Almanac Book Review: Ashley Mallett’s ‘The Magic of Spin’ by Dan Hoban





Ashley Alexander Mallett known as ‘Rowdy’ was the odd man out in the 1970s Australian dressing room full of boisterous blokes like Chappelli, Thommo, Dougie. He was once likened by Gideon Haigh to “a bookkeeper at a bikers convention.” This book The Magic of Spin profiles Australians greatest ever spin bowlers from before the Great War until before the Great pandemic. Shane Warne is rightly profiled as the greatest of our generation, and possibly ever, and graces the front cover of this 275 page book. It was published in 2019 by Hardie Grant Books.


Mallett has written extensively about cricket and cricketers since his playing days. His latest book is on the legendary lefty Neil Harvey (reviewed on the Almanac also HERE and HERE).


Mallett’s former South Australian and Australian captain, Ian Chappell, has written a typically forthright and incisive forword. He rated Mallett highly as a bowler and backs it up by noting that he took fewer balls than Shane Warne to reach 100 Test wickets.


His style is humorous (the caption for John Gleeson is Groucho Marx meets Ronnie Corbett) with some great anecdotes woven into the pen portraits of every noteworthy spinner to have played in Australia. Famous names like Grimmett, O’Reilly, Benaud then the obscure, like Malcolm Francke who never played Test cricket. My only complaint is that he overlooked several handy spinners such as the late Bob ‘Dutchy’ Holland and Murray Bennett. Yet others such as Steve O’Keefe (apparently no relation to Kerry) commanded a whole chapter.


I recall a young leg spinner who went to the same tiny primary school near Romsey in country Victoria as I did and went on to play two Tests for Australia. His name was Peter McIntyre. He gets a mention in Mallett’s book as one of first-class tweakers who might have got more chances had he not been playing just before and during the Warne era. McIntyre bowled on some graveyards, hence an unflattering first class career bowling average of 39, and deserved his Baggy Green. He famously dismissed the little master Sachin Tendulkar with his second ball in Test cricket if I recall correctly.


Mallett is at his best when describing those spinners he played with or against. The chapter on Terry Jenner (nine Tests) is an example. TJ is as famous for mentoring Shane Warne and a brief stint in jail for embezzlement. He played club cricket, Shield cricket and Test cricket alongside Mallett so they knew each other well.


The art of spin bowling requires patience and resilience. After finally being brought on, usually two overs before tea against well-set batsmen, the spinner is expected to buy a few wickets for the team. Mallett understands this very well and was once told early in his career to give up bowling and concentrate on becoming a batsman.


He has covered a lot of territory in this book with some interesting insights into the brotherhood of Australian spinners. It’s worth a read and I purchased a discounted copy for $13.99.




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  1. This looks an interesting work Dan. Seeing the name Malcolm Francke brings some memories.

    The Sri lankan born Francke was a handy leg spinner for Queensland for a fair few years. He bowled quite well in 1973-74, then 1974-75 though was not considered a test option. Australia had the off spinner Ashley Mallett as their primary spin bowler in those seasons, with the leg spinners Kerry O’Keefe, & Terry Jenner both appearing in the test team at times.

    I do recall mention of in 1974-75 when in the final tour match before the opening test England’s Bill Edrich hit three consecutive sixes off Francke. With the test being played on the same ground a few days later it wouldn’t have impressed the Australian selectors if Francke was considered a test option.

    Francke also toured South Africa, as part of the privately run Derrek Robins tours. This during the time of the Apartheid bans.


  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent review Dan. From Jack Pollard’s books to Mallett’s book on Clarrie Grimmett and Haigh’s on Iverson and Warne, I’ve always enjoyed reading about spin and spinners. Will track this one down.

    McIntyre was a superb bowler, very unlucky not to play more international cricket. He never got a great run at 50 over cricket at state level but proved for Australia A in 1994/95 that he was very good in that format too. Just a correction that his dismissal of Tendulkar was in his second Test match after earlier making his debut against England at Adelaide in 1994/95.

  3. Glen, thanks for that. Francke has a very unusual background as he represented Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) before they gained Test Status. Then he played in England before moving to QLD. I understand he is now a retired accountant living in Brisbane.

    Thanks Luke, I was about 3 grades below Peter at primary school and followed his career with interest. The McIntyres were all good local cricketers and the Gisborne Cricket Association was renamed the McIntyre Cup after Peter’s late father, Doug. Peter obviously was the best of the lot but like Mallett himself had to work his way up the grades at Essendon. Mallett and Jenner were both thwarted by the encumbent English import, Tony Lock who held the reins at Western Australia. They both then decided to move to South Australia where the offie (Mallett) and the leggie (Jenner) often bowled in tandem.

    I think there was Warne, McIntyre and an offie Paul Jackson all in the Victorian Squad at one stage. Jackson moved to QLD and McInytre to SA where both had solid careers.Jackson played in two Shield wins for both Victoria and Queensland.
    Thanks for the correction about his dismissal of Tendulkar in India.I think it was his second ball to him as well..not quite the ball of the century but close.

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