Sunday, 1 September 2013

Book Review - Then Came Massacre: the story of Maurice Tate, Cricket's Smiling Destroyer by Justin Parkinson

Cricketing sons rarely live up to the reputation of their successful fathers. There are dozens of examples over the years and the struggles of such players have been well enough documented in cricket literature.

Few have matched the feats of Maurice Tate. His father, Fred, was a journeyman professional  who took over 1300 wickets for Sussex at 21 with right arm spin perhaps at the pace of Derek Underwood. He is unfairly remembered by most for his role in the 1902  Test at Old Trafford against Australia, when, after dropping a catch in the deep, he was bowled with only four runs needed for victory.

It doesn't tell the full story, as Tate was in unfamiliar territory and more often fielded at slip, while expectation of number eleven, a batsman of modest achievement, bailing you out when a much-vaunted batting lineup had failed was patently unfair. Such was Tate senior's lot, but his son, as he predicted after the match, did him proud. While Fred subsequently became county coach of Derbyshire for a period, Maurice did considerably better.

From 1922-25, Maurice Tate was perhaps the greatest player in the world. If he wasn't, there were few better, as he took 852 wickets in three calendar years, including an Australian tour. He added a thousand runs a summer and took at least 200 wickets in each of them, bowling 38,000 balls in that time. All this after switching from bowling spin at his father's pace to fast-medium at the suggestion of his county captain.

The workload was colossal, even for a man of Tate's strapping build and probably cost him some of his long-term effectiveness. Yet his bowling was a model of getting the most from a run up and action. He only ran in eight paces, yet scores of batsmen were beaten for pace by a quicker ball that 'fizzed'; great players too. Tate was responsible for five of Donald Bradman's first thirteen Test dismissals, this at a time when Tate was past his peak and Bradman very much at his.

Tate was a celebrity in an era when such status came less easily than today. His ready smile and big feet, as regularly utilised by Daily Mail cartoonist Tom Webster, ensured that this would be the case and he was endorsed several products, including an energy supplement, chocolate, washing powder and cigarettes.

All of which suggests that Tate was a wealthy man, at least for the period, but that was far from the case. A succession of poor business ventures dogged his personal life and he flitted from pub to pub as landlord after his career ended, without making a success of any of them.

To some extent, history has forgotten him, although Sussex fans voted him their greatest-ever player in 2003. Rightly so, as he took 2784 wickets for them at 18, adding in 21,000 runs at 25 with 23 centuries for good measure. The figures are staggering, but Maurice Tate was far from an ordinary player. His 155 Test wickets came at a time when there were no opportunities to 'boost the stats' against lesser opposition and he should be judged alongside the greats of the game by any standards one cares to mention.

Justin Parkinson has done an admirable job with this book, which is beautifully researched, well laid-out and engagingly written. Too many books recount the major events of a career without helping you to get close to and better understand the subject. By the end of this one, I felt I 'knew' Maurice Tate and felt the better for it.

Once again, Pitch Publishing have come up with a worthy, eminently readable book that deserves to do well.

It certainly gets a Peakfan thumbs-up.

Then Came Massacre: the Story of Maurice Tate, Cricket's Smiling Destroyer is written by Justin Parkinson and published by Pitch Publishing. It is currently available on Amazon priced £12.23 and from all good book shops.

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