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Ashes Heroes-Part 7- Victor Trumper

6 min read

Victor Trumper was an angel born into mankind. He was the epitome of a good-boy. Good sober looks, Clean Shaven (considered boyish in those days of showing manliness by sporting a lot of facial hair), supple and graceful in all the moments yet not effeminate, and above all, never hurting anybody by word or deed. No doubt, he was often taken advantage of. He was an idol to the Englishman Sir Neville Cardus, the greatest cricket writer of all times. Cardus, as the famous story goes, would pray before the match day, “Let Australia be all- out for 124, but Let Victor Trumper score a century.” Trumper once nearly obliged Cardus’ boyish prayer, by scoring 74 out of Australia’s 122, but more about that later.

Ashes Hero_Trumer
Ashes Hero_Trumer
Trumper was born in Sydney, on November 2, 1877, but had a tough childhood, as he was born to his parents out of the “wedlock”. Yet he didn’t let that bad childhood affect his grown-up life, and all his life, he only pleased people. Cardus, who had a similar birth story, was Trumper’s junior by ten and a half years, and was his greatest admirer. Writing about Trumper is incomplete without quoting Cardus’ lyrical description of his batting. Cardus says,
“His stance was relaxed, but watchful, a panther ready to spring. Yet this panther simile suggests a certain cruelty and hungriness. Trumper scored his runs generously, as though out of an abundance of them in his possession. He, so to say, donated runs over the field, bestowing them like precious jewels to us, to the crowd, to the bowlers even. He wasn’t, as Bradman was, a killer. His strokes didn’t stun or insult a bowler.
I have seen bowlers applaud the glory of Trumper’s strokes; he put them, with the rest of us, under an enchantment. Do I exaggerate? I confess that whenever I write about Trumper I am in danger of exhausting a store of superlatives. “
Trumper was the last-minute addition to the Australian squad of 1899 Ashes. Allowed to tour the “mother country” at a remuneration which was half the amount each of the rest of the team members. Yet he went. And the 22-year-old rookie had not done himself a favour by scoring 0 and 11 in his very first game in Nottingham. Yet, skipper Monty Noble, an astute judge of talent persisted with him for the second test at Lord’s.
At Lord’s, England Mustered up 206, riding on the partnership between Hon. F S Jackson (who later was the Governor of Bengal Presidency in India, and was to survive an assassination attempt by the Bengali female revolutionary student Bina Das at the Presidency College Convocation 33 years later) and the hard hitting Gilbert Jessop. Australia had a solid start, with Noble and Clem Hill adding 130 for the fourth wicket. In walked Trumper and added a further 82 with Hill, When Hill fell, Trumper actually took the role we have seen S. Waugh play so often, and Steve Smith played in the last test at Lord’s. Successfully farming the strike, and yet scoring at a fair clip, he went on to score an unbeaten 135, taking the Australian score to 421. Incidentally, Hill too had made 135 in the innings, but both had played in very contrasting styles. While Hill was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, Trumper sparkled, and set Lord’s aglow. His innings was punctuated with 20 gorgeous hits to the fence. Australia went on to win the test by 10 wickets, and Victor Trumper had arrived!
Trumper further evolved in the English season of 1902, showing amazing skill on difficult wickets. On ‘sticky’ wickets he hit with ease, whilst everybody else were totally at sea and content if they could keep up their wickets.
Harry Altham wrote: “From start to finish of the season, on every sort of wicket, against every sort of bowling, Trumper entranced the eye, inspired his side, demoralized his enemies, and made run-getting appear the easiest thing in the world.”
Monty Noble had no hesitation in calling him the world’s greatest batsman, a genius without compare.
He scored 18 and 14 in the first test and did not bat in the second test. In the third test he made 1 and 62.
In the fourth test, in arguably his greatest innings, he became the first player to achieve the very rare feat of making a century on the first morning of a Test match, scoring 103 before lunch against England at Old Trafford. He only scored 4 in the second innings. In the final test, narrowly won by England, he scored 42 and 2.
The following few Ashes Tours had a number of notable Trumper’s performances. His batting was never prolific by nature, but he invariably was at his best when the chips were down. The same quality which has been displayed by VVS Laxman in the modern days.
Trumper played all five tests during the 1903-04 Ashes. In the first test he scored 1 in the first innings but 185 in the second.
Trumper’s 185 not out at Sydney in 1903-04 is universally accepted as the greatest Australian innings of all-time, especially as the team had a deficit of 292 when they started that second innings. In the second test he made 74 and 35, Australia’s top score in both innings. His good form continued in the third test where he made 113 and 59. In the fourth test he scored 7 and 12 and made 88 and 0 in the last game.
In the 1905 Ashes, his health was causing him problems, and Trumper was not so successful. Trumper made 13 retired hurt, 31, 8 and 0, 11 and 30 and 4 and 28.
In the 1907-8 Ashes played in Australia, Trumper made 43 and 3, 49 and 63, 4 and 0, 0 and 0 and 10 and 166. In the last test played at MCG, Australia had folded up for 137, and had let England make 281. Starting their second dig 144 runs in arrears, Trumper walked in at the score 25/1, and scored 166 runs out of the 275 which were scored when he was at the wicket. Such was Trumper’s dominance that he even overshadowed Charley McCartney and Syd Gregory, two of the most ferocious hitters the game has known. Australia eventually made 422, setting England 279 to win. England were wrapped up for 229, and Australia won by 50 runs.
From then on, the Trumper magic was on wane, showing occasional flashes of Brilliance. In the 1909 Ashes, he scored 10 & 1 in the first test, 28 & 27 in the second, 2 in the third, 2 and 48 in the fourth, and 73 and 20 in the fifth.
He had an excellent series against South Africa in 1910, scoring his only double hundred (214- then the highest score by an Australian until Don Bradman Scored 334 in 1930).

The 1911 Ashes was started with a bang by Trumper.
In the first test Trumper scored 113 and 14. His form then dwindled, and his scores for the rest of the series were 13 and 2, 26 and 1, 17 and 28, and 5 and 50. That was the last Ashes he was to play.
Trumper boycotted the 1912 tour to England, over a dispute of player’s right to select the Manager for the team.
Cardus writes the following anecdote:
In the upstairs tea-room at Kennington Oval hangs a photo of Victor showing him jumping out to drive, yards from the crease, bat aloft behind him, the left leg prancing like a charger’s in the Bayeux tapestry. (The photo which is reproduced below.)

Trumper in action
Trumper in action

A certain England batsman, vintage 1950, looked at this picture in my company and said, “Was he really any good?” “Why do you ask?” was my natural question. “Well,” said this International, “just look where he is — stumped by yards if he misses.”
This skeptical England batsman had never in his life been so far out of his crease. But Trumper was stumped only once in all the 89 Test innings of his career. And only five times was he lbw.

But the dazzling genius of Victor Trumper burnt itself out. He died, only 37 years old, in June 1915; and the Sydney streets were packed with sorrowing crowds as the funeral passed by. His funeral was attended by 250,000 people.
Cardus summarizes,
“He was, as everybody vowed who came his way, even the bowlers, a quiet but delightful companion. The gods of cricket loved him, so he died young.”

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