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Laver, Frank Jonas (1869–1919)

The late Frank Laver - Personal Sketch.

By J.W.

The death of Mr. Frank Laver at a private hospital in East Melbourne on the night of September 24 has removed from our midst an outstanding figure in cricket circles. Mr. Laver was born near Castlemaine on December 7, 1869, and he made his mark in all classes of cricket-country, club, interstate, and international. But great in many respects, as he was as a cricketer, it was his charming personality that made him such a pronounced and general favourite. I had the pleasure of playing against him many times in club matches, was associated for years with him in interstate games, and was also on the same side on a few occasions in test con tests, I knew him thoroughly, and we were great friends. As a batsman he had an unorthodox style, his sweeping to leg of over-tossed or short balls, while very effective, frequently causing much merriment. I remember on one occasion, at Leeds, in the third test match of 1899, when runs were badly wanted on a rain-damaged pitch, he and Victor Trumper made a valuable stand in the second innings, which put our side from a weak into a strong position. After Victor, who was then only a boy, had got out, he said to "Joe" Darling in the dressing-room, "Never put me in again with Frank Laver." "Why?" said the astute captain. "Because," was the reply, "my heart was in my mouth all the time I was in with him. He jumps half-way down the pitch with his left foot, and you feel positive that he will be stumped; he keeps his right leg behind the crease but the fright one gets is a shock to the nerves." Laver made many great scores, most of them in quick order. I have seen several men able to hit full tosses splendidly, but none to equal Frank Laver. It may have been a natural gift, as was the mowing act, or it might have been the result of his batting practice at baseball. Whatever the reason. His execution was deadly, as he could hit even a bowler like Jones out of the ground to square-leg off a full toss. As a bowler he was of the good medium-paced right-hand steady order, with a high delivery. He had "fine command of length, with a nice off-spin, swerve, and variation of pace and flight. While, essentially, a length bowler, he had many pet theories, and was fond of experiments, which, by the way, were not always successful. In the second test match at Lords in 1899, G. Jessop, the hitter, for the only time during the tour, was making a few runs against us, even more than rivalling. Frank in the vigour and certainty of his leg swipes, "I am positive I could get him out," said Frank to Darling, who at once gave him the opportunity, as runs were coming too fast for our complete enjoyment." The bowler took away all the men from leg except mid and long-on, posting Victor Trumper out near the boundary over point's head. The first ball delivered, a half-volley outside the off stump, was promptly pasted to the square-leg boundary by the smiter, to prolonged and ironical cheers from the crowd. But Frank only smiled, showing his long white teeth, sending down, the next one, fairly well pitched-up, a yard outside the off stump. A tremendous lunge, the ball was sent spinning in the air for a half hit straight into Trumper's hands, and. Jessop departed. Almost immediately afterwards the stock bowlers—Jones and Trumble—were back at their old places, with the laugh on Frank's side. F. S. Jackson was very disgusted over the incident, remarking to the writer that no man possessing international-batting pretensions should have been guilty of falling into such a trans parent and palpable trap. But in these matters one's temperament must be taken into consideration. When Laver propounded his scheme to Darling, the latter remarked that Jessop might let the balls alone that would be sent down wide on the off; but Frank's engaging-smile was sufficient answer, and he had his way, for he thoroughly under stood Jessop's impetuosity.

As a point, Layer had no superior in my time, and few, if equals. He possessed an adhesive pair of hands, could take a lot of punishment, his wonderful reach enabling him to catch balls off his toes that would have been impossible to any other man. The three great "points" in Australia during the last 30 years nave been Harry Trott, Frank Laver, and M. A. Noble, it being a toss up as to who was the best of the trio. Laver was about the most even-tempered man I have ever known. His good temper saved the situation on one memorable occasion in Sydney. Victoria was set over 340 to make in their last hand—Trumper having scored 200 in his second knock—and we just scraped home. Laver was batting to the aboriginal bowler, Marsh, whom Crockett, was repeatedly no-balling. There was great excitement at the occurrence, and every time Marsh went to bowl he glowered fiercely at the umpire, who still kept calling him. At last, Marsh, angered beyond control, without any warning threw the ball at Laver with all his force, the batsman just ducking his head in time to save it from being crocked. It was an ugly phase, and anyone, less even-tempered than Frank might, on the spur of the moment, have caused trouble. But he took it all with a smile, and must have been watching the blackfellow closely, for it was done so quickly. Why Marsh should have singled out Laver for the attempted assault was always a mystery.

