Victor Trumper © Getty images
Victor Trumper (above) made his debut in WG Grace’s last Test match © Getty Images

On the occasion of Victor Trumper’s birthday, Arunabha Sengupta recounts his delightful maiden hundred in Test cricket, scored on June 17, 1899. Also recalled are two touching incidents that took place just before and just after the innings.

The First and the Last

The previous Test at Nottingham had been WG Grace’s last ever appearance for England. In a delightful passing of the baton of batsmanship, it had also been Victor Trumper’s debut. Seldom has the start and swansong of two such sublime greats coincided so poetically in the history of cricket.

However, neither did much to mark what history would celebrate as the grandest of occasions.

Trumper batted at No 5 and was bowled in both the innings, by JT Hearne for a duck and by Stanley Jackson for 11.

Grace went in first, as usual, reminding partner CB Fry that at 51 he was not a sprinter like him. He managed 28 in the first innings. Plenty of singles were refused and no twos were taken in the innings. Monty Noble got him caught at the wicket after a rather dismal struggle. In the second knock, Harry Howell hit his stumps with Grace on one, and the grand old man walked back for the last time.

On the train back to London, Grace turned to Jackson and said, “It’s all over, Jacker, I shan’t play again.” The ground, he said, was getting too far away from him.

And he did not play again for England. That landmark Test, the first ever at Trent Bridge which also marked the debut of Wilfred Rhodes, indeed remained Grace’s last match for England. Jackson led the team on the morning of the Lord’s Test and won the toss. Ernie Jones, wearing a shirt specially tailored by CB Fry, ran in at furious pace and knocked them over for 206. After a shaky startduring which they lost captain Joe Darling and fellow opener Jack Worrall, Clem Hill and Noble made merry to end the day at 156 for three.

One good turn and a gem

That night found Trumper walking around Piccadilly Circus in a drizzle, thinking about the innings he would play the next day. And as his young eyes swallowed the sights of the London streets, his gaze fell on a young lad selling sheet-music. The boy was drenched and stood shivering in a doorway.

No wonder Trumper is remembered as the noble knight who delighted the cricketing world during his days. His heart was as big as his stature as a batsman would prove to be. It was in the right place as well.

He called the boy over, bought his entire stock and asked him to go home. “Get dry and go to sleep.”

The next day Hill continued on his counterattacking ways, pugnacious, left-handed and effective. He made 135, a superb innings, and then the field was all Trumper’s.

His drives through the off and the on were sweet and imperious at the same time. He never seemed to hit them hard, the timing exquisite as it would remain right through his career. The cuts and leg glances were delightful as well, but his specialties were the deflections from the stumps off fast balls that sped towards the leg boundary in front of square. There was a supple lissom grace and a graceful flick of the wrist in everything that he did at the crease. And all the strokes were along the ground.

According to Francis Iredale, “When Trumper came forth into the cricket firmament, and played his game, no one knew what to think.”

Dick Lilley, standing behind the stumps, declared that he was “undoubtedly the greatest Australian batsman I have ever seen.”

Harry Altham observed, although a couple of decades later and hence prone to hyperbole, “Before Trumper had been batting even for half an hour, it was obvious that a star of unsurpassed brilliance had joined the cluster of the Southern Cross.”

Even Beatrice Summer, the formidable wife of CB Fry, wrote a magazine article about him gushing about his healthy pink skin and small, keen, bright eyes. According to the lady, Trumper used his bat as Paganini did his violin.

However, the biggest praise was much more down to earth and came from the Australian captain Joe Darling. When Trumper returned at the end of the innings, unconquered at 135, the skipper merely observed, “And I thought I could bat.”

Jones picked up three wickets in the second essay and Australia won by an innings.

But the most poignant moment came at the end of the match.

The great WG himself came into the Australian rooms and asked for a bat signed by Trumper. When the dazed young hero obliged, Grace handed him a signed one of his own in exchange with the words, “From today’s champion to the champion of tomorrow.”

Brief scores:

England 206 (Stanley Jackson 73; Ernie Jones 7 for 88) and 248 (Tom Hayward 77, Archie MacLaren 88*) lost to Australia 421 (Clem Hill 135, Monty Noble 54, Victor Trumper 135*) and 28 for no loss by 10 wickets.

(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)