An unreasonable dislike to Australians and more, 1972

Welcome Australia

Ted Dexter

No English cricketer bred since the war has so captured the imagination of those inside, outside and far from the boundary ropes of our big cricket grounds than Ted Dexter, stated Wisden in his biography in the 1961 edition. He was captain of Cambridge University, Sussex and England and he led England in the quest for the Ashes in Australia in 1962-63 and here at home in 1964. It is a privilege to air his views on the past, present and future of this great game and to thank him for not dwelling on what who did to whom! -- Editor.

I have on occasions taken a quite unreasonable dislike to Australians. Sorry, but it is the truth. And if I blush at the thought, let alone the telling of it publicly, I derive a certain amount of comfort from the knowledge that I am not alone amongst England's cricketers in my feelings, highly reprehensible though they of course are.

Given suitable circumstances -- and there can be few so absolutely right for a spot of disliking than a Test match between us Pommies and our most respected cricketing foes -- the opposition from down under. Whether players, partisan spectators or mere uncommitted natives of that distant continent, can without much effort it seems either on their part or ours, change radically from the affable earthy folk they most times are into creatures every bit as dreadful as the Hydra; as multi-headed and indestructible now as the day when Hercules received a helping hand from Iolaus to despatch the brute.

The story goes that Iolaus stopped new heads from growing by applying a burning iron to the wound as each neck was severed -- oh! would that in moments of severe temptation I had had such an iron readily to hand and coals to heat it! I would have shown less mercy than an I.R.A. Provisional or a guerrilla of Bangladesh, I can tell you.

Entirely irrational I know. But I take further comfort from having long ago learned that this barbaric level of response is not entirely directed from us to them.

Under provocation no greater certainly than is needed to stimulate our own aggression Australians can, and do, quite readily and often in my experience, throw off all their 180 years of civilised nationhood; they gaily revive every prejudice they ever knew, whether to do with accent, class consciousness or even the original convict complex, and sally forth into battle with a dedication which would not disgrace the most committed of the world's political agitators.

To try to give adequate reasons for this intensity of reaction, as quick, positive and predictable a process as when photographic paper is first exposed to light, would be to attempt the arduous, if not the impossible. Psychology, history, politics, sport, religion and many factors besides would need thorough investigation.

However, I cannot help feeling that an almost complete lack of guilt on both sides is a primary cause. Like puppies from the same litter we feel perfectly entitled to knock hell out of one another for as long as we like, until passions burn themselves low and we continue once more, for a limited period, to display outward signs of peaceful co-existence.

The indisputable fact is that we come from the same stock and can therefore indulge ourselves rather splendidly in an orgy of superficial hate which neither our consciences, nor Panorama (whichever of them it was that came first) can possibly allow in relation to any of the other cricketing nations with whom we consort.

However much we may be infuriated by Indians: annoyed by Pakistanis: get angry with West Indians: niggle New Zealanders (who are just too much like our better selves for us to care about them so strongly): or get upset by South Africans (South Africans more than any): we are honour bound to maintain a more formal diplomatic front.

Not so with the Diggers. Little, if anything, is sacrosanct in the feuding, and no point remains too small or insignificant not to be turned to advantage if humanly possible.

So what of this opportunity, golden as it clearly is, to implant a few fertile seeds of propaganda in the path of the 1972 tourists? Welcome Australia we say. Do we mean it? And if so is it just because we think we can beat them!? Answers? Probably yes on both counts.

Illingworth's side was never fully extended in Australia in 1970-71 and the general attitude is that advancing age will not be a sufficient hindrance over here to prevent the same somewhat venerable side from dishing out the same medicine again.

Let them bring all their old players, under whatever captain, and, furthermore, regardless of what happened in the series against a World 3rd XI, and they will still start second favourite, I'm afraid. I can hardly be more presumptuous than that and simply beg the printers of Wisden to use digestible paper in case I have to eat my words.

