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Albert Trott – A brilliant yet ill-fated all-rounder

Albert Trott © Getty Images
Albert Trott took 26 wickets at 15.00 and scored 228 runs at 38.00 in five Tests for both Australia and England © Getty Images

Albert Trott, born February 6, 1873, was a hugely successful all-rounder in the few Tests he played, represented both Australia and England and enjoyed a fantastic career for Middlesex. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was one of the most loved cricketers during the turn of the last century.

Albert Trott was prone to be forgetful.

The tall, sturdy medium-pacer with vicious break-backs even forgot himself during his benefit match in 1907. That day, playing for Middlesex against Somerset at Lord’s, he captured four wickets in four balls and followed it up with a hat-trick. He thus ended the match ridiculously early — a rather inadvisable thing to do given that it was an age when spectators were prone to come in huge numbers in order to raise good money for the beneficiary. Oblivious about his financial loss, Trott went down as the first bowler in the history of First-Class cricket to claim two hat-tricks in one innings. His famous quote after the match was: “I’ve bowled myself into a workhouse!”

However, when chosen to play for Australia, he did not forget his experience against South Australia in early 1895. Bowling at Adelaide, he had been mercilessly hammered by George Giffen in the second innings . Smarting under the figures of two for 111, Trott realised he was bowling too straight. He set up a cut-out of a batsman on the pitch,  named it ‘George Giffen’ and bowled tirelessly, cutting the ball back between the inside edge and pads.

Trott had been discovered a few years earlier by Dr John Barrett, the left-handed batsman who carried his bat through an Australia innings at Lord’s in 1890. At South Melbourne, during net practice, Barrett suggested that Trott should settle down and break the ball only in one direction instead of mixing them up and sacrificing accuracy. In response, Trott tried a leg-break which flew away over the top of the net. The following ball was an off-break which uprooted Barret’s leg-stump.

Having made his debut for Victoria two seasons earlier, Trott captured seven for 85 against Tasmania in 1894-95 to secure his place in the Test side. And after the Giffen hammering, he spent hours to chisel his skills to perfection before he took the field for Australia.

Brother Harry Trott, brilliant batsman and canny leg-spinner, was already an established member of the side. Albert Trott made his debut at Adelaide as the home team took on Andrew Stoddart’s England in the third Test of the 1894-95 series.

Dream debut

Australia were down 2-0, having lost the most incredible first Test when England came back after following on to beat them in a thriller. And now, as the hosts batted to stay in the series, the temperatures soared over 40 degrees on the Celsius scale.

In spite of the heat, Tom Richardson ran in gallantly, bowling fast and accurate. Most of the Englishmen suffered in the sun, but gave their all as they bowled and fielded. Trott had spent hours in the dressing room, teeth chattering and body shaking with nervous tension. He had entered at the fall of the eighth wicket. When skipper Giffen was sent back with the score on 157, he was yet to open his account.

Now, with Sydney Callaway, Trott frustrated the Englishmen in that sweltering heat. The last pair batted for an hour and ten minutes, with grit, application and common sense. Fearsome Bill Lockwood charged in and Trott picked him off his slatted pads and hit him high over the leg field into a buggy in the driveway. The fiery Richardson was driven down the ground and five runs were scampered.

By the time Richardson had bowled Callaway for 41, as many as 81 runs had been added for the last wicket. Trott walked back unconquered on 38.

In the first innings Trott was called upon to bowl only three overs. Giffen and Callaway then shared the bulk of the bowling as well as the wickets.

Under the newly minted rule, Australia would have had to enforce follow-on if the lead was 120 or more. Bowling twice in quick succession under that tyrannical sun could have been fatal, and the first Test had shown England that following on was not necessarily a disadvantage. However, Stoddart did not approve of such gamesmanship. “We are going to play the game and get every run we can,” he announced. England scored 124, conceding a lead of 114.When Australia batted again, Trott found himself fielding as a substitute for England because Lockwood had split a finger.

The  second innings was prolonged torment for the Englishmen. As the bowlers and fielders went crazy under the sun, William Bruce struck 80 in good time. Frank Iredale batted four hours for 140, adding 64 with Trott. And when Iredale left, Trott and Callaway put on another 64 runs for the last wicket. Again Richardson uprooted the stumps of Callaway to end the innings, but Trott remained unbeaten with 72, scored in an immensely entertaining and adventurous period of one and a half hours.

