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From a cricket point of view the Australians had a triumphant tour, and as regards material reward they got on, I believe, quite as well as could have been expected in such a deplorable summer. In going through a programme of thirty-nine fixtures with only two defeats, they beat the records of all their predecessors in this country, and no one who followed their tour or, like myself, saw only a section of the matches, will deny that they richly deserved all the success they obtained. No travelling team ever strove harder for victory or more completely subordinated all personal considerations to the prime object of winning matches. They formed a splendid all-round combination, the players new to England having been picked with the nicest judgment, but the team would not, with all their ability, have been able to show such consistently fine form week after week throughout a long tour, if the men had not taken scrupulous care of themselves when off the field. I make no apology for insisting rather strongly upon this point. Everyone who is at all behind the scenes in cricket knows perfectly well that in the case, both of English elevens in Australia and Australian elevens in England, the brightest hopes have sometimes been wrecked through want of self-control on the part of players on whom the utmost dependence was placed. In this connection it is, of course, impossible to mention names, but the famous cricketers who have captained elevens in this country and the Colonies will know perfectly well the cases I have in mind.
The Australians last summer started with the advantage of being splendidly equipped at every point, but they owed a great deal to the fact that, except when illness laid some of them aside, they were always physically fit to do their very best. Good condition helped to make their ground fielding a marvel of sustained energy and enabled them to go through an exhausting tour, with scarcely a trace of staleness. In this all important matter of physical well-being they undoubtedly owed much to the precept and example of their captain. In his own sphere of action, Darling is a born leader. When he comes to England, he comes simply and solely to play cricket, and he has the rare power of being able to keep a whole team up to something approaching his own standard. He has immense concentration of purpose and under his guidance the players were just as keen at the end of three months" cricket as they had been at the beginning of their tour. Of course, being only human, they occasionally missed catches, but only once when I saw them-on the Monday following the tremendous finish in the Test match at Manchester-were they in any way slack. All seemed to be fully imbued with the idea that their one duty was to enhance, if possible, the reputation of Australian cricket.
Upon the delicate task of comparing the team with the best previous combinations, I am not disposed to enter at any length. It may be, as one of the most famous of English batsmen stoutly contends, that the bowling was a good deal inferior to that of the 1882 eleven, and the batting, apart from Trumper"s marvellous play, may not have been quite so good as in some other tours, but on this latter point I should be chary of expressing a positive opinion. The side had to battle against abnormal weather and it is quite impossible to say what the run-getting power would have been if we had been favoured with such a summer as that of 1899. My own impressions is that, given a succession of hard wickets, the team would, by reason of their batting alone, have been terribly hard to beat. From the spectators" point of view the batting was far in advance of that seen three years ago. Whether from design, or as the result of Trumper"s refreshing example, there was none of the laboriously careful play that occasionally laid the team of 1899 open to adverse criticism. The men played emphatically a winning game and did not, as in 1899, find three days too short a space of time in which to beat opponents manifestly inferior to themselves. My own impression is that when they found themselves in for a wet summer they realised almost immediately that the careful methods of batting which answer so well in Australia would be of no value and that they set themselves to play a free, vigorous game. How brilliantly they succeeded the record of their tour will prove. Of thirty-nine matches, they won twenty-three, lost only two and left fourteen unfinished. Even these figures, however, wonderful as they are, do not reveal the full measure of their achievement. Going through the fourteen drawn games, one finds that only against the South of England at Hastings in September and in the opening match of the tour, against London County at the Crystal Palace, did the final score leave them with any probability of defeat. At Hastings, another five minutes" play would, it is true, have involved disaster, but this was an exceptional case and had no parallel in any of the other matches. Even when the closure rule was put in force against them - by the M. C. C. at Lord"s, Essex at Leyton and C. I. Thornton"s England eleven at Scarborough - they batted so splendidly in the last innings that a very small allowance of extra time would in every case have given them victory.
