Anglo-Australian reflections

Jack Fingleton, in light-hearted mood, crams in golfing-cricketers, the immortal Clem Hill, and Douglas Jardine, a lawyer from Oxford - "possibly a little before his time"

Jack Fingleton, in light-hearted mood, crams in golfing-cricketers, the immortal Clem Hill, and Douglas Jardine, a lawyer from Oxford - "possibly a little before his time"

Douglas Jardine: when asked about his feelings on returning to Australia he said pertly it was rather like a visit to Hell: a nice place except for two things, the climate and the inhabitants © The Cricketer
The older we get, the more likely is memory inclined to fool us. Recently, in Canberra, I played an enjoyable game of golf with Legh Winser who was advised in the mid-twenties to flee England's climate. As Winser is now a hale 83, the advice would seem to have been pretty sound although his medico could well have been ultra-cautious. I remember meeting Winser's elder brother a few years ago in Oxford and he was still putting one foot nimbly after the other.

The younger Winser, who had kept wicket in Staffordshire to the demoniac SF Barnes, sadly no more with us - thrived in many ways in Australia. He was secretary for years at Government House, Adelaide, and won the South Australian amateur golf title nine times. He once won the Australian title. In his pristine days he played against the great Gene Sarazen in Adelaide when the squat American disposed of the first nine in 33. Winser, incidentally, also shot 33.

On the day I played with him he was still using an old hickory-shafted mashie-niblick (he thinks ten clubs is enough for any golfer). It had no great wallop of steel on it for easy evacuation out of bunkers yet he emerged neatly and deftly, an art that enabled him to take the odd dollar (even our money here has gone all-American of late) we had wagered on the game.

Winser played many Shield games for South Australia, keeping wickets, and he also hit a first-class century for his adopted state. He played with the immortal. Clem Hill and it must have been his latent British patriotism that led Winser to betray Hill to the English. Plum Warner had brought the 1911 team to Australia although illness forced him out of the series and Johnnie Douglas led in all five Tests. Hill was the Australian captain.

To Adelaide, Hill was having only a moderate series. The preceding Test he made four and nought, out both times to Barnes. When the English came to Adelaide, Winser told `Tiger' Smith, the English 'keeper, that Hill transposed his feet as he made his favourite leg-glance. So Smith and a certain English bowler conspired to trap Hill on his strength and they did.

`Smith stumped Hill for nought off Foster,' Winser told me. We were chewing the regurgitating cud of reminiscence with great gusto but here, I thought, Winser's memory had dunned him. I never saw him but I knew that Foster was pretty fast and a flick stumping on the leg-side as Hill changed feet seemed inconceivable. So I looked up the records and there it was: C. Hill (capt.), stumped Smith, b Foster 0. Lightning - and there was surely some of that in Smith's gloves that day--didn't strike twice and Hill made 98 in the second innings.

Just to transgress, in other Tests against England, Hill made 96, 99, 98 and 97 (these two in the 1902 Adelaide Test) so that his five near-centuries was certainly a record. Frank Woolley - still, happily, with us - made 95 and 93 against Australia at Lord's in 1921.

Recently, I was reading some pithy comments in The Cricketer by that champion 'keeper, Godfrey Evans, on the tendency of modern 'keepers to flatter even medium-paced bowlers by standing back yards to them. Evans made the salient points that a 'keeper over the stumps (in other words, over his job) raises the spirit of the bowler and the fieldsmen and lets the batsman know that he will stand no nonsense. He argued, too, that even though the retreatant 'keeper has more time to sight and catch, there are many snicks that don't carry. Evens was as good a 'keeper as I saw. I second his notions. Not so long ago here, I saw Ted Dexter stand several yards out of his crease to the slumbrous bowling of `Slasher' Mackay because the 'keeper was a veritable paddock away. I moan in anguish when such standards are accepted in Test cricket.

