Saturday, 6 January 2018

Book Review: Over And Out - Albert Trott The Man Who Cleared the Lord's Pavilion by Steve Neal

One of the thrills of doing this blog over the years has been getting sent copies of cricket books for review by publishers. I have seen some that were less impressive, others that will stand the test of time.

This is one of the latter.

Albert Trott was one of the big names of golden age cricket. A man good enough to be picked to play five Tests in which he averaged 38 with the bat and 15 with the ball, took 26 wickets and was never picked again.

There were factions and rivalries to blame for his omission from the 1896 Australian tour to England, together with a feeling that he was a player of mercurial talent who suited himself, rather than the needs of the team. He liked to attack the bowling when he had a bat in his hand, but often did so before well set, to the detriment of his average. As a bowler he had the lot, bowled in a round arm style that could put in a fast one, just as easily as he would swing it or spin it when conditions suited him. He was not averse to buying wickets either when the batsmen prospered and he could be expensive. Yet in the variety of his skills he was a precursor of the modern one-day bowler, a format that would have suited him down to the ground

For around a decade he was a stand out player in the Middlesex side and a player that people came to watch. His reputation was made on a July day in 1899, when he hit Monty Noble of the visiting Australian side over the Lord's pavilion. He remains the only man to have done so, yet it perhaps summed up Trott's life that such a monstrous hit only counted for four under the rules of the day, the ball ending up in the garden of the house of a dressing room attendant, still within the confines of the ground. In that year and the one to follow, Trott scored over a thousand runs and took over two hundred wickets, figures that confirmed him as one of the giants of the age.

His batting deteriorated after this, attributed to his intent to replicate the feat. His batting became more that of exciting cameos, yet when he middled them, they continued to go a long way. His bowling was a force for some years, but a lifestyle in which he celebrated hard and enjoyed the drinks bought him by well-wishers affected his fitness and physique. In his early thirties, he could have been mistaken for someone 15-20 years older and while he still held catches that his team mates, a notoriously poor fielding side, would not have considered chances, his form was latterly elusive and he drifted from the game.

Trott took four wickets in four balls and then the hat trick in his benefit match in 1907, ending the match early as a consequence and robbing himself of a considerable amount of money. The latter proved elusive when his career ended, cricket having been his only life and interest. A spell as a first-class umpire was truncated when he suffered badly from dropsy, being admitted to hospital for fluid to be removed from his legs and his abdomen.

By 1914 he had had enough. Writing his will on the back of a laundry ticket and leaving his wardrobe and £4 in cash to his landlady, he shot himself in his bed and died immediately, aged only 41.

Contemporaries tell of a man who struggled away from the limelight and a circle of friends, or hangers-on, as we might call them today. A kindly man and a character, perhaps a little too fond of the drink for his own good and less willing to look after himself than others, who played for much longer at a time when players would continue well into their forties.

Trott was a very fine player, perhaps, for a couple of seasons, a great player of his time. He has been well served in this admirably researched and well written book by the author, who in turn has been treated well by Pitch Publishing. I would have liked to have seen a career record at the back, but that is a minor quibble.

You get to the end of this book knowing more about Victorian and Edwardian society and about Albert Trott, a flawed genius, but a man who entertained.

Not a bad epitaph, as they go.

Over And Out: Albert Trott - The Man Who Cleared The Lord's Pavilion is written by Steve Neal and published by Pitch Publishing. It is available from all good book sellers.

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