Harry Graham

Published: 2017
Pages: 148
Author: Cardwell, Ronald
Publisher: The Cricket Publishing Company
Rating: 4 stars

Cricket throws up some great nicknames. Shock White, Foghorn Jackson, The Demon Spofforth and Slasher Mackay, just to name a few but probably the most provocative of them all is The Little Dasher.

The Little Dasher is not just provocative it’s also apt as Harry Graham was one of Australia’s shortest players and loved to attack the bowling from the very first delivery he faced. He started his Test career in the 1890s with a bang, scoring a century on debut in both England and Australia and appeared destined for greatness. And then he seems to just disappear from the pages of cricket history.

To understand why Harry Graham faded so quickly from the game and what exactly became of him was the assignment author Ronald Cardwell set for himself. Anyone who has ever tried to trace the life of a 1890s Test cricketer will know the challenge faced by Cardwell. What made it even tougher was the fact Graham never married or had children. So no long lost diary or stories handed down through the ages.

Instead Cardwell by dint of research manages to piece together the life of Graham and discovers some fascinating insights. That most of these are tragic and rather melancholic is unfortunate but also entertaining reading.

There are, as to be expected, some holes in the story of Graham. Cardwell has to extrapolate on occasions as newspapers of the time were discreet. He does this mostly by presenting the facts and then offering plausible possibilities as to what might have transpired. To his credit Cardwell never expresses his opinions as facts and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Cardwell has concrete information as to the last days of Graham’s life which he spent in an asylum for the mentally unwell and died at the young age of 40. Graham was clearly a delusional alcoholic before his admittance to the asylum. This suggests that he had a drinking problem earlier but apart from snippets of information it is unclear whether alcohol was the reason Graham’s Test career ended so quickly.

If you weren’t aware of Graham’s untimely death then this book would surprise with the story of his rapid demise. Cardwell diligently traces the subject through the highs and lows of Graham’s cricket career and post life.

After big time cricket, as with some of his era, The Little Dasher entered cricket coaching in New Zealand. Graham appears to have made a good fist of his coaching and was in high demand and then suddenly his contract is not renewed and the end is nigh. There seems to be no contemporary reports as to why Graham could not find more coaching work in New Zealand although suspicions are that his alcohol use may have been the reason.

The book ends with some modern medical practitioners offering their opinion, based on contemporary notes, as to the cause of death which provides a satisfying conclusion to the story of The Little Dasher.

The book itself is a lavish publication with lovely photographs throughout and is printed on quality stock*. A nice touch is that all the photos list, where known, the names of all those featured. The only minor gripe is that some of the Victorian team photos have the players’ names in the wrong order. This is a very minor criticism in a fine read and only the most anal of cricket readers will even notice.

Harry Graham is the kind of book all cricket fans should read. Thoroughly researched, great production values and well written. No cricket library should be without it.

*For those who like their bit of leather there is a rather special signed limited edition available. There are a mere thirty copies, so it may have sold out, but any reader who is interested should contact the usual suspects, Roger Page, Ken Piesse (Cricketbooks.com.au) or Mike Down of Boundary Books, three men as accomplished as it is possible to be at the difficult art of parting Martin and Archie from their hard earned.

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