Wisden Cricket Monthly / Features

The Ashes 1934

Ponsford, Bradman and the spin triplets

Kenneth Gregory conjures up the 1934 Ashes, its legspinners and massive stands. Sounds familiar?

ESPNcricinfo staff

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Kenneth Gregory conjures up the 1934 Ashes, its legspinners and massive stands. Sounds familiar?



Bill Woodfull, Australia's captain, meets King George V © Cricinfo
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The Australian tour began just 14 months after the last of the Bodyline Tests. Wisden, opting for `direct attack', found the season unpleasant. The Australians objected when Bill Voce assaulted them with short-pitched deliveries at Trent Bridge, Lancashire and Middlesex objected even more strongly when their batsmen were battered and bruised. Lancashire and Nottinghamshire did not arrange fixtures for 1935.

Bruised egos afflicted the Australians on May 9 at Fenner's when Cambridge University resorted to finger-spin. Jack Davies was reproached for the rest of his life by those who had turned up to watch Don Bradman, and by those who would have turned up, had they been born.

Bill Woodfull c Cox b Davies 21
Don Bradman b Davies 0
Stan McCabe c Human b Grimshaw 15

Would the tourists counter-attack in the manner of Charlie Macartney? They would not, and well under three runs an over accrued from the bat until a declaration came at 481 for 5, with Ponsford 229 not out. Cambridge had bowled 27.2 overs an hour.

The role of `strike' bowlers is now a constant theme. It was not always so. If in 40 Tests after 1945 Australia relied on only seven pairs of opening bowlers (Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller or Lindwall and Bill Johnston in 35 of them), in 40 Tests before the war 20 opening pairs were conjured up.

Australia played eight series, against England, South Africa and West Indies, in the '30s. Only Stan McCabe, a truly heroic batsman, bowled in all eight, sometimes as opener, sometimes as third or even fourth change. His record of 21 England wickets at an average of 51.23 was far superior to the career Test figures of four of his partners, who totalled five wickets at 95.8.



Bill O'Reilly: the greatest bowler Sir Donald Bradman ever faced © Cricinfo
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Bill O'Reilly was the greatest bowler Sir Donald Bradman ever faced, Clarrie Grimmett the greatest legspinner. O'Reilly of the medium-pace legbreaks and high-bouncing googlies took his first Sheffield Shield wicket the day before his 26th birthday, Grimmett his first when almost 33 years of age. Four months later Grimmett played against England at Sydney. His eight-ball over match analysis was 31.3-5-82-11.

O'Reilly and Grimmett were accompanied to England in 1934 by another googly bowler, the left-armer Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. He took 100 first-class wickets, though he did not play in a Test. Two spinners appeared in all 17 county games, their 191 wickets at 16.15 (at 43 balls per wicket) contrasting with 73 wickets at 31.78 (75 balls per wicket) by the `strike' bowlers and oddments.

The numbers 429, 437 and 452 are part of history, the scores made by Ponsford and Bradman in the Australian domestic game. Also part of history was England's good fortune between Bradman's Test debut at Brisbane in 1928-29 and the Headingley Test in 1934. Out of 18 Ashes Tests Bradman and Ponsford participated together in only nine due to illness, injury and both being dropped, with minor stands of 81, 32 and 31; England had been singularly lucky.

Australia's win at Trent Bridge by 238 runs came 10 minutes from time on the fourth day after pundits had insisted Woodfull's declaration was too late. "I knew my bowlers," was the reply. What Woodfull would have done had Grimmett and O'Reilly suffered injury was another matter. Presumably he would have called up Chipperfield from the slips.

This he did on the first day at Lord's when stalemate threatened. Chipperfield, also a wrist-spinner, accounted for Herbert Sutcliffe and Wally Hammond in a couple of overs, causing Cardus to complain that even George Bernard Shaw with legspin would disconcert England. With the game half over a draw seemed inevitable: England 440, Australia 192 for 2. Rain on Sunday gave Verity his chance; one for 24 overnight, 14 wickets for 80 on the third day. Australia sank by an innings and 38 runs.

The Old Trafford Test, played in intense heat, produced 1,307 runs for 20 wickets, Bradman, with a throat infection, making 30. Five Test innings had brought him 133 runs. Was he still shell-shocked from Bodyline? Was he not entirely well? On July 16 it happened: 140 against Yorkshire in two hours. The Australians moved to Headingley for the fourth Test. England batted abominably for 200, and Australia were 39 for 3 (watchmen, what of the night?) at the close, Ponsford 22 not out.



Don Bradman on the attack © Cricinfo
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At 5.55pm the next day Ponsford pulled a ball from Verity to the boundary but swung round to dislodge a bail: 427 for 4, Ponsford 181, Bradman not out 223 - "the lightning of Sydney and the thunder of Melbourne", as Robertson-Glasgow put it. Australia collapsed to 584 (the pair 485, nine others 82), leaving Grimmett and O'Reilly ample time to clinch matters. But with over four hours left, and England still 155 behind with six men out, the ground was flooded. The match figures of the two legspinners were 173.3-76-263-12.

At Bristol on August 1, William Maldon Woodfull hit Sinfield for six. Whether he had hit one before, or would again when batting to some small boy as headmaster of Melbourne High School, is not recorded.

The Oval Test - to be played to a finish - was decided on the first day when Australia went from 21 for 1 to 472 for 2 (Bradman 244, Ponsford not out 205), the second-wicket stand coming at 85 runs an hour. England, with three fast bowlers, just reached 100 overs at under 17 an hour, their enthusiasm less marked than the university bowlers at Fenner's. The Oval Test was over in four days, the margin in Australia's favour by 562 runs.

Ponsford averaged 94.83 in the series and Bradman 94.75, the latter finding his best form after mid-July when seven innings averaged 174.33 at 52 an hour. At the end of the season he was so desperately ill with acute appendicitis that he did not return home until the New Year.

That Oval Test enjoyed two excellent jokes. After the 451 stand, Bradman said he thought Ponsford might have taken more of the new ball at 400; in England's second innings McCabe, with figures of 5-35-2, was taken off because Grimmett was showing signs of impatience. Ponsford and Bradman were mighty fine fellows but...

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