Invincible: The Life and Times of Sam LoxtonMartin Chandler |
Author: Rogers, Martin
Rating: 4 stars
There is just one Invincible left now, Neil Harvey, who provides an affectionate and heartfelt introduction to the story of his lifelong friend and former teammate Sam Loxton. Along with skipper Don Bradman, Sid Barnes, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Lindsay Hassett, Don Tallon and Arthur Morris Harvey was a ‘Tier 1’ Invincible. A hard hitting batsman and fight arm fast medium bowler Loxton was a member of the supporting cast, although with bat and ball he played a major role in turning round the fourth Test just as England looked like they might, for once, be gaining the upper hand.
Martin Rogers’ biography of Loxton begins, in the way that so many recent books on cricketers’ lives have, with a chapter on the defining moment of its subject’s career, in Loxton’s case that Headingley Test of 1948. He then goes back to tell the story of the Loxton’s forebears, his childhood and his rise to prominence as a sportsman. In the end Loxton never did quite reach the very top, but there were a dozen caps and a Test century in South Africa before three undistinguished appearances against Freddie Brown’s 1950/51 England side brought down the curtain on his international career.
His Test cricket over Loxton played on for the rest of the 1950s with considerable success for Victoria, but his life moved in other directions as well. He moved into broadcasting and the game’s administration but, most notably, was elected to the Victorian Parliament in 1955. He remained in politics for almost a quarter of a century. Married three times Loxton had two sons from his second marriage and had the terrible misfortune to lose his elder son and his third wife on the same day in 2000, the former the victim of a shark attack in Fiji and the latter who drowned in the swimming pool at their home after a heart attack.
As we all know an interesting life does not necessarily make for an interesting biography. In the wrong hands even the most promising of stories can become mired in statistical minutiae and cricketing detail. There is no need to fear that with Invincible however as Martin Rogers, a man born in England who then moved to Australia, shows he has rather more in common with Messrs Haigh and Frith than just having a foot in each Ashes camp. He has apparently written more than twenty books, and it is a great shame that, as far as I am aware, prior to Invincible there is just one on the subject of our great game, Cricket in the Genes: George Bailey, the family history of the current Australian selector.
In a sense Rogers was fortunate, in that he had the full support and assistance of Loxton’s surviving son and other family members. Loxton’s being a great raconteur and excellent company also meant that he had many friends, not least Harvey, all of whom gave generously of their time and memories. The public facing nature of much of what Loxton did with his life also ensured that a good deal of material exists in a variety of public and private archives. That meant half the battle was won, but then the real skill of a biographer is needed, the ability to sift through and organise available material and then present it in a coherent form for a readership who are as keen to be entertained as they are to be informed.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read his book on Bailey to learn that Rogers has produced another masterpiece with Invincible. His reader is left feeling that they have got to know Loxton and to understand the times in which he lived. The story of his trip to the sub-continent as manager of the 1959/60 tours of India and Pakistan is, drawing together as it does all of Loxton’s many talents, particularly those gained through his politicking, a highlight. In a different way another is a lengthy digression on the subject of Bill Alley a man who, had fortune treated him differently, would in all probability have taken Loxton’s place as an Invincible.
The book itself is printed on high quality paper and is superbly illustrated. Personally I still prefer a cloth bound book with a dust jacket but the illustrated boards that grace all of the books in this publisher’s Nostalgia Series are very attractive volumes nonetheless. There is also a full index and a comprehensive statistical section to round off a book that is highly recommended. Invincible is available from the publisher in Australia, and Boundary Books in the UK. There are 500 copies available the first 100 of which are individually numbered and signed by Harvey, Rogers and Ken Piesse, save unfortunately for number 75, which only Harvey has signed.