Nip Pellew
Nip Pellew was greatest Australian fielder of the first half of the 20th century. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Nip Pellew, born September 21, 1893, was a member of Warwick Armstrong’s splendid Australian team of 1921 and one of the best outfielders the game has seen. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who is considered greatest Australian fielder of the first half of the 20th century.

The proud cricketing nation of Australia has thrown up multiple exciting stars over time. And unlike the old country, which is infamous for allowing flowery rhetoric get better of them while describing the players of yore, Australian cricket writers have been generally rooted to the ground while evaluating the merits of their own cricketers. Except for the paeans, perhaps justified, stitched together for the genius of Victor Trumper, and romantic extrapolations of the ephemeral career of the unfortunate Archie Jackson, the accounts have seldom gone overboard.

Hence, when we see that most of the country — and beyond — agree on the best fielder of the land for the first half of the twentieth century, we can rest assured that he was something special. Indeed, Clarence Everard ‘Nip’ Pellew was an incredible athlete.

The word athlete is not used lightly here, for the flaxen-haired man from Port Pirie could run 100 metres in 10.2 seconds. He could also throw the cricket ball over 100 yards. Hence, when he patrolled the outfield, almost always without a cap, he could be seen sprinting well-nigh thirty to forty yards, swooping down on the ball and sending in an arrow-like throw borrowed from baseball. It is stated that he often saved not one, but two or three runs with his lightning dash and flashiest of flashes with which he got rid of the ball.

Until the advent of Neil Harvey in the late 1940s, Pellew was considered the greatest fielder of the century for Australia — and even now when he is recalled it is his fielding that pours forth in discussions.

However, Pellew was also more than a competent batsman who hammered 2 hard-hitting hundreds in his first 3 Tests. He knew only one way to bat, with a speed that matched his movements in the field. He struck the ball hard, often and with style — and as can be expected of a man of such athletic prowess, was a brilliant runner between the wickets. The pace at which he made his runs was of great significance in the days when he played his Test cricket, immediately after the Second World War, when matches were often limited to three days.

Additionally, he was an Australian Rules Footballer of some merit, one of the best in his day. Permit problems allowed him only one game for North Adelaide Football Club in the South Australian National Football League. He played the match in the centre, and his opposite number for the Stuart Football Club was Vic Richardson — who went on to lead Australia in Test cricket.

Cricket and Two Wars

Pellew was born in 1893 and attended the St Peter College in Adelaide. He led the Saints at cricket in 1912, and showed considerable promise in football. The First-Class debut was made in late 1913. He batted at No. 9 against New South Wales, and struck 57 against a bowling attack that included Charles Kelleway and Arthur Mailey. A month later, in early 1914, the New Zealanders came to visit, and Pellew hit 94 against them for his state side.

By the next season, he was showing every bit of promise to make it big. Against a Victorian attack, led by Bert Ironmonger and including Warwick Armstrong and Jack Ryder, he essayed another fluent innings of 72. When he met New South Wales in January 1915, Pellew piled up 97.

However, now the Great War intervened. Pellew served in the Australian Imperial Forces, and his next cricket was played for them in England. After the War came to an end in 1919, he became a star member of the AIF team that did much to revive cricket and spirit in the counties. Playing alongside Kelleway and Herbie Collins, Pellew started with 105 not out for AIF against Cambridge and followed it up with 106 not out against Surrey, 187 against Leicestershire and 195 not out against Worcestershire.

The supreme form continued on his return to Australia, and he started the 1919-20 series with a second innings 271 as an opener against Victoria. The runs were plundered in just 286 minutes and equalled a 30-year mark set by George Giffen. The following season saw the visit of Johnny Douglas and his men from England. When the tourists played South Australia, Pellew scored 64 against them.

Runs in the Sheffield Shield continued to flow, and the Test debut soon followed. At Sydney, batting at No. 8, he made 36 steady runs, but it was his fielding that caught the eye as usual. Wisden noted that the Australian fielding, led by ‘Nip’ Pellew, was a cut above the previous norm.

In the second Test, at Melbourne, Pellew batted at No 7 and hit 116 in just over three hours— his batting described as ‘admirable’ by Wisden. In the following Test played on his home ground, England 0-2 behind, fought hard and managed a 93-run lead. After captain Armstrong and Kelleway had struck centuries to bring Australia back into the game, Pellew walked in and played the innings of his life. He struck the ball brilliantly on his way to 104 in 128 minutes, an innings full of superb drives. Arthur Mailey, who captured ten wickets in what turned out to be a 119-run win, later drew a cartoon of Pellew swatting away flies while scoring his thrilling hundred.

After this rousing success, Pellew never touched similar peaks with his batsmanship in Test cricket. He played seven more Tests – all of them as a member of Warwick Armstrong’s great side. But he managed just one fifty, at Leeds during the 1921 Ashes.

However, his fielding remained as explosive as ever and he was never dropped from the team. Pellew’s final Test was against South Africa at Cape Town while returning from the tour of England.It was a lukewarm outing, and he scored just 6 the only time he batted. His Test career came to an end with 10 Tests that got him 484 runs at 37.23.

Pellew did not play too much First-Class cricket after that, except for one return in 1928-29 when 5 matches brought him 3 half-centuries. While his fielding could fill the stands, his batting had a fair number of admirers as well. He excelled in the straight drive, and delayed the off-drive just enough to find the gap between point and cover. He was strong off his legs as well, and always believed that his job was to strike the ball.

Pellew continued to be associated with the game after his retirement from First-Class cricket. South Australia appointed him coach for the state side in 1930. He held this position till 1939, a hard, tough character who was nevertheless popular with the boys. He also played a bit of cricket, representing the South Australian diggers right through to 1939. He led the side and had the unusual record of winning each and every toss against the Victorian diggers from 1934 to 1938 and putting them in to bat each time.

When the Second World War broke in September 1939, Pellew promptly joined the AIF again within a few days. He returned to cricket when he resumed his duties as coach of South Australia in 1958 and performed the role till 1970. He was 77 then and still going strong. In 1978, on the day of the centenary inter-collegiate match between St Peter College and the Prince Andrew College, a celebratory dinner was held in the Da Costa Hall at the Saints. Addressing the young cricketers that day was the 85-year-old former Saints captain and Australian cricketer Nip Pellew. Pellew passed away two and a half years later in Adelaide at the age of 87. Stork Hendry was the only member of Armstrong’s great side who lived longer.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at