The 411 run second innings total finished off the Englishmen for good. According to Giffen, “While most of us were in our element, the Englishmen were almost prostrated. Some of them took two or three shower-baths during the night, which, of course, was the worst thing they could have done.”

And now came the climax of the most amazing debut.

This time Trott was persisted with and broke the opening partnership at 52 when Archie MacLaren holed out in the deep field. Almost immediately after that, he bowled the limpet-like Albert Ward with one of his perfected break-backs.

The next morning, only captain Stoddart stood at one end while Trott ran through the innings, cutting balls back into the batsmen and cleaning them up one after the other. The Victorian bowler finished with figures of 27-10-43-8. Trott and Giffen were borne from the field on the shoulders of admirers. The young man earned a guinea a wicket from one admirer and a loaf of bread from another.

This performance remains unmatched by any debutant in Test cricket.

The Argus depicted ‘Saint Albert Trott’ as a stained-glass window, while a versifier wrote the following lines in The Kangaroo for Andrew Stoddart:

“You didn’t expect it, my sonny?

Yet, truly complain you must not;

For you wanted ‘a run’ for your money

And complying I gave you ‘a trott’!”

The match ball was presented to the rookie all-rounder. England skipper Stoddart said, “I can’t help congratulating our young friend Trott. I rather credit myself for having, on the first occasion I saw him play, said he would be one of the finest cricketers Australia has ever seen. I hope Mr Trott will visit England — at least I hope he will not! — but if he does come we are always pleased to welcome cricketers such as he.”

Overlooked

Alas, he did go to England but not as a member of the Australian side.

Trott repeated the magic at Sydney, coming in at 119 for seven and hammering an unbeaten 85. This time Richardson felled him as soon as he had come in, and he was laid out for a good minute or two. But, as anxious Englishmen gathered around him, he got up and continued on his exploits. He followed it up with three first innings wickets with his leg-spin as England were dismissed for 65.

In the decider at Melbourne, however, Trott’s form ran out and he scored 10 and zero while picking up just one wicket in the match. England won by six wickets to clinch the series 3-2.

In spite of his brilliance and the general consensus that a bright future awaited him, Trott was inexplicably overlooked when the side to tour England was chosen in 1896. The captain of the touring side was none other than his brother Harry Trott, and to this day it is not quite clear why the supremely promising all-rounder was not considered.

He did travel to Ole Blighty, but as a free mercenary. Jim Phillips was an umpire who travelled the two countries and the famous weapon in the scourge against throwing. He also doubled up as an effective talent scout for the English counties. It was riding on the encouragement of Phillips that Trott reached the shores of England. He travelled on the same ship as the touring Australians and played with them against Ceylon. But, he never played for his country again.

Middlesex was the lucky county that welcomed him with open arms. There he joined Stoddart and the others in a fruitful associationthat lasted for 14 years. However, before commencing his career at Lord’s, he stayed with a family friend Queen’s Park, Brighton. Already engaged as ground staff at Lord’s, he was not permitted to play elsewhere. But, he did earn some additional money by turning out for the Sussex Club Lindfield under an assumed name.

Trott was engaged for 30 shillings a week, plus £5 for a First-Class match and £3 for a second class game.

That season he once again took the field for Australia, substituting for Harry Donnan at Lord’s. But, that was just a passing event. Later Patsy Hendren wrote that when the two brothers, Harry and Albert passed each other in Oxford Street, Harry called out, “Hullo, you young beggar.” Albert answered, “Hullo.” After that they kept walking in opposite directions.

In the first year, Trott played in England during the summer and for East Melbourne after the English season. In 1897 he married Jessie Alveleton Rice, and sailed for England three days after the ceremony. The passage was generously paid for by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC); and the young couple travelled in first class.

The next winter Trott found employment in Johannesburg, playing for Wanderers, taking 10 for 22 against Pirates, and following it up with another haul of eight for eight. He also displayed his batting skills with a score of 215 not out.

In 1898, he captured eight for 83 for Middlesex against Nottinghamshire. Turning out for MCC, he took 10 for 49 against Oxfordshire and 10 for 19 against a Devonshire Park XII. Lord Hawke immediately recruited his services for the tour of South Africa in 1898-99.

