S. J. Southerton
The Australian team of 1934 arrived in this country with the knowledge that during the previous series of Test matches in Australia they had been beaten four times and successful only once and to the majority of people at home the idea of England losing the rubber was as remote as it had been in 1930. Australia, however, won two Test matches to England's one - the struggles at Manchester and Leeds being left drawn - and, by a remarkable coincidence, Woodfull, again as in 1930, led his side at the Oval to the victory which regained The Ashes, on the anniversary of his birthday - August 22.
The members of the team were:
There is no need here to go deeply into those occurrences which, marring the enjoyment of the tour of the M. C. C. team in 1932, so nearly ended in a breach of the cricketing relations between this country and Australia. Yet it is necessary to refer to the upheaval which the so-called body-line bowling, as practised during that tour, caused. Matters were smoothed over sufficiently to ensure the visit of the Australians here last summer, but the echoes of the controversy continually arose and the Australian team themselves were just a trifle doubtful as to the kind of welcome they would receive. Happily for everyone concerned any fears our visitors may have entertained on this point were quickly removed by the enthusiasm expressed about their cricket during the early matches and the genuine feeling of goodwill shown towards them at public receptions and at most places they went to play. Indeed, the only jarring note during their triumphant march through England occurred in August, at Nottingham, when they were subjected to a form of attack in bowling which they had every reason to believe had been given up by English captains.
The advent of fine, sunny weather, after very miserable conditions prior to their opening match, enabled them to jump almost at once into form and with the exception of the debacle in the Test match at Lord's they remained at their very best until the end. Still, they had their troubles in the way of illness and accident. Quite early, before the first Test match, they had to contend with an epidemic of influenza, Chipperfield, Kippax and the treasurer, Mr. W. C. Bull, being the worst sufferers. After the first Test Bradman hurt his leg, catching it in a rope when running off the field, at Nottingham; illness kept Ponsford out of the second Test, at Lord's; another epidemic, this time described as Wimbledon throat, swept through the team during the Manchester Test match so that Chipperfield and Kippax were detained in an isolation hospital and kept under observation when diphtheria was feared, and then at Leeds Bradman had to leave the field with a strained thigh. Finally Bromley, on the eve of the last Test match, developed appendicitis and underwent an operation while, when the tour had been completed, Bradman also was operated on for appendicitis and prevented from leaving England with the rest of his colleagues. Few, if any, teams visiting this country, therefore, can have experienced such an anxious time, from the causes which have been mentioned, as did the Australians last summer. Fortunately for them, however, Ponsford was their only prominent player kept out of a Test match by illness during the season. Matters might easily have gone the other way, and if either O'Reilly or Grimmett had been stricken down, the consequences to the team can scarcely be imagined.
After what had happened in Australia in the winter of 1932-33 the manner in which the members of the team acquitted themselves last season in England came as little short of an astounding surprise to all of us in this country. Woodfull himself told me before the tour started that so far as bowling was concerned he would have to pin his faith to Grimmett and O'Reilly, while he was doubtful about the fielding of the side. With regard to the batting strength he felt quite comfortable. As the work of the men and the results of the tour showed, his judgment in regard to the batting and bowling proved absolutely correct but, no doubt to his own gratification, his opinion in respect of the fielding was wrong. From the time they were first seen it was obvious that Bromley, Brown, Chipperfield and Darling - all new-comers - were very good indeed, Bromley in particular being brilliant in his pick-up and return. Woodfull, Ponsford and Kippax were all less active than before but the team generally, as one might expect from a party of men playing together day after day, steadily made themselves into a very fine fielding side and in this respect exercised a pronounced superiority over England in that particular part of the game where, at the least, our cricketers had been expected to shine. Oldfield, too, was as quietly competent as ever in his wicket-keeping.
So, to come at once to the point, Australia, when the wickets were hard, bowled better, batted better and fielded better than England. That they won the rubber was, therefore, not surprising. The fact of England's only success in the Test matches being gained at Lord's after rain during the week-end had ruined the wicket on which Australia were then batting and gave Verity the opportunity of showing how effective he can be under these conditions, was indeed a sad commentary on the supposed and expected predominance of our own men. England indeed had cause to be doubly grateful to the weather. The rain came to give them a heaven-sent chance of winning at Lord's while later on at Leeds, when Australia had the match in their hands and were within an ace of victory in a single innings, a brief but tremendously heavy storm flooded the wicket and the ground, and made further play impossible after ten minutes to one on the last day. England thus escaped in a match in which they were completely outplayed at all points and with perfect truth, they could have paraphrased a Biblical quotation and said The rain giveth and the rain taketh away; blessed be the rain.
