Three Days at Aigburth: Tom McKibbin’s Match

Published: 2024
Pages: 80
Author: Bonnell, Max
Publisher: Red Rose Books
Rating: 4.5 stars

In terms of getting this excellent little book published it may, on the face of matters, be serendipitous that Tom McKibbin’s finest performance in First Class cricket was against Lancashire at the Aigburth ground in Liverpool. In truth however I cannot imagine that Red Rose Books would not have published this one anyway, coming as it does  from the pen of one of Australia’s best cricket writers.

The match in question took place in 1896. That summer’s Australian tourists had lost the Test series 2-1, but they had not been beaten by any of the First Class counties so their final such encounter against the Red Rose was not without importance. It was a wet summer and the game was affected by rain. McKibbin, who ended the tour with 101 First Class wickets at 14.26, took 6/27 and 7/11 as Lancashire slumped to scores of 62 all out and 28 all out to lose by 217 runs.

In three separate but non-consecutive chapters, one dealing with each of the three days of the match, the build up to the encounter and the play itself are described in detail. Despite the books title however those chapters are not the main purpose of Three Days at Aigburth, which is first and foremost a biography of a most interesting Australian cricketer.

McKibbin made his First Class bow at 23, and his final appearance less than five years later. In between there were 320 wickets at 19.67, 17 of them at 29.17 in five Tests spread across three Ashes series. Remarkably there was film taken of his bowling action, although sadly that has not been located. An attacking bowler and a big spinner of the ball McKibbin was essentially an off spinner, but one who could also turn the ball the other way. He had a questionable action which Bonnell does his best to describe and, given the obvious difficulties inherent in that given access only to contemporary reports, he does so with admirable lucidity.

As the short duration of his career suggests McKibbin’s is a life interesting for a good deal more than his development as a cricketer. In fact so much did McKibbin do that there remain gaps in the narrative but, thanks to the efforts of a great nephew and the family archive he maintains Bonnell has been able to paint a picture that is much fuller than he could ever have hoped to put together from public records and press reports alone.

Outside the game McKibbin spent four years of his early adulthood working towards qualification as a solicitor and then, via a circuitous route, ended up as a forward thinking and successful sheep farmer, so this is certainly not a book that deals only with an interesting but short lived cricket career.

The book itself is published to the usual high standard of Red Rose Books. There is a decent index, all the statistics that anyone could reasonably want and a decent selection of photographs. The book is available directly from the publisher at £14 inclusive of UK postage and packing and, for those of us who like that sort of thing, there is a limited edition hardback at £38 per copy, but there are only 13 of those.

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