It is a relief to have the matter so cut and dried. Had it really been in the balance then I would have felt it my duty to compare in detail the relative merits of the two probable sides.

Can the Australian batsmen survive a fast bowling assault on our pitches better than they did on their own? Is John Snow still a force to be reckoned with? What of their new boy Dennis Lillee? Can he repeat his remarkable analysis of Perth during the winter?

Happily the whole thing is academic and I need not give the answers. Suffice to say that I personally hope to see instead of whole lot of new faces in both sides. Then the issue could be a live one.

It is extraordinary to me that some spectators take an opposite view. They want to see Bill Lawry & Co. over here again. They would like to bring everyone out of retirement and prove to themselves that the old players really were better than the current lot. I, on the other hand, shudder at the thought.

Not only at the theory being proved horribly wrong in most cases, but at the dismal prospect of knowing beforehand exactly what a good hundred from, say, Neil Harvey will look like; no better than seeing a film for the umpteenth time if he does happen to oblige, and merely leaving one with a vague sense of disappointment if he fails. What thrills me is the performance which suddenly stamps a man as having a future ahead of him. And the less pre-publicity such a player receives the more striking the impact when it comes. Nobody, for instance, had taken much notice of a certain Zaheer Abbas before the first Test against Pakistan played at Edgbaston in 1971. Gangly, bespectacled and too ready with a smile to promise much in the way of dedication to big scores, he dished out a double-hundred as though he was a teller in the bank--doing it every day.

That was the best of cricket watching for me, giving as it did a continuing and growing delight as the innings grew. Zaheer can, and probably will, play many more just as good as that one, but for me the clearest memory will be of that first impressive statement of his great ability. I remember Seymour Nurse doing the very same thing in Barbados in 1959 -- 213 for his Island against the full might of M.C.C. including Trueman and Statham -- although the pleasure was not without its painful side on that occasion since I had much of the bowling and fielding to do as well.

When last did this happen in an England side? Or, dare I say it, when last was anyone given a chance to prove that a touch of class and character can triumph in an international setting without giving more than the odd glimpse of itself in a more mundane setting? I fear Australian selectors are becoming less adventurous also; less far sighted for instance than when they sent the raw Alan Davidson on his first tour in 1953, or the 20-year-old Graham McKenzie on his in 1961. By contrast, in their hour of need at Sydney last February they dropped Lawry, not for some bright youngster but for another left hander, Eastwood, of similar age and half the skill just because he had been getting runs in State matches.

We must hope that 1972 is not entirely given over to the Redpaths and Boycotts; that an Evonne Goolagong will do for Australian cricket what that gorgeously graceful young lady did for their tennis last year and that England selectors will be so carried away with the romance of the moment that they will actually pick someone under thirty years of age. A special welcome is due surely to every Australian who is new to us over here and if he can show us what he can do without too much delay then he need not fear this pen being dilatory or grudging in recognising him.

The next question seems to me to ask ourselves just what sort of a scene we are welcoming the visitors to. It was back in 1964 that Bobby Simpson, the then Australian captain, went home to Australia and wrote about Swinging England in a cricketing sense. The Gillette Cup had been christened the year before, it is true, and there was Cavaliers Cricket on television just beginning, but in all honesty there was precious little to justify such eager description of this minor breeze of change as it was then. How the breeze became a fully fledged wind is a story worth telling on its own and is not my subject here. Its effect on the 1972 Australians is however pertinent.

As I write, the once great and now great again Lancashire County Cricket Club has disclosed an operating profit for 1971 of more than £20,000, ninety-nine per cent of which is directly due to their success in the one-day competitions. Almost simultaneously the fixture list for the Australians is available in the M.C.C. Diary and it is a shock to read the heading which states firmly that unless otherwise stated, these matches are of three days' duration. The only reference to one-day matches -- there are the usual complement of five five-day Tests -- is in respect of the mini-series against England in August, comprising three one-day Tests.

