Wisden Cricket Monthly / Features

Wisden Cricket Monthly 1987

Thanks for the memory

John Arlott floats his mind back to the exquisite (for England) Australian tour of 1954-55

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Peter May on his to a hundred at the SCG © The Cricketer
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Every cricket-follower has his - or her - special tour. It may be `theirs' for any one of many reasons; a first Test seen, a remarkable - or more likely, remarkably pleasing - result; for some personal reason - a revelation, a dawning, oh, a thousand-and-one possible reasons; though most often, surely, an excitingly happy outcome; frequently at long range, distant news of dawning delight.

So it was that so many British followers long and deeply cherished England's 1932-33 win - under Douglas Jardine- which may not be unconnected with the fact that it was - indeed, still is - so savagely resented by Australians.

This, though, is - like so many of these rubbers - a personal matter. The 1954-55 tour was, of course, historic in that it saw England win a rubber in Australia for the first time since Jardine's tour of 22 years earlier. It was, too, the first win by an England side captained by a professional in modern times. Subjectively, it was a first experience of Australia: in itself a major event in life, especially for a cricket addict. It made new friendships, fresh, deeper relationships: even for one with some seasons of cricket in England, much of it with touring teams, it was a completely fresh experience. Moreover, the cricket was immensely exciting; dramatic in its reversals, developments and changes. For this writer it was an immense excitement, both a dawning and a confirmation: if not a completion, the nearest he had ever known to the completion of a cricketing education.

Observers of the English game who did not know it then may well fail to appreciate its full historic and social significance. Len Hutton was first made captain of England (against India) in 1952, continued to the win of 1953, which was the first over Australia for a record period of 19 years; and the subsequent series against West Indies, 1953-54, and Pakistan in England in 1954; yet it was not until the middle of July 1954 that he was picked to take the side to Australia. It was the last dogged resistance of the old guard, none the less determined - even bitter - for the fact that it was not openly stated. Effectively, his appointment marked, perhaps more clearly than anything else, English cricket's step into modern times.

The remainder of the selection, too, gave rise to comment. Jim Laker, Tony Lock and Fred Trueman, all of whom had been in the side which took the Ashes at The Oval in 1953, were - quite surprisingly on cricketing grounds - not chosen. The selectors first named Hutton (Yorks, captain), May ( Surrey, vice-captain), Reg Simpson ( Notts), Bill Edrich (Middx), Bailey ( Essex), Cowdrey (Kent), Compton (Middx), Bedser ( Surrey), Evans (Kent), Wardle (Yorks), Statham (Lancs), Graveney (Gloucs), Appleyard (Yorks), McConnon ( Glamorgan), Loader ( Surrey), Tyson (Northants), Andrew (Northants). Then, when Denis Compton suffered a recurrence of his knee trouble, he at first stayed at home for treatment; so Vic Wilson, the Yorkshire left-hander, was included in the party before Compton flew out to join it at Adelaide; 18 was always too many players. Important in a small travelling party, Geoffrey Howard, the Lancashire secretary, was team manager; George Duckworth, the former Lancashire and England wicketkeeper, was scorer, baggage-master and wise man; and Harold Dalton was an efficient and restful masseur who was to play a most important part in the outcome of the tour. There was, too, a gaggle of journalists, and the journey out and the first six weeks on shore were spent settling down; in effect giving greater depth to many relationships.

Then to the Queensland match, where a green wicket found Cowdrey, Bailey and May all out by the time the score reached 18. Then, though, Simpson and Compton scored centuries and England made a draw of it, despite the presence of Lindwall on the other side; a not unimportant morale gain.

So to the first Test, with Evans missing from the England side, and Compton injured early on when he ran into the fence and broke a bone in his left hand. Acting on the evidence of the State match, Hutton became the first England captain in history to send in Australia in a Test in that country. Quite unlike the pitch for the State match, however, this one was dry and plumb. On the other hand, in the vast Australian first innings - 601 for 8 - at least a dozen chances were missed; including one from Morris- who made 153 - before he had scored. Four of the England bowlers ran up 100 runs in their analyses, and once Miller, Lindwall and Archer had bitten into the batting at 25 for 4, the game was lost. Edrich, May, Cowdrey and Bailey all put up some resistance, but not enough to prevent England's defeat by an innings and 154 runs, with more than a day to spare.

Now the true character of this England side began to emerge. During the journey out, Colin Cowdrey received news of the death of his father - that cricket enthusiast who bestowed upon his son the initials MCC. There is no doubt that the young man received immense comfort from his captain. In another direction, Hutton was often to be seen also in conversation with Tyson, who in the first Test had bowled 29 overs to take 1 for 160.

