George Giffen, born on March 27, 1859, was one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of cricket. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a legend who was one of the top cricketers of the 19th century.
George Giffen is the only Australian to have scored 10,000 runs (at 29.54) and have taken 1,000 wickets (at 21.31) in First-Class cricket (other than Sammy Woods and Albert Trott, who had played for both Australia and England). Had there been more international cricket in his time, he would definitely have played more than the 31 Tests he had played over 14 years. In these Tests he scored 1,238 runs at 23.35 and had taken 103 wickets at 27.09.
A batsman with a good technique and a crafty medium-pace bowler (often bowling off-breaks) with amazing variety, Giffen was definitely the first quality all-rounder of his era at the highest level. He was the first Test cricketer to achieve the ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets, playing all his Tests against England. The numbers do not suggest that he was a better bowler than batsman; though his numbers do not suggest so, he batted in an era when runs were hard to come by.
Greatness in numbers
Other than the two feats mentioned above (the only Australian with the 10,000 runs-1,000 wickets double and the first Test cricketer to the 1000 runs-100 wickets double), Giffen had several extraordinary feats to his name. Let us go through his records:
– He was the first bowler to take 17 wickets in a First-Class match.
– He is the only bowler to take 16 wickets in a First-Class match 5 times.
– He was the first non-English bowler to take all 10 wickets in a First-Class innings.
– He scored a hundred and took 10 wickets in the same First-Class match 9 times.
– He is the only bowler to have scored a double-hundred and taken 12 wickets in a First-Class match twice.
Giffen made his debut at the tender age of 18 — a seriously low age for any cricketer of the 1870s — against Tasmania. He scored 27 and took 4 for 16 and 2 for 40 as South Africa trounced Tasmania by an innings. He performed well with the bat and ball, and got selected for the home series of 1881-82. He did not do too well, scoring 46 runs and taking just two wickets from his three Tests, but was chosen for the historic England tour of 1882.
He played the famous Test at The Oval that led to the coining of the term The Ashes. He scored two and a golden duck, and did not get a chance to bowl as Fred Spofforth, Tom Garrett, and Harry Boyle bowled out England for 101 and 77. However, he took 32 wickets at 21.84 on the tour, including 8 for 49 and 3 for 60 against Gentlemen of England.
He was in ominous form in the home series that followed. He took 5 for 61 against Victoria, followed it with 4 for 40 against Combined XI, and then, in the next match against Combined XI, took 3 for 62 and 10 for 66 to end his season. On his next match on the England tour that followed, he took 6 for 50 and 4 for 71 against Lord Sheffield’s XI. This ended a run of 32 wickets from 6 innings.
Once again he failed in the Tests, but did brilliantly in the side matches in the tour of 1884. He scored 1,057 runs at 20.72, and picked up 81 wickets at 19.82. He scored 113 — his first first-class hundred — against Lancashire to go with a spell of 6 for 55. He did well in most of the matches, and came back a much better player.
In the return Ashes at home, Giffen started with 7 for 117 in the first Test at Sydney, but didn’t do anything of note thereafter.
The middle years
The next season, Giffen played just a solitary first-class match — against Victoria — but what a match it was! He scored 20, and then went on to take 9 for 91 to restrict Victoria to a lead of 15. He top-scored in the second innings with 82, and then bowled out Victoria with figures of 8 for 110. It was the first time a bowler had taken 17 wickets in a First-Class match.
Once again he had an amazing tour of England (1,424 runs at 26.86 and 154 wickets at 17.36), but did not do too well in the Tests. He had an amazing run of 6 for 71 against Gentlemen of England, 7 for 41 and 9 for 60 against Derbyshire, 8 for 56 against Cambridge University, and 8 for 23 and 8 for 42 against Lancashire — to end a staggering run of 46 wickets in 6 innings.
It was the same old story — incredible success stories at First-Class level, and pedestrian performances in Test cricket. He kept on taking wickets and scoring runs, season after season. In the interim, his batting improved significantly, and he surprised everyone by scoring 203 against GF Vernon’s XI (after taking 5 for 163). In the next match against Victoria, he scored 166 and took 8 for 65 and 6 for 60.
Despite all this, he could not make a comeback to the Test side. Determined to get back, he scored 135 and took 6 for 82 and 7 for 77, again against Victoria, the same season. His best days, however, were to follow.
