When it’s how, not how many

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HE’S BEEN dead for more than a century but Victor Trumper’s reputation as one of the greatest Australian cricketers of all time survives in one of three books reviewed by RON REED:

NOT SINCE the youthful Don Bradman took cricket by storm in the 1930s has there ever been any argument about who is the finest batsmen Australia has ever produced. His Test average of 99.94 remains almost twice as good as any other Australian, before or since.

But who is the next best?

There are plenty of candidates, including one from the contemporary ranks, Steve Smith, who is about to return to the international game after his well-documented suspension. He averages 61.37, while Greg Chappell, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Allan Border, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey all finished at better than 50.

So an average of under 40 isn’t likely to put you in the conversation – is it?

 It  most definitely is according to Renato Carini, the author of a new book about Victor Trumper, titled The Genius – The story of the most talented batsman in history. (Publicious Book Publishing.)

Trumper, who died at just 37 in 1915,  more than 100 years ago, played 48 Tests in which he scored 3,163 runs at 39.04 with eight centuries and 13 half-centuries, figures that improved to 16,939 runs at 44.57 with 42 hundreds and 87 fifties in all first-class matches – still nothing spectacular in the scheme of things.

But Carini, a Sydney mathematics teacher, has nothing but disdain for figures in assessing Trumper’s performances – in this case, he says, it is not about how many runs he scored, but how he scored them and in what circumstances. Judged in this way, he had no peer, the author says.

That said, there are an awful lot of numbers in this 400-page hardback, a multitude of tables that attempt to put Trumper’s performances into every conceivable context. I’m not sure the author has done himself, or his readers, any favours by applying such a mathematical format to a discussion that is really about intangibles such as style, attitude and degrees of difficulty.

However, he does have an interesting case to make – namely, that when the bowling was good, the wickets treacherous and his team in need of someone to show the way, Trumper was at his best to the point where, according to his regular opening partner Reggie Duff, he was almost impossible to dismiss against his will.

That’s an assertion that has not been made – not quite — even about Bradman.

“The price of Victor’s wicket in a calamity – without an iota of embellishment – was nearer 500 than 100,” Carini claims.

“When the bowling was toothless and runs the value of peanuts, he averaged 15, and when the bowling was potent and runs priceless, he averaged 415.” Apply the same formula to most others  with a Test average of 40 or so and they give you 80 and 20, Carini says.

The most talented batsman in history? That’s a mighty big call. But Carini’s prolific research and unshakeable belief in his premise are not easy to argue against. It is not your everyday cricket book but well worth an inspection if you’re interested in the legends of yesteryear.

TWO OTHER unusual sports books have caught this column’s attention. Not Bad Thanks  (Wilkinson Publishing) by Graeme Willingham and Exiting the Gambling Addiction, published and written by Jan and Colin Beames, could scarcely be more different in the ground they cover.

NBT is the name of a social basketball team formed by Willingham and his mates – all of whom are identified throughout the narrative only by their nicknames, presumably to protect the guilty – all of 39 years ago, and which, against all the odds, is still going strong in the Melbourne Metropolitan Business Houses competition.

They win a few and lose a lot, but they can never be accused of not having a crack. Or of failing to enjoy themselves afterwards at their “clubrooms,” which is actually one of Melbourne’s most popular pubs for sportsmen of many different ilks.

Even the Godfather of Australian hoops, international Hall of Fame player, coach and administrator Lindsay Gaze is a fan, writing in a foreword that he would have loved to have been a team-mate of Czar, Flash, Instigator and the rest of the characters who are instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever played sport purely for the fun of it, but who still abide by the old rule: go hard or go home.

There is nothing frivolous about the work of the Beames husband and wife team, both professional psychologists with a rich family sporting pedigree. He is the son of legendary Melbourne footballer,  first-class cricketer and leading sports journalist Percy Beames, she is the niece of the even more accomplished cricketer and footballer, Keith Miller.

This slim volume deals with one of the more insidious problems afflicting sportsmen in general but, from their perspective, footballers in particular.

Jan has counselled many players, including some of the biggest names in the game, about their addictions and says the extent of the problem is still not appreciated nearly enough by football administrators at every level.

“Are sporting bodies doing enough in addressing gambling?” asks Colin Beames. “Apart from having a responsibility to protect the integrity of their sport, they can and should be leaders in society shaping social attitudes and behaviours. A minimalistic approach to addressing gambling is now not an option.”

With the amount of gambling advertising seeming to increase week by week, Jan’s work is seen by many as crucial. Perhaps the best-known of her clients is former Melbourne Demons champion David Schwartz, who gambled away millions before he entered her orbit. Now, he writes: “Jan Beames is a very kind and understanding person, she has played an incredible role in my recovery from all sorts of addictive behaviour, not just gambling. Her skills as a counsellor have allowed me to deal properly with the death of my father and taught me how much Dad’s murder has affected my life. Seeing Jan was the best investment I ever made.”

This publication is a wake-up call for more people than most would suspect.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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