While Australian conditions suited his style of batting, as he played at the pitch of the ball, English conditions favoured his bowling, as the slight assistance rendered by the less perfect wickets made him at times a champion. He was the greatest cricket optimist I have ever known, for, irrespective of what the state of the match might be, Frank always saw the bright side and the possibilities. He was a great trier, always at his best when the occasion warranted it, having nerves of steel; was never guilty of transgressing the spirit of the game; was a gentleman on and off the field, and was a distinct ornament to the game from every point of view. He comes under the heading of a grand all round- cricketer, was successful in almost every branch of the game, possessed every quality that endeared him to friends ana opponents, besides having the ability, tact, and temperament befitting managerial duties.

Death has been busy lately with some rare old cricketers, men who had the good will and respect of everybody with whom they came in contact. Amongst my happiest cricketing recollections is the association in many keenly contested games with slayers like the late Harry Boyle, Tom Horan, Harry Graham, Harry Trott, Charles McLeod, Frank Laver, and others who, thank goodness, are still with us.

In May last Frank Laver set out with his brother and Dr. Rowley Pope to inspect a large tract of land which he had acquired in the Northern Territory. They made the journey by motor, and on a certain day the driver missed the waterhole which he had been making for. That night Frank Laver was seized with paralysis. No water was obtainable till next day. He was brought back to Melbourne, his friends having hopes of his recovery. A relapse occurred early last week, however, and this left no doubt as to the ultimate end. He leaves a widow and two young children.

It is rather a remarkable coincidence that Laver's two great confreres in East Melbourne club cricket, viz., S. McMichael and P. McAlister, wereijf the same .age as him self, all first seeing the light of day in-1809 -McMichael and JMcAlister being born in the same month. Harry Stuckey, who joined with them later on, is only a year younger. For 20 years Frank Laver was; captain-of the side, his records being really wonderful ones. In all he made 9,814 runs for his club, for an average of 48.70, and with the ball took 519 wickets for an aver age of 14.30. His highest scores were 352 not out, 341, 258, and 248 not out. His unfinished 352 was for a time an Australian record. In February, 1903, he made 341 against Fitzroy, East Melbourne losing two wickets, for 744 runs. He played regularly for Victoria years in interstate matches, leading the side on many occa sions in the latter part of his career. He was always doing something useful, either making runs or saving them or getting wickets. He had a batting averdge of 29 runs per innings, his highest score being 164, while be captured 123 wicket for an average of 35. Mr. Laver visited England three times with Australian elevens, in 1899, 1905, and 1909, acting as manager on the last two occasions. It is remarkable that his most conspicuous international successes were accomplished when manager of the teams. The inference evidently to be drawn, is that the manager of a visiting team should also be a class cricketer. In 1905 he took 115 wickets at an average of 18 runs, and in headed the bowling list with ? wickets at an average cost of 14.97, taking eight wickets for 31 runs in the first innings of the fourth test at Manchester. He was blessed with a splendid physique, and could bowl all day in any kind of weather, the heat having no-apparent effect on him.

Mr. Laver was president of the Victorian Baseball League and vice-president of the Victorian Baseball Union. His influence on the game was great. He ably represented his club, State, and country, was an ideal manager, a selector of teams, a delegate to the V.C.A., and finally, a true Australian. He was a grand man on a side and a true friend, a credit to Victoria particularly and Australia generally, and he honoured the game that he played and loved so well.

Original publication

Citation details

'Laver, Frank Jonas (1869–1919)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/laver-frank-jonas-7742/text30423, accessed 23 March 2019.

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