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M.C.C. had two objectives when they began their tour of Australia in October 1965. The winning of the Ashes is the ostensible purpose of all such tours. The other objective, which many considered more important, was, by playing with aggressive enterprise, to correct the impression left by the previous two M.C.C. teams that Englishmen now play their cricket only negatively on the defensive.
Four months later, when their venture ended, they could claim a considerable measure of success. Had it ended three weeks earlier the impression left behind them would have been even more favourable. And, incidentally, the Test series would have been won.
The final three matches, including two Tests, were not so satisfying. By then, however, the team led by M.J. K. Smith and managed by S.C. Griffith with the assistance of J.T. Ikin had done enough to persuade Australians that the spirit of adventure still flickers in the English.
Smith and his followers were indeed widely acclaimed as an enterprising side. Only one other post-was M.C.C. side, that of 1954-55, enjoyed such respectful kindness from the Australian Press. They established their reputation by their batting.
Barber, the number one, played exclusively attacking cricket from start to finish and his 185 off only 255 balls in the Sydney test was the superlative achievement of the whole tour. When he succeeded, the runs gushed like oil from a new strike. Even when he was out early, the policy was based on taking the initiative by going for scoring strokes.
Even batsmen with reputations for treating big occasions with solemnity, notably Boycott and Barrington, played Test innings of splendid dash. Perhaps the players were fortunate to be able to form the desired impression almost entirely by their batting.
In the field Smith continued to be a cautions captain; his policy was based on defensive measures, which played on the patience of his opponents. Australian batsmen were occasionally blamed for slow play, when the root cause was the negative out cricket of the Englishmen.
Smith's great virtue lay in his ability as a tour leader to take the players along with him. He had no tricks of leadership -- in the modern idiom no gimmicks. He was in fact somewhat self-effacing. Yet he had a flair for leading and binding a team together. This was not perhaps quite so apparent right to the end of the venture as it had been during the previous two winters, when he led M.C.C. in India and South Africa. Towards the end his leadership was flagging, and his cricking form was expended.
Smith in Australia had more than a team to lead. Shortly before Christmas he was joined by his wife and two small children. He had to think about them as well as his team and escort them round the country. Skippering on tour is a job on its won big enough for anyone.
The addition of the cares of a family in a strange country, which Smith himself had not previously visited, is a crippling additional burden. Wide experience of touring during the past twenty years has firmly persuaded me that wives accompanying cricketers are a liability, however well they behave and aim to keep themselves in the background, as those in Australia did on this occasion. The husbands cannot leave them to fend for themselves. They must accordingly be a distraction to the cricketers. In the case of the skipper, whose responsibilities are greater, the distraction is more serious.
That the last three matches of the tour were something of an anti-climax was in part due to the fact that the captain was a spent force. His inspiration was obviously much less than during the period in which the reputation for playing enterprising cricket was being formed.
Another, and more potent, reason was the unbalanced programme, which was cluttered with minor games between the third and fourth Tests. M.C.C. prepared for the fourth Test by playing a Country XI at Newcastle, Tasmania at Launceston and Tasmania plus three batsmen from the mainland in Hobart. For a fortnight the touring side was opposed by teams not good enough to keep them up to the mark. In the Test in Adelaide they were a side unwound, and the proud victors of the third Test lurched to an overwhelming defeat.
Their blunted form on this occasion was not entirely unexpected. At the end of the year they suffered the unwinding process during a week spent toying with four Up-Country sides. They then spent the better part of their four-day game against South Australia re-conditioning themselves to first-class cricket before going into the second Test.
On this tour Griffith was more than manager. In effect M.C.C. appointed him Tour Overlord. He could have dictated to the captain. He was given wide powers because M.C.C. were determined that their representatives should play the right sort of cricket. In fact Griffith did not use his powers. He is not the sort of which dictators are made.
He is, however, a very good persuader, backed by qualities of charm and tact. In that way he was able to have his way -- the M.C.C. way -- with this team. That he persuaded even stolid defensive batsmen that attack could be the best means of defence was, perhaps, the greatest of his successes on tour. And those successes were many and varied, for he was a sterling manager.
