Fifteen Minutes of FameArchie Mac and Martin Chandler |
Author: Piesse, Ken
Rating: 4 stars
Playing a solitary Test is a double edged sword. On the one hand you’re a success by living every school boys dream. On the other hand you look like a bit of a failure for only playing once. Author Ken Piesse certainly thinks that anyone who played one Test is deserving of admiration. He has lovingly detailed the 70 players who have played in just the one Test for Australia.
Each player is dedicated two to six pages, which include their Test batting and bowling figures as well as a description of the match they played. Piesse also includes their age when they debuted. I would have liked to see the birth and death details too, and found myself regularly googling the older players featured.
Piesse, and his team, have clearly consulted a wide range of publications to discover even minor details of interest. Many I have not previously read which is a fair effort, especially for those players selected prior to the 1970s.
As always, Piesse has an effortless and immensely accessible writing style. You can easily find yourself having read 50 pages and picking up all sorts of interesting facts and amusing anecdotes. Some things gleaned include: if you’re a fast bowler don’t make your debut on Adelaide Oval, and if you’re a batsmen, avoid Tasmania and most England grounds.
It’s also not a good idea to replace crowd favourites, especially on their home grounds. Poor Victorian Wayne Phillips replaced home town hero Geoff Marsh at the WACA. Not only were the crowd annoyed but Captain Grumpy himself, Allan Border, let all and sundry know of his displeasure. Victorian Dr George Thoms, who made his debut alongside fellow opener Colin McDonald at the SCG, found themselves dubbed ‘Stodge and Splodge’ by the Sydney media.
There are some great characters covered in this book and some inspiring performances. Wicket Keeper Phil Emery playing on after shattering his thumb. The true all round skills of Jack Harry, who was a middle order batsmen, handy keeper and who once bowled with both arms in a first class match. We find out that Harry’s invite for the 1896 tour of England was revoked because he was a ‘rough diamond’ and there were concerns about his social ability when meeting the upper classes in England.
Another ‘rough diamond’ was Bill Hunt who, after using some ‘fruity’ language after a catch was dropped off his bowling, was removed from the attack by fastidious captain Bill Woodfull and did not bowl again in the match. Hunt was a close friend of the ill fated Archie Jackson who died aged just 23. Hunt wore Jackson’s creams when he played his only Test.
Piesse, as always never takes a cheap shot. For instance Paul Hibbert, who died after many years afflicted by alcoholism, is simply mentioned as dying young aged 56. Even the title is respectful – Fifteen Minutes of Fame – which could have just as easily been titled ‘One Hit Wonders’ or some such derogatory title.
In the end there is probably no real surprise as to why most of the 70 players covered in this book never added to their one Test. After all, only two made a half century and only one claimed a ‘Michelle’.
Ken Piesse usually sticks to Australian cricket – however based on the quality of Fifteen Minutes of Fame, it would be great if he gave similar treatment to other countries and their single Test players. This is an excellent read and is heartedly recommended.
One distinction the latest book in Ken Piesse’s Nostalgia series has is that it persuaded me to pick up a calculator a tool which, not being the most numerate of people, I generally try to give a wide berth. The reason I had to pick it up was the fact that there are no less than seventy men who are profiled in the book, a study of the men who have worn the coveted ‘Baggy Green’, but only once. That is, according to my calculations, around 15% of those who have appeared for Australia.
As an Englishman I get used to the criticism made of panels of England selectors over the years that they were too keen to jettison players who did not immediately take to Test cricket. Indeed I have levelled the accusation on occasion myself yet, despite the England selectors having not infrequently in years gone by sent teams overseas to play Tests series that were not truly representative, the English figure is only 13%.
Which is something I may one day give a bit more thought to, but for today’s purposes the only relevance is that Fifteen Minutes of Fame has rather more content than I expected it to have. And that is very welcome because this is an excellent book, and yet another example of a cricket writer/researcher having put their months in lockdown to good use.
The beauty of books of this type is that they rarely become bogged down in the familiar. Some of the matches involved are, naturally, well known, but given that almost inevitably the man being written about will have played no more than a bit part in his single contest then that unfamiliar perspective, coupled with the rarely known back story, means that these profiles are all well worth reading. Of the 70 I believe I am correct in saying that only the lives of Roley Pope, Rex Allen, Arthur Coningham, Sam Morris and Ken Eastwood have been looked at before, and none of them in books that are easily available.
A not entirely straightforward question with books like this one is where to start. Do you read from start to finish, or jump about from chapter to chapter as the fancy takes you? Ken Piesse ordered his subjects alphabetically by surname, so it was the former for me as that meant starting with Harry Alexander, the fast bowler called up for the final Test of the ‘Bodyline’ series. A great character, ‘Bull’ was a man I already knew something of, but I now know a great deal more.
I did intend to then go straight on to the next in Piesse’s list, Frank Allan, but I regret my good intentions failed me, not for the first time, and I went from Alexander to Lisle Nagel and then on to ‘Hammy’ Love, the other one Test men from that famous series, about both of whom I learned much. On the subject of Love the skittish manner of Bradman’s batting in the series came up, Piesse observing that the sort of shots that ‘The Don’ routinely deployed against Bodyline would not be seen regularly in international cricket until the dawn of the T20 format – food for thought.
From Love I did then go back to Frank Allan, and then Rex Allen, Uncle of England captain ‘Gubby’ before taking a haphazard route through the men from the 19th century who feature in Fifteen Minutes of Fame. I then went back to the interwar period, before moving on from there until I got to the beginning of the 1980s.
I have to admit that from then on progress was slower, and initially I read only the chapters on Stuart Law and James Faulkner, something that says as much about my areas of cricketing interest as anything else. Further visits to the book have however taken me through some more of the chapters dealing with the modern era, and I can certainly confirm that even if my own interest flagged a little, the quality of the writing did not.
Several years ago now a book was published on the subject of Englishmen with one Test appearance, entitled One Test Wonders, which David Taylor reviewed for us here. It isn’t a bad read but, as David pointed out, did not set out to be comprehensive and therefore the author had the luxury that Piesse did not enjoy of being able to cherrypick his subjects.
Having read both books one conclusion I do draw is that Ken Piesse does have one big advantage over Roderick Easedale, being that the men he wrote about have back stories that are, almost invariably, so much more interesting than those of the Englishmen. The reason is simple, in that many of the Englishmen were career cricketers who simply weren’t quite good enough to succeed at the highest level. With their Australian equivalents it really is a case of no two stories being the same. One of the better English stories, and well after Easedale’s time of course, concerns Aussie Darren Pattinson and that, rather cleverly I thought, is one that Piesse tells in his introduction.
There is no better man to write a foreword for this exercise than David Frith who, once more, demonstrates that the advancing years have not dulled the sharpest of cricketing brains one iota, and one of the best wordsmiths in the business gets another opportunity to leave his mark on the game’s literature. Added to that Fifteen Minutes of Fame is very well produced, in hard back, with a dust jacket, and containing a vast array of photographs and other illustrations not a single one of which I can recollect seeing before. In addition of a total edition of 500 copies 70 of those have a limitation page signed by Frith and Piesse, and a custom made slip case – very nice indeed.