Opportunity is found in another part of the Almanack to discuss the merits and demerits of the choice or passing over of certain men to play for England but here it can be said that the England batting suffered atrociously from a pronounced weakness in every Test match immediately or shortly after the opening pair had been separated. Time after time when a good or promising start was cut short just as the first pair seemed to have got the measure of the Australian bowling this was far too often followed by the fall of two or three more quick wickets. A Jardine was sadly needed but, as explained elsewhere, an unofficial cable from him in India and the fact that he had been engaged to write the Test matches in the Press put his inclusion out of the question. In the same way the attitude of Larwood on a certain matter precluded the selectors from choosing him and so England were deprived of the services of two men who might easily have turned the scale in favour of the home country. The fact remains that neither in batting nor bowling did England ever have a properly-balanced eleven and the fine bowling of Grimmett and O'Reilly supplementing the superb work of Bradman, Ponsford and McCabe carried Australia through on the top of the wave.
Without in the slightest degree disparaging the magnificent batting of the three great exponents, and the classic style of Brown, all of which contributed largely to the success of the side, it is permissable to hold strongly to the opinion that in the two Test matches they won Australia owed most to Grimmett and O'Reilly for keeping the English batsmen in subjection. Even in the two drawn games these two bowlers acquitted themselves in a manner never approached by any of their opponents. Bowes, it is true, had two inspiring spells at Leeds but looked very ordinary indeed - as he did at the Oval - when Bradman and Ponsford were engaged in their great partnership. Farnes, with five wickets in each innings, more than justified his inclusion in the opening Test match at Nottingham, but England did not possess either one or a pair of bowlers comparable, on fast wickets, with the two famous Australians. Both Grimmett and O'Reilly were, above all, masters of length and finger-spin and, while at Lord's and Manchester a large number of runs were obtained against them, they seldom, if ever, looked other than first-class. As was the case in 1930 Grimmett almost invariably brought about a marked diminution in the rate of run getting directly either of those who opened the attack, usually Wall and McCabe, was taken off to make way for him. In his flighting of the ball he was as skilful as ever; he made it turn just as effectively and, by its judicious employment, he brought into action a particular delivery at which he had practised assiduously before he left Australia. This ball, the effect of which was either a googly or one which sped off the pitch at pace with top-spin, came from his hand in a slightly different manner from that usually associated with the googly or top-spinner. Instead of coming over the little finger, it left the hand via the fore-finger, but with the action used in the ordinary googly, and as Grimmett very soon discovered it was exceedingly difficult of detection by the batsman. Naturally he kept this a very well-guarded secret and dismissed many men lbw with it and it is a matter of considerable doubt if any of our cricketers ever really found it out. Considering the amount of work he had to do during the season Grimmett maintained his form uncommonly well. He took 25 wickets in Test matches for just under 27 runs apiece, being second to O'Reilly, who had 28 wickets for rather less than 25 runs apiece. The other five bowlers who went on against England obtained between them only 18 wickets. In all first-class matches, Grimmett and O'Reilly each took the same number of wickets - 109 - O'Reilly's costing just over 17 runs each and Grimmett's a little under 20 runs apiece.
The fame of O'Reilly as a bowler had preceded his arrival and we were neither surprised at his success nor that he finished first in bowling both in Test matches and in all first-class engagements. Like Grimmett, he had a fine command of length and even if, after a somewhat lumbering run up, he sacrificed a little of the advantage of his great height by a pronounced stoop as he delivered the ball, this did not detract from his effectiveness. Possessing a large and powerful right hand, he wrapped his fingers round the ball with his wrist bent so that the ball almost touched the lower part of the inside of his forearm. He varied his pace without much apparent change of action and could make the ball turn either from the off or from leg, that which came from leg often being just a little faster than the other. He probably bowled no better ball the whole season than the one with which he dismissed Wyatt in that sensational over on the first day of the Test match at Manchester. The chief danger which lurked in O'Reilly's off-break was its lift. O'Reilly always had a forward short-leg and in the course of the season he obtained several wickets when batsmen, merely playing a backward defensive stroke, found the ball strike the bat in the neighbourhood of the splice, and pop up into the hands of the waiting fieldsman. Leyland and Ames at Lord's and Manchester and Hendren at Manchester punched O'Reilly with some freedom but taking the whole season through Walters drove him better than anybody else. O'Reilly was one of the best examples in modern cricket of what could be described as a hostile bowler.