He and Ikin closely studied the scoring rates of the batsmen, measured in runs per 100 balls, and also the over rates of the bowlers. When the side was in the field his influence was more remote. Hence this side fielding was not nearly so enterprising as it was while batting.
On one score --one that is vital to the health of the game -- Smith must be roundly condemned. He did little, if anything, to stir dawdling bowlers and fielders to maintain a satisfactory over rate.
In only one first-class match -- the first against New South Wales -- did this reach the bare minimum of satisfaction, 120 balls an hour. Its nearest approach subsequently was between 116 and 117 in the first Test. From that point it declined almost unchecked until in the final Test Smith and his accompanying dawdlers averaged only 96 balls an hour. In the fifteen first-class games the touring side's overall average was between 108 and 109 balls against just over 113 by their opponents.
The men who wasted most time were Brown and Jones. On the third day of that final Test they managed only 71 and 77 balls an hour in two spells of bowling in partnership. Cricket cannot flow and maintain interest unless the tempo is brisk. Hence the slow tempo of this side must be regarded as a serious failure on the part of the captain.
Five of the fifteen first-class matches were won, two lost and eight left drawn. All but one of the definite results occurred during the first ten games. Two of the five Tests suffered the loss of a day or more, when rain fell. Draws on such occasions are almost inevitable, for the total covering of pitches eliminates sticky conditions which formerly allowed the bowlers to make up for lost time. Each side won once.
In the other, the second of the series in Melbourne, England allowed a winning position to slip from their grasp. The Ashes, in fact, should have been regained, but such a result would have been an injustice to the Australians. Their one Test win was clear cut in Adelaide, where the playing conditions played no part in the result. England's success in Sydney was determined by the winning of the toss and first use of the pitch, which became more and more favourable to bowlers as the match progressed.
When the team was chosen, the batting was expected to be strong enough, and so it proved. The fears expressed concerned the bowling. A period of good fast bowling in English cricket had ended, and successors to Statham, Tyson and Trueman were far from obvious.
England also suffered from a dearth of spin bowlers, quite simply because they had too long been discouraged in county cricket. Titmus and Allen, the off spinners, were the only two regular slow bowlers in the side.
The advance hope was that Barber's fine natural ability as a leg spinner would be developed. If any Australian State captain had taken over the handling of this M.C.C. side in the field, the story of the tour would have been very different. All Australians recognised the potential of Barber's spin. They would have built up his confidence by using him regularly as a first line attacking bowler and, by keeping him hard at work in the middle, would have turned him into a considerable asset in the Tests.
Smith merely pecked at the job, and Barber continued to be regarded as a luxury for occasional use at a probable high cost. Without him the side was short of penetrative bowling, except on those rare occasions when conditions suited Allen and Titmus.
Unfortunately Titmus was much less effective in the big matches than he had been three years earlier in Australia. As the tour progressed, and as he made more and more runs, for he had a splendid batting season, his bowling became more and more defensive, his trajectory flatter and flatter. Allen was the better attacking spinner, but as he was always regarded as number two to Titmus, against most of the evidence, he was not handled to the best advantage.
This was most noticeable in the second Test in Melbourne. On the first day he bowled effectively from the Southern end and dismissed both Simpson and Lawry. After that successful spell he did not again bowl from that end in the match. Titmus was given the Southern end and finished the match with nought for 136.
Four pace bowlers were in the original side. One of them, Larter, was a passenger for most of the venture. When he suffered a bruise or a muscular strain, he spent an unconscionable time recovering. When he was in action, his bowling was short of resolution and purpose.
Brown was also injury prone, and, when both these players were laid up just before the first Test, Knight was summoned from England to reinforce the team. It was a pity he was not an original choice, for he was a valuable all-rounder, who played some stirring innings and bowled so usefully that he played in two Tests.
Brown and Jones, the left-hander, became the opening pair, and both improved during the season. Jones was the more successful in the Tests, but the eagerness and greater fire of Brown impressed me more. Indeed, at the end of the tour I was still not convinced that Jones was a Test class bowler.