Tests again

Thus Trott added two more Test caps. He scored just 23 in his four innings but captured nine wickets at Johannesburg and eight more at Cape Town. Thus his Test career ended with 26 wickets at 14.96 and 228 runs at 38.00. Plum Warner called him the best bowler of the world.

In the official team photograph he sat resplendent in his blazer and straw boater, beside Lord Hawke. It was quite evident that he had started to enjoy his life outside the Australian XI.

Trott also excelled at speaking at the Graaf-Reinet CC dinner and proved himself the best fisherman in the side. He dressed up as a Russian Orthodox priest for the fancy-dress party on the ship back to England andalso cut a dash on the dance floor.

The good times continued. In 1899, Trott scored 1175 runs and captured 239 wickets. When the Australians arrived, he gave vent to his feelings about his native land by hitting Monty Noble over the Lord’s pavilion. It has been suggested that Trott loathed Noble, identifying him as the main cause of his omission from the 1896 tour. As the ball was dispatched heavenwards, Trott was seen putting a hand to his forehead and peering with amused delight as his shot achieved its end. The ball bounced on the reverse slope of the Lord’s pavilion roof, struck a chimney pot, and toppled down into a garden on the other side.

Earlier in the season, Trott had launched a bigger hit off Fred Tate that was still climbing as it cannoned into the MCC emblem on the left-hand tower. Against Yorkshire, he scored 164, the last 137 coming off 90 minutes, two blows landing on the top balcony of the pavilion, several others striking the old Tavern.

He repeated the feat of 1000 runs and 200 wickets in 1900. By then he was the chief attraction in the county circuit  — aggressive, uninhibited, entertaining. He would break into frequent guffaws on outwitting a batsman. One of his opponents broadcast his opinion that Trott was overrated. He was handed a folded piece of paper and told not to read it till he was dismissed. Trott’s first ball hit him in the stomach, the second went past a wild swing, and the third removed the middle stump. On his way back, the batsman read the note. It said, “Trott to receive £5 if he hits you first ball, gives you one you cannot hit, and clean bowls you in the first over. Is he a good bowler?”

A complex man

Trott was destined to play fewer Test matches than brother Harry, but arguably made a bigger mark on the game. His cricket was played in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England. In the mother country his batting, and more particularly his bowling, astonished cricket lovers around the turn of the century.

Blessed with Oriental eyes and scrupulous about his spreading moustache, Trott seemed earmarked for stardom from his teens. He trained assiduously, and his vast hands delivered every ball known to man, often during the course of a single over. He could dig the ball short and generate lift during an era when bouncers were few. He could move it either way in the air and off the pitch. His yorker was called a ‘dreaded beast of a ball’. And his slower ball could make the best of them look ridiculous. He could lower his arm and impart body-check, making the ball swerve away alarmingly towards the slip before cutting back towards the stumps. It resembled baseball pitcher’s action, and not by coincidence as Trott had played the game. He could produce disconcerting pace. One of his swifter deliveries in Melbourne killed a swallow.

As a fielder he was a century ahead of his time. In the outfield he would slide into the ball, pick up and throw  in one action, something that became fashionable in the 1990s.

In the dressing room of Middlesex, he revelled in bamboozling the newcomers by spinning a lacrosse ball in all sorts of ways, sometimes making it leap up and hit the unsuspecting on the nose. Often it bounced back, going back in the direction from which it came.

Almost all who played with him had some anecdote to remember. Wilfred Rhodes recalled how Trott would mimic his Yorkshire accent. Once while on train in France, Warner asked him about the next stop. Trott responded, “Prix, you fool.” He had read the French word for ‘price’ on his ticket and pronounced it ‘pricks’.

“He had a heart of gold and was as simple as a child,” Warner recalled.

In a match for the Players against the Gentlemen in 1903, wicketkeeper Herbert Strudwick asked him how he signalled his faster ball. Trott replied he didn’t. The stumper was confused. How would he be able to find it? Trott growled, “That’s all right. You’ll soon find it.” Strudwick stood up to the stumps for all but express bowling. He wrote years later about Trott’s extra-fast ball:

“In his third over he tried to bowl a fast yorker. I did not see much of the ball. It came in between the batsman’s legs and the leg stump, and hit me full toss plumb on the left foot. It was awfully painful and it made me hop. Trott came up to me, laughing all over his face, and said, ‘Did you find it?’”

