Swift UnderhandMartin Chandler |
Author: Bonnell, Max
Publisher: Roger Page
Rating: 3.5 stars
A friend of mine in India recently came across a copy of an account of his country’s tour of England in 1932, the historic trip when, as they were then known, All-India played their inaugural Test. I had never heard of the book, let alone seen a copy advertised so we had an interesting conversation about whether or not the owner of such a rare volume might be willing to sell, and if so at what price. Unfortunately just as it seemed the book might be available the bad news came through that there were three pages missing, a trickier fact to establish than it might otherwise have been given that the pages are unnumbered.
I mention this because I had never encountered such a book before, although unknown to me a much more recent example was already sat in my collection. There are, give or take, 105 pages to Swift Underhand. I had to count them myself to be able to give that figure, which is why I hedge my bets. To be fair it is no great hardship to count to 105, but still begs the question as to why it was published that way – author Max Bonnell is an occasional visitor to CricketWeb, so hopefully either he or his publisher, our great friend Roger Page, will share the rationale with us.
But I digress. Swift Underhand is a fascinating book. It is a biography of John Kinloch, a name long forgotten before Bonnell’s timely reminder. He was one of Australia’s first First Class cricketers, selected for New South Wales on three occasions between 1859 and 1862. The early chapters are also a look at the development of the game in Australia and, in particular, in Sydney.
Bonnell is no stranger to his subject having already written a number of books about early Australian cricket. In the past the Mac has reviewed his biographies of JJ Ferris, star bowler of Victorian times, and of ‘Horseshoe’ Collins, Australia’s skipper from the mid 1920s. In addition he is the author of Currency Lads, a book which contains biographies of four of Australia’s earliest Test cricketers. There is an interesting contrast between Bonnell’s two other subjects. In How Many More Are Coming? he wrote the sad story of the aboriginal fast bowler of Edwardian times, Jack Marsh, whilst in Tibby Cotter he co-wrote, with Andrew Sproul, a life of Marsh’s much better known white contemporary.
The research that went into Swift Underhand is impressive. There were no descendants to assist Bonnell, and no personal documents or other caches of information to shed any light. His sources were primarily contemporary newspapers and magazines, and a few old Australian cricket annuals that are amongst the rarest of all cricket books. Remarkably though none of them ever carried an image of Kinloch, so we have no picture of him.
Despite his limited First Class career Kinloch’s appearances hold three particular areas of interest; two were firsts and the other a next to last. The firsts were going into bat as a nightwatchman in a First Class match in Australia, and running out a batsman who was backing up too far. As with Vinoo Mankad’s dismissal of Bill Brown the best part of a century later Kinloch’s action met with no disapproval. Had the match in question been more widely reported perhaps the word ‘kinloching’ would have ensured that ‘mankading’ never came into vogue.
Kinloch’s main role on the field was as a bowler. As Bonnell’s choice of title confirms he was an underarm bowler, and a quick one at that. How fast we simply do not know, but he seems to have put some leg spin on the ball, so whilst some reports suggest he did have a daisy cutter in the style of Trevor Chappell in his armoury, it does not appear to have been his main weapon.
What really does interest me though is that after 1862 no New South Welshman was ever selected as a specialist underarm bowler again, and only one more Victorian, and he played his last in 1873. Given that England gave the game to Australia it might have been expected that the development of the game down under took a while to catch up with the mother country. In this respect at least however that was not the case. The last time a man was picked for an English county to bowl underarm was more than half a century after Kinloch’s last appearance. Trevor Moloney was included in the Surrey side three times in 1921. Not so long before that, in 1910, George Simpson-Hayward had bowled his lobs for England on the South African mat in five Tests, and had met with considerable success as well.
Interesting as Kinloch’s cricket career was the more absorbing aspects of Swift Underhand deal with his life outside the game. An intelligent man he was on of the first graduates from the University of Sydney, and whilst he was playing cricket he remained in academia, teaching and accommodating students. He married in his late thirties shortly after the death of his father. There is a slight whiff of scandal in the circumstances of the marriage, which was to the widow of a former business partner of the father, but at this distance in time it is no more than that.
In addition to his academic work there were also ventures into business, with mixed results. Investments in mining and gas lamps ultimately disappointed, as did a much more ambitious venture, to build and run a private school through which Kinloch could put into practice his ideas about improving education.
The early failure of Kinloch’s school and the subsequent need to sell off the site doubtless caused him much anguish. Ultimately however the liquidation of the assets, particularly the land involved, proved to be a financial success. Doubtless buoyed by that windfall Kinloch tried property developing again, less successfully this time and he ended up being bankrupted. To add to his troubles there was an allegation of financial misconduct in relation to the affairs of the gas lamp company, vigorously denied by Kinloch. His standing in Sydney society seems not to have been adversely affected by the accusations, which presumably therefore lacked merit, credibility or both.
Bonnell himself has commented that Swift Underhand appeals to a decidedly minority interest. I won’t disagree with that, but it doesn’t alter the fact that there is no reason why anyone with any degree of real interest in the game should not find it a worthwhile investment. Commensurate no doubt with sales expectations the book was published in a limited edition of just one hundred copies, a few of which remain available for purchase from the publisher – snap ‘em up is my advice!