A Story of Two Railway Canteens (For Kerry O’Keefe and Mark Waugh)
Last week social media erupted with justified indignation and angst at Kerry O’Keefe’s ill-advised attempt at levity in suggesting that Indian opener Mayank Agarwal’s 1000 runs scored in a month in the previous Ranji season had been made against a Railway Canteen XI.
Agarwal had had a phenomenal run (after a steady if unspectacular first class career of 13-years) over the period of one month in the 2017-2018 Ranji season when playing against Maharashtra, Delhi, Utar Pradesh and Railways – all reasonably strong teams, he had amassed a total of 1033 runs in eight innings. He has not looked back since, going from strength to strength in domestic cricket and maintaining the form into his performances for the India A side. This had culminated in his debut call up at the MCG for the Boxing Day Test.
Mark Waugh added fuel to fire in Melbourne by unfavourably comparing the standard of first-class cricket in India to that in Australia. He suggested with what social media interpreted as misplaced arrogance given the performance of his countrymen, that a first class batting average of 50 in India translates to an equivalent 40 in Australian cricket.
The two soon found the power of Indian media and social media, significant in terms of sheer number if nothing else, directed squarely at them. It culminated in the dignified but pointed comments from Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah after the Boxing Day Test that, unfortunately for the Aussie commentating duo (and former Cricketers), India won convincingly. To rub salt into the wounds, Agarwal’s 118 runs contributed in no small measure to the victory.
Kohli attributed the victory to the high standard of first-class cricket played in India. Bumrah, man of the match with his incisive bowling that fetched him nine Aussie wickets, thanked the Ranji Trophy for honing his skills and building his stamina to a level which allowed him the dominance of the Aussies in the match. The subtle but pointed statements from the two men and the social media backlash brought forth the mandatory ‘Open Letter’ from O’Keefe where he defended his humour and style of commentating, and less than convincingly claimed that none of his statements were meant to be racist or reflective of a colonial mindset, but merely misunderstood humour. The letter hinted at an apology, but offered none.
It is a pity that some former Cricketer turned commentators have a limited knowledge of the game’s history or indeed an appreciation of the past of this great sport. If this had not been the case, O’Keefe may well have recalled (and spared himself the angst of the social media backlash) that while Mayank Agarwal’s feat was unusual and quite remarkable in its rarity, feats of this nature have been performed more than once. The reason has not always been the quality of the opposition.
In fact, one of the earliest instances of this was in Australian cricket. The man responsible – Victor Trumper, would go on to become the most iconic batsman in the history of Australian cricket alongside Don Bradman, notwithstanding the wide disparities in their batting records. Trumper continues to be rated today as perhaps the greatest batsman to ever play on bad wickets. Legend has it that if you wanted someone to bat for your life on a ‘glue pot’ (as uncovered sticky wickets were referred to), Trumper was your man.
Victor Trumper, like Archie Jackson, Don Bradman and Neil Harvey after him, was a schoolboy prodigy. And like many geniuses before and after him, Trumper lived a short life, squeezing his remarkable achievements into the 38-years that fate permitted him.
He made his first grade debut for South Sydney club in 1894 when he was 17 and played for them for two years. Despite a few notable knocks, his first two years at the highest level of domestic cricket in Australia were not remarkable. That is until 1896 when he transferred to Paddington Club for the following two seasons. Here he was to give the first demonstration of his genius, an episode from Australian cricketing history that O’Keefe would have done well to remember before he made his ill-considered remarks.
In 1897-98, playing for Paddington Club in Sydney first grade cricket, Victor Trumper achieved a run of success that has never been equalled in Australian cricket. In 8 innings, he scored 1021 runs at an average of 204.20. On three occasions he remained not out. Aussies look back with justified pride at this awe inspiring record.
A glance at the scoresheets of that Australian summer however also fail to confirm that the opposition had much to do with Food and Beverage service on the Aussie Railroads of the time.
It’s perhaps time that Messers O’Keefe and Waugh woke up and smelt the coffee. The Railway Canteen service is about to begin.