By common consent the tenth Australian Team formed the strongest combination that had come from the Colonies since the great side captained by Mr. W. L. Murdoch in 1882. Looking at their records as a whole, it might be argued that this is too high an estimate, but personally I regard it as not in any way beyond the truth. The prestige of the team suffered a good deal during August from the large number of unfinished matches, and forgetting the brilliant things that had been done during the first two months or so of the tour some good judges were inclined at the end of the season to rate the players at less than their true value. That at least was the impression left on my mind by comments that appeared in somewhat influential quarters. The strain of playing day after day for four months on hard wickets naturally produced some degree of staleness, and in gauging the real merit of the eleven I attach most weight to the cricket shown up to the third meeting with England at Manchester on the 17th of July. That match, though it ended in a draw, marked a very sharp change in the fortunes of the team.
When they went into the field at Old Trafford, Darling and his colleagues had a truly wonderful record. They had played 20 matches of which they had won 12, lost only one and left seven unfinished. Even these figures, however, remarkable as they look, scarcely slowed to the full extent what the team had accomplished, for in not one of the drawn matches had the Australians the worst of the position. Indeed, in every case except the Whit-Monday match with Yorkshire, in which the rain admitted of little progress being made, they would have won readily enough if another day had been available for cricket. After the match at Manchester the Australians only gained four victories, and, as during the same time they were twice beaten, their general record suffered very seriously. In all - playing two matches a week for 17 weeks, and finishing up in the first half of the Hastings Festival - they took part in 35 matches, of which they won 16, lost 3 and left 16 drawn. The number of defeats was smaller than in the case of any previous team from Australia, but on the other hand the number of drawn games had never been exceeded except during the tour of 1886. The fine weather and splendid wickets had, of course, much to do with matches being left unfinished, but another cause could be found in the methods of play adopted. While expressing my firm conviction that the team were stronger than any that had come to this country for 17 years, I have no intension of instituting a close comparison with the great eleven of 1882. The conditions during the two years were indeed so different as to render a fair comparison almost impossible. The summer of 1882 had not, in the amount of sunshine, been equalled in England for just over 30 years.
The two elevens were equally well suited to the conditions under which they had to play. Possessing in Massie, Percy McDonnell and Bonner, three of the most remarkable hitters that ever played on the same side, the team of 1882 were in proportion more formidable on a soft wicket than a hard one, whereas Darling's eleven included so many stubborn batsman that the better the ground the more difficult became the task of beating them. Indeed, as the results of the tour prove, they could not within the space of three days be defeated on a perfect pitch. It has been contended by eye witnesses that there was nothing the matter with the wicket at Canterbury, but I cannot bring myself to believe this, for on the third day of the match the Kent eleven had to fight for their lives to get less than 140 runs and would assuredly have been beaten if the catches had been held. In the case of the other two matches lost by Darling's team the state of the ground had certainly much to do with the result. At Leyton the wicket, unsound to begin with, was seriously affected by heavy dews, and in the return match with Surrey at the Oval the pitch was quite soft on the opening day. In estimating the strength of the Australian eleven great allowance must be made for the disadvantages under which they laboured. Clement Hill was laid aside by illness after the end of June, and though he afterwards played in three matches, he was far too weak to again do himself justice, while Worrall, from the start of the tour to the finish; was hampered by a badly-damaged knee. Moreover, Frank Iredale was kept out of the team for more than a fortnight in June by a sharp attack of measles. Hill's illness would in itself have been sufficient to ruin the trip if the eleven had not been so exceptionally rich in run getters. At the time he had to lay up he was playing in wonderful form, and was beyond question the best bat on the side. He had to undergo an operation for the removal of some growth in the nose, and the after consequences proved far more serious than had been, expected. He lost weight and strength to an alarming extent, and was not himself again till the last matches were being played.
