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A Millionaire’s Story


It was Sir Neville Cardus, who saw plenty of them both, who likened Arthur Mailey’s bowling to that of a millionaire and, in doing so, contrasted him with Clarrie Grimmett who, by way of comparison, he described as a miser. That is probably a little harsh on Grimmett, who did after all perfect the flipper, but on the basis that the great scribe’s primary purpose in making his observation was to describe Mailey, then he summed him up very well indeed.

Born in Sydney on 3 January 1886 Mailey’s upbringing could not have been further from that of a millionaire. His large family lived in some poverty and life was a struggle. Neither of Mailey’s parents were at all interested in cricket, and it was therefore despite family influence that his love of the game developed. That passion, and another for drawing and sketching, did not go down well at Mailey’s school and he left at the earliest opportunity.

The first job Mailey had was as a seam presser. He was soon sacked for daydreaming, about his hero Victor Trumper. There followed a succession of unskilled jobs before, at 16, he got the job that made all the difference to his future cricket. The job, as a glass blower at a local factory, required Mailey to spend long hours spinning a four feet pipe which held the molten glass, and the blowing itself did much to develop and enhance his lung capacity and stamina. The job was also, for the times, comparatively well paid and he was able to pay for an art class. One of his publications suggests he was dismissed from that as well, his crime being to spend his time sketching his fellow students (to compound the sin not always flatteringly) rather than do as he was instructed.

Mailey also took every available opportunity to bowl, and the leg breaks he could always bowl were eventually supplemented by the googly, the delivery that caused a sensation when Bernard Bosanquet first unleashed it in Test cricket in the 1903/04 Ashes series. Mailey was no overnight sensation, playing in the lower grades of cricket for some years before, the googly mastered, he made the step up to Grade A.

In his charming autobiography, 10 for 66 and all that, Mailey dwells at some length on his first senior match, for Redfern against Trumper’s Paddington. The great batsman clinically despatched the best leg break Mailey could muster to the off side fence, but a perfectly flighted googly then beat his bat as he advanced down the wicket and Trumper was stumped by yards. There was no celebration for Mailey. He famously wrote I felt like a boy who had killed a dove.

Now noticed Mailey was chosen to play for New South Wales against Western Australia (still more than 30 years away from being considered strong enough to enter the Sheffield Shield) and considerable success brought an invitation to tour North America between June and August 1913, and then New Zealand in February and March of 1914.

Some writers have suggested that before the Great War Mailey was not quite so extravagant and unpredictable as he was afterwards. Perhaps on the way up, and until he became entirely confident of his future in the game, he was rather more careful. Another factor may have been a glimpse of the fleeting nature of life. The Mailey family made a huge sacrifice to the war to end all wars. One brother died at Ypres, and another eventually died from the wounds inflicted when he lost an arm at Passchendaele.

There is footage of Mailey bowling on Youtube. He had a short run up to the wicket and, bringing his bowling hand out from right behind his back, bowled with a high arm. He was certainly nowhere near the pace of a ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly or a Doug Wright, and was always willing to toss the ball high in the air. His main weapon was the well disguised googly. Above all Mailey spun the ball as much as he could. When asked once how fast he bowled Harold Larwood replied never quite fast enough, and one is left suspecting Mailey would produce a similar answer if asked about how much turn he achieved. A decent grip on the ball was important to Mailey and he wasn’t averse to using resin if he could get away with it, and could often be seen shaking hands with ‘keeper Bert Oldfield, who generally put a sticky substance called bird lime on his gloves.

Concentrating on spinning the ball might invite the occasional full toss and long hop in any bowler, but Mailey was always happy to buy a wicket and would often deliberately provide the batsman with encouragement. One quote frequently attributed to him is sometimes I am attacked by waves of accuracy; and I don’t trust them.

By the time international cricket started again after the war Mailey was already almost 35, a mature man who by that time was employed by the local water company dealing with troublesome meters. It was a job he was able to leave behind by 1921. In 1919/20 he took ten wickets for New South Wales against, effectively, the best of the rest of Australia and in his first outing against the following season’s England side he snared seven more victims. As a result he was picked for the first Test. He tells a story of being sat on a tram spending some time plucking up the courage to open his newspaper to check the cricket news. Eventually he did so, and in conversation with a fellow passenger enquired as to his companions view on the team he had been relieved to see his name in; Bloody lousy, I don’t know why the ‘ell they picked Mailey, was the response he reported.

I scrambled through my first Test without doing much harm, was Mailey’s own verdict on his international debut. Australia overwhelmed the old enemy by 377 runs on their way to convincing victories in all five Tests. With 3-95 and 3-105 to his name Mailey was clearly underplaying his own contribution to the victory, especially as his victims were Johnny Douglas and Wilfred Rhodes twice, as well as Frank Woolley and Jack Hearne.

It was no surprise that Mailey kept his place for the second Test, nor that England surrendered that one by an innings and 91. What is a surprise is that Mailey not only did not take a single wicket but did not even bowl a single over. Warwick Armstrong shared the spinning duties with Herbie Collins, and even part timers Nip Pellew and Roy Park got an over each.

