November 15, 2014

A lesson from the gnome

Clarrie Grimmett knew a thing or two about bowling

Clarrie Grimmett: rescued an out-of-luck spinner from fading into obscurity © Getty Images

The 76-year-old leprechaun sprang from the pepper tree and stood there: the little spin bowling champion, Clarrie Grimmett.

I had taken a train from Perth to Adelaide, where Clarrie had a turf pitch in his suburban backyard. From the time I was six, my ambition was to play big cricket. The day I met Mr Grimmett, I was 21, and I sensed my chances of playing Test cricket were fading. As the WA State Squad offspinner, I rarely got a bag of wickets for my club, Mt Lawley. Maybe I was a "good bowler out of luck".

Eventually I decided that something was wrong. No one has that much bad luck.

Grimmett's record was amazing: 216 wickets in 37 Tests, 127 bags of five wickets or more in 248 first-class matches. If you equate five wickets with a century, then his bowling record is better than Don Bradman's batting record (117 centuries in 234 matches).

This man knew a thing or two about bowling. We shook hands and he handed me a Jack Hobbs bat. "But I'm here to learn about bowling," I whispered in mock protest.

"Well," he smiled, "I taught a young man to play the late cut on the ship to England in 1930… and Don Bradman was a fast learner!"

He had a ball in a stocking, hanging from a branch of the pepper tree. I played one defensive prod. "Okay," he said," I've had enough of your batting."

Now to bowl.

Clarrie wore street clothes; no pads, gloves or box. He adjusted his glasses, took up his stance and I spun one down.

He met the ball with the full face of his Jack Hobbs bat.

He called me to his side: "Give up bowling and become a batsman." He added insult to injury with, "I could play you blindfolded."

I found a handkerchief and he put it over his horn-rimmed glasses. My second ball met the middle of his bat, and when he stopped laughing he gave me the best lesson of my cricketing life.

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson, Ian Chappell, and most recently of Dr Donald Beard, The Diggers' Doctor

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neale on November 18, 2014, 22:22 GMT

    "Grimmett on Cricket" was my cricket bible from which I learned to bowl legspin but despite some success in junior cricket and a stint at Ashley Malletts spin school I rapidly faded into obscurity. By the way, if you extrapolated Clarrie Grimmett's record of wickets per test to as many tests as the great Shane Warne Grimmett would easily have eclipsed him, yet he is barely mentioned in the pantheon of Australian greats.

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2014, 21:36 GMT

    Great article Mr. Mallett. I have a well worn water damaged book written by C V Grimmett which shows in precise detail how to bowl most deliveries including a detailed depiction of how to twirl down a flipper. Jack Fingleton wrote some beautiful prose on Clarrie including how he drove along a certain Adelaide street at exactly 28 mph to catch all green lights, how he trained his dog to fetch the ball when he practiced and how he occasionally clicked his fingers to let the batsman think he had bowled a flipper (or flicker as it was sometimes referred) Apparently his fingers clicked when he bowled the flipper and ever aware astute batsmen picked up on this little foible of his. Please, please Mr. Mallett continue the tales of this facet of your bowling career.

  • Paul on November 15, 2014, 22:11 GMT

    It's like the end of a Basil Brush episode! I hope when we come back next time we'll get to find out what happens next.

  • Rizwan on November 15, 2014, 19:09 GMT

    to be continued Mr Mallett ?

  • Greg on November 15, 2014, 12:48 GMT

    Grimmett was still improving when dropped from the test side by Bradman at the age of 47. Would loved to have seen him bowl in a modern T20. With his accuracy and subtle variation he would devastating.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2014, 9:41 GMT

    I used to have a fantastic book on spin bowling by Grimmett. It was called 'Tricking the batsman" or something similar. Loaned it out never to be seen again. That's what stopped MY progress to the test arena.

  • Christopher on November 15, 2014, 8:18 GMT

    In his last Test vs SA in 1935/36, Grimmett took 7/100 and 6/73 - 13/173 for the match. In his first Test, he took 5/45 and 6/37 - 11/82. He wasn't selected again for Test matches after Bradman took over as captain, for which O'Reilly never forgave him. Interestingly, that led indirectly to the success of Bedser against Bradman in England in 1948. Fresh out of ideas, he was chatting to O'Reilly, who knew Bradman better than any other bowler. It was O'Reilly who suggested putting Hutton in a leg trap to Bradman, which had some success during the rest of the tour, keeping the legend's average below 100 in Tests.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2014, 7:15 GMT

    Oh go on! You can't stop there, I want to know about what happened next - please!

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