Frank Tarrant: A pioneer of Indian cricket

Frank Tarrant, who scored nearly 18,000 runs and claimed over 1500 wickets in first-class cricket, is now guaranteed a measure of immortality thanks to Mike Coward’s latest: 'Cricket’s Forgotten Pioneer: The Frank Tarrant Story'.

Frank Tarrant (left) had a long and varied career as player, coach, administrator, groundsman and umpire.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Among the pioneers of Indian cricket are Maharajahs and Nawabs, Englishmen and an Australian, Frank Tarrant, who scored nearly 18,000 runs and claimed over 1,500 wickets in first-class cricket.

Tarrant was beginning to slide out of history, but is now guaranteed a measure of immortality thanks to Mike Coward’s latest: Cricket’s Forgotten Pioneer: The Frank Tarrant Story. It is a jewel that reflects the light from decades past.

Tarrant had a long and varied career as player, coach, administrator, groundsman and umpire. He helped prepare the Indian team for their first-ever Test at Lord’s in 1932, umpired the first two Tests played in India in 1933-34, helped lay the wicket at Brabourne Stadium, and organised the first tour to India by an Australian team in 1935-36. This was sponsored by his patron the Maharajah of Patiala.

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The Indophile Coward’s passion for the game is matched only by his compassion for its players and supporters. He says that although Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar have inalienable rights to the trophy which bears their name, “Tarrant deserves greater recognition and a rarefied place in the game’s history.”

While the English pioneers have been feted, Australians have not garnered the same attention, although Australians have written some of the finest books on Indian cricket. Coward himself wrote Cricket Beyond the Bazaar, a charming, elegant history of cricket between the two countries.

The Tarrant story is fascinating. His father turned him into a left-arm spinner by tying his right arm behind his back while bowling, and in years he became the first man in Australia to clean bowl Jack Hobbs. Coward’s attention to such details brings alive Tarrant, a man, he says, with “unerring self-belief and more than a little pizzazz.”

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The English patron, wrote the Australian historian Richard Cashman, “regarded the game along idealistic lines,” while the Australian “viewed cricket in more pragmatic terms… achieving upward social mobility through Indian cricket.”

As umpire Tarrant warned Douglas Jardine not to try Bodyline in India after his fast bowlers appeared to do so. Jardine complained and had him removed for the third Test. In the 1930s, Australia’s knowledge of Indian cricket was interesting. “It seemed to be largely based on the use and abuse of positions of power and privilege,” writes Coward. Any comment here would be superfluous!

In the end, after much negotiation, Australia sent a team whose average age was 35. Skipper Jack Ryder was 45, Charlie McCartney was 48, Bert Ironmonger 52. Three players Tarrant and the Maharajah of Patiala wanted were not sent: Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford and Alan Kippax.

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It was another 20 years before the first official Australian team arrived in India and played a three-Test series.

Tarrant’s second career as an importer of horses that won major races in India made him wealthy. “I made more money buying and selling horses in one year than I made in a lifetime’s cricket,” Tarrant said in an interview. Considering he played for 37 years, that is some achievement!