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

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