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Alan Kippax – The Style Was The Man

In cricket as in many things rankings and statistics don’t always mean a great deal. By way of example the legacy of Victor Trumper is an enduring one. There may not have been a flood of publications to greet the centenary of his death in 2015, but it was a very substantial trickle. Purely in terms of batting average however, traditionally the measure used for comparisons, there are as many as 69 batsmen who are “better” than Trumper, and that is just amongst Australians.

Trumper played his last Test in 1912 and was only 37 when he died three years later. After the Great War the Australian public yearned for a new Trumper in much the same way as in the 1950s they longed for a new Bradman. The weight of expectation on men like Neil Harvey and Norm O’Neill was too great, and they were set an impossible goal. A generation earlier some Australians believed they had their new Trumper, but Archie Jackson was taken from them at just 23. Another who attracted comparison with the legend was Alan Kippax.

Like Trumper, Kippax’s Test average is modest, 36.12 as against Trumper’s 39.04. Outside the Test arena Trumper’s average moved up a little to 44.57 but there the pair did differ. In an era of tall scoring generally Kippax ended his career with an overall average of 57.23.  Another difference is that there was a degree of unorthodoxy in the way Trumper batted that Kippax never sought to replicate. Unlike his illustrious predecessor Kippax only used strokes that were in the coaching manual, but he played them with an elegance and a style that few could match. He shaped at the wicket like Trumper as well, rolling up his shirt sleeves in an identical manner. Kippax was always immaculately turned out.

Aged 17 when the Great War began Kippax undoubtedly matured rather later than many. Although he did make his debut immediately after the war it was four years later, in 1922/23 at the age of 25, that he finally made a real impact. Not having previously recorded a century he went through that Sheffield Shield summer averaging over 90. His impressive form continued through the following year and by the end of the 1924/25 Ashes series Kippax was elevated to the Test side, making his debut in the final match at the SCG. The series was already won by then, and the Australians went on to win the match and the series 4-1, but they were wobbling on 103-5 before Kippax joined Ponsford and contributed 42 to a partnership of 105.

Much is made of the omission of Kippax from the 1926 party that toured England. Former captain Monty Noble wrote that; no player ever did more to justify his inclusion in the 1926 team, yet the selectors, with that lamentably stupid and visionless disregard of the future which has characterized so many of their actions, passed him over. The words used are strong ones, particularly for the time as they appeared in Noble’s account of the 1928/29 series. Perhaps tellingly there is no such strident criticism in the book Noble wrote on the 1926 series.

The problem the Australian selectors set themselves in choosing the 1926 team was to name twelve members of the party after a trial match and before the Sheffield Shield campaign concluded. By that time there was just one place left for a specialist batsman, and that went to Bill Woodfull. Of the batsmen who were selected only the 40 year old Charlie Macartney, with 88.33, bettered Kippax’ season’s average for 1925/26 of 83.57 and that, coupled with the lack of youth in the party (only Bill Ponsford at 25 was younger than Kippax) were the main causes of complaint.

In the final analysis Jack Ryder (who along with skipper Horseshoe Collins and Clem Hill made up the three man selection panel) shouldn’t have toured. Looking back the best part of a century later and the claims of Tommy Andrews seem shaky but, if as seems to have been the case, the place Kippax might have got was Woodfull’s it is difficult to criticise the selectors. Unlike Kippax, Woodfull was uncapped, and the single year difference in their ages would not have mattered. What surely would have been the pertinent consideration was the fact that, , Woodfull, unlike Kippax, was an opener and whilst his average for 1925/26 might have been 20 points lower than Kippax’s the latter’s figures were bloated by an unbeaten 271 he took from what appears to be a fairly anodyne Victoria attack. In the final analysis the words of Plum Warner on the subject of the Kippax omission seem apposite; the men chosen were one and all most able cricketers, the great majority of whom had experience on English wickets.

After four draws England won a famous Test at The Oval at the end of that 1926 summer to regain the Ashes for the first time since the Great War. There were inevitably going to be new men needed when the old enemies met again in 1928/29. Collins, Warren Bardsley, Andrews, Johnny Taylor and Macartney were all gone within months. In 1926/27 Kippax had another outstanding season, averaging 86.58,; he was barely less effective the following year, his average slipping only marginally to 84.18. In the course of that season, against Queensland, he recorded what was to remain his highest First Class innings, an unbeaten 315.

At the end of the 1927/28 summer Kippax was a member of a strong side that toured New Zealand. His personal form dipped alarmingly as he averaged barely 20, although his teammates were much more successful as the team won four of the six First Class matches and had much the better of the two draws. As a result Kippax still had a bit of work to do in order to make sure of his place in the Test side the following season.

In the trial match that began the Australian summer of 1928/29 Kippax was chosen for an Australian XI that met The Rest. A young Donald Bradman, playing in his sixth First Class match, could not save The Rest from an innings defeat at the hands of the senior side. With 34, Kippax was probably still not certain of a place in the starting line up against England, but he then made 64 and 136* for New South Wales against the tourists.

