Bygones - Australia batsman Victor Trumper – a dove that graced the cricketing heavens

TO Arthur Mailey, the great Australian leg-spinner of the inter-war period, belongs one of my favourite passages in cricket literature.

Striding out: Australian cricketers Warwick Armstrong (1879 - 1947), left, and Victor Trumper (1877 - 1915) going out to bat in the First Test against England at Birmingham, 27th  May 1909. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Striding out: Australian cricketers Warwick Armstrong (1879 - 1947), left, and Victor Trumper (1877 - 1915) going out to bat in the First Test against England at Birmingham, 27th May 1909. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mailey was playing in a club game in his native Sydney as a young boy when he came up against the famous batsman Victor Trumper.

This meeting had been nervously anticipated by Mailey – might something happen to prevent his hero from playing in the match (“a war, an earthquake, Trumper might fall sick”), or might Mailey’s captain not bring him on to bowl against the maestro, fearing that the youngster might take a terrible pounding?

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But after Trumper made it safely to the fixture, and after Mailey was indeed brought on to bowl to him, he achieved something beyond his wildest dreams – he had Trumper stumped off the perfect googly.

Austrlian hero: Cricketer Victor Trumper. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Writing in his autobiography, Mailey recalled: “As he walked past he smiled, patted the back of his bat and said, ‘It was too good for me.’

“There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure.

“I felt like a boy who had killed a dove.”

A boy who had killed a dove…

Best until Bradman: Victor Trumper batting at the Oval Cricket Ground. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Have more evocative words been committed to paper?

The dove that Mailey slew was not just a famous batsman, but the greatest in Australian cricket before Don Bradman.

Born 143 years ago today on November 2, 1877, the year of the very first Test match between England and Australia, Trumper was the darling of Down Under, the most brilliant batsman his country had seen.

By the time that he was out-foxed by the wide-eyed Mailey, Trumper’s name was known throughout the cricketing world, his graceful strokeplay universally acclaimed.

The Don: Australia's Sir Donald Bradman invariably tops the polls as the greatest cricketer ever.

He was popular too, the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack noting that “when his name was in everyone’s mouth he remained as modest and unaffected as on the day he first set foot in England”.

That day came in 1899 when Trumper was part of Australia’s touring team.

He made his Test debut in the first game at Trent Bridge – he was out for a duck in his first innings, as some of the greats invariably are.

Trumper made a century in the second Test at Lord’s, his unbeaten 135 helping Australia to a 10-wicket win and ultimately settling a five-match series that ended 1-0.

A middle-order batsman in those earliest years, Trumper had settled into his regular position as an opener by the time that Australia defended the urn with a 4-1 win on home soil in 1901-02.

Later in the 1902 English summer, Trumper played in the only Test match staged at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane.

He made a key contribution of 62 in the second innings as Australia took a low-scoring contest by 143 runs en route to a 2-1 series triumph.

Also in 1902, in the Test at Old Trafford, Trumper became the first man to score a hundred before lunch in a Test match, a feat achieved just five times since.

His finest innings was arguably against England at Sydney in 1903, when his unbeaten 185 did not deserve to be in a losing cause after England’s RE (Tip) Foster made 287 on debut, then the highest individual score in Test cricket.

By common consent, Trumper’s innings was better than Foster’s, the Harrogate-born writer AA Thomson observing: “It was glory, it was wonder. Old men who saw it recall it with tears, and Australians are not easily moved to tears.”

Plum Warner, who captained England in that game, which the tourists won by five wickets on their way to a 3-2 series success, rated Trumper the finest batsman in the world at the time.

Writing in his tour diary, he noted: “Trumper stands alone; he is like no-one, and no-one is like him.

“In repose, he is not exactly a stylist, for as he faces the bowler there is a rather ungainly bending of his right knee, but the moment he gets into position to make his stroke he becomes the most brilliant, the most fascinating, and the most attractive bat I have seen.”

Arthur Mailey said that Trumper was “slightly pigeon-toed in the left foot” and that he had a “springy athletic walk”.

Of Trumper at the crease he remembered “a tendency to shrug his shoulders every few minutes, a habit I understand he developed through trying to loosen his shirt off his shoulders when it became soaked with sweat during his innings”.

In what was never a particularly high-scoring era, Trumper played in 48 Tests, scoring 3,163 runs at an average of 39.04 with eight hundreds.

He hit 42 hundreds in total in a first-class career that brought him 16,939 runs at 44.57.

It is not for his figures, though, that Trumper is chiefly remembered, but largely for an iconic image by the Edwardian photographer George Beldam.

Entitled ‘Jumping Out’, it is perhaps the most famous photo in the game’s history, and it shows Trumper doing exactly that in readiness to play a drive.

A copy of the photo even hung on the hessian partition of a cottage occupied by Arthur Mailey.

It has appeared in more cricket books than have probably been written.

Beldam also put pen to paper on his illustrious subject.

“Rapid as has been his rise to fame, he has been slow to expand in other ways,” he declared when Trumper was at his wondrous peak.

“He is still the same genial, charming fellow, unspoilt by all the worship of the cricket world.

“Long indeed may he live to charm cricketers by his skills, and his friends by his delightful companionship.”

Sadly, Trumper did not live long at all.

He died in 1915, aged 37, of the kidney disorder Bright’s Disease.

Few felt the blow more keenly than Mailey, the boy who had once killed a dove.

He had hero-worshipped Trumper as surely as any Australian youth; he had a picture of the batsman on his bedroom wall.

In his autobiography, Mailey also recalled a charming story that captured his devotion.

“Although at this time I had never seen Trumper play, on occasions I trudged from Waterloo across the Sandhills to the Sydney cricket ground and waited at the gate to watch the players coming out,” he wrote.

“Once I had climbed on a tram and actually sat opposite my hero for three stops.

“I would have gone further but having no money I did not want to take the chance of being kicked in the pants by the conductor.

“Even so I had been taken half a mile out of my way.”

Such was the power and pull of Victor Trumper.

A dove that graced the cricketing skies.

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