Trot could be stern too. Once he threw a dandified Middlesex player across his knee and spanked him with a hairbrush after the victim had lost the match through careless fielding. He hated the donkey drops, the huge flighted leg-breaks that were sometimes bowled during that era. He countered the ploy by smashing them straight at the terrified wicketkeepers. Asked if he had ever hit a ’keeper this way, Trott answered, “Yeah, and bloody near killed them.”

Popularly known as ‘Albatrott’ in England, he loved the game with his heart. And he would have played much longer had it not been for his fascination for amber.

With the years, his profile spread more and more, aided by generous tumblers of beer. He often stood at the boundary, taking long pulls out of glasses handed out by the admiring fans among the crowd. When a wicket fell, Trott would take off for a pint of ale or a tot of whisky, and doting spectators would always be at hand to supply him with his flow of liquids. With time and drink, his health grew unsound, his bowling embarrassingly ineffective and batting average came sliding down.

Trott could not resist pranks any more than he could resist his drink. Henry Bates, a bloke who played twice for Middlesex in 1909, introduced the trick of spitting pellets at umpires and batsmen. Trott immediately went one better, filling his mouth with a dozen pellets at a time, firing them off in all directions in a messy fusillade.

Middlesex wicketkeeper and fellow alcoholic Gregor McGregor summed it up when he told Trott: “What a pity you haven’t got a head instead of a turnip. You’d be the best bowler in the world.”

Melancholy days

Despite his fun-loving nature, Trott’s soul suffered from sadness — partly induced by addiction to dropsy. In 1907, he was interviewed by the police regarding his relations with a Taunton woman who had been murdered. Trott was not really a serious suspect, but used to call upon this woman who had a distinctly scarlet reputation. By then his own marriage has fallen apart in spite of there being two children.

He was also prone to gambling. Lord Hawke recalled his antics in South Africa, “Albert Trott had quaint ways. He came to me one day and asked if he could have some money advanced to him to send to his brother in Australia. I complied, but that money undoubtedly went to a bookie in Cape Town. At Johannesburg, ‘Alberto’ repeated the same tactics. I answered I would send it if he gave me his brother’s address. I never received it.”

After playing his last match for Middlesex in 1910, Trott tried his hand at umpiring. Random photographs from 1911 to 1913 show him in a long white coat, often in his favoured wide-brimmed sunhat or Stetson, moustache drooping on the features of a man looking considerably older than he actually was.

The final minor games he played really wore him down physically and mentally. Henry Grierson remembered a match in 1911: “I was trying to bowl swingers with the leg side packed and poor Albert was in dreadful trouble with them. Finally he walked towards point, leaving the sticks clear on the leg side, quite happy when he was bowled behind his back. When we commiserated with him on bagging a brace, Trott said, ‘That’s all right, sir, and it’s the third pair I’ve got this season.’ Rather pathetic from a man who, only a few yeas before, could hit us all into the pavilion at will.”

Yes, it was a sad state for one who had 10,694 runs and 1,674 wickets in First-Class cricket.

Dropsy and alcohol made his health deteriorate till he had to give up the rigours of umpiring during the 1914 season. For the last two and a half years of his life Trott lodged in Denbigh Road, Willesden, in a house that has since then been demolished. It was run by a Mrs Mary Crowhurst.

In late 1913, he was shaken by the news of the death of his father back in Australia. Due to the resulting heart condition, complicated by nephralgia, the 41-year-old Trott had to be admitted in St Mary’s Hospital in July 1914. After eight days of tedium, Trott insisted on going home. The cab fare was paid by a hospital orderly.

On his return he requested his landlady to get him a sleeping draught from the chemist. When the chemist refused, Trott was anguished. He exclaimed to Mrs Crowhurst, “Oh dear, I can never go through another night.”

That afternoon, scribbling his will at the back of a laundry ticket, he left his wardrobe and £4 in cash to Mrs.Crowhurst and some photographs to a friend in Australia. This last act did not slip his forgetful mind.

Following this he shot himself with his Browning pistol.

There is a plot in Willesden cemetery, West London, that is forever Australia. Beneath the forlorn tumulus, it was marked only with a peg showing ‘P613’ until Middlesex CCC erected a headstone in 1994. There lies the body of Albert Trott, the ill-fated all-rounder.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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