Clarrie Grimmett - The Bradman of Spin
Author: Ashley Mallett
Rating: 4 stars
By Swaranjeet Singh
20 Jul 2009
I I have been looking for a book on Grimmett for close to thirty years; yet I refused to buy this offering from the Australian off spinner of the sixties. I have a bias against what I tend to look at as 'second-hand' biographies. In the absence of a full fledged life story, I prefer to stick to the essays of the masters by those who saw them live and/or played with/against them. In the case of the legendary leg spinner it meant reading the dozen odd pen-portraits I have in my library from top notch writers like Cardus, Batchelor and 'Crusoe' besides former cricketers including O'Reilly, Fingleton, Peebles and Moyes.
I am not sure what made me finally order Mallett's but when it did arrive I took it up immediately. Probably because the slim paperback did not pose much of a challenge to my generally slow and intermittent reading habits. Having finished it, I must confess a book has never more pleasantly surprised me.
I still hold my views about 'second-hand' biographies and 'researched' portraits but this was different. Mallett clearly knew the man, as one came to know soon enough as Mallett mentions about his meeting Grimmett in 1967 hoping to pick up some bowling tips. He continued his contact with the master right till the latter's death thirteen years later. That must explain the uncanny manner in which Mallett brings Grimmett alive in this wonderful book.
David Frith, writing a review recently of the book's 'reincarnation' as 'Scarlet: Clarrie Grimmett - Test Cricketer', complains that the Test series are 'dealt with rather superficially'. That may be so but I do not see it a reasonable ground for grumbling. Most cricket enthusiasts are up to their ears with statistics and recreating the scenes at those matches, where Alexander Gramut West (Mallett's grandfather) had perhaps been, would have been just the kind of thing I call 'second hand' reporting. This tendency to 'recreate' scenes from the past purely from score cards (or some match reports at best) is not something one finds very credible. It's enough, for yours truly at least, that Mallett, in the very first chapter, includes a 'fantasy match' in which an old Grimmett bowls for a Greg Chappell led Rest of Australia against an Alan Border led South Australia. It is fun to read to give an idea as to how a great master's mind works but no more. With the fun bit out Mallett turns to the serious business of unravelling this 'sad' old man's entire life before us.
Its amazing how Grimmett always looked sad; hence his nickname of 'Grummett' or 'Grum' for short. Throughout the narrative, you empathise with the tough life and endless spells of hardships that this small man had to endure, on the cricket field and away. But nowhere does the book lose its thread of being the life story of a great cricketer and meander into the sidelights of his life away from the game. This maintains the strength narrative.
The other delightful thing about the book is the endless stream of nuggets about the leg spinner. One, that I found particularly revealing about the character I repeat here.
When the author went to him in April 1967, Grimmett asked him to bowl to him. After playing two balls comfortably off the front foot, bang in the middle of the bat, the old man advised Mallet to give up bowling and become a batsman. Grimmett further proclaimed that he could play Mallett's bowling blind folded. Mallett was stunned. He was just seven months away from his first class debut (just over a year from donning the baggy green) and this must have been very deflating.
Mallett immediately produced a handkerchief; Grimmett put it on his eyes, chuckled and took his place at the wicket. Mallett bowled a perfect off break, pitched outside the off stump, turning into the batsman and Grimmett met it with a dead straight bat once again. Grimmett was delighted but then took mercy on the youngster and then explained to him that his bowling was too predictable.
Now comes the best part of the story.
Grimmett asked Mallett to assume that he was standing on top of a bridge on a dark night and below him a car was approaching; would he, by looking at the lights of the car, be able to tell the approximate speed of it. Mallett responded in the affirmative. Grimmett agreed and then asked if instead of being on a bridge, he was stupid enough to be down in a manhole in the middle of the road with his head sticking out just under the level of the lights of a car coming in his direction, would he still be able to tell the speed?
When Mallett replied in the negative, Grimmett agreed again and then explained 'looking down, it is possible to judge speed. But when the object is travelling towards you at just above eye level, judging the speed is difficult,"
Grimmett's comments were designed to illustrate that a spinner operating at a trajectory above eye level was far more difficult to play than one bowling a 'flat' delivery.
"If the batsman can look down on the ball he will know immediately if the ball is over-pitched or slightly short. Your trajectory must be above the level of the eyes most of the time. That makes a batsman's judgment of length difficult."
"The Grimmett lesson in flight was the best cricket lesson of my life", asserts Mallett.
The book is full of such gems including how as a young boy Grimmett came across a magazine article of a man bowling on a beach, digging a hole with his right foot every time it landed on the soft sand and his getting deeper and deeper with every ball till suddenly the leg break stated turning in towards the batsman!
This gave him an idea of developing the wrong one, based on the dropping of the shoulder and he started working on it by himself very close to the time Bosanquet was surprising his friends in England with this mystery ball. Many years later Grimmett met Bosanquet at a dinner and told him of the article and was pleasantly surprised to note that Bosanquet too had read it around the same time!
Grimmett's problems with Bradman and the latter's being less than fond of the master is an open secret. Mallet devotes a full chapter to this intriguing subject as he does to one about Grimmett and O'Reilly, the greatest spin duo in history and great friends, in a chapter called The Tiger and The Fox.
The book is too small so quoting from it will take away from the pleasure of actually reading it. I must, however, mention that it includes, in its entirety, one of the finest word pictures ever of a cricketer, that of Grimmett by another master, Sir Neville Cardus. Those who have not read that piece will cherish the book for that alone.
For any and every lover of the game, I strongly recommend, to get hold of this book and read it, today!