On this day, 18th March, 1877, Clem Hill, arguably Australia’s greatest left-handed batsman, was born.
He was pretty badass. A child prodigy, he scored 360 for Prince Alfred College at the age of 16, and in his career as Test cricketer set records that stood until Don Bradman and Jack Hobbs broke them. One of the “Big Six” in the 1912 dispute with the Australian Board of Control, he flattened a selector with a vicious right hook (he also bowled right-handed) and almost defenestrated him. There’s not many cricketers who’ve almost succeeded in throwing a selector out of a third storey window, but there have been doubtless many since who wished they could have followed his example.
One of his finest innings was scored in between bouts of throwing up on the Adelaide wicket in 1908 after he’d been in bed with gastric flu for three days and England were well on their way to victory. Afterwards dubbed “Clem ‘Ill” by the press, he batted for 5 hours 19 minutes for 160. He pulled Australia from the mire of 180 for 7 with a record eighth wicket partnership of 243 with Queensland’s Roger Hartigan, and England were beaten by 245 runs.
He was the original “nervous 90s” specialist, being out for 99, 98 and 97 in consecutive Test innings. He is also the only Australian batsman to be dismissed twice in Tests for the unlucky score of 87.
As a batsman, he was rated second only to the great Victor Trumper. He relished taking on the quicks, and great England fast bowler Tom Richardson once said to him: “You make me feel I took up fast bowling for your benefit.” His hook was a statement of powerful attack and no little courage in those days before helmets and grills. Always eager to get off the mark, he would often take a single or more off the first ball he received – the Golden Age’s equivalent of Kevin Pietersen’s “Red Bull run”. Known for testing the nerves of wicketkeepers, about a third of his strokes were made outside his crease, and his method of recovering his ground was to swing the bat right over his shoulder upon completion of his stroke and smack it down on the crease with an alacrity that, in pre- third umpire slow-mo replay days, would have the umpire puzzled as to whether the bat had come down before the bails had been taken off.
No slouch in the field, in 1902 he ran 25 yards to take a spectacular diving catch on the Old Trafford boundary in a Test Australia won by 3 runs.
When not being wound up by selectors, Hill was happy-go-lucky with a sunny, even temper. He was an extremely popular Australian captain, even when his side were losing.
Even away from cricket his life was eventful. In 1913 burglars broke into his house, removed his safe while he was asleep and blew it up in the garden. They stole £500 pounds worth of jewellery, but didn’t take any of the bats he had been presented with, so they couldn’t have been cricket fans. In 1909, during a car ride with a couple of South Australian team mates, his car overturned with their chauffeur pinned underneath it. Clem, with help from his team mates, lifted the car off him. Three years prior to this a wagon had driven into the back of his horse-drawn trap while out for a drive with the missus.
He died on September 5th 1945 after being thrown from a tram. He didn’t have much luck with wheeled vehicles.
He is one of my favourite batsmen of all time.
Happy birthday, Clem Hill.