elaine, shared an image of her Dad and the 1934 touring team to the UK on board the SS Orford with members of the Australian Davis Cup team. ‘Dad said it was like New Year’s Eve every night,’ she said.
A dramatic image of Frank Tyson being downed by a sliding Ray Lindwall bouncer in Sydney so triggered the Typhoon’s wrath that he took 25 wickets in three Tests to re-wrest the Ashes for an ecstatic Len Hutton.
In the commentary to the 1950s chapter I asked Frank how angry he was at receiving a bouncer from a fellow fast bowler.
‘Very,’ he said.
‘Did Ray ever apologise?’
Among many favourite post-war pictures from the Vidler collection is one of Richie Benaud and a beaming Frank Worrell, with beer in hand, enjoying each other’s company during the fabled 1960-61 Calypso summer.
Benaud was hailed as a Messiah for helping lift the game out of the doldrums, yet two years later, the burden of the Ashes saw him reject Ted Dexter’s offer of chasing 240 in even time on the final day of a tedious summer in Sydney.
There are almost 400 images in the book, some unique, many rare, plus assorted gems like Monty Noble’s resignation letter and Tip Foster’s diary of the famous turn-of-the-Century Test match in which he made his epic 287.
Close to print day, I was able to embellish the back cover of the book with a rare photograph of the Melbourne Cricket Club’s Old Pavilion around the time of the first Test match, 140 years ago. A friend had heard about my project and wondered if the picture could be handy. Sometimes you can get lucky.