Just at one period of their tour the team must have felt despondent. Immediately after their collapse at Birmingham in the first Test match for a score of 36 and their defeat by Yorkshire at Leeds, when Hirst and F. S. Jackson got them out for 23, several of the Players, unable to withstand the atrocious weather, fell victims to influenza and for the moment the general outlook was dark in the extreme. Rain day after day had a deplorable effect upon the receipts at the various matches and the outbreak of illness, coming at a time when there seemed no immediate prospect of an improvement in the weather, sent the spirits of the players down to zero. Indeed it was said that one or two of the men new to England were so thoroughly downhearted that, had such a thing been possible, they would have been quite willing to pack up their bags and return home. On the day of the Test match at Lord"s Howell and Trumble, the latter of whom had only just commenced playing after a dislocated thumb had lost him a month"s cricket, was down with influenza; Darling and Noble were only just getting over the same complaint and Saunders, though pressed into the service at the last moment, had hardly recovered from an inflamed eye and an attack of tonsilitis. No wonder in the circumstances that a somewhat forlorn and dispirited set of cricketers went into the field at Lord"s, on the 12th of June. Suddenly, however, both in a figurative and a literal sense, the clouds lifted. The invalids quickly regained health and strength, and, after continous rain had restricted the Test match to something under two hours" play on the opening day, the weather became decently favourable.
The Australians easily beat an England eleven at Eastbourne and from that time they never looked back, the remainder of the trip being in the nature of a triumphal march. Success was assured when at the beginning of July the team beat England by 143 runs at Sheffield and thence forward they had no anxieties. Following the victory at Sheffield, the Australians dominated the season, throwing county cricket into a very modest place indeed and exciting the liveliest interest wherever they went. They reached their highest point, when on the 26th of July at Manchester they beat England, after an extraordinary finish, by three runs and so won the rubber. The story of that marvellous game and of the equally memorable one at the Oval, when England, in face of every difficulty, just managed to get home by one wicket, is told in some detail later on in this section of Wisden, but it may be said here that no Test games in the whole history of English and Australian cricket - not even the match at the Oval in 1882 - have been more fruitful in incident or more strenuously fought out. They lifted and lent distinction to a season that, by reason of the dreadful weather, was in many respects flat and unprofitable. The Australians won the rubber and I should be the last to depreciate their achievement or to attempt to rob them of any of the credit so justly their due. Still, looking at the three finished matches and the two draws as a whole, I think it may fairly be said that the general result did not prove any marked superiority on the part of the Australians.
In the five games the balance of luck was clearly against the Englishmen. But for twelve hours incessant rain, they would almost to a certainty have won in one innings at Birmingham; and at Manchester, when they had, by magnificent cricket, pulled the game round and secured a winning position, five hours downpour in the night rendered difficult a task in the last innings that under normal conditions would have been quite easy. Even at the Oval, when they won, fortune was against them, rain seriously damaging the pitch after the Australians had on the opening day played an innings of 324. To say this is not to do the Australians any injustice. The facts were patent to everyone who saw the matches. At Birmingham rain spoilt the wicket and gave the English bowler their chance, but there was too much of it, the Edgbaston ground being reduced to such a condition that the last day was almost a blank. In the Sheffield match the Australians clearly showed the finer play and fully deserved their win, but even here the luck, in the shape of bad light and rain, was unquestionably against England. Apart from the Test matches, the Australians were far too strong for nearly all their opponents. Yorkshire"s victory by five wickets at Leeds and the drawn matches at Hastings and the Crystal Palace being a poor set-off against twenty-one defeats. In this connection, however, I must not forget to give credit to Somerset for a plucky effort at Taunton, and to Lancashire for a very close fight at Liverpool, or to praise the Essex batsmen for the fine scoring in the second match at Leyton. Speaking generally, English cricket did not make a good show, the majority of our elevens being outplayed all the way.
Coming to the individual work of the various players, one is struck first by the pre-eminence of Victor Trumper as a batsman and next by the extremely fine form shown by nearly all the members of the team who were new to England. Trumper stood alone among the batsmen of the season, not only far surpassing his own colleagues, but also putting into the shade everyone who played for England. In the course of the tour he obtained, despite the wet weather, 2570 runs, thus easily beating Darling"s 1941 in the glorious summer of 1899, which up to this year was a record aggregate for any Colonial batsmen touring in this country. Pages might be written about Trumper"s batting without exhausting the subject. Having regard to the character of the season, with its many wet days and soft wickets, it is safe to say that no one-not even Ranjitsinhji-has been at once so brilliant and so consistent since W. G. Grace was at his best. Trumper seemed independent of varying conditions, being able to play just as dazzling a game after a night"s rain as when the wickets were hard and true. All bowling came alike to him and on many occasions, notably in the Test matches at Sheffield and Manchester and the first of the two games with the M. C. C. at Lord"s, he reduced our best bowlers for the time being to the level of the village green. They were simply incapable of checking his extraordinary hitting. Only a combination of wonderful eye and supreme confidence could have rendered such pulling as his at all possible. The way in which he took good length balls off the middle stump and sent them round to the boundary had to be seen to be believed. Though this exceptional faculty, however, was one of the main sources of his strength on soft wickets, he was far indeed from being dependent on unorthodox strokes. His cutting and off-driving approached perfection and he did everything with such an easy grace of style that his batting was always a delight to the eye. Risking so much, he plays what I should call a young man"s game, lightning quickness of eye and hand being essential to his success, and for this reason I should not expect him after twenty years or more of first-class cricket to rival such batsmen as Shrewsbury, A. P. Lucas and W. L. Murdoch, but for the moment he is unapproachable. He was not in the smallest degree spoilt by his triumphs, bearing himself just as modestly and playing the game as sternly at the end of a long tour as at its beginning. Incidentally I may express my extreme satisfaction that the efforts to secure him for an English county failed. It would have been a paltry and unworthy thing to deprive Australia, by means of a money bribe, of her finest batsman.