In the first Test, won by England by 675 runs, Kippax scored 16 and 15 but, unlike debutant Bradman, he kept his place for the second Test. Innings of 9 and 10 in another heavy defeat were disappointing and Kippax also became embroiled in controversy as a result of his dismissal in the first innings. He essayed a sweep shot at George Geary and the bails were dislodged. Believing the ball had rebounded onto the stumps from the pads of wicketkeeper George Duckworth Kippax stood his ground. He was given not out by the umpire at the bowler’s end.

England and Jack Hobbs in particular were furious. Hobbs led an orchestrated appeal to the square leg umpire which, contrary to the laws of the game, was acceded to. Some in the Australian dressing room felt their skipper, Ryder, should intervene although he chose not to. It was an unpleasant incident at the time but Kippax left the crease on getting the second verdict and Hobbs later apologised to him for his unusually intemperate behaviour. To put a lid on the incident as a potential flashpoint a photograph was later widely circulated that appeared to confirm that Kippax had indeed been bowled, and there was no lasting ill will generated.

Between the second and third Tests Kippax put his name indelibly in the record books and probably saved his Test place. The match was the Sheffield Shield match between traditional rivals New South Wales and Victoria at the MCG, not generally Kippax’s happiest hunting ground. He only ever scored two centuries at the famous old ground in 22 matches. Curiously they were achieved in successive appearances, this game and the third Test that followed it.

Victoria won the toss and batted. Skipper Ryder made 175 out of a total of 376 and in the pre lunch session on day three New South Wales were, at 113-9, almost down and out. Kippax, who had come in at 46-2, was 20 not out and joined by Hal Hooker, a man with just two double figure scores in six previous appearances. By lunch the last pair had moved the score on to 170 at which point the story, possibly apocryphal, is that Ryder asked the old international, Hugh Trumble, whether he should enforce the follow on. Trumble is said to have advised Ryder to get the last wicket before he started thinking about that. Victoria did take that wicket, and indeed Ryder was the man who caught Hooker. By then however there was no question of New South Wales following on. In fact it was a day later and the visitors were 44 in front, Kippax unbeaten on 260 whilst Hooker had scored 62. Their tenth wicket partnership of 307 might not be a record quite as impregnable as Bradman’s 99.94, but it still stands almost 90 years later and the second best is, at 249, a long way short.

Three days later Kippax made exactly 100 against England. He added 161 for the fourth wicket with Ryder and the doubters were finally silenced. His 41 in the second innings was not enough to prevent England winning by three wickets. Nor was a Kippax half century in the fourth Test sufficient to stop a 12 run defeat. Australia did get a consolation win in the final Test with Kippax contributing 38 and 28.

In 1929/30 Kippax’s average was at its lowest since 1920/21, but still 62.00, and he was selected for the 1930 trip to England. The Australians regained the Ashes by a 2-1 margin, and in the Tests Bradman scored 974 runs at an average of 139.14. No one could possibly have matched that, and Kippax didn’t manage a single three figure score in the Tests, but he showed solid consistency in making a half century in each of the first four Tests. His overall tour average of 58.04 had only been exceeded once, apart from Bradman this tour, by Macartney in 1921.

In an appreciation of Kippax written shortly after his death Ian Peebles told an interesting story concerning his first Test against Australia, the fourth of the 1930 series. Peebles was a Scottish leg spin bowler who played for Middlesex and, briefly, was touted as the man to tame Bradman. At Old Trafford Peebles dismissed the great man for a mere 14 and, with the wicket giving him considerable assistance he was expecting more success. Kippax replaced Bradman and his first ball cannoned into his pads giving rise to a huge appeal. The same happened from the next delivery and, the wicketkeeper being local man Duckworth, renowned for his stentorian appeals, the whole ground was on edge. When the next delivery also struck Kippax in front the English appeal was a deafening exhortation. The only calm people on the ground were umpire ‘Old’ Joe Hardstaff, who turned the appeals down, and Kippax, who stood his ground, unmoved and unruffled throughout. Peebles playing career never quite took off in the way it was hoped, and he became a distinguished writer and raconteur, and the story does give the impression it probably grew in the telling. Its being referenced in Bradman’s 1950 autobiography does however confirm Peebles’ account.

The following Australian season, 1930/31, marked the first visit to Australia by a team from the West Indies and there was a full five Test series. Australia won the first four comfortably before the visitors raised their game in the final Test and just edged out their hosts. Kippax played in all five matches and recorded his second, highest and last Test century in the first encounter. It was an important innings because although the Australians eventual winning margin was ten wickets when Kippax began his innings of 146 his side were still 232 behind West Indies with Ponsford, Jackson and Bradman all back in the pavilion. The only account of the tour in book form, published 60 years after the event, proclaimed that; the graceful New South Wales batsman had played an innings of incalculable value, highlighted by delightful late cuts and flowing drives.