Nevertheless he improved and managed to correct his habit of following through close to the line of the stumps. During the first match against New South Wales he was frequently warned about this by the umpires and finally barred from bowling again in the innings by R. Burgess.
That was one of the few controversial events of the tour. Some condemned the umpire as being overzealous and officious. I considered his action was entirely justified, and believe he did Jones a good turn. The gash made by Jones in his follow through was some five feet in front of the batting crease and menacingly close to the line of the off-stump for bowlers at the other end.
Justification for the action of Burgess could be found in those balls that subsequently landed in the offending footmarks. When Allen on one occasion provided a stumping chance, the ball pitched there, kicked and, entirely eluding Parks' gloves, went through to score byes.
The fourth pace bowler was Higgs, one of the two unlucky members of the party. He was an automatic choice for the Test side until he was laid low with the stomach complaint, which combined with muscular ailments to make the manager's lot unhappy during the first half of the season. That cost him his place in the second Test.
That he never regained it was unfortunate. Higgs bowled admirably after recovering from a shaky start in Perth, and it was noticeable that the off spinners invariably seemed to bowl better when he was nagging away accurately at the other end. He would always have been in the side if I had chosen it. So would Russell, the other unlucky tourist.
Russell played the most attractively polished cricket of anyone in Australia. Conditions there suited his smooth, straight-bat style perfectly. His leg glancing and off driving during his lengthy innings will surely be remembered when most other details of the season's play have been forgotten. He also lost his Test place unfortunately, when he twice suffered hand injuries in Brisbane, the second while playing in the first Test.
Russell's misfortune was good luck for Boycott and Edrich. The former had the unexpected opportunity of opening in that first Test, and he retained his position as Barber's partner throughout the series. Edrich slipped into the number three position, unchallenged when Russell was still out of the reckoning for the second Test.
Boycott prospered in the first three Tests, helped early in both the second and third by badly missed catches off McKenzie. In the last two he fell away sadly. Boycott was not really the right partner for Barber, the brilliant go-getter who should have been given as much of the bowling as possible. Instead, Boycott liked to take more than a half share, whether he was batting well or badly.
In the fifth Test, when his form was emphatically bad, he played 60 of the first 80 balls bowled. He scored only 15 out of 33 off them, thus giving the innings a pottering start. Then in the following over he called for a ridiculous run off the last ball, which would give him the bowling again, and ran out Barber.
Edrich was carried through by his splendid determination and temperament. When Barber and Boycott mastered the Australian bowling, he thumped home the advantage and thus scored two successive Test centuries. When they did not, he was in a tangle, but battled on and invariably sold his wicket dearly. Seldom can a batsman have played and missed so often, have so often threatened to get out and yet scored so well in Australia.
Barrington, as usual, was a wonderfully reliable batsman on tour, no less so when he was persuaded to parade his scoring power, which he is usually at pains to conceal. His 115 in the fifth Test was an innings of fine dash and splendour, and again he finished at the top of the Test averages.
Cowdrey was his usual contradictory self. He accomplished quite a lot, thriving conspicuously in Melbourne, where he has scored most of his centuries against Australia, but again not accomplishing all that his talents promise.
Another batsman ideally suited by Australian conditions was Parks. He batted so well and so aggressively that he was worth selection for the Tests as a specialist batsman, and it was mistaken policy to leave him as low as number seven throughout the series. He saved the side in the first Test and came off with the bat in each subsequent one except the third. The pity was that he was also required to keep wicket throughout, though Murray was so obviously his superior.
His blunder in missing a simple off-side chance of stumping Burge off Barber in the second innings almost certainly cost England the second Test and with it the Ashes. It was unfortunate that one of the main tour successes should be thus so crucially at fault. The blame rather should rest with selectors who would not appreciate that bowlers deserve the best possible wicket-keeper irrespective of any other consideration.
Smith himself played fine cricket during the first half of the tour, and in a side that outfielded even the Australians, before the decline in the final two Tests, his catching at short leg was outstanding. Unfortunately his period of fine form virtually came to an end when the Test series began, and he did little in the big matches.
