The Trundlers: Underrate Them at Your Peril... By Harry Pearson


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Cricket's quickies and spinners tend to get far more attention than the medium-pace men, but the pantheon of seamers, swingers and off-stump naggers celebrated here by Harry Pearson reminds us what an integral part of the game bowlers operating largely in the 50-75mph zone have been down the years.

He credits the round-armer William Lillywhite of Sussex, born in 1792, who was 5ft 4in but enhanced his height by bowling in a top hat, as the first true trundler, and while it's perhaps an exaggeration to claim as he does that military medium became "English cricket's default setting", the roll call of names such as George Hirst, Tom Cartwright, Derek Shackleton and Don Shepherd he celebrates with affectionate humour is persuasive. And to borrow David Lloyd's description of the New Zealand attack in the Nineties, Messrs Dibbly, Dobbly, Wibbly and Wobbly from other countries are also given due attention.

Of them all, who was the best? Comparisons across the generations are notoriously difficult, but the record of Syd Barnes is astonishing. A chippy, humourless character from Smethwick, he cut the ball both ways off the pitch, swung it and extracted bounce from even the most placid wicket. Although he played 27 Tests he was suspicious of first-class cricket, preferring to hold down a full-time job as a clerk and play in the professional leagues at the weekends. His figures are barely believable: from 1895 to 1940, by which time he was 67, he took over 4,000 wickets at an average of 6.08.

A minor quibble: at this price for a paperback of 248 pages, the lack of photographs is disappointing. Vivid descriptions of such epochal trundlers as Maurice "Chub" Tate ("His boots the size of kipper boxes, his hips wider than his shoulders") and Gary Gilmour ("Short and broad-beamed, with a coach-driver's haircut and the sort of bucolic face that might have earned him a place in the Wurzels") cry out for them. However, as the book is otherwise an unalloyed delight for anyone remotely interested in the history of the game, don't for heaven's sake let this omission deter you from buying it.