As the second Test came up, in the State match with Victoria at Melbourne Tyson was observed to be bowling off a much shorter run than previously. It was an altogether more coherent action and the last heave of those huge shoulders was both vivid and effective. This time Morris, captaining Australia, sent England in to bat and, in a situation seeming even more desperate than that at Brisbane, they lost their first eight wickets for 88 before the tailenders - chiefly Wardle and Statham- hauled them up to 154. Before the start, Hutton, from a team based on pace and seam, left out Alec Bedser, quite unexpectedly, though he had been suffering from shingles. He replaced him with Appleyard, which was to prove one of the significant moves of the tour. Bailey made the initial penetration, then Tyson, with 4 for 45, kept England in the distant run-in. When England batted again, May (104) and Cowdrey (54), supported once more by the tail-end, took their score to 296. Still, though, that left Australia only 223 to win; not remarkably difficult on such a reliable pitch.

Now, Tyson emerged as the matchwinner, with Neil Harvey on the other side as the potential matchsaver. The returning Evans, all flair and exuberance, made two crucial catches at the end when England gnawed their way home. Harvey, batting No. 4, made 92 not out, but Tyson's 6 for 85 was conclusive.

Less than a fortnight later came the third Test; yet another of constant twists and turns on a pitch which gave rise to a Press statement: `After a searching inquiry it is emphatically denied that the pitch or any part of the cricket ground has been watered since the commencement of the third Test match on Friday, December 31.' It was all very mysterious: what then made it wet in a period of no rain when two days previously there had been cracks in it?

This time England could bring back Compton, but still left out Bedser: Hutton won the toss and batted. Once again they made a terrifying start. Miller and Lindwall reduced them to 41 for 4 before Cowdrey, in an innings of impressive maturity for one who had spent the last English season playing for Oxford University, scored 102 in a total of 191 (the next-highest score was Bailey's 30). Once again Australia seized advantage; Harvey (31), Maddocks (47 in his first Test), and Ian Johnson (33 not out) carried them to a lead of 40. Then, though, Hutton- and immense credit must be given to his psychological acumen for the fact - stirred his side to concentrated effort. He, May, Compton, Bailey, Evans and Wardle all made their gritty contributions, but still Australia needed only 240 to win. This time the pitch was not so good; and experts on the ground thought that Appleyard would be the most effective bowler. Indeed, he did take the first wicket - that of Favell - but it was Tyson who took one wicket that night and next morning scythed down the Australian batting to finish with a quite staggering 7 for 27. Here, if ever, was the example of sheer pace destroying a Test team. Even against batsmen accustomed to such as Davidson, Miller and Lindwall, this was simply too fast. Twice, if not three times, class batsmen were bowled out, before they could bring the bat down, by the sheer pace of Tyson's bowling. Statham bore him fine company and England achieved a quite amazing win by 128 runs and the margin of another day.

So on to Adelaide, where, apart from excursions to the vineyards with Bill Bowes, Frank Tyson emerged - and what better city to do it in than Adelaide- as an antiquarian book collector. Some splendidly successful raids were made on secondhand bookshops in the city. Australia left out Graeme Hole, a most stylish and pleasing batsman, whose vulnerability to pace had been exposed at Melbourne. It was thought that in a temperature of 100 degrees it would be a good toss to win; and Ian Johnson won it; Australia batted and at 59 for no wicket looked to be going well. Hutton astutely husbanded the strength of Tyson and Statham by the use of Bailey and, crucially, Appleyard who, with three wickets apiece, proved invaluable, though Tyson (3 for 85) again made his mark. Again Hutton mustered his forces. He, Cowdrey, Compton, Bailey, Evans and Wardle all played their parts in an England total of 341 - a meagre lead of 18 for a side needing to bat last. Now, indeed, Appleyard- three of the first four wickets for 14 - played his crucial part. This was the period when Appleyard impressed himself on Cowdrey as the most resourceful bowler he ever knew. Still, Tyson (3 for 47) and Statham (3 for 38, despite losing a toenail) again would not be denied. Australia, all out 111, lost by five wickets. England had their anxieties in making their 97; eventually, though, for the only time in the series, a match was won by the side batting last, and England had won their first rubber in Australia for 22 years.

Hutton, who had nursed his fast bowlers most artfully, explained the slow over rate: `I feel that as youngsters they need my help in placing the field.' The celebrations went on late into that night, no-one more delighted than that calm, worried, wise man, Len Hutton.

The end of February found this writer and Bill Bowes stranded in the quite unique flooding of the Hunter Valley - which cost millions of pounds in damage in the vineyards. That reduced the cricket, too, from 30 hours to 13 at Sydney, but Graveney, in a most charming innings of 111, May, Compton and Bailey built England's 371 - their highest innings of the series. Then Wardle, Tyson and Appleyard bowled Australia out for 221; they were forced to follow on but there was never any real hope of a finish.

With the exception of the first Test, which was not decisive, and the last, which was not conclusive, this was a most remarkably closely-fought series. There were weaknesses on both sides but, overall, the pace of Tyson and Statham was most excitingly decisive. For one who witnessed it, it was the experience of a lifetime; absorbing, amazingly revealing and fun; which last, alas, Test series do not always seem to be in these days. To many people, most sincere thanks for that.

© Wisden Cricket Monthly

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