The sixteen victories gained by the team comprised one against England, two against the M. C. C., one against the South of England (at Hastings); two against England Elevens at Eastbourne and Truro, one against Cambridge University, one against Oxford University Past and Present, one against the Midland Counties, and seven against county elevens Surrey, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Middlesex. The three defeats were suffered at the hands of Essex, Surrey and Kent, the record in this case being in curious contrast to that in 1896 of Trott's eleven who did not once go down before a county team. The victories when analysed do not make by any means an overwhelming and forming an opinion from them alone it would be difficult to prove how strong the team really were. More conclusive evidence of their great qualities could be found in the fact that they met England five times and did not once suffer defeat. I am personally of opinion that the plan adopted for the first time in this country of playing five test matches had a somewhat prejudicial effect upon the tour as a whole, the players, as was almost inevitable under the circumstances, saving themselves more than in former trips for the big events. The team were far too strong in batting to be in danger of being beaten by weak sides on hard wickets, and though I would not for a moment suggest that they were ever slack or careless in their cricket I think they took some of their smaller engagements rather lightly. Certain of their ability to make a lot of runs they went into the field without anxiety, and were not, as it seemed to me, greatly dissatisfied at playing for three days without arriving at a definite result. This criticism, however, only applies with any force to the latter stale and weary. Probably if the exceptional nature of the summer could have been foreseen one or two dates would have been left blank in order to give the men a rest. Only at the last moment was it determined to bring over fourteen players, but Darling and Major Wardill must, when Hill's health gave way, have been glad indeed that the extra man was included in the side. With match after match played on hard wickets the resources of the team were severely taxed, and more than once Worrall went into the field far too lame to do himself justice.
As they won the only test match that was brought to a definite conclusion the honours of the season clearly rested with them. Up to a certain point they established a regular scare, thoroughly outplaying England at Trent Bridge and then gaining in the most brilliant fashion a ten wickets victory at Lord's. The England side at Lord's was certainly not so well chosen as it might have been, a great mistake being made in allowing the fast bowling to depend entirely upon Jessop, but the match was won with so much to spare that those who took a pessimistic view of England's prospects in the remaining fixtures seemed to have ample cause for their despondency. As everyone knows, however, the subsequent play was such as to put English cricketers once more on excellent terms with themselves. Differing from the general opinion the Australians, I believe, though they would have won at Leeds if, without the rain coming on, it had been possible to play the match out, but be this as it may the England eleven played a fine game, and with the least bit of luck to help them on the second afternoon would very likely have scored a victory without a third day being necessary. The Australians in their second innings had five wickets down for 39 and then for the best part of an hour they had literally to struggle for their runs against Young and J. T. Hearne's superb bowling. In the end they ran up a score of 224, but though their performance was a miracle of resolution they would not once in ten times under the same conditions have obtained such a total. I have never seen a bowler beat the bat to the extent that Young did and yet never have the good fortune to hit the wicket. In judging the Leeds match, too, it must be remembered that Briggs's sudden illness left England on the second day without a good slow bowler. It is useless to speculate as to what would have happened if rain had not prevented play on the Saturday, but the number left for England to get was smaller than the total obtained in any one of the three previous innings, so that, on paper at least, the draw was in England's favour. In the two subsequent matches, at Old Trafford and the Oval, English batting at last asserted itself, and on both occasions the Australians, with no prospect of victory, had to devote all their energies to the task of avoiding defeat. They showed great qualities in playing for a draw - Noble's defence at Manchester being the most remarkable thing of the sort I have ever seen - but for all that the chief honours of the two games were clearly with the Englishmen. Personally I do not think that in any one of the five matches we were so well armed as the Australians at every point - being always to my mind a bowler short - but, allowing for the loss to the Australians involved at Manchester and the Oval in Clement Hill's absence, one is fairly entitled to say that there was no such disparity between Australian and English cricket in 1899 as the matches at Nottingham and Lord's's had suggested. Even if nothing else had been done for England the magnificent score of 576 at the Oval - when more than half the batsman played a false game to save time - would have gone far to sustain our prestige.
