Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Gilbert, Mr Edward (Eddie)
Thirty-five years ago the great Aboriginal fast bowler Eddie Gilbert died. Eddie Gilbert was a Queensland Aborigine and first-class cricketer famous for his exceptionally fast bowling and remembered for taking the wicket of Don Bradman for a duck in a Sheffield Shield match between Queensland and New South Wales in November 1931. Gilbert was a pioneer of first-class Aboriginal cricket in Australia. His name is synonymous with other champion Aboriginal cricketers from the late 19th and early 20th century such as Twopenny, Johnny Mullagh, Alec Henry and Jack Marsh.
Eddie Gilbert was born on 1 August 1905 in Durundur settlement near Woodford, Queensland. At the age of three he was moved by state authorities to the government-run Barambah Aboriginal Reserve, now Cherbourg. He played cricket from a young age and developed a sharp pace, assisted by long, powerful limbs and a flexible wrist action which he attributed to years of boomerang throwing. His action was unorthodox and explosive, generating blistering pace off a very short run—just four or five paces. After playing with the Queensland Colts XI in 1930 and developing a reputation for almost unplayable pace, Gilbert was selected for the Queensland Sheffield Shield team in 1931. Being an Aboriginal cricketer in the 1930s, Gilbert had to overcome many obstacles over the course of his cricketing career; not the least were restrictions imposed by the Aborigines Act 1897, requiring him to have written permission to travel from his Aboriginal settlement each time he played in a first-class match for Queensland.
Gilbert's most famous achievement occurred on 6 November 1931. The venue was the Brisbane Cricket Ground. His opponents: the formidable New South Wales team who were looking for an easy victory over the Sheffield Shield minnows, Queensland. The Don was in peak form, widely regarded as the best batsman in the world, having just returned from a triumphant test tour of England, where he scored one century, two double centuries and one triple century. His last score against Queensland was an epic 452 not out at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
In Eddie Gilbert's biography, Mike Colman and Ken Edwards describe Gilbert's opening over of the match. His first delivery had talented right-handed opener, Wendell Bill, caught behind for a golden duck. The Daily Mail reported that the cheer of the crowd could have been heard blocks away. The incoming batsman, Don Bradman, received a mighty ovation as he made his way to the middle. Gilbert's second delivery was confidently blocked by the Don. The pace of Gilbert's third ball surprised Bradman; slightly short of a length, the ball clipped the peak of Bradman's cap as he lost his balance and fell backwards. Ball four sailed safely over Bradman's head through to the keeper. Ball five was delivered with such unbelievable pace that it knocked the Don's bat out of his hands as he attempted to hook. The crowd was hushed. The great Don Bradman looked rattled. The sixth ball of the over saw Bradman attempting to hook again, only to edge the ball into the gloves off debutant wicketkeeper Len Waterman. New South Wales captain Alan Kippax played out the over. The Don later said it was the fastest bowling he had experienced in his career and that Gilbert's bowling was unhesitatingly faster than anything seen from Larwood or anyone else.
The Don had his revenge four years later, plundering 233 runs from Gilbert and the Queensland bowling attack on a flat Adelaide track. But Gilbert would have the last say, claiming the Don's wicket on the seventh ball of his spell the following year in Brisbane. The Don made 31.
Gilbert's sporting success certainly opened doors in Australian society that were firmly closed to the majority of Aborigines. But, like other Aboriginal sporting greats, dealing with racism was a constant battle. Gilbert dealt with discrimination in selection policies and from team mates, his opposition and umpires. Like two other great Aboriginal bowlers, Alec Henry and Jack Marsh, Gilbert's bowling action was under constant scrutiny. He was called 13 times for throwing in three overs by an umpire during a match between Queensland and Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, forcing his captain to take him off.
Alan McGilvray, the voice of Australian cricket, said he had, 'absolutely no doubt' that Gilbert was 'the fastest bowler I ever saw', and that in relation to his bowling action, 'it was hard to tell whether he actually chucked or not, because he let the ball go with such a fling of his right arm you got precious little sight of it.'
In 1936, after six years, 23 first-class games, 87 wickets at an average of 28.98 and six five-wicket hauls, Gilbert retired from first-class cricket. After cricket, Gilbert struggled. He developed serious addictions to alcohol and gambling and his relationship with family and friends broke down. The once-celebrated fast bowler died at Wolston Park mental hospital on 9 January 1978. Today, the Eddie Gilbert Perpetual Trophy, contested by teams representing the Queensland Police and Wolston Park Centenary Cricket Club, is played in his honour. In 2007 the Queensland government and Queensland Cricket commissioned a headstone to mark Eddie Gilbert's grave in Cherbourg. That is a fitting tribute to a true Australian champion.