Almanac Cricket: Finding Frank Tarrant under the grape vines

Now that India has confirmed its tour this summer my thoughts turn to sultana grapes.


The vines that climb up over part of the shed are currently putting on length and offering delicately scented flowers. They will harden up when the temperature rises and in maturity provide precious shade. Already a silvereye has taken up residence, constructing a conical nest out of bits and pieces nicked from the neighbour’s vegetable patch. It will be a contest to see who gets to the grapes first when they ripen.


In the high heat this is where I can steal an afternoon, sitting under the canopy listening to the Test match and reading. If you have a similar place and time could I recommend Mike Coward’s biography of Frank Tarrant.


It is subtitled Cricket’s Forgotten Pioneer and if there is a starting point for the sport between Australia and India then the Victorian all-rounder is it.




There is a strong case that Tarrant should have played Test cricket – either for Australia or England. His first-class total was almost 18,000 runs and more than 1,500 wickets. He was ensnared by the politics of the game (a theme of the book) and his split loyalties playing for Victoria and later Middlesex played a part in him being overlooked.


He brushed up against the great names of his time – taking the wicket of WG Grace, being coached by Pelham Warner, clashing with Douglas Jardine and most significantly befriending Ranji – the princely batsman of the golden age – Kumar Ranjitsinhji.


Through Ranji, Tarrant met the Maharaja of Patiala who brought him to India to play and coach. After preparing the Indian team for its first home Test series against England in 1933-34, the ambition was to bring the first Australian side to the subcontinent.


Coward describes Tarrant as ‘an internationalist by instinct’ and details his frustrations trying to convince Australian authorities that a large part of the future of cricket lay in India. They couldn’t see it and wouldn’t sanction a tour. Undeterred, Tarrant gathered a private touring party led by 46-year-old Jack Ryder that included Charlie MacCartney, Bert ‘Dainty’ Ironmonger and Hunter ‘Stork’ Hendry. These pioneers stepped off the boat at Bombay on the first day of November 1935 to begin a schedule of 17 first-class matches and four unofficial Tests.


The slow but steady growth of contact between the sporting nations began after that historic tour. Coward believes Tarrant deserves greater honour for his vision and tenacity and it is the motivation for writing up his story. It wasn’t an easy yarn to run to ground and shreds of information had to be pieced together. He thought he had a major breakthrough by finding Tarrant’s great-great granddaughter only to have her tell him he knew more about the man than the family did.


The work began three decades ago while working on Cricket Beyond the Bazaar, but the final push came two years ago when Coward moved to Wellawaya in Sri Lanka for six months to write the manuscript. As Harsha Bhogle writes in the foreword ‘It has taken a time, but Tarrant and Coward are finally here’. The result is a handsomely produced volume with rich photographs and exhaustive statistics compiled by Lee Semmens.


Like the tiny silvereye gathering material for its nest, Coward has collected information and names from history and woven them together with his authoritative writing. This summer as the radio broadcasts the latest incarnation of Australia versus India, sitting in the shade is the legend of Frank Tarrant now fully realised.


More from Michael Sexton HERE


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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

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