In the first Test match at Nottingham O'Reilly took eleven wickets for 129 runs and Grimmett nine for 120; at Manchester O'Reilly obtained in the first innings seven wickets for 189 runs; at Leeds Grimmett took seven wickets for 129 and O'Reilly five for 134 and at the Oval Grimmett had eight for 167 and O'Reilly four for 161. At Lord's, in the one match Australia lost, Grimmett and O'Reilly took only one wicket each, but they both bowled very well. Outside the Test matches both these men accomplished some great performances. Each during the season claimed nine wickets in an innings on one occasion Grimmett, against Cambridge University and O'Reilly against Somerset when only 38 runs were hit from his bowling.
As, in accordance with his expressed intention, Woodfull utilised O'Reilly and Grimmett as the spearhead of his attack, and they both acquitted themselves with such distinction it is necessary to dilate upon their performances at greater length perhaps than usual. It will therefore suffice to say that Wall, the fast bowler of the team, had neither the pace nor was as effective as in 1930. He took only six wickets in Test matches at very heavy cost while in all first-class matches he obtained only 42 wickets as against 56 four years previously, although the expense of these was roughly the same, and after playing in the first four Test matches he stood down from the fifth as he was not quite fit. Thus an opportunity presented itself of including Ebeling, who had done much good work in matches of less importance. Ebeling, fast-medium right hand, accomplished nothing out of the common at the Oval, but rendered his side a good turn by dismissing Hammond and bowling Allen and Verity later on. In the course of the whole tour Ebeling sent down 160 more overs than Wall and took 62 wickets for less than 21 runs each, these bowlers yielding an identical number of runs.
Ebeling was a good, useful bowler who could make the ball come back sharply at times with pace off the pitch, but with Grimmett and O'Reilly overshadowing everybody else he was unable to earn any special claim for distinction. Of a very different type was Fleetwood-Smith, who had come to the front in Australia as a left-hand googly bowler. Seldom can a man visiting England for the first time have so effectually disproved the predictions of his critics. In the first few weeks of the season he was looked upon as a greatly overrated bowler; one who against quick-footed batsmen or players with a long, powerful reach like Woolley would come in for very severe punishment indeed. I will frankly confess that I was among those who thought little of Fleetwood-Smith, but by the time the tour was ended I found very sound reasons for altering my opinion. Up to the end of June Fleetwood-Smith in eight matches had taken 41 wickets and, playing in twelve more afterwards, he increased his aggregate in all first-class matches to 106 wickets at a cost of less than 20 runs apiece, being the third man on the side to dismiss over a hundred batsmen and falling only three short of the number reached by O'Reilly and Grimmett. Finishing second in the averages Fleetwood-Smith could congratulate himself on having had a very good season and his record was thoroughly well deserved for, whereas at the outset his length generally proved erratic, he steadily improved in that respect and was a different man from the end of July onwards. Two of his best matches were against Sussex at Brighton and Leveson Gower's XI at Scarborough in each of which he took ten wickets. Of no great account either as batsman or fielder he was, as a bowler one of the most interesting studies of the team. He did not play in any of the Tests.
Looking back on the series of Test matches, it will always be a matter of surprise that Australia, with practically only two bowlers to do the hard work, should have won the rubber. No doubt influenced by what had occurred in Australia in the winter of 1932, Woodfull and his brother selectors thought that they would be better off with great strength in batting than if Ebeling or Fleetwood-Smith was included to help Grimmett and O'Reilly, Wall and McCabe. The result justified their policy and somewhat unexpected assistance was given by Chipperfield. He only took five wickets in the Test matches but they were important ones, for he dismissed Sutcliffe, Hammond and Wyatt at Lord's and Walters and Hendren at Leeds. Still, in other circumstances, it would have been almost laughable to find Australia opening their attack in a Test match with McCabe. Four years previously there might have been some excuse, but last season McCabe, while greatly improved as a batsman, fell off very sadly as a bowler. His four wickets in Test matches cost nearly 55 runs each and in the whole tour in first-class engagements he obtained only 21 wickets for nearly 38 runs apiece. When one thinks of those two great players, Gregory and Macdonald, it is impossible to visualise McCabe occupying a similar distinguished position.