Armstrong and Mailey did not always see eye to eye, and perhaps there was some disagreement behind that decision although there may have been an injury problem, Mailey having been said to be doubtful before the match started. If there was any friction however it soon blew over as Mailey was still in the side for the third Test and he had plenty of work then. The match was a high scoring one and, by getting a first innings lead even if they did eventually succumb by 119 runs, England were at least competitive at times. Mailey’s figures were 32.1-3-160-5 and 29.2-3-142-5. There is an interesting contrast with those of fellow wrist spinner Armstrong; 23-10-29-1 and 16-1-41-0.

The fourth Test saw Mailey return what were to remain his best Test figures, 9-121, with only Patsy Hendren, one of his favoured subjects for caricatures, escaping his net. In the first innings he had taken 4-115. There were a further seven wickets in the final Test. Mailey had bowled in eight innings in the series and had conceded over a hundred runs in all but two them, and in those two he came close, conceding 89 and 95.

The only account of the tour was written by one of the England players, Percy Fender, a fellow wrist spinner and, like Mailey, not a man to bowl to contain. His starting point on Mailey was to write that he was a very difficult person to describe. He added that our batsmen seemed able to get out off Mailey just as easily, whether he bowled a good length or a bad one. The examples he cited were both from the third Test, AC ‘Jack’ Russell being bowled by a full toss, and Jack Hobbs being caught and bowled hitting a long hop straight back at Mailey. Ultimately however he was happy to praise his opponent and concluded that Mailey bowled extraordinarily well at times and his 9-121 was worthy of all praise.

The 1920/21 series is famous for the start of the reign of terror of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald. In truth McDonald’s contribution to the series was modest. He would really flex his muscles in the return series in England. Gregory topped the Australian averages for the series with 23 wickets at 24.17, but Mailey’s bag was much larger, 36 wickets at 26.27, and that, effectively, in four Tests. It would be almost sixty years, in a six Test series, before Rodney Hogg exceeded that tally in an Ashes series.

At the end of the series Mailey left his job with the Water Board and, in his own words, never had to work again. His weekly wage checking the meters was £3.37. On that basis payment of £25 per match for the Tests was decent compensation. Selection for the 1921 trip to England meant further financial rewards for bowling but, more importantly, Mailey secured a contract with a newspaper to draw cartoons. The fee for that alone was £20 per week, and his financial future was secure.

The 1921 series was a mixed bag for Mailey. He played in only three of the five Tests and took 12 wickets at 33.16. A disagreement with Armstrong early in the tour may have contributed to his non-selection for the first and fourth Tests. The Australian skipper had strong views about the tourists’ itinerary and more particularly the time allowed his men to prepare for the Tests. He clashed with, in particular, Mailey, Edgar Mayne and Jack Ryder over this issue, all three taking a rather more relaxed view. Mayne and Ryder did not play in any of the Tests.

On the tour as a whole Mailey took 134 wickets at 19.36. Only McDonald beat his haul of wickets, and then only just, but McDonald, Gregory and Armstrong all had a better average for the tour. Mailey’s personal highlight came immediately after the final Test when the Australians played Gloucestershire at Cheltenham. The tourists won by an innings, not an unusual occurrence that summer (they did so on twelve occasions), and on a rain affected wicket Mailey, in the home side’s second innings, took that 10-66. Mailey always kept a copy of the 1922 Wisden in his car, and would ask his passengers to check whether he had taken Walter Hammond’s wicket during the 1921 summer, leading them eventually to the Cheltenham scorecard.

The next Ashes series took place in 1924/25 and Mailey was still Australia’s first choice spinner. He bowled almost two thousand deliveries in Australia’s 4-1 victory, and took 24 wickets at 41.62. He was Australia’as leading wicket taker, but also their most expensive bowler. Former skipper Monty Noble believed Mailey was called upon to do far too much work, but added, he still keeps a fine length, and is full of tricks, resourceful and has a good cricket mentality.

The 1926 tour of England proved to be Mailey’s last as a player. The Australian side that toured under Herbie Collins was rather different to Armstrong’s side. Gregory was still around, but he was not quite the bowler he had been and was a lone spearhead, sharing the new ball in the Tests with either Grimmett or Charlie Macartney (slow left arm). England, after four draws, recorded a famous victory at the Oval to regain the Ashes for the first time since 1912.

In figures the series was comfortably the worst of Mailey’s career. He took only 14 wickets in the five Tests, and paid 42.28 runs each for them. He went into the fifth Test with just five wickets at 65.20 in the previous four. The series undecided this Test was timeless so winning the toss was crucial for England, yet long before the close they were all out for 280. Of Mailey’s bowling Noble wrote that he surmounted all obstacles, destroyed the defences and annihilated the foe …… he has many wonderful records to his credit; this accomplishment of taking 6-138 eclipsed them all.

