Monday, 27 November 2017

Book Review - Clarrie Grimmett: the Bradman of Spin by Ashely Mallett

Clarrie Grimmett : the Bradman of Spin by Ashley Mallett

St. Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2003     ISBN 0702225312

Don Bradman looms like a colossus over pre-war Australian cricket history. His legacy is so great that it overshadows much of what occurred between the Wars. The casual cricket fan may have heard of Woodfull and McCabe thanks to Bodyline, and maybe "Tiger" O'Reilly, but most other players have subsided into oblivion. This serviceable biography by former Australian spinner Ashley Mallett reminds the reader that Clarence Victor Grimmett was one of the true greats of the game.

In fact Mallett, through statistical analysis, shows that Grimmett could indeed be said to be the Bradman of bowling. His test record is indeed extraordinary: in a mere 37 test matches he snared 216 wickets, grabbing 5 wickets in an innings 21 times and 10 wickets in a match 7 times. He achieved the "bowler's century" (5-for), every 1.76 tests. Bradman scored a ton every 1.79 tests.

Scyld Berry, in his book Cricket : the game of life, notes how cricket writing generally discusses batting in positive language and bowling in negative, and it would seem that to be the Bradman of spin when Bradman himself was playing was to be relegated to the second rank in the thoughts of history. This is not to claim that Grimmett wasn't viewed as a star during his career - no less a person than King George V chatted amiably with "Clarrie" and asked him to show him how to spin the ball.

Grimmett was born in New Zealand, and it was his burning desire to play cricket at the highest level that drew him "over the pond" to Australia in 1914. He landed in Sydney and soon was impressing in District ranks. However at State level the great Arthur Mailey ruled the spinner's roost, so Clarrie moved South to Victoria. He spent several very successful seasons playing for South Melbourne and Prahran, but - not for the first or last time in his career - cricket politics crueled his ability to play for his State. South Australia saw an opportunity, and lured him to Adelaide with an offer of a job. Adelaide became Grimmett's home for the rest of his life, and South Australia the State for which he took the majority of his 1424 first-class wickets (from 248 matches).

His bowling must have been something to see - his stock legspinner was deadly accurate, his variations in pace hard to pick, and his topspinner trapped many great batsmen lbw. With his peculiar round-arm action, and his habit of wearing his cap while bowling, he seemed an old-school cricketer. In many ways he was: his first-class career spanned the years 1911-1941, he bowled early in his career to the great Victor Trumper and by the end of his career he was witnessing the growth of the team that would become "The Invincibles". Grimmett was a late bloomer, playing his first test at 33 years of age, and at his last he was 45. In his last test he took 13 wickets, so the shock in the country when he was not selected for Australia's next series was severe. Grimmett himself was stunned but, as was his way, never publicly showed it. Mallett does point out that Grimmett probably held Bradman to blame for his relegation and his retaliation was to always place Bradman's place in the batting pantheon below other greats such as Trumper, and some others such as Jackson.

Mallett describes a man who lived for bowling, having his own pitch in his backyard in Adelaide, where he honed his skills hour after hour. Unlike his great bowling partner O'Reilly, Clarrie was quiet on the field: only the glint in his eyes would betray his glee on getting another scalp.

Although this book was published in 2003, Mallett makes no mention of Shane Warne, the recent great who surely brings to mind how spectators must have felt watching Grimmett bowl. The absolute control of his skill, the ability not only to create a plan for a batsman's demise, but to carry it out, and the creation of an aura that sometimes was all that was needed to get a wicket, would have been great to watch, and fearsome to face.

Mallett has a solid journalistic style, and his research is solid. The best parts of this book are the quotations from contemporaneous sources, which go some way to giving a 21st century reader an idea of what it was like to see Grimmett bowl and to face him as a batsman.

For the historian of cricket, this book is worth reading.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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