The batting of the team was tremendously strong. In all first-class matches six men scored over a thousand runs each, Bradman heading the list with average of over 84 and an aggregate of 2,020. McCabe, who came third, behind Ponsford, scored 2,078 runs with an average of over 69. Ponsford's aggregate was 1,784 runs and his average over 77. For purposes of comparison Bradman obtained 940 fewer runs than in 1930, Ponsford increased his by 359 and McCabe hit up 1,066 more runs last season than on the occasion of his first visit four years previously. In Test matches both Ponsford and McCabe made a striking advance. Ponsford, playing one innings more than in 1930, increased his aggregate by 239 runs and his average from 55 to nearly 95 while McCabe, playing nine innings as against five, scored 273 more runs while his average went from 35 to over 60. Bradman, on the other hand and despite innings of 304 at Leeds and 244 at the Oval, totalled, in eight appearance as against five, 216 fewer runs, his average dropping from 139 to 94. These three men were the outstanding successes in batting of the team, although Brown who came next to them in the Test match averages, played an innings of 105 at Lord's and for the whole season had an aggregate of 1,308 runs while Chipperfield on the occasion of his first appearance in a Test match missed by one run the distinction of scoring a century. No fewer than seven men on the side possessed averages in Test matches ranging from 94 to 25 while in all first-class matches there were eleven with averages from 84 to 22.
Ponsford enjoyed his best season in England. His style was much the same as before but in its important essentials his stroke-play had greatly improved; he seemed to hit the ball harder and he always looked sounder and more difficult to get out than either in 1926 or 1930. Although not flawless, his two great innings of 181 and 266 in the Test matches at Leeds and the Oval, - both of which ended by him stepping on to or touching his wicket with his pad - were masterly displays of workmanlike batting. In the course of the season he played five three-figure innings, three of them - with 281 not out against M. C. C. at Lord's as his highest - of over 200 each.
Bradman had a curious season. He reached three figures seven times, excelling with 304 against England at Leeds and 244 against England at the Oval. As in 1930 he led off in the opening match with an innings of over 200 against Worcestershire but then for a time he was, for Bradman, less than normal. Indeed, after his 206 at Worcester his only three-figure innings until the middle of July at Sheffield was 160 against Middlesex at Lord's. Yet that 160 was, in all probability, the most dazzling exhibition he gave throughout the tour. On the first afternoon he reached his hundred off the last ball of the day, having obtained these runs out of 135 in seventy-five minutes. Although going at such a tremendous pace his timing and placing were so certain and his execution so powerful that he did not make a single mistake. Old habitues of Lord's were almost unanimous afterwards in saying that they had never before seen such a brilliant and perfect display. Bradman finished the season in great style, his 140 against Yorkshire being the prelude to a succession of big scores, of which 304 in the Leeds Test was most noteworthy. He was out of the team for five first-class matches after this; then came his 244 at the Oval and he ended with 149 not out at Folkestone and 132 at Scarborough. It was noticeable that in many innings Bradman lifted the ball to a far greater extent than when he came here first and there were many occasions on which he was out to wild strokes. Indeed at one period he created the impression that, to some extent, he had lost control of himself and went in to bat with an almost complete disregard for anything in the shape of a defensive stroke. To those, however, who watched him closely in his big innings it was obvious that in the course of four years he had improved his technique almost out of knowledge. He was much more interesting to look at because of the wider range of his scoring strokes. At his best he was probably harder to get out than ever and at times so marvellous was his footwork and power of execution that all bowlers were at a complete loss as to where they should pitch the ball. An amazingly brilliant batsman, he retained that faculty, given to most really great players, of delaying his stroke until the last possible moment.