Noble’s description of Mailey was he is a heady, crafty bowler, full of guile, whose innocent yet deliberately bowled full toss and long-hopper is a snare and potent danger to the unwary. One of those full tosses castled the great Hobbs who, after realising what he had done, did all that he could in the circumstances and smiled broadly. ‘The Master’ had been had. England’s skipper in 1924/25, Arthur Gilligan, confirmed Noble’s view;  That Mailey ever bowls a full toss except on purpose I, for one, refuse to believe.

The Australian reply started badly, but the lower order eked out a lead of 22. The decisive passage of play came when England began their second innings. Gregory bowled a couple of overs before giving way to Mailey. His first delivery to Hobbs seems to have been rather like Shane Warne’s ball of the century save that his big spinning leg break went just past the off stump. The next delivery was a googly, pitched on off stump and went straight past Hobbs’ pads and struck him plumb in front. The game’s greatest umpire of the inter war period, and perhaps of all time, Frank Chester, started to raise his finger. He just managed to abort the signal on realising no Australian had appealed, and Hobbs survived to fight another day as England closed on 49-0. In the final analysis Mailey and wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield’s silence was probably to blame for their side’s defeat.

It rained hard in London overnight and the next day Hobbs and Sutcliffe produced the finest performances of even their stellar careers when, on a desperately difficult wicket, they extended their partnership to 172 before Hobbs was bowled by Gregory for exactly 100. England won convincingly in the end, but had Mailey or Oldfield asked the question on that second evening then the result might have been very different.

Back home in the new domestic season Mailey was nearly 41 when New South Wales played Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground over Christmas of 1926. On Christmas Eve the visitors batted first and were all out for a disappointing 221 by the close. There was no time to start the Victorian innings so that did not begin for two days, and then lasted two days as the home team racked up 1,107 all out, still the highest total in the history of the game. Mailey’s figures were 64-0-362-4. They aren’t the worst figures ever recorded, but no bowler has ever conceded more runs in a single innings.

Inevitably Mailey extracted what humour he could from his experience, and had two particular stories he was fond of recounting. The first one came after he had announced the figures, when he would add the proviso that four catches had gone down from his bowling. When, as they usually did, the recipient of the stories enquired as to who was responsible, Mailey would give a knowing look and announce that he didn’t wish to embarrass the culprit, but that the gentleman concerned was sat in the pavilion wearing a black hat. He would also relate the story of an elderly female who, on his returning to the pavilion at the end of the Victorian innings, smiled at him and reassured him that if nothing else at least he had ‘six appeal’.

After he retired from cricket in 1930 Mailey made a good living from writing and from his art. He is best known for the cartoons that were the focal point of 13 separate and highly collectable publications that appeared between 1920 and 1953, but his drawings appeared in other places as well, not least in the two books he wrote. 10 for 66 and All That has already been mentioned, but there was also a single tour book, And Then Came Larwood, Mailey’s account of the Bodyline tour. There was a rush of books released in the aftermath of what remains the most controversial series of Test matches ever played. Mailey’s is notable not just for the cartoons, but for the balanced analysis it provided.

Although it was the cartoons that provided the regular income Mailey was, for his own pleasure, wont to disappear in his car, take his art materials with him and paint landscapes. One of the well known stories about him is that having done so on one of his trips to England, and having had the opportunity to show one of his water colours to the Queen Consort, Mary of Teck, Her Royal Highness commented on the unusual appearance of the sun. Mailey responded with the observation that as the painting was done in England, he had had to paint the sun from memory.

In January of 1956, thirty years after his final Test, a benefit match for Mailey and his former teammate Johnny Taylor was played at the SCG between teams styled as Ian Johnson’s XI and Ray Lindwall’s XI. The match also served as a Test trial for the selectors for the 1956 Ashes party. For the older spectators the coupling of the names of Taylor and Mailey would have brought back memories of Mailey’s greatest day with the bat, at the same ground in the first Test of the 1924/25 series.

Mailey was a good enough batsman to pass 50 three times in his First Class career, but whilst a Test average of 11.10 confirms he was not a complete rabbit, it certainly places him in the tailender category. In that first Test Australia won the toss and batted. They made, in a timeless Test, an adequate but not match winning 450. Mailey made 21 of a last wicket partnership with Bert Oldfield of 62. As the match progressed the Australians took a first innings lead of 152 and were 325-9 when Mailey joined Taylor. They added another 127 before Taylor was dismissed leaving Mailey unbeaten on 46. The 189 added in both innings whilst Mailey was at the crease were not quite decisive, but England made a much better fist of their second innings, totalling 411, and leaving the winning margin as 193, so for once Mailey’s contribution with the bat was important.

After Mailey in turn retired from his journalistic activities, and the travelling consequently ceased, he became the proprietor of a general store. That his innate humour never left him is demonstrated in another famous Mailey tale. The store had a butchery section, over which a sign was put up saying “Used to bowl tripe, used to write tripe, and now he sells tripe”

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