Since his picture sits at the top of this blog, I thought I’d start with a piece on Victor Trumper, written for Wisden Asia Cricket in 2004.
Victor Trumper came into my life a decade ago, courtesy a late night, insomnia and a tattered copy of Jack Fingleton’s Masters of Cricket. The roots of my passion for cricket had been nourished by my grandfather, who watched Jardine, Larwood and CK Nayadu as a young man. But Trumper was before his time – even Fingleton never watched him play – and his anecdotes hadn’t included any about the man Pelham Warner referred to as “the beau ideal of a cricketer”.
It wasn’t the evocative descriptions of Trumper’s strokemaking, or even the opinions expressed by his peers that captured my imagination. Instead, it was a small anecdote about a young man starting out in the bat-making business. The stranger wondered whether Trumper would use one of his bats – it weighed a monstrous 3 lb and 6 oz – in the Test match against Percy Sherwell’s South Africans. Despite incredulous looks from team-mates, Trumper obliged, saying, “He’s only a young chap and he’s starting out in business. If I can get a few runs with this, it might help him.”
He made 87, then came back and signed on the back of the bat before handing it over to the thrilled manufacturer. Half way into Never Another Like Victor, I became a believer. My sporting pantheon was heavily biased in favour of the maverick – Bill Shankly, Viv Richards, John McEnroe – and the tragic – Barry Richards, George Best, Garrincha – and Trumper, who died of Bright’s disease, appeared to straddle both camps effortlessly.
When I got to Australia, the two things I wanted to see most were Ayer’s Rock – Uluru to use the Aboriginal name – and the Trumper grave. The first didn’t happen, thanks to a hectic schedule, and the second had to wait until the afternoon that I was flying out.
Chris Ryan, friend and colleague, had told me where to go, and once outside Bondi Junction, I walked towards the cab rank to find someone who could take me to Waverley Cemetery. My cabbie turned out to be a giant, whose Sydneysider drawl had a Mediterranean inflection. He was a bit perplexed when I told him our destination, given that every other soul appeared to be on their way to the beach.
Theo, who left Athens as a teenager, had to refer to his maps before pointing the car in the right direction. When he learnt that I was in town for the cricket, he enquired politely whether India had a football team. “Am a Panathinaikos [one of Greece’s big three] fan myself,” he said, proudly pointing to a club badge on the dashboard.
As we neared the cemetery gates, his curiosity increased. Was I going to pay my respects to family? Close friend? When I shook my head, his frown deepened. “Do you know where the grave is?” he asked. Seeing my expression, he said, “In that case, we’d better ask someone. Else, we could drive around in here till sunset and not find it.”
Down one of the paths leading to the cliff edge, a man was pulling some weeds out. When I mentioned Trumper, he nodded and gave directions. “There aren’t any signposts or anything, but it’s by the side of the path,” he added.
We found it five minutes later, an unremarkable gravestone carved out of rough-textured white marble. Victor Thomas Trumper, Died 28th June 1915, aged 36 [he was actually 37], it said simply, revealing nothing of his achievements or what he had meant to turn-of-the-century Australia. His wife, Sarah Anne, who outlived him by 48 years, and his children, Victor Junior and Anne Louise are buried in the same plot, along with Victor Junior’s wife, Lorraine, who died in 1993.
From where I stood, you could see the ocean, brilliant blue intensified by the harsh sun. I stayed for five minutes, touching the lettering on the grave, and imagining what it must have been like to witness the Trumper cover-drive in all its three-dimensional glory.
“Was it the famous writer?” asked Theo, thinking perhaps of Henry Lawson – Australia most celebrated poet, alongside Banjo Paterson – whose final resting place was a few dozen yards away. When I said no, he asked, “So, who was he?” When I said, “cricket player”, his face relaxed into a half smile. “Must have been a special player.” I nodded, thinking, Never another like Victor.