Ashes Tests: 31
Off the Mark
George Giffen is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest ever all-rounder. In fact, until the emergence of Bradman, the South Australian legend was dubbed Australia’s finest player of all time. One only needs to look at his statistics to see why he attracted so much attention. In 31 Tests, Giffen scored 1,238 and picked up 103 wickets. In first-class cricket, Giffen took a staggering 1,022 wickets, including 95 five wicket hauls, and 30 ten wicket matches. Such a feat has never been matched.
The original Mr Cricket, Giffen was the fittest player of his generation, and was known to bowl himself unchanged for 50 overs at a time, and then bat himself to exhaustion. Only, he never was exhausted, because he would often repeat the dose in the second innings with both bat and ball.
After debuting in 1882, Giffen didn’t assume the captaincy until 1894, when Billy Murdoch finally forfeited the role through injury. He was coming off 201 runs and eight wickets in the first Test, but Australia had still managed to lose the match. Despite taking 6/155 from 78.2 overs in the second innings, Giffen couldn’t stop England from taking a 2-0 series lead.
The next match saw the series move to Giffen’s home state, where a weakened Australia put on a show for the Adelaide faithful. The captain made a stirring 58 on the first day, before combining with Syd Callaway to set up a mammoth 382 run victory.
The Australians levelled the series with an innings victory at the SCG thanks to an unbeaten 85 from Albert Trott, and eight wickets for the match to the ever-reliable Giffen.
Australia had miraculously rebounded under Giffen’s tutelage, and were on the brink of history when play began at the MCG. Australia started strongly, with Giffen’s 57 helping them to a healthy 414. Although Giffen took four wickets, he couldn’t stop England from posting a competitive 385 in reply. The captain again led from the front with 51, but Australia could only muster a lead of 296. Basic by name, John Brown pummelled the Australians on his way to 140 in just 145 minutes. The counter-attack crippled the home side, who lost the match, and ultimately the series.
Although Giffen played a huge role in the series, many believed he over-bowled himself to the detriment of the team. Whether it was a case of arrogance or simply wanting to lead from the front, Giffen’s approach didn’t sit well with the media and some of his teammates, especially given they lost the series. He was also accused of nepotism, which affected his early career. He missed plenty of cricket in the late 1880’s in protest of the snubbing of his younger brother Walter.
As a player, there were none finer than the South Australian. Giffen bucked the trend of modern day all-rounders, in the sense that he respected his wicket to the fullest, while he bowled his off-spinners with as much variety as some of the current day greats. His records will never be broken, while his Herculean displays of fitness are still the envy of the cricketing world.
Played and Missed
In January 1891, Giffen scored 237, and took match figures of 12/192 against Victoria. Be bowled unchanged in both innings except for one over. Nobody in 115 years of cricket has scored a double-century and taken 10 wickets for the match; except Giffen later that year.
In the very next match against Victoria, Giffen bettered his previous efforts with a mind-blowing display in Adelaide. Scoring 271 should have been enough, but not for Giffen. He took 9/96 in the first innings, before claiming another 7/70 in the second dig. 271 runs and 16/166 for the match; incredible.
Giffen was a noted fitness freak, and it showed on the field. Even in stifling conditions, he was known to bowl himself unchanged for 50 overs straight and bat for hours on end.
On nine occasions, he scored a century and claimed 10 wickets for the match.
Giffen was the second Australian to claim 100 wickets in Test match cricket.