Despite the great performances of Ponsford and Bradman, nobody showed such a pronounced improvement in batting as McCabe. When he came to England first in 1930 he was a good, hard-hitting cricketer who still had to rub off a number of rough edges, and he went through that tour without once playing a three-figure innings in a first-class match. Last summer he headed the list of century-makers of the team with eight hundreds, ranging from 240 against Surrey at the Oval to 105 not out against the Gentlemen of England at Lord's. He blossomed forth as an almost completely equipped batsman of the forcing type and was probably the best exponent - Bradman himself scarcely excluded - of the art of hitting the ball tremendously hard and safely. Indeed, he, Bradman and Ponsford exemplified by their methods one of the great differences between most English batsmen and Australians in the certainty and force with which they cracked the ball to the boundary. McCabe scored chiefly in front of the wicket but often during the tour his hooking to square-leg of short-pitched balls was a joy to the eye.
Woodfull, once more captaining the team with great judgment and ability, found that he was nearing the end of his career and following the fifth Test match announced that that would be the last representative encounter in which he would take part and that after the testimonial match played for the benefit jointly of him and Ponsford at Melbourne in November he would retire from first-class cricket. Woodfull made three hundreds during the tour but it would be idle to pretend that he was anything like the run-getter of former days or so difficult to dismiss. Still, in again leading the side to victory in the rubber he ended on a top note and will always be able to look back upon his performances in this country with the greatest personal satisfaction. Cricket both in Australia and England will be the poorer for his loss for he always endeavoured to play the game with the strictest regard to its great traditions. He made and kept very many friendships, not only on the cricket field but elsewhere and enjoyed to the full the confidence and support of his team.
Of the sixteen players who compromised the party exactly half were new to cricket in England. Of those who had been here before and of whom no mention has yet been made Kippax, who took part in only the Test match, was, as already observed, a victim to the illness which attended the team and consequently did not have such a good season as in 1930 when he finished second in the batting table with an aggregate of 1,451 runs and an average of just over 58. Last summer he scored 961 runs and, thanks to a great display against Sussex at Brighton when he made 250, his average came out at over 50 and he finished fifth on the list. Very correct and graceful, particularly in his cutting, Kippax was always a delightful batsman to watch. Oldfield, over and above his fine wicket-keeping, often rendered good service in the lower half of the batting order. Of the newcomers Brown and Chipperfield were the best. Brown enjoyed the distinction of playing in all five Test matches with the added honour of making a hundred on the occasion of his first appearance in a representative match at Lord's. Of the younger generation of Australian batsmen he was the best in point of style and execution seen in this country for many years. In his methods not unlike Tom Hayward, although possessing nothing like the powerful frame of that famous cricketer, Brown played with a beautifully straight bat, got well over the ball in driving and turned it to leg with certainty. He is a cricketer of whom much more should be heard in the future.
Chipperfield, older in years than Brown, but just as young to big cricket, arrived here with a reputation of being an uncommonly good slip fielder and he lived up to it, but over and above his ability to take catches close to the wicket he showed himself to be watchful batsman who could, when the occasion demanded, hit hard and score at a good pace. He did not enjoy the best of health but he played in all five Test matches, made some fine catches at Nottingham and scored 99 at his first attempt and was able to bowl useful leg-breaks when it became necessary to rest Grimmett or O'Reilly. Darling, a left-hander, was a competent field and a batsman of the dashing order. If inclined to flick at balls going away and so lose his wicket somewhat unnecessarily, he could be a very dangerous batsman when set, for like most left-handers, he hit hard on the off side. In company with most of his colleagues, however, he showed in the Test match at Lord's little or no ability to deal with good, left hand bowling on a pitch affected by rain. Barnett, the second wicket-keeper was a very good batsman indeed who, with more opportunities, must have created a bigger impression. As a wicket-keeper, he was, to begin with, prone to appeal too much, a remark which applies with even greater force to O'Reilly. Barnett very largely cured himself of this habit but O'Reilly never did and may possibly have forfeited the sympathy - if it is permissible for this to be shown - of some of the umpires. Bromley, another left hander, was nothing like the success which had been expected for he, like Darling, was apt to go after the off ball while his hitting in front of the wicket, if powerful, was rarely well judged. Still, as a fieldsman he was brilliant, his work on most occasions earning unstinted applause.
It only remains to add that, as in 1930, the team went through their programme of matches with only one defeat - in the second Test match at Lord's. Including minor engagements they won fifteen of the thirty-four fixtures arranged and drew eighteen. Actually, apart from the match they lost, they never really looked to be in danger.
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