Adam Trimingham on the momentous career and tragic demise of Maurice Tate


- Credit: Archant

He may be largely forgotten, but Maurice Tate was one of the greatest bowlers to have played for Sussex and England. As a new book resurrects the colourful cricketing legend, Adam Trimingham charts his momentous career and tragic demise

The Sussex cricketer Fred Tate played in one Test match against Australia in 1902. He dropped a vital catch and was last man out, causing England to lose by three runs. Widely reviled for giving away the Ashes, Fred said: “I’ve got a little kid at home who’ll make it up for me.”

What wise and prophetic words they were. The little kid turned out to be Maurice Tate, one of the greatest bowlers ever to have played for Sussex and England. Largely forgotten now, Tate was a hugely popular cricketer when he was at his peak in the 1920s.

In this new biography, Justin Parkinson says he had a likeable personality. His enormous feet were a gift to cartoonists, he had an engagingly toothy smile and was often pictured with his pipe.

Tate was just an ordinary all-rounder, bowling off spin, until he decided to change to medium fast. Within a few months he was the best bowler in England. Then Came Massacre was how the Sussex Daily News described the way he tore through county sides, with his seamers often almost unplayable.

Tate took a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket and broke the record for the number of wickets in a series. He was the first man to dismiss the great Don Bradman in Tests and even described him as his rabbit. Tate was also an entertaining batsman, good enough to have scored a double century.

Yet Tate was not always as sunny as he seemed. He suffered a nervous breakdown on the eve of the 1932/33 series against Australia and was accused of throwing beer over skipper Douglas Jardine. He was also extremely sensitive to criticism and suffered from the snobbery that prevailed against professional players. This became worse in the Thirties as he stubbornly refused to concede that his powers were waning. Sadly, in the end, he was sacked.

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Tate was also a bad businessman and his ventures seldom succeeded. He ran several pubs in Sussex and the rumour, never substantiated, was that he took to drink. He collapsed and died when he was just 60. Although Sussex erected gates in his memory at the county ground in Hove, many supporters forgot all about him. His grave at Wadhurst was unkempt and overgrown until enthusiasts discovered the headstone and restored it.

But Tate’s figures speak for themselves. He took almost 2,800 wickets, many of them bowled. He was highly economical and accurate. But figures cannot explain, as Parkinson does with words, what a joy he was to watch.

Parkinson, a BBC political reporter, was raised in Brighton and has a passion for cricket. This is his first book and more on Sussex stars would be welcome.

Then Came Massacre: The Story of Maurice Tate, Cricket’s Smiling Destroyer by Justin Parkinson (Pitch Publishing; £17.99)