In Mailey’s 10 for 66 and all that, published by Phoenix in 1958, the great Australian wrist spinner admits that “The only picture I had in my room was a pin-up of Victor Trumper, a replica of the one at Lord’s which shows a beautiful off drive.”
He even sketches his own cartoon of the nervous youngster unable to sleep in his bed as he contemplates opposing his hero in Saturday’s match between his Redfern and rivals Paddington.
Mailey’s full description is a wonderful piece of cricket writing portraying this experience in the most human terms right down to the grumbling milkman who takes the Mailey family to task for failing to remember to put out the milk jug for him to fill.
The household must have been in turmoil with the prospect of their son bowling to the world’s greatest batsmen the next day and all the washing, re-washing, ironing and re-ironing of his cricket clothes that went on the night before the match.
Mailey even describes how he goes out in the morning to the Zetland Hotel to check the time. Either he is worried that the family’s clock might be wrong or the family’s economy couldn’t rise to owning a clock. He was labouring for a living at this time.
This wonderful wrist spinner takes us right there beside him, as if we were the batsmen not on strike and with the perfect view, alert to every sense including the ‘sweet song of a humming toy’ as the ball leaves the bowler’s hand.
The actual description of the encounter on the field is filled with technical detail that demonstrates Mailey’s ballistic knowledge of how spinning objects behave. His accounts of both the leg break fading under the influence rotations and then the draw from the googly’s off-spinning rotations implies that he knew how to manipulate the Magnus Effect even if he probably didn’t know the work of the German physicist directly.
There is also the detailed explanation of how, when bowling the leg-break or the googly, he can alter the degree of accompanying top-spin that produces dip. He illustrates himself deliberately trading some turn for extra dip, just like Graham Swann’s flight variations, to deceive the batsman’s judgement of length. The ‘wrong ‘un’ he bowls that has Trumper stumped has the same toxic mixture of drift and dip that Warne’s wonderball leg-break to Gatting possessed.
Then, the glimpse of the humility of the Great Batsman, who has failed to pick the bosie from the hand and is too late when he sees the tell-tale draw to properly adjust his shot. The pat of the back of his bat in applause when he generously admits to this very young man that the ball was too good for him.
Third Man can be criticised for tampering with the text. He could just as well have written; ‘Mailey’s 10 for 66 and all that is a good read’ and left it at that. But TM thinks Mailey would have been tolerant and understanding.
In the same book, he himself invents a dinner shared by Trumper and Bradman and writes an imaginary conversation between them.
Although Mailey’s career links the two batsmen, his first tour was with Trumper to New Zealand, his last to Canada and the USA with Bradman the exercise was entirely fictional.
During the table talk, Trumper reveals the secrets of his success on sticky wickets. “I did a bit of cheating, I got the curator, Bill Jennings to water the end pitch before the boys came out to practice.”
“Ah, now I know why you were so good on wet wickets … you practised on them,” comments Bradman.
Third Man does not have to label the painting above, ‘How A.A. Mailey would have painted’ because in this case this fine view of The Valley of Peace, Christchurch, New Zealand, was in fact painted by the gifted Mailey.
Quite a talent.