Unlike most of the previous teams the Australians were seen at their very best at Lord's. Playing there four times they gained four brilliant victories, defeating - in addition to England - the M.C.C. in June and July, and Middlesex in August. The M. C. C. were not so well represented as they ought to have been, but in as much as they won the toss on both occasions the crushing defeats they suffered were somewhat humiliating. In the return match the Australians were seen to extreme advantage, for though the first day's cricket went all against them they had the game in their hands when stumps were drawn on the second evening. Outside the England and M. C. C. matches the Australians perhaps did nothing better than their wins against Surrey and Cambridge University, their draws with Yorkshire at Bradford, and the victory over the South of England at Hastings with which they brought their tour to a close. In the mere fact of their beating Cambridge there was nothing, but the way in which they won the game after the University had played a first innings of over 400 was astounding.
To my thinking the one weakness of the Australians was their inability on so many occasions to actually win within the space of three days against opponents far inferior to themselves. Leaving that one point aside they formed as fine a combination as one could wish to see got together for touring purposes. In picking the side not a single mistake had been committed, every man sooner or later during the trip proving worthy of his place. In saying this I might be tempted to leave out Johns, but, as a matter of fact, the Victorian wicket keeper was afforded so few opportunities that it would be quite unfair to describe him as a failure. Inasmuch as he come here as representative cricketer and by no means as a mere understudy for Kelly, I think he ought to have been played more often, though by reason alone of his great inferiority as a batsman he had no claim to be chosen in the Test matches. Except as regards the management of his wicket keepers Darling proved himself one of the very best captains that ever took a team into the field. In following Harry Trott he was of necessity judged by the highest standard, and it is only the truth to say that he exceeded all anticipations. He placed the field with the nicest skill according to the peculiarities of different batsman, and like Trott he showed a perfect genius for changing his bowling, always seeing to put the right bowler on at the right time and at the proper end. The way in which he utilised Jones's pace was in itself sufficient to prove him a great leader.
Judged by general results the batting of the Australians was stronger than the bowling, but in this connection I think figures were to some extent fallacious. The bowlers, it is true, suffered a good deal in many of the smaller fixtures, but apart from the England matches at Manchester and the Oval they nearly always did wonderful work when any special effort was demanded of them. Perhaps by reason of old associations I cannot bring myself to believe that Jones, Trumble, Howell, Noble and McLeod were equal to the famous group of 1882 - Spofforth, Palmer, Boyle, Garratt and Giffen - but allowing for the enormous difference in the character of the seasons there may not have been very much to choose. It struck me that Jones bowled with a fairer action than in 1898 , and though there were occasions - notably the opening fixture at the Crystal Palace and the England match at Manchester - when his delivery was far from satisfactory there can be no doubt, I think, that he strove to keep within the law. This being the case it was gratifying to find that he lost nothing either in pace or effectiveness. The team owed him far more than could be gleaned from his average, the four victories at Lord's being due in large measure to his efforts. Trumble bowled quite as well as in 1896, the falling off in his average being more than accounted for by the number of dry wickets on which he had to play. He never seemed easy to hit, and whenever the ground gave him least advantage, as for example in the first match with Surrey and the opening stage of the return with that county, he was deadly, his off break, in combination with an accuracy of pitch that would have done credit to Alfred Shaw in his best day, being far too much for the majority of the batsman. He was particularly skilful in bowling his slow, dropping ball, and with it had the satisfaction in the England matches of deceiving both Jackson and MacLaren, the result in each case being that the ball was played straight back into his hands.
