Clayton Murzello: Two lookalikes, two quiet achievers
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri is the flavour of the sporting week and with good reason. For, football pundits reckon he pulled off the biggest miracle since Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
I discovered recently that Ranieri is a lookalike of former Australia off-spinner Ashley Mallett, who like Ranieri, has been a quiet achiever right from the time he was part of his country’s spin attack in the late 1960s. Mallett was a big performer on Australia’s 1969-70 tour of India where his 28 wickets helped Bill Lawry’s men beat India 3-1.
Leicester City’s EPL-winning manager Claudio Ranieri (left) and former Australia off-spinner Ashley Mallett. Pics/Getty Images, Patricia Gardner
Mallett (70) was Australia’s best-known name in spin coaching after his departed mate Terry Jenner. Not so very long ago, he was Sri Lanka’s spin consultant, who worked with mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis.
In his playing days, Mallett coped with some indifferent selections and as his captain Ian Chappell wrote in the Foreword to Spin Out, “Selectors have often misunderstood Mallett’s ability and value to the Australian side, and I believe they can take the full blame for Ashley retiring from the game before his time as a player was up.”
Mallett was gutsy on and off the field. When Sir Don Bradman phoned to ask him if he would be part of Bob Simpson’s squad in 1977-78 since the best players had defected to Packer, he wanted to know if he would be a certainty in the XI. That would provide him financial security.
Two days later, Mallett got a $20,000 per year contract to play World Series Cricket. The deal materialised after an incident, which he mentions in his biography on Chappell.
Chappell phoned Mallett to convey a message that Packer was happy to offer him a contract if he came down to Sydney and bowl to the business tycoon. Mallett would be part of World Series Cricket if he could get Packer out in one over. “Tell Mr Packer to get f***ed,” Mallett told Chappell.
Mallett eventually joined his former mates in the circus without having to prove his ability to Packer.
After his playing days, Mallett held his own among the finest writers in world cricket. In terms of authorship, he has stayed prolific, writing incisive biographies on his former teammates Chappell, Jeff Thomson and Doug Walters apart from literary works on Victor Trumper and Clarrie Grimmett. Even at 70, Mallett has no intention to stop writing or helping spinners. He has 32 books published under his name and is all set to see his 33rd come to fruition.
Mallett was not blessed with natural ability but worked at his craft and kept believing in himself. At a recent function in Sydney, he revealed a conversation he had with one of his teachers at Mount Lawley High School in Perth. When Mallett told the teacher of his life’s ambition, he shot back: “There is no money in cricket and your English is not very good.”
Over the years, the teacher heard about Mallett’s cricketing exploits and when Book No 26 was released, the old teacher received a copy. As a young cricketer, Mallett dreamt of taking 100 wickets for Australia and he reached that target at the Sydney Cricket Ground when he dismissed Geoff Arnold, a wicket that regained the Ashes for Australia after three years and 326 days.
Ranieri too has written a book — Proud Man Walking — about his last year at Chelsea, proceeds of which went to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. And like Mallett, loves reading. He once surprised an interviewer by revealing that he doesn’t read one book at a time, but three.
Like Mallett, he has also fallen foul of authority and unrealistic expectations. When Roman Abramovich took control of Chelsea in 2003, it was after Ranieri had guided the team to a Champions League spot, edging out Liverpool. The following season, he finished ahead of Manchester United, but behind Arsenal, who didn’t lose a game all season. In the Champions League, Chelsea were the only English team to make the semi-finals, but a spirited comeback from Monaco at Stamford Bridge eliminated them. Ranieri ended up losing his job because of that ‘failure’, and it was conveniently forgotten that Monaco had knocked out star-studded Real Madrid in the earlier round.
At Leicester, where he was allowed to operate freely, he has won the first league title of a nomadic career.
On the face of it, Claudio Ranieri and Ashley Mallett have a lot in common.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org