Test of Time
Author: John Lazenby
Publisher: John Murray
Rating: 4 stars
By Archie Mac
26 Dec 2005
A hard book to categorize, really being three books in one
1. A biography of: Jack Mason the golden age amateur
2. A tour book of: the 1897/98 tour of Australian by England
3. A travel book of: Australian cities and Country towns.
This book fired my imagination from the blurb on the back to the opening page. John Lazenby is in fact the grandson of Jack Mason, who was captain of Kent at the turn of the century (1898-1902). After Mason died many of his personal effects were left with the Lazenby's family, and were stored in the garage on rafters. One day a young John Lazenby surreptitiously climbed up and took a peak in an old Cricket bag, in it he found a couple of old bats a faded cap and some funny gloves (tubleur gloves were in vogue) not overly impressed he carefully repacked and replaced the bag. The bag and other effects were eventually sold to a Cricket dealer.
Many years later while helping his aunt clear out a cupboard he discovered some old letters in a shoe box, the letters had been written by Jack Mason while onboard ship bound for Australia to play in the Test series of 1897/98. These letters inspired Lazenby to find out about the career of his grandfather. Step one was to find that battered old Cricket bag, after some research he tracked the Cricket bag to a collector of golden age memorabilia Roger Mann (a collection I would love to see one day). Mann was able to show him old photos and other collectables relating to his grandfather.
Two letters in particular were of great interest. The first was from Plum Warner (from whence the Warner stand at Lords takes its name). Plum had not long returned with the Ashes from Australia (1903/04) and was at the time putting together a team to travel to South Africa. In the letter he asks Jack Mason would he like to join him on the tour. The 2nd letter is from the MCC asking Mason if he would be willing to take the team to South Africa, this had obviously been done behind Plums back, a man who dedicated his life to Cricket and the MCC (I had never heard this before). In the end Mason did not tour, but he never made this duplicitous letter public knowledge, In fact it seems the family could never convince Jack Mason to talk about his Cricketing exploits.
Imbued with this information and the letters from the shoebox, John Lazenby decided to travel to Australia and retrace the Ashes tour his grandfather undertook in 1897/98. On his trip he uncovered some other things about his grandfather, and was subjected to the usual Pommy leg pulling from the locals. He visited every town and city that the tourists stayed at, and even visited the church where Archie Maclaren was married towards the end of the tour.
He keeps switching back between his own travels and the adventures of the Test team from all those years ago. We meet all the greats of the era from Ranji the Indian prince and at the time the best batsman in the World (he was sick almost the entire tour) and the tragic figure of Andrew Stoddart the captain of the English team who unfortunately became very melancholy after learning of the death of his mother during the tour, Stoddart missed two Tests and seemed unwilling to leave his room for days on end. He eventually committed suicide in 1915 after having financial concerns.
We also meet other characters such as the wicket keeper Storer who told one of the umpires in the Test series Charles Bannerman (the scorer of the first Test century) 'You're a cheat, and you know it' Storer refused to apologise, (Shades of Gatting and Shakoor Rana.) and the matter was reported to the MCC, where nothing seems to have happened. MCC were after all the forerunners of the ICC so the fact nothing was done, should not come as a surprise.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is extremely well written and does not contain any factual mistakes (not that I noticed anyway) If you like cricket and have a sense of adventure than this is the book for you.
For those who are not familiar with Jack Mason; he was one of the many talented amateurs of the 'Golden Age' of Cricket. He was a tall athletic batsman with a classical drive and an upright stance. He was also a very talented fast medium bowler. Unfortunately for Cricket, Mason all but retired from the game he loved to take up a career as a lawyer when at the peak of his powers. This was not uncommon in this era where amateurs were only allowed to take expenses from the game; many a talented player was force to choose between a career and sport.
A measure of Jack Mason's standing in the game can be gleaned from that great professional batsman from Kent, Frank Woolley, whom towards the end of his very long career picked Jack Mason to lead 'his all time 11' This team made headlines for the fact Woolley left out Bradman, on the grounds he was suspect on wet wickets.