In addition to 'keeping for three seasons to Barnes in Staffs., Winser once had the distinction of 'keeping behind Dr Grace. It was at Oundle School in 1900. His most vivid impressions were of how little of the on-side field was visible in front of the Doctor's vast posterior and of how the Doctor whacked the ball on the drive. I wrote of this somewhere once and, lo, there came a letter from New Zealand addressed simply to `Leigh Winser, Esq., Golfer and Cricketer, Adelaide' which was delivered with no fuss. It was from a fellow-member of the Oundle team who hadn't been in touch with Winser since 1900! And Winser's, shall I say, intimacy with Grace brought him recognition also from England from a band of warriors still loyal to the Doctor's memory.

I was interested recently to see in a certain publication a photograph of several dozen modern players listening to an oration from one on high on what was needed in a certain type of cricket. If I seem recalcitrant in dubbing the scene and those in it, it must be understood that a certain case, versus --, is pending in Australia and a writer these days can't afford to take risks.

One, therefore, has to scan his offerings and so, to be doubly sure, I plead that it was somebody who told me (although one who repeats a -- is also guilty of a , as all editors know) that this bunch of looked pretty bored with the whole show. I am not so sure, looking at them again, if some were not just poised waiting for something to be said that would invite action - and that not on the field.

Even a run out could conceivably lead to court. `Why, you dolt,' will say the aggrieved party when they come together in the pavilion, `you made a travesty of the truth. You called out "Come on - there's one in it," and any idiot could see there wasn't half a run in it.'

"I have no wish to discuss the matter," frigidly will say the other. "It is sub judice. In front of eleven other witnesses and the two umpires you called me a bloody fool. Action lies. You will be hearing from my solicitors."

`Let us hope they know more about law than you do about a run. I shall plead truth and public interest,' says the other - and the team fields two short because the offended ones have gone off to seek a legal eagle.

Which, for no reason, brings me to Douglas Jardine and a story he told me once of how he went out to bat in Brisbane for MCC against Queensland, which side included an aboriginal fast bowler, Eddie Gilbert.

`I was much amused,' said Douglas, and if he wasn't confronted by an Australian green cap he had a delicious sense of humour, "to hear some raucous Australian larrikin scream from the outer as I appeared : `Come on, Eddie, give it to this B--. It was his bloody forefathers who took all that land from your bloody forefathers.' I doubt if even Gilbert knew what my friend meant but I knew."

Those who look up Australian history will know of the activities of the Jardine brothers in the early days of northern Queensland. After the tumultuous days of bodyline, Jardine came again to Australia in the 'fifties as a director of a company of absentee Scottish landlords. The landlord's role fitted snugly on the shoulders of Douglas, who didn't permit himself even a sniff as the crowds railed against his tactics in 1932-3. He was Guest of Honour in an Australian broadcast in the 'fifties and when asked about his feelings on returning to Australia he said pertly it was rather like a visit to Hell: a nice place except for two things, the climate and the inhabitants.

Jardine was a lawyer from Oxford who was possibly a little before his time. Players of any generation would look bored and cynical if preached at and told how to play their game. Like love - if I may rely upon my reading - the playing of cricket should be natural, spontaneous and enjoyable. Only a stuffy oldtimer refuses to see merit in modern players. The material is there. Possibly it is the system - or the mode of modern life--that stultifies it.

On a certain ground in England once - I insist on being cautious to the end - I heard a player say nonchalantly to his fellow as they took the field "So I told my broker this morning that if they touched 15/- he was to sell immediately." What a dilemma to take on to any field! Imagine a player shaping up for a full-blooded hook and the thought crosses his mind that his shares have crumbled to 7/6! No wonder his hook crumbles, also.

Perhaps if the same men could be rushed down from the City, free from the bonds of business for a few hours, they wouldn't half carve the cricket market to bits. But - and I do hope I haven't committed myself to legal scrutiny anywhere - enough of this. I only hope the Editor of Wisden, for whom I profess a warm and undying regard and who, I solemnly swear, is a man inviolate in character, won't take any other than suitable action when I point out that Winser's name seems to have been slipped out of his famous Births of Cricketers. Mr Winser is still very much alive.