South Africa were Australia’s visitors in 1931/32. Before the First Class season began Kippax took his own side on a country tour. In the second game, at Parkes, around 220 miles from Sydney, Kippax’s nose was broken by a lifting delivery. It was no fault of Kippax that the accident occurred as an inspection revealed the presence of a spike beneath the mat being used for the game. It was however almost certainly the beginning of the end of Kippax’s international career.

A few weeks after the accident in Parkes, New South Wales travelled to Brisbane. The New South Welshmen won convincingly by an innings and 238 runs, but it is not the result that the match is remembered for. This was the famous occasion when Eddie Gilbert’s bowling knocked the bat from Bradman’s hand before having him caught at the wicket for a duck. Kippax replaced the Don. He saw Gilbert’s fiery opening spell off, but then went to hook the fast medium bowling of ‘Pud’ Thurlow. Although he was no slouch Thurlow was not in the same league as Gilbert in terms of speed, and Kippax had completed his shot before the ball reached him and was struck on the side of the head. He retired hurt and did not appear again in the innings.

Dizziness was a recurring problem for Kippax after the Parkes/Gilbert incidents and he missed the second Test as a result of it. The series did not stretch the Australians. In the only Test in which they were dismissed twice they still won by 169 runs. It was that game, the third at the MCG, where Kippax made his two half centuries for the series, although he also top scored with 42 in the Australian innings in the final Test at the same venue. In a remarkable game the Australians were all out for a mere 153. The wicket however was a Melbourne sticky, and the South Africans were shot out for 36 and 45.

The next Test action Kippax and Australia were involved in was the famous Bodyline series of 1932/33. Kippax made the side for the first Test despite not having made runs against the tourists for New South Wales. He was hit on the hand early on in his first innings by Voce before falling lbw to Larwood for 8. In the second innings he was clean bowled by the same bowler for 19. On his return to the pavilion he is said to have conceded that Larwood was too fast for me, and there is no suggestion that he was in any way disappointed to play no further part in the series.

It must be the case that his injuries the previous summer affected Kippax’s confidence against the quick men. Cowardice is certainly not something he can be accused of, and the best illustration of that comes from his only Test century against England, in the third Test of the 1928/29 series. It is true to say the wicket at the MCG for that match seems not to have been the quickest, and that nothing of the fast leg theory school of tactics was being attempted. It is certainly also true the Larwood who returned to Australia four years later was a little faster than the one on show in 28/29. That much conceded, Larwood realising that Kippax was going to take him on, peppered him with plenty of short pitched bowling. Eventually Larwood succeeded and, of all people, Douglas Jardine took a catch from a mishit hook, but before the strengthening of the leg field Kippax had repeatedly struck Larwood to the pickets.

Once the Bodyline series ended Kippax became the only Australian who took part in to write a contemporary book about it. He worked with writer Eric Barbour to produce Anti-Bodyline, perhaps better described as a treatise than a mainstream book. By contemporary standards it is fairly tame, but certainly contained some trenchant opinions. His starting point is the Bodyline bowler relies on intimidation. He has to hit the batsman from time to time to get results. From there he describes those who practiced the tactics thus; the “body-liner” seems to me to be exactly on a par with the footballer who “puts in the boot”. A film that circulated during the series, filmed in England and of the Middlesex pace bowler Jack Durston bowling what the English establishment then believed was Bodyline, Kippax described as laughable to the point of absurdity.

After averaging less than 30 in that Bodyline summer it seemed likely that at 36 Kippax’s career was coming to an end, so perhaps putting his views into writing was cathartic. In any event in 1933/34 Kippax scored four centuries, averaged 71.92 and was selected for the 1934 tour of England. Unfortunately for his prospects of a return to the Test side there was a bout of flu early on followed by a throat infection and Kippax seldom got going. That he ended up with an average of over 50 for the visit was due in large part to what proved to be his seventh and last double century, 250 in less than five hours against Sussex in the match that followed the final Test.

His health problems ruled Kippax out of the early Tests but he was selected for the fifth. As the series was locked at 1-1 the last game was to be played to a finish. Australia won by the huge margin of 562 runs. For Kippax there were scores of 28 and 8. In the first innings Australia were already nearing 600 when he arrived at the crease, and in the second the lead was already 593, so he was under no real pressure.

Back in Australia Kippax stepped down from the New South Wales captaincy for 1934/35, a position he had held since 1927/28. He had a moderate season, but did manage 139 against South Australia, his final century. In 1935 he played twice against an MCC side that stopped off in Australia on its way to New Zealand. He did not play First Class cricket again.

Outside cricket Kippax also represented New South Wales at baseball, and after he retired became an accomplished golfer and also excelled at lawn bowls. In 1926 he started a sporting goods store in Sydney and that served him well in later life. In 1972 heart disease claimed Alan Kippax at the age of 75. He left his widow a substantial estate. Sadly their marriage had not been blessed with the gift of children so there was no succeeding generation able to grace the art of batsmanship in the way Kippax had done.

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