Talented, Tormented and Tragic

Published: 2022
Pages: 104
Author: Butler, John
Publisher: Private
Rating: 3.5 stars

Covid-19’s lockdowns have given us a number of books which it is unlikely would ever have seen the light of day without them, and courtesy of those and the relative ease of self-publishing in the 21st century we now have a life of Ronald Vibart.
Inevitably the first question is as to who on earth Vibart was. He never played a Test match, and indeed never played so much as a single First Class match in his life. Nonetheless Vibart, who was born in 1879, undoubtedly deserves to be described as a thoroughly professional cricketer, and has a most unusual back story.
Vibart’s parents, a rarity at the time, divorced when he was a child. His mother seems to have been a victim of domestic violence, and Vibart’s father did not provide a great deal of support for his children. A miserable existence might have beckoned, but then Vibart’s mother met and married a wealthy man, and a former Surrey cricketer.
Thanks to his step father Vibart was educated at Harrow where he played four times in the Eton v Harrow match at Lord’s, his first appearance being at just 14. In those days the fixture was one of the highlights of the cricket calender, right up there with Gentlemen v Players and the Varsity Match. From Harrow Vibart followed a well trodden and went up to Cambridge but, no doubt a sign of things to come, he didn’t stay very long.
After a brief stay at University Vibart travelled to Argentina, where he remained for a number of years. After returning to England he spent most of his time in the South West and, a decent batsman and highly regarded wicketkeeper, he spent much of his time as a club professional as well as representing Cornwall in the Minor Counties Championship 47 times.
The Great War ended Vibart’s appearances for Cornwall, but after a chequered period of active service he went back to professional cricket when peace returned and, as late as 1922, renewed his acquaintance with the Minor Counties Championship, this time with Cornwall’s neighbours, Devon.
Throughout his life it seems likely that connections he had made in his schooldays opened doors for Vibart, but his personal life was complicated and he regularly found himself in court, sometimes in relation to financial support for his dependents, but more often for criminal offences. Some were clearly committed as a result of excess drinking, but others were confidence tricks, designed to extract money from Vibart’s victims.
In the fullness of time the error of Vibart’s ways led him up a blind alley and he ended up as one of the many cricketers who has taken his own life. As such he merited an entry in David Frith’s acclaimed study of that subject in a cricketing context, Silence of the Heart, and it is from there that John Butler acquired his interest in the errant Vibart.
It would be fascinating if the well educated Vibart had maintained a personal archive, or if his descendants were available and knew of the antics of their forebear, but sadly there is nothing of that nature available. That said there is much of Ronald Vibart’s life in the pages of the newspapers of his time, including detailed descriptions of many of his court appearances.
So Butler hasn’t been able to write a biography as such, and his account asks as many questions as it answers, but it remains one of the most interesting lives of a cricketer that I have read in a long time. Being self-published there is the odd glitch. One more proof read wouldn’t have gone amiss and a professional might have been able to make a bit more of some of the photographs. But it would be churlish to carp and whilst, as a cricketer, Vibart did not leave much of an impression on the record books this meticulously researched and well written study of a complicated and unconventional character is certainly recommended.
For those interested in purchasing the cost of Talented, Tormented and Tragic is £13 including UK postage and packing and enquiries should be addressed directly to the author at pjrbutler2@gmail.com

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