After Trumper, as a run-getter, but at a long interval, came Noble and Hill, and then followed Duff, Armstrong, Hopkins, and Darling. For some weeks prior to the Test match at Sheffield at the beginning of July, Noble was out of all form as a batsman, but, having once broken a long spell of ill-success, he played very finely to the close of the tour and to him fell the distinction of making the highest score of the season in first-class cricket - 284 against Sussex at Brighton. He hit far more freely than in 1899, rarely or never carrying caution to an extreme. No doubt his batting suffered to some extent from the amount of bowling that devolved upon him during the early weeks of the season when a dislocated thumb kept Trumble out of the team. He reached his highest point as a bowler in the Test match at Sheffield, his break-backs on the last day of that remarkable game coming off the ground at such a pace as to be almost unplayable. He never showed quite the same form afterwards, his bowling declining in proportion as his batting improved. Happily for the team, Trumble and Saunders did such fine work with the ball day after day and were so well backed up by Armstrong that the general quality of the attack scarcely suffered. Clement Hill played many fine innings, his best performance being in the Test match at Sheffield, but, even allowing for the soft wickets, I do not think he was so great a batsman as in 1899. This opinion, I know, was held by several well-known cricketers who played against him. He hit harder than before, but even on good wickets it did not seem such a difficult matter to get him out. Darling started the tour in a way that promised great things, but he did not keep up his form and fell a good deal below his standard of 1896 and 1899. His tremendous hitting power, however, was several times of the utmost value, and very likely in a season of hard wickets he would have had as good a record as ever. Gregory showed no falling off in his fielding, but as a batsman he was a disappointment and one can scarcely expect to see him in England with the next team. Even, however, if we should see him no more in this country he has, during his five visits, done more than enough for fame.
Speaking of the new men collectively, the success of Duff as a batsman, Saunders as a bowler, and Armstrong and Hopkins as all-round men, said much for the judgment with which the team was picked. The Selection Committee came in for a great deal of adverse criticism in the Colonies, but in the result they could afford to laugh at their detractors. Carter, the fifth new man on the side, proved himself a smart wicket-keeper, but, owing to Kelly being in particularly fine form all the summer, his opportunities were somewhat restricted. Howell, who bowled superbly during the tour in South Africa on the way home, had a disappointing season, seldom doing himself full justice after the first match with Surrey, but there was a good deal of excuse for him. He suffered from an attack of influenza and was naturally much depressed at receiving the news of the death of his mother and father. Trumble, paying us his fifth visit, bowled perhaps better than ever, scarcely knowing what it was to be really collared till the last match of the tour. While giving him the warmest praise, however, it must be said that the wet weather and soft wickets were all in his favour. It was a fortunate thing for the team that he recovered so well from the injury to his thumb. Saunders proved himself a remarkable left-handed bowler, his big break often making him very deadly, but it would be idle to pretend that his delivery always escaped adverse criticism. He played a great part in the Test matches at Sheffield, Manchester, and the Oval, though in the end on the Surrey ground, Jessop"s hitting spoilt his average. Let me in conclusion pay a fitting tribute to the superb out-fielding of Trumper, Hill, Duff, and Hopkins, and the brilliant work done at point all through the tour by Noble. Judging from results, it was a mistake to bring Jones to England again, but in a season of hard wickets the fast bowler would probably have been worth his place. Under the experienced guidance of Major Wardill the business arrangements of the trip were carried through, so far as I know, without a hitch of any kind.
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