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Inasmuch as the England team sent out to Australia by the MCC during the winter of 1907-08 lost four of the five Test matches, their tour cannot be regarded as other than a failure. From that conclusion there is no getting away, but it is equally true that the side only just missed a triumph almost unexampled since the Australians more than 30 years ago began to play us on even terms. In three of the four Test matches in which they were beaten, the Englishmen at some time during the game stood in such a position that it seemed long odds they would win. However, in all three cases they failed in some curious way to press home their advantage, the Australians in the end proving too strong for them. In one instance - the third match at Adelaide - an unhappy blunder in the field completely turned their fortunes, and in the fourth match - at Melbourne - fate dealt them a cruel blow, a downfall of rain compelling them to bat on a ruined wicket after they had, by dint of splendid bowling, got rid of Australia on a true firm pitch for a modest score of 214. One would not wish to dwell too much on dropped catches and the vagaries of the weather. Such things are all in the game, but it seemed to be the general opinion, even among the Australians themselves, that the Englishmen had rather more than their fair share of bad luck.
In a farewell luncheon, at Melbourne, the President of the Melbourne Club expressed the opinion that a margin of three to two in Australia's favour would have expressed more accurately than one of four to one the difference in merit between the two elevens in the Test games. In one respect the Englishmen were very unfortunate indeed, and in a way that could not have been foreseen, a severe attack of illness, which nearly developed into pneumonia, keeping A. O. Jones, their captain, out of the first three of the five matches. It is no disparagement to F. L. Fane, who on the first three occasions had to captain the side, to say that he lacks Jones's gifts as a leader, and still more his inspiring influence in the field.
For the loss of the first match at Sydney, a sad error of judgement was in large measure responsible. Even before the match was lost, cricketers in England were astounded when the cable messages informed them that R. A. Young had been chosen as a wicket-keeper to the exclusion of Humphries. It has been stated by Major Trevor that Fane consulted some of his professionals on the point, and that Rhodes for one thought R. A. Young ought to play, but nearly everyone will agree in the opinion that to go into a Test match with a comparatively inexperienced wicket-keeper, when one of the best men in the world was available, was simply tempting providence. Young did fairly well up to a point, but as might have been expected the crisis of a tremendous match which extended over six days found him somewhat at fault. He had not in his cricket at home had sufficient preparation for such an ordeal.
The Englishmen lost this first Test match by two wickets and won the second at Melbourne by one wicket. After that they were beaten by 245 runs at Adelaide after leading by 78 on the first innings; by 308 runs at Melbourne, and by 49 runs at Sydney. When once the Test matches began they reduced everything else in the tour to insignificance, even the return games with Victoria and New South Wales being so lightly regarded that neither State put a representative eleven into the field. The early matches of the trip, however, were played in real earnest and in one of them - the first match with New South Wales - the Englishmen, giving a splendid display of all-round cricket, gained an overwhelming victory by 408 runs. Their batting in this match was consistency itself, and Barnes in New South Wales' first innings bowled so extraordinary well on a fast wicket that Noble afterwards described him as the best bowler in the world at the present day.
It is an old story now that the MCC suffered many disappointments when making up their team. R. E. Foster and other amateurs found themselves unable to be away from England for the length of time required, and all hope of sending out a representative side had to be abandoned when Hayward, Tyldesley, Hirst, and Lilley declined the terms offered them. In the circumstances a very good choice was made, but no explanation has ever been given of one important omission. It has been freely stated, and as far as one knows without contradiction, that C. B. Fry was not asked to go. He was just the batsman wanted, as with his unique combination of patience and fine hitting he would have been the making of the side. The team as finally constituted consisted of:
George Gunn ( Notts) was not in the first instance chosen as a regular member of the team but, as he was going to Australia for his health, an arrangement was made by which he would be at A. O. Jones's command if required. He was not called upon until the First Test match, but on that occasion he played so splendidly, scoring 119 and 74, that he was utilised in all the important games that followed. He proved himself the best bat in the eleven, getting 462 runs in the five Test matches, with an average of 51. His 119 at Sydney was compared by competent critics with the best innings played for previous teams by Arthur Shrewsbury and A. C. MacLaren, and in the second Test Match on the same ground - the last of the series - he kept up his form, scoring 122 not out. The other batsmen, with the exceptions of Hardstaff and Hobbs, were more or less disappointing in the Test games. K. L. Hutchings in the second Test match showed his English form, but in the others he was curiously unlike himself, playing a cramped game quite foreign to his natural style.
For the whole tour the batting of the side came out very well, the first ten averages ranging from just under 52 to 22. The strength of the team, as regards the Test matches, lay in the bowling of Crawford, Fielder and Barnes. Their figures do not look very much on paper, but with little or no support they did splendid work. Blythe was so far below his form at home that he was left out of four of the Test games, and Rhodes, quite reversing the experience of his previous visit to Australia, was regarded as a batsman and only as a change bowler.
In all matches Blythe headed the bowling averages but, though successful against weak teams, he did not trouble the good batsmen. It was said of Crawford that even on the most perfect wickets he could at times make the ball break back. Hayes, who had finished his English season in 1907 in tremendous batting form, was quite off his game and did not take part in any of the Test matches. One point about the cricket was very curious. Even when the wickets were in perfect condition the scoring in the Test matches was abnormally slow, averaging scarcely 50 runs an hour. Such excessive care on the part of the batsmen - both sides adopted the same policy - must often have defeated its object and flattered the bowlers. The experience of Hirst and Jessop in previous tours proved that Australian wickets in dry weather are too quick to render pulling profitable, but orthodox hitting ought to have yielded a better result. One is forced to the conclusion that a great many half-volleys were allowed to go unpunished.
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