Giffen began the 1890-91 season in a spectacular fashion. He scored 235, and took 5 for 89 and 7 for 103 against Victoria. A performance like this would have satisfied most cricketers, but not Giffen. In the very next match, also against Victoria, he outdid himself, scoring 271 and taking 9 for 96 and 7 for 70. His performance read 506 runs from two innings and 28 wickets from four wickets — a feat probably unmatched in the history of the sport.
Giffen had to be brought back, and this time he did not disappoint the selectors and his fans. In the second Test at Sydney, Giffen scored a crucial 49, and took 4 for 88 and 6 for 72 to win the Test and seal the Ashes for Australia. He was picked for the return Ashes the next year.
Though England regained the Ashes, Giffen impressed everyone with 16 wickets at 21.47, scoring a 53 at The Oval in addition. On the tour he scored 1,133 runs at 23.12 and took 118 wickets at 19.04. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year as a result.
On top as captain
The first Test at Sydney was a historic one. It was only the first time in history that a side had won a Test after following on. Giffen won the toss and elected to bat, and scored 161. After Australia had scored 586, he took 4 for 75 and 4 for 164 to bowl England out for 325 and 437. Still not content, he scored 41 in the fourth innings, but Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs bowled out Australia for 166 from 130 for 2, thereby resulting in a ten-run victory. It was one of the greatest valiant efforts in the history of the sport.
With Jack Blackham ruled out for the rest of the series, Giffen was nominated the captain. The toss was extremely crucial for the second Test at Melbourne. As the coin was tossed, both Giffen and Andrew Stoddart chased the coin as it rolled along the grass, resulting in a joyous, almost juvenile “it’s tails!” from Giffen.
After being bowled out for 75 (Giffen did not bowl), England bowled out Australia for 123 (Giffen scored 32). With the wicket now playing well and with no captain to rein him, Giffen bowled a marathon spell, taking 6 for 155 from 78.2 overs. When an agitated Hugh Trumble asked Giffen to take himself off, Giffen responded “Yes, I think I’ll go to the other end.” He scored 43 in the fourth innings, but England won again.
A determined Giffen turned things around with 58 and 24, and 5 for 76 and 2 for 74 in the third Test at Adelaide, finally winning a Test for his side. He came to his elements in the fourth Test at Sydney, taking 3 for 14 and 5 for 26 to effect an innings victory in the fourth Test at Sydney.
His valiant efforts could not salvage the series in the final Test at Melbourne. Giffen scored 57 and 51, and took 4 for 130 and 1 for 106 as England chased down 298 successfully. He ended the series with 475 runs at 52.77 and 34 wickets at 24.11 from 5 Tests — the first really ‘great’ all-round series performance in a series.
Last series and final years
Giffen bowed out of international cricket after his fifth England tour. He scored a crucial 80 at Old Trafford, and took nine wickets in three Tests. Once again he did brilliantly on the tour, scoring 1,208 runs at 25.16 and taking 117 wickets at 19.29. Against Leicestershire he showed that he could still perform at his prime, as he scored 67 and 80, and took 8 for 30 and 6 for 89.
He continued to play domestic cricket back home for South Australia. He played on till 1903-04 — till the age of 45. Earlier in 1903, he managed to run against his favourite foes, Victoria, once again. He showed that they were still his preferred opposition, as he scored 81 and 97*, and took 7 for 75 and 8 for 110. In all, in 29 matches against Victoria, Giffen had scored 2,471 runs at 51.42, and had taken 224 wickets at 19.75 — both tallies amounting to roughly a quarter of his career aggregates.
He made a comeback in 1907-08 for a single match for South Australia against — hold your breath — Fiji. Even at 49, Giffen turned out to be more than a handful for the Fijians; he picked up 6 for 58 and 2 for 73, and scored 32 not out batting at No. 10.
An all-rounder in the true sense of the word, Giffen had also played Australian Rules Football for Norwood Football Club. He later went on to write his autobiography With Bat and Ball. After working for 43 years at the General Post Office, Giffen finally retired in 1925 and took to coaching cricket to boys on an honorary basis.
Giffen passed away a bachelor on November 29, 1927 after a prolonged illness. He was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame in 2008.