Something Uncommon in the Flight
Author: Max Bonnell
Publisher: Roger Page Cricket Books
Rating: 4 stars
By Archie Mac
01 Feb 2014
The best extant cricket writer, Gideon Haigh once asked where are all the home grown Australian biographies. Well I hope Mr Haigh is pleased, as over the last few years bios on Hugh Trumble, Albert & Harry Trott, Tibby Cotter (co-authored by Max Bonnell) and Terror Turner have been released.
The book on Charles Turner by Ric Sissons was an excellent read and made regular mention of Turner's bowling partner and fellow New South Welshman, Jack Ferris. The two must have been close as Turner would often toast the memory of his old accomplice at the SCG.
Turner certainly had the longer life, reaching 81, while Ferris died at just 33, of what most cricket historians have always believe to have been enteric fever while a soldier in the Boer war. This is such an accepted part of the Ferris story; that it comes as a shock when Bonnell completely debunks both the manner of his death and Ferris' profession when it occurred. There are other revelations about Ferris, including his penury issues and lack of a business career at the time of his death.
All of these new insights give an idea of the amount of research the author has conducted to bring us the Ferris story. Unfortunately however,even with his level of research, Bonnell is unable to shed too much light on the young Ferris or the amount and quality of cricket he played as a youth.
His rise as a world class bowler was spectacular, as despite only playing eight Test matches for his country he claimed 48 wickets. He also played one Test for England where he claimed a further 13 wickets against South Africa. It is imagined Ferris did not even know he was playing a Test match for England, since at the time the match was not even considered worthy of first class status.
Ferris played his one Test for England while a tourist for W.W. Reads XI, just after he had accepted terms for Gloucestershire. In the end his tour to South Africa appears to have ruined his bowling as the matting wickets, prevalent in the Veld at that time, required a subtle change to his action which seems to have cost him his ability to be dangerous on turf wickets from that tour on. This was particularly disappointing for Gloucester, as WG Grace had recruited him for his bowling. To his credit Ferris improved his batting during his time with the county, but alas they did not renew his contract and he returned to Australia.
It seems Ferris had a bit of a Bedouin bent. From Australia to Gloucestershire, back to Australia and then to South Africa where he met his early demise. Even within Australia he moved from NSW to Victoria to South Australia.
So, not just another biography of a fine Australian cricketer but one that sheds new light on a personality that historians thought they knew. Perhaps Max Bonnell, who writes about NSW cricketers, can add another one to his list to keep Mr Haigh happy. I suggest William Murdoch.
There seems so much that we already know about 'Billy M'. Such as Fred Spofforth missing the First ever Test match because Murdoch was not selected as keeper, to his refusal to play in some Tests unless he received a higher percentage of the gate, to captaining Sussex to dropping dead from a heart attack at a Test match. Well that's what we think we know; no doubt Max Bonnell can provide us with the exact facts.