It is likely enough that if he had not been such a wonderful success as a batsman Noble would have done great things with the ball, but as it was he scarcely came up to expectation, proving comparatively ineffective in the latter half of the season and failing to secure his 100 wickets. On his good days, however, he always looked extremely difficult to play, notably in the England match at Leeds and the later part of the return match with the M. C. C. at Lord's. I am bound to add - somewhat reluctantly - that the fairness of his delivery was often questioned by those who played against him. No one alleged that his action was habitually unfair, but that he threw now and then scarcely seemed to be disputed. In this connection I may mention that on the first morning the team practiced at Lord's at the beginning of May I had not been on the ground ten minutes before three people - quite independent of one another - told me that Noble's action was questionable. Howell, without realising all the hopes raised by his wonderful performance against Surrey in May, proved himself a first rate bowler, and seemed just as good at the end of the tour as he had been at the beginning. Taking one day with another, however, I do not think he did so much with the ball on hard wickets as had been expected. Still, he always looked to have plenty of spin, and for subtle variations of pace without apparent change of action it would be hard to find his superior. McLeod, by reason of his failures as a batsman, did not till the tour was nearly three parts over have much chance of bowling on big occasions, but in August he suddenly came out in first rate form. In the Warwickshire match at Birmingham circumstances compelled him to bowl, contrary to his usual practice, round the wicket and he found the new method answer uncommonly well, the ball going away with his arm in a very puzzling fashion. Laver on occasions was a successful change bowler, his best work being done on the last day of the England match at Lord's when, with tempting half volleys pitched wide of the off stump, he got rid of Hayward, Tyldesley and Jessop in a few overs and destroyed England's last chance of avoiding defeat.
Of the Australian batting one might write columns and yet leave the subject unexhausted. Certainly no travelling team has ever possessed a band of the summer not one of them came out with an astonishing record, but in a collective sense the strength was over whelming. A side so difficult to get rid of on hard wickets has certainly never before been sent to England from the Colonies. Clement Hill, Noble, Darling, Worrall and Trumper formed in themselves a superb combination, and in addition the team included Gregory, Iredale, Trumble, Kelly, Laver and McLeod. No wonder, with the sun shining day after day, that the scoring was high. Personally, I think Hill was the best bat of the lot, but there can be very little to choose between him and Darling, judging the latter on his form in August. Up to a certain point the responsibilities of captaincy seemed to tell against Darling, but during the last weeks of the tour he played marvellous cricket. Except against Oxford and in the first match against the M. C. C. he did not in the early part of the season do anything out of the common.
Very few Australian batsman coming to England for the first time have approached the form shown by Noble and Trumper. They were quite different in style and method, Noble developing an amount of caution for which his colleagues were in no way prepared, while Trumper by his free and attractive cricket made himself, for a time at least, the most popular member of the eleven. To Trumper fell the honour of making the highest score ever obtained by an Australian in England - 300 not out against Sussex at Brighton. It is possible that of the two Trumper may have the more brilliant future, but at present Noble, by reason of his finer defence and inexhaustible patience, is the greater personality on a side. I am, of course, speaking just now of batting alone, for as an all round man Noble has had no equal in Australia except George Giffen. To Worrall's batting I have already referred incidentally. The veteran of the team, he alone preserved the old tradition of fearless fast footed hitting, and it was wonderful that he should have done so well when so sadly handicapped by his injured knee. He did his best on the most important occasions, playing splendid cricket against England at Leeds, Manchester and the Oval. Gregory, taking the whole summer through, was by no means the man he had been three years before, but he played a great innings against England at the Oval, and though he may be a little past his best there is evidently plenty of cricket left in him. Iredale wound up with a good average, but it would be idle to say that he added to the reputation he had gained in 1896. He is, and always has been, such an uncertain beginner that one hesitates to place him quite in the front rank of Australian batsman. McLeod, when he at last ran into form, proved himself a capital batsman of the steady modern school, and Frank Laver , for all his ungainliness of style, made a good number of runs. Trumble, who alone in the team accomplished the double feat of scoring a thousand runs and taking a hundred wickets, played so consistently well as to make it clear that if he had not been a bowler he would have been a great batsman. Kelly as a bat has no graces of style but, like Blackham before him, he is by reason of his strong nerve the very man to face a crisis. It was said that he missed a good many catches when standing back to Jones bowling, but considering the enormous amount of work he had to do he kept wicket wonderfully well. As a fielding side the Australians on their best days were unsurpassable. Jones at mid-off was better than anyone I have ever seen in the same position; Gregory at cover point seemed as good as ever, and two better points than Noble and Laver could not at the present time be found in any eleven in the world. Trumper, too, as an out field reached the highest standard. All through their long tour the team worked admirably together both on and off the field, Major Wardill as manager having a far pleasanter task than when he was here in 1886.
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