Below is a passage from R.S. Whitington, first-class cricketer and journalist. It’s highly relevant today after some graceless commentators rubbished the award this year of a fourth Allan Border medal to the outstanding batsman Steve Smith.
By R.S. Whitington
Victor Trumper [above], whose name stands as high in Australian cricket as Jack Crawford’s stands in tennis, died in the last days of June 1915. After his death in his late thirties, frequenters to the Sydney Cricket Ground Hill raised money so that a granite memorial plaque could be placed on the Sheridan Stand. On the plaque, in letters of gold, were inscribed words which, the Hillites felt, expressed their ideas about Victor Trumper and their gratitude for the many golden hours of happiness he had given them.
By June 1954, Victor Trumper, had he lived, would have been nearly eighty. The lettering on the plaque had been neglected and become tarnished by the years. One afternoon late that month an old man walked rather timidly into the palatial offices of the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust under the M.A.Noble Pavilion. The old chap refused to give his name but told SCG Trust secretary Keith Sharp that he was most upset by the condition of Trumper’s memorial plaque. Anxiously he asked permission to restore it to its original state. Keith Sharp is the kind of man who is susceptible to such gestures. And so, when 60,000 people flocked to the SCG on the thirty-ninth anniversary of Victor Trumper’s death to watch Fiji play Australia at Rugby Union football, the surface of the plaque was bright and glistening.
A host of people noticed the memorial. All of them must have felt that this rather cynical old world was not quite as bad as it had been painted. Cricket had won another victory in the hearts of people. When the memory of a great cricketer can mean so much over so long a span of years the fact should hold great significance for those whose job it is to be guardians of the game.
Those men should realise without having to be told time and again (as they have been told) that it is the great cricketer who, by capturing the admiration of the people, grips and holds public affection and loyalty, not only for himself but for the game he represents. Yet, ever since Don Bradman became the idol of Australia and almost a law unto himself, Australian cricket officialdom has frowned upon public hero-worship of the individual cricketer, and has gone out of its way to keep down and antagonise players who have shown promise of becoming Victor Trumpers and Don Bradmans of modern times. So long as that attitude persists there can be no real grounds for believing that cricket will hold its old place in the hearts of the Australian people. Who do officials imagine gave cricket another lease of life in Australia last summer? Do they imagine it was their administration? If they do, they are much in a minority.
If our information is accurate, there are far more embryo [Frank] Tysons, [Len] Huttons and [Neil] Harveys than embryo Frank Sedgmans, Lewis Hoads and Ken Rosewells around Australia today. And that, as we told you, was not the case in December 1953 or September 1954. Cricket, not tennis, gained the news and sports-page headlines in the Australian press for the major part of the summer.
In case Australian officialdom remains unconvinced of this we proposed to include some paragraphs of a letter we received from an old tea-planter in Ceylon [Sri Lanka], who is living out his latter years somewhere north of the capital. You will forgive, we know, that this old man’s hero, too, was Victor Trumper. His letter began: “Thank you for the memories you revived of the first day I watched Victor Trumper bat. I was a boy of seven at the time and now I am seventy, but I recall how my father woke me one Bank Holiday morning in England and asked me if I would like to accompany him to Kennington Oval. I couldn’t be told the night before, of course, because boys of seven need sleep. But I still see vividly the underground station, my father buying the tickets, the long queues of people. I remember the fever I was in, lest there would not be room for us and our hamper. Please tell Victor Trumper’s son, when you see him, of the place his father still holds in an old man’s heart.”
That correspondent, you see, remembers that day because it was the first time that he saw Victor Trumper. He does not remember who won the match or who were the main cricket administrators of that time.It is the great players who have made cricket mean what it has in the past to Britishers. And only if officials will stop begrudging the great players his glory, indeed do all in their power to boost the name of the champions of cricket, can we hope for another Golden Age. Far greater men than Australia’s cricket administrators have not minded taking a back seat when the time has come for them to take it. Far greater men have taken pleasure in the prowess of the great sporting figures of their era.
America’s “Mr Baseball”, Babe Ruth. is remembered, so far as we could judge when in the United States, not for the amazing number of home runs he hit during his phenomenal career but for one very special home run. One morning, before a match, it seems that “The Babe” called at the hospital bed of a sick and dying youngster, handed him an autographed baseball bat and said, “Now see here, sonny. You’ve got to get well because I am out today to Yankee Stadium to hit a home run specially” and that afternoon Ruth performed that little miracle, for miracle it was even for “the Babe” to hit a home run when it was so direly necessary to hit one.
In the last century (20th) a second-hand book dealer in Sydney had a splendid book featuring a colour photo of Victor Trumper, called the “Nijinsky of the batting crease”. His head is held high with a direct eye, to drive as few have driven a cricket ball since he died. The bat was held vertically behind the majestic head and the line of arm and shoulder were straight enough for one of Euclid’s theorems. Though the ball had not yet intruded upon the picture, Trumper was yards along the pitch, his very being exuding implacable purpose and defiant certainty of intent.
The people of the Commonwealth want top-class and internationally famous characters to entertain them. Are our cricketers like Victor Trumper, and Sir Donald Bradman, and the governors of cricket, going to allow cricketers like them to take that chance? It could be the last chance they will get to do so.
*R. S. Whitington, reprinted from Cricket Typhoon by Keith Miller, Australia’s greatest all-rounder.
Are you listening, Steve Smith? He’s talking about you!