Stroke of Genius

Published: 2016
Pages: 315
Author: Haigh, Gideon
Publisher: Penguin Hamish Hamilton
Rating: 4.5 stars

Jack Fingleton, the former Australian opener and talented writer once wrote a book on a single Test. No easy task but he did have the tied Test as his muse. In this book Gideon Haigh focuses on the most famous cricket photo – George Beldam’s ‘Jumping Out’ featuring Victor Trumper. It’s hard to imagine there are too many cricket writers with enough talent to do both justice to the subject while also maintaining the interest of the reader.  That Haigh manages to achieve both is acknowledgment to his quality prose and ability to spin an interesting story.

Haigh takes the reader on a journey through the development of photography and how that related to sports and specifically cricketing photography. The author does not make this too technical and helps in the understanding of why ‘jumping out’ simply had to be staged. Beldham’s issues with the shutter speed and lens strength meant he had to be in close proximity of his subject. Haigh’s descriptions of Beldam’s travails in capturing ‘Jumping out’ shows just what skill Beldham possessed, and perhaps a little luck too, in obtaining the famous photo.

There is also a short bio of Beldman and a more detailed one on Trumper. The Trumper that Haigh paints is a different one from those portrayed by Fingleton and his contemporaries. While still acknowledged as a generous philanthropic man, Haigh also highlights his trenchant clashes with the fledging Australian Cricket Board of Control and also the NSWCA. This schism with authority and Trumper’s refusal to acquiesce to those in charge probably, according to Haigh, cost Trumper the Australian captaincy.

While this is not a biography of Trumper, that icon is the thread that keeps the book together. In between the Trumper story we jump from famous paintings to theatre and even to a discourse on consumption. Haigh for the first time in print suggests Trumper may have had tuberculosis, to which he and Clem Hill lost family.

If not a true biography of Trumper, Stroke of Genius still presents one of the most illuminating pictures of perhaps the greatest stylist in cricket history. Haigh partly achieves this by quoting liberally from contemporaries such as C.B. Fry and Sir Neville Cardus, although he adds his own opinions too. Haigh shows just how universally embraced ‘Jumping out’ is, featuring in the most unlikely places and owned by just about every cricket enthusiast. It was nice to see my mate Dennis Coon earning a mention with a copy of his bookplate featured. It was a shame that Beldham does not seem to have been associated with the photo for many years and his copyright ignored.

The book returns to Beldham towards its finish and details his son’s efforts to ensure his father’s lifelong work is not wasted by printing a number of his father’s cricket photos in book form. Unfortunately the final printed product was not up to scratch and Beldham’s son dies with his project unfulfilled.

Usually when reading Haigh, it’s advisable to have a dictionary handy as he loves the $3 words, however this time it’s best to have access to the internet. You will find it necessary to check up on all the references, especially of the many famous illustrations which materially adds to the reading experience.

Haigh’s research of Trumper and in fact of all his subjects is first rate and combined with the quality of his writing makes for a first class read. Due to Haigh’s writing skill and its production values Stroke of Genius will be a contender for the cricket book of the year.


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