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Opinion

Why Victor Trumper remains unrivalled as the greatest batting exponent in history

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Renato CARINI new author
Roar Rookie
16th July, 2020
51

“Many will scratch their heads over the selection of Trumper.”

So mused a critic on learning of Victor Trumper’s selection in an all-time Australian XI.

This article aims to address the seemingly never-ending conundrum that is Trumper’s place among the game’s elite.

The first point to note is that Trumper’s career resembled that of the great boxer, Muhammad Ali. Both experienced an initial phase of unrivalled supremacy (for Trumper, 1900-06 and for Ali, 1960-66), succeeded by four years of semi-retirement, and concluding with a brief return to the days of glory.

Trumper’s reputation was forged in that initial phase, when cricket was his entire focus, before marriage, fatherhood and business took priority. Note during his second phase, Trumper represented NSW in seven of 31 contests.

Controversially, Trumper did not believe that a team sport should be dominated by any one player.

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His view, that harmonious teams are characterised by mutual success, may not be shared by the masses but can be consistently found in contemporary reports.

Peers like Clem Hill and Monty Noble often made these assertions on Trumper’s behalf. Consequently, Trumper decided to concentrate his efforts on the first and most critical phase of a match – the first session of play (or the first session in a reply). This was the role he selected and for which he can be appraised.

victor-trumper-jumping-out

(George Bedlam, National Portrait Gallery)

Finally, Test cricket, as it was played in Australia and South Africa during the Golden Age, was not cricket of the highest calibre.

This may come as a shock but is easily accounted for. Quite simply, England’s best players rarely, if ever, visited the colonies and this is effortlessly verified by the respective performances abroad: eight wins versus 17 defeats. If the world’s 50 best cricketers of 1902 were listed, 44 or 45 would reside in England.

Consider the win-loss record of the Australians from this era, either side of Trumper’s golden years.

In that period, Australia’s winning percentage was 36 against England, 33 against the MCC, 40 against both Surrey and Yorkshire, 50 against Kent, 57 against England in Australia, and 71 against Lancashire.

Amazingly, Australia did better against England at home than against Kent, Surrey, Yorkshire or the MCC. In this epoch, for an Australian to prove his worth, he needed to perform in England.

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Integrating these three ideas – Trumper’s scores in the first session of the first innings (approximately 65-plus), the strongest teams in the world were in England, and his reputation was forged between 1900 and 1906 – I have the following table, highlighting the matches played by Trumper against these top sides in the relevant period.

Opponent VT RAD MAN SEG AH CH JD WA Others
1901-02
England XI 67 1 22 14 36 0, 15, 30
England 01 2 2 48 46 39 0
England 02 0 80 0 0 37 47 10*
England 03 65 43 14 55 98 1 9
England 04 7 39 56 0 43 21 55
England 05 68 25 17 62 10 70 42*
1902
Surrey 101 8 44* 38 33 19
MCC 105 16 21 30 7 24 19 12*
Yorkshire 95 30 0 10 42 17 8 7
Lancashire 70 8 5 31 54 9 87*
England XI 77 2 13 47 15 115 15 20
Yorkshire 7 27* 0 15 0 85 100
England XI 113 182 1 10 1 0
ENGLAND 03 1 25 47 11 27 18 0 25
Surrey 85 57 0 0 90 32 21 0
ENGLAND 04 104 54 2 3 65 51
1902-03
South Africa 02 18 43 5 1 20 6 6 49
West Provence 122 15 25 45 10 80 13 5
South Africa 03 70 34 9 11 16 91* 3
1903-04
England XI 115 35 7 63 10 10, 0
England 01 1 3 133 23 39 5 48
England 02 222 30 0 3 54 15 2
England 03 113 79 59 8 0 88 10
England XI 44 10 36 20 52 1, 2
England 04 7 47 6* 2 9 33 2,
England 05 88 9 29 32 16 36, 3
1905
Surrey 31 7 15 6 20 17 83
Yorkshire 85 61 12 50
England 01 13* 1 50 2 54 0 27
Runs [0-65] 1301 825 552 337 469 1035 254 475 99
Dismissals [0-65] 10 24 25 25 21 17 16 13 12
Average [0-65] 130 34 22 13 22 60 15 36 8

To the modern reader, opening with a score of 65 may not seem like such a marvelous achievement but consider that Trumper’s opening partner managed it once from 29 innings. Actually, openers from this era would bat 210 times against these same opponents and deliver 15 scores of 65, all up, or one every 14 attempts.

For an Australian opener of the 21st century, a one-in-14 event is a score of 130. This means that for Matthew Hayden, an opener who performed in the first decade of the 21st century, to emulate the deeds of Victor Trumper, an opener who performed in the first decade of the 20th century, Hayden would need to score 130 runs off 148 balls (Trumper’s average scoring rate) and reproduce this standard 18 times in 28 attempts.

This is the reason why Trumper remains unrivalled as the greatest batting exponent in history.