Monty Noble: Cricketing NobilityArchie Mac and Martin Chandler |
Author: Lloyd, Peter
Rating: 5 stars
My favourite period of cricket is the Golden Age – which most consider ran from 1890 until the start of the Great War in 1914. This period had all the stars to fire the imagination. For England there was Ranji, Archie Mac, the Croucher, Jacker and S.F. Barnes. For Australia there was Victor, Clem, the Big Ship, Hugh, Joe Darling and Mary Ann.
Mary Ann was the outer’s nickname for Montague Alfred Noble, who bestrode the Golden Age as one of its biggest stars. A true all rounder, he often batted at No.4, was a frontline bowler and a superb field. Throw in his rating as one of the best captains and a shrewd tactician then it’s no wonder author Peter Lloyd describes Noble as a member of the cricketing nobility.
Before reading Lloyd’s superb book, I had the impression that Noble was from an affluent family, similar to Clem Hill who was privately educated at Prince Alfred College. In fact Noble was from strained circumstances with his mother subjected to domestic violence. Not long after Noble’s birth his father left the family to fend for themselves. As the youngest child Noble may have been spared the worst of the violence in the family home. He was guided by his mother and elder brothers, with music, religion and sport playing an important part in his upbringing.
My confusion around his upbringing may have been based on Noble’s profession as a dentist. It seems the study to become a dentist at the turn of the 20th century was through an apprenticeship system rather than the current five year degree. So perhaps Noble did not have to stump up the fees, or study full-time and instead may have been able to earn money while qualifying.
It is hard to imagine that there is anything about the life of Noble that Lloyd has not discovered. He even corresponded with Noble’s relatives and utilised their family history. It is one thing to discover information by dint of research; quite another to write an entertaining book.
It is a pity that we can only award five stars as this book is in a class of its own. Wonderfully crafted with colour illustrations throughout, and printed on quality paper. Cricket books simply don’t come better than this. Despite all the fine production values, the real highlight of Monty Noble is the writing. It’s simply a pleasure to peruse.
Lloyd tackles all the controversies that occurred during the career of Noble, and there are plenty. These include some veiled suggestions that Noble was racist in dealing with the First Nation cricketer Jack Marsh. The other major controversy was the fight for control of Australian cricket, between the newly formed Australian Cricket Board for Control and the players. Noble was front and centre in this battle and paid throughout the rest of his career, being regularly overlooked for positions in NSW cricket administration.
The quality of Monty Noble – Cricketing Nobility means that copies are not cheap, and with just 100 available this magnificent book will sell out fast. There are still a few copies remaining – in Australian from Roger Page – (03) 9434 7613 and in the UK from Boundary Books (01235) 751021.
So far Sir Donald Bradman, Victor Trumper, Warren Bardsley and now Monty Noble have received the Peter Lloyd treatment. At this stage Lloyd has not committed to a next project. As he seems to be NSW centric you’d imagine his next book may be on another Cornstalk. Fingers crossed that he’s already started the research.
….. and Martin follows on
The Mac, having already received his print copy of this one, has the advantage on me this time. That said even from the pdf I have it is quite clear that the production of this one, Peter Lloyd’s latest masterpiece, is as peerless as for his other recent titles, celebrations of Victor Trumper and Don Bradman, and a biography of Warren Bardsley.
A life of Monty Noble was long overdue and, in my view, has been more a yawning chasm in the panoply of Australian cricket literature than a mere gap. Since I became involved in reviewing cricket books a decade and more ago I have had the pleasure of corresponding with a number of noted writer/historians from Australia and have expressed this view to them all, so I take just a smidgin of credit for ensuring that, eventually, this impressive figure’s story has been told, and told so well.
Why has it taken so long? I have to say that I had hatched a scurrilous theory about that one. The cricket Noble played, at its heart the eight Ashes series he was involved in between 1897/98 and 1909, has been chronicled well enough thus, so I figured, there must have been something about the man himself that put biographers off, and I gleaned two possibilities from what I had read.
My suspicions, festered through years of reading passing passing references to Noble in other books, were that close investigation would reveal that firstly he was a chucker, and secondly a racist. The former was and remains a definite slur on any cricketer and the latter, whilst probably not a big issue in Noble’s own time is, in the 21st century, a serious blight on a man’s character.
So where did I get these ideas from? The first was from a source that certainly can’t be described as scurrilous, and is from the always authoritative voice of Wisden itself and its report on the visit of the 1899 Australians and a comment that the fairness of his delivery was often questioned by those who played against him. As for the racism anyone who has read of the way in which the indigenous pace bowler Jack Marsh was treated cannot avoid the suggestion that Noble, amongst others, discriminated against him.
I suppose it was perhaps a little too much, well over a century on, to have expected definitive answers to those two questions, but I can at least console myself, given the thoroughness with which Peter Lloyd has approached his task, with the thought that I now know as much as there is to be know about those issues. The throwing controversy did spread a little further than Sydney Pardon’s carefully chosen words, but not much. As for the racism the evidence remains entirely circumstantial, and whilst there clearly were plenty of racists around in the ‘Golden Age’, firm conclusions about Noble’s personal opinions are simply not possible, although I did deduct a suggestion that he could be, at times, a little naive.
My two questions answered it is then possible to marvel at the effort that has gone into this splendid book. Anyone who bought last year’s Bardsley extravaganza will know what to expect. All cricketing biographies contain a few pages at either end dealing with the family background of their subject, and what they did once their playing days were over. That is not however the way Peter Lloyd sees his mission. He goes back as far as he can with Noble’s ancestors, and in addition to telling Noble’s story he looks in some detail at the other members of his family. Like Bardsley Noble had a brother who played First Class cricket but, unlike Bardsley, he also has descendants. All feature fully in Monty Noble.
I was also interested in an aspect of Noble’s life which might, in other hands, have been relegated to a passing mention, that being his writing. There were excellent accounts from Noble of the 1924/25, 1926 and 1928/29 Ashes series and, like a true bibliophile, Peter Lloyd gives Noble’s writing a long hard look. He is given some assistance in that task by Rodney Cavalier who contributes a perceptive foreword, as does Ric Sissons.
I must add, and not merely as an afterthought even if it seems as if it is, that Noble’s long cricket career is fully dealt with as well. The coverage extends not only to his Test appearances, nor indeed simply his First Class appearances as his Grade cricket is also explored. Like every other part of the man’s life Noble’s cricket is profusely illustrated, not just with family and press photographs, but with a bewildering variety of memorabilia as well. There are statistics, a full bibliography and a top quality index so, again, even if it is a tad pricy Peter Lloyd’s latest is thoroughly deserving of another five stars.