Gordon Rorke – The Story of a Gentle Giant

Published: 2019
Pages: 25
Author: Cardwell, Ronald
Publisher: The Cricket Press Pty Ltd
Rating: 4 stars

For this reviewer this booklet has been one of the most eagerly awaited of recent years. My interest in Rorke was as a result of my, for many years, misunderstanding his place in the history of the game and a degree of embarrassment at my consequently having demonised him for a number of years, something I now very much regret.

The subject of Ronald Cardwell’s latest publication is one of the battery of fast bowlers who helped Australia to demolish Peter May’s England side in the 1958/59 Ashes. It is not a series which I read about extensively as I learned about the game’s history and as a result I always bought into the widely held view in England that Rorke was an unfair bowler with an illegal action. When I learned that that fine Australian batsman of the inter-war period and later respected writer Jack Fingleton had titled his account of the series Four Chukkas to Australia I took that as all but game, set and match to the naysayers. The clincher was then my noting that by the age of 25 Rorke had played his final First Class match. Out of sheer laziness I didn’t bother to check why assumed that Rorke’s reason for leaving the game was because he had been “found out”.

Then, not so many years ago, I finally got round to actually reading Fingleton’s book, and realised that the title was not intended to be an endorsement of the English view. I then found some footage of Rorke on the internet, and it certainly seemed to me that his arm was straight enough when he bowled. The other complaint levelled against him, that the old back foot no ball law allowed him to steal a couple of yards on the batsman was clearly made out. That said plenty of other fast bowlers achieved an advantage from the entirely legal practice of dragging, something exaggerated in Rorke’s case by virtue of the fact that he was 6 feet 5 inches in height.

Something else I then checked was the number of occasions on which Rorke had actually been no balled for throwing. To my surprise the answer was never. I also found out that the reason for the early retirement was certainly not what I had assumed. What in fact happened was that whilst touring India and Pakistan in 1959/60 Rorke, along with others in the Australian party, had suffered a serious bout of hepatitis so much so that he was forced to return home for urgent medical treatment. It was his inability to ever completely recover from the effects of that illness that meant that his bowling did not, after his return, touch the heights it had scaled previously and after a single disappointing appearance in the 1963/64 season it was Grade cricket only for Rorke.

Author Cardwell knows Rorke well and within the pages of this skilfully written monograph he puts some flesh on the barebones of Rorke’s short First Class and Test careers as well as providing his reader with information regarding his subject’s early life and his achievements outside the game. Clearly a well liked and personable man the booklet, the preparation of which was unknown to Rorke, was presented to the 81 year old former fast bowler at a surprise party last month.

There are 88 copies of Gordon Rorke – The Story of a Gentle Giant, one for each of the First Class wickets Rorke took. Now the man himself has received his copy the remainder, individually numbered and signed, are available from Roger Page

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