This book will be available to purchase at the SACA office from Tuesday, 1 June. View the second of our featured stories below:
I'll Come on the Other End
By Ashley Mallett
He was Australia’s answer to WG Grace. George Giffen, a big, powerful man, in the 1890s was the leading allrounder in the land. He loved to bat and he loved to bowl, in fact God help anyone who dared suggest he take a rest from the bowling crease.
He was more a medium-paced cutter-type bowler than a spinner. Operating at slow medium he broke the ball from the off, harvesting many wickets in big games leading up to the turn of the 20th century.
The third son of a carpenter, George was born on March 27, 1859. He began his working life as a postman and, loving the outdoors, the job suited him perfectly. He rarely rode a bicycle, or accepted a lift by a friend in pony and trap.
The talented sporting allrounder played football for Norwood and in 1878 he proved the matchwinner when he kicked the only goal of the club’s historic first game – against South Adelaide, where else but on Adelaide Oval? His name became synonymous with the famous Red and Blues, an early victory song, to the tune ofKillarney, containing these lines:
Giffen, dashing through the fray,
Kicked first goal for Norwood.
But cricket was his great passion and especially bowling. Giffen approached the wicket from eight paces. He began by swinging both arms in a backward motion, then he moved in purposely and just before reaching his delivery stride he assumed a nice side-on position, so much so the batsman rarely knew what type of ball was about to arrive, his bowling hand being hidden from view until, that is, the split-second before release.
His allround performances for South Australia are the stuff of cricket legend. Giffen’s 271 – scored in seven hours – and match haul of 16 wickets against Victoria at Adelaide Oval in 1891 is a first-class record unlikely to be broken this century, or even the next. During that match a team-mate suggested he have a “rest”.
“A rest you say?” George smiled, “I’ll come on the other end!”
Giffen trained assiduously, always bowling for at least two hours at practice sessions. He then ran alone around the boundary line at Adelaide Oval before collecting his gear, tearing up Montefiore Hill at the back of the Oval and walking home to Norwood.
His voracious appetite for hard work was matched by the huge numbers he racked up in a career that, not surprisingly, was compared with England’s greatest cricketer of the 19th century, Dr WG Grace. In a whopping 251 first-class matches, Giffen scored 11,758 runs at 29.6 and captured 1022 wickets at 21.3. In 31 Tests he scored 1238 runs at 23.4 and took 103 wickets at 27. He toured England on five occasions – 1882, 1884, 1886, 1893 and 1896 – and twice he declined invitations (in 1888 and ’90). Giffen played in the historic one-off 1882 Test against England at The Oval, when fiery Fred Spofforth snared 14 wickets for the match and Australia won by seven runs. This was the England loss which inspired the Ashes legend.
Giffen, who never married, was a postal worker for 43 years, retiring with a pension in 1925. After his cricket career finally ended he delighted in coaching youngsters in the South Parklands opposite his Adelaide home. Each day the boys would be waiting at 6am and Giffen would take them through their paces until 7.30am. The boys called themselves the ‘Early Risers’.
During his long first-class career Giffen bowled 46,355 balls. And he became pretty good at it. When he was 61, George attended a postal Sunday picnic at Belair National Park in the Adelaide Hills. One of the contests that day was bowling at a single stump. Unbeknown to George someone put his name down as an entrant. Some competitors hit the single stump once, one hit it on two occasions before George was called from the beer tent. He walked to the roughly-hewn pitch, took off his coat and with that familiar swing of both arms back and high and a sprightly approach of eight paces he proceeded to hit the single stump nine times in a row before a ball missed.
Like all cricketers, Giffen had his strengths and weaknesses. His strengths are well documented. His weakness? He loved bowling and when he was SA captain he could never find a way to take himself out of the attack. George was one captain you would never accuse of under-bowling himself. And he clearly never had an issue with any lack of confidence in his abundant ability.
Giffen bowled at a sprightly pace. I suspect around England left-arm great Derek Underwood’s pace, so even the fleetest of fleet-footed batsmen would have struggled to get down the track to collar him. English spinner Bobby Peel called George’s change-up slower one the Australian’s “masterpiece” delivery for it arrived hard spun and dipped late, disconcertingly for the man with the bat in his hand.
Also like WG Grace, Giffen was known to have the odd argument with umpires and was often more than a little cantankerous but that may have helped him plug away for hours on end. He played most of his first-class cricket in the years leading up to the establishment of the Sheffield Shield in 1892-93 but he played enough Shield games to stamp his authority on that competition. In 38 Shield matches for SA, Giffen hit 2318 runs at 36.2 with four centuries and a highest score of 205. He took 192 wickets at 29.6 with 18 hauls of five wickets in an innings and best figures of 9/147 – against Victoria, of course.
When Giffen died at the age of 68 in Adelaide on 29 November 1927 after a long illness, Joe Darling and Clem Hill eulogised him at his funeral for the willing hours he spent bowling to them and other young players helping them on their way to international cricketing fame.
For more than 85 years the George Giffen Stand graced the western side of Adelaide Oval but the stand was lost in the multi-million-dollar makeover.
In 2014 a life-sized bronze statue of George was unveiled at the Oval, a fitting tribute to the State’s greatest allrounder. So now, as you walk through the members’ area near the practice nets, you’ll see the imposing figure of Giffen standing upright in his creams, holding the ball – as you would expect, they still couldn’t get it off him – with a gleam in his eye, contemplating his next delivery, his next victim.