In that his experience was similar to that of several famous English captains in Australia, including D.R. Jardine in 1932-33, W.R. Hammond in 1946-47 and L. Hutton in 1954-55. Nevertheless he set a fine example in the early matches, from which his team in general benefited.
The final batsman was Parfitt, who for a second time failed to reproduce his true form in Australia. His fielding, however, was unimpaired, and he was the automatic twelfth man for all Tests. Subsequently, he recouped his batting losses during the subsidiary part of the venture in New Zealand.
Australia's side was not one of their strongest. They also suffered from a bowling shortage. Hawke was always a persistent attacker, and after falling out of favour McKenzie turned in a match-winning performance in Adelaide to re-establish himself. Both these key bowlers missed one Test, for Australia also were troubled by injuries. And they had no adequate substitutes for these two.
Nor was their spin bowling even passable, for Philpott, the first choice leg spinner, lost his form, the left-handed Sincock was much too erratic, and Stackpole, who finally displaced them, was merely steady. Moreover, the off spin of Veivers was never menacing.
The Australian batting, reinforced by Walters, one of the finest young prospects in world cricket, was very powerful. Lawry failed only once, and Simpson scored heavily after recovering from injury, which deprived him of most of the first half of the season. That Booth and Burge slipped back hardly mattered, for Cowper had come to the front, and Walters and Thomas, a superbly uninhibited stroke maker, were ripe for promotion.
At nineteen Walters was a remarkably mature cricketer. He made a century in his first Test in Brisbane when four wickets had gone for 125, another in the second when he and Burge saved the match, and in the third he alone was able to fight long against Allen and Titmus on a turning pitch. His bowling also was useful enough for the selectors to dispense with a specialist third seamer.
The umpiring was of a high class, except briefly during the first State matches in Adelaide and Melbourne. In the Tests C. Egar and L. Rowan were a splendidly reliable pair. In all respects indeed the tour proceeded smoothly and pleasantly. There was talk of shortening it in future. That, I believe, would be a sad mistake.
Tours involving England and Australia are the great events of cricket. If they are worth doing, they must be done thoroughly, without any skimping. That is not to say that the programme could not be improved, notably by starting the Tests earlier and spacing them out better, always ensuring that at least one genuinely first-class match is played between each of them. It could be improved also by reducing the up-country games to a maximum of three of one day's duration each.
A team of first-class cricketers on tour deserves first-class opposition almost throughout. It is absurd to employ a pneumatic drill to pierce an almond. A tour of 16 first-class matches and three minor games would mean a tour of 18 weeks, and it should not be any shorter than that.
M.C.C. should also give some thought to travel. For the first time the team flew by fast jet aircraft all the way to Australia --and in the cramping discomfort of Economy class -- and numerous players suffered stomach disorders and odd indispositions, which were grandly called virus diseases. Even the common cold was thus termed. The complaint was just the same but with a vital difference. Called a cold, it was too insignificant to keep a cricketer from playing. Described in high faluting fashion as a virus infection, it became grand enough to keep him out of action.
Subsequently two other touring sides from Britain transported at high speed and great height to Australia, the Rugby Union and Rugby League teams, suffered in the same virulent way on arrival. It is a fair assumption that rapid transportation into different conditions is at least in part the cause of such maladies, which were not suffered when teams travelled more slowly by sea. In that event a further amendment to the tour travel arrangements seems necessary.
Test-Matches -- Played 5; Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 3.
First-class Matches -- Played 15; Won 5, Lost 2, Drawn 8.
All Matches -- Played 23; Won 13, Lost 2, Drawn 8, Abandoned 1.
Wins -- Australia (one), Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia Country XI, Victoria Country XI, South Queensland Country XI, Prime Minister's XI, New South Wales Country XI, Southern N.S.W. Country XI, South Australia Country XI, Northern N.S.W. District XI.
Losses -- Victoria, Australia (one).
Draws -- Australia (three), Combined XI at Perth, Queensland, Tasmania, Combined XI at Hobart, New South Wales.
Abandoned --Victoria Country XI.
M.C.C. began with two one-day matches in Ceylon and after visiting Australia played four first-class matches in New Zealand including three Tests, finishing with two one-day games in Hong Kong.
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