“God no doubt could create a better batsman than Victor Trumper if He wished, but so far He hasn’t . . . even Ranji was not so great a match-winner on all wickets.” So ran the emotional words of Neville Cardus, who went further: “Since he accomplished some of his greatest innings in this land, English cricket owes much to his ghost.”
A century on, Sydney schoolteacher Renato Carini adds scientific substance to these views by means of an intensive assessment, the outcome of a very different approach. This chunky volume houses an amazing analysis not only of Trumper’s style and technique but of conditions, match situations, strength of opposition. It is a bulky forensic treatise, a mesmerising book just right for this computerised age.
Trumper’s opening partner Reg Duff, who saw so much of him at close range, was a prime witness to his genius: “If he put his mind to it, there would be no bowler living who could get him out.” This claim is endorsed all the way. J.C.Davis, the pre-eminent Australian cricket writer of his day, wrote that “No man who did not see Trumper in his heyday in the sun can imagine what he was like with the bat.”
Diagrams and graphs are plentiful, interspersed with some riveting, albeit blurry but mostly unfamiliar pictures of Trumper in action. He is shown falling to the audacious “dog stroke”, and batting during the Ashes Test at Sydney in 1904 (his unbeaten 185 is offered as the prime candidate for the greatest innings of all time). Grade cricket performances are here too, notably the 335 he smashed at Redfern Oval. There are even some long shots of play on Paddington’s Hampden Park, a ground later named after Trumper, and where in later years all but the most insensitive grade cricketers experienced a frisson when treading that turf and changing in the same old wooden shed (long gone).
“Trumper bats at Redfern this afternoon” proclaimed signs on Sydney’s trams. The wealth he would have acquired today is beyond estimation.
Pictures of schoolboy Trumper at the front of a Crown Street School first XI group, and holding the ball in the assembled rugby team, are a delight and a surprise since earlier searches had proved fruitless. The amazing analysis continues: tables and graphs that sweep away any reservations about his supremacy. His performances are analysed in a fine detail that only a modern computer buff could achieve, the perfect companion to the adulation in written texts of countless innings that he inspired. And somewhere here, among a fascinating listing of his Sydney grade cricket performances, is to be found the Trumper stumped off Arthur Mailey episode immortalised in Mailey’s book: “I felt like a boy who had killed a dove”.
Chapter 18 is headed What is Great Batting? We leave the grandstand and are taken into the laboratory, where the case is firmly constructed. “Figures prove nothing,” said 1930s Aussie skipper Bill Woodfull contentiously, while comparisons used to annoy Don Bradman, whose Test average was two-and-a-half times Trumper’s. The Don’s aversion to damp and damaged pitches was well known, and he grew tired of the claims on behalf of Trumper, made principally by malcontents such as Jack Fingleton. So it would be interesting to know what the author and his ultra-modern computerised analysis might one day make of Bradman. He might also attempt to assess how either of them would have coped with the day-long West Indies barrage of the 1970/80s, or Trumper against Bodyline. Meanwhile, the author contends that Australia owed more to Trumper, who had fewer great batsmen around him, than to Bradman in his day. That should put the cat among the computerised pigeons.
There have been several biographies of the gracious Trumper, in one of which it was suggested that he was born a Kiwi and out of wedlock. No birth certificate has yet been found, and verification may be beyond even Mr Carini’s computer powers. If true, and had the beloved Victor remained in New Zealand, his name would mean nothing today, and there would be no Trumper books, anecdotes or analyses on our shelves. Unthinkable.
Review by David Frith