This is a bold and well conceived plan to set international one-day cricket off on the right foot, but I can't help feeling that there should be an even greater response generally by the administration to the public's present appetite for quick-fire win or lose cricket, and in particular towards involving visiting teams more in our highly successful new structure.

The trouble with the Australian itinerary is that for more than half the time they will be playing what can only be considered friendly games with the counties. Not so long ago this gentlemanly basis of sporting competition was sufficient to keep the crowds amused but with the advent of sponsorship, win-money, man-of-the-match awards, etc., etc., the old format now seems hopelessly outmoded. Honour and glory, artistry and skills are now only given their due by your potential spectator if something depends on the outcome thereof. Not necessarily money; an extra point or two towards some goal may be quite acceptable. On the other hand a dozen or more games following one another in a pattern, each one played in a vacuum as on this tour, gives your cricket fan far too good an excuse to stay away if the weather is poor, if the star players are being rested or for any other minor reason.

The writing was on the wall last time Australia toured England. Since then Illingworth's team in Australia has signally failed to halt the trend of dwindling gates for State matches. In fact it seemed that neither the State sides nor the M.C.C. could do more than go through the motions when there was literally nothing to play for. In no time at all the lack of interest on the field communicated itself to the watchers and I honestly think they swore to a man that they wouldn't be taken for suckers a second time.

Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to involve a visiting team in the hurly burly in our own competitions. Points would need to be averaged up to decide how the maverick side was placed in relation to the others -- either this or a concerted attempt made to find sponsors to put up prize-money--or, the ultimate in daring, to put up the prizes and promote the matches from within cricket and thus gamble a little on achieving a better return.

Otherwise I fear a situation where already hard-worked county players will be ever more content to take it easy against the tourists; the tourists will be just practising for the Tests and only the hardiest of cricket-watchers will pay to see them do so.

I hate to sound so gloomy because, overall, I count myself the greatest enthusiast for cricket in all its many forms. I won't have a word said against the game whether it is played for four hours on a Sunday afternoon, village or county doesn't matter with me, or whether it is played for five days or a week. What does concern me is that whereas the good name of the game clearly depends on masses of ordinary people being given the opportunity to share that enthusiasm by following the game and watching it, at the same time chances are missed like open goals when it comes to encouraging them to do so.

I remember for instance how marginal a decision it was to hold a one-day match in Melbourne when the ill-fated Test was washed out there last winter. One felt that but for the happy coincidence which brought the then President of M.C.C. Sir Cyril Hawker, the Treasurer G. O. Allen, and Sir Donald Bradman, Chairman of the Australian Board, all to lunch together on the ground, there might so easily have been no such match arranged. As it was the circumstances were so novel that the England players found themselves committed to appearing without prior consultation or any agreement as to their pay! -- but that was a small price to pay for the pleasure of seeing 40,000 spectators turn out for a match that could so easily have been stillborn.

To be fair, there has been one leap forward after another in recent years and those, like Billy Griffith, secretary of M.C.C. who have been in the thick of all the changes have been pretty sound (other than in the handling of the International Cavaliers) in keeping pace with that has gone on. It's nice to be able to say so here, for had I been writing this in 1962 instead of 1972 I doubt I could have even found enough of interest to cover the pages this far. As it is we can look forward now to a decade of rapid growth and some consolidation -- including acceptance, perhaps, of the one-day game for what it is in itself without continuous comparison with the other forms of the game it has superseded.

That is my view of our own situation here in England. Maybe there are more difficult paths towards a flourishing game in other part of the world. I can't help thinking though that for the good of the game it will be a matter of some importance for the various countries who play the game to make some attempt at keeping in step with each other. England may need to maintain longer games for longer than she would like in order to keep faith with India and Pakistan where they are still acceptable. By the same token Australia may perhaps consider with profit adapting her ways more quickly to ours.

There is clearly a long way to go yet before cricket can settle down again to anything like the calm and unruffled existence it led through the early part of the twentieth century, but at least so long as Australia and England continue to see eye to eye occasionally, in between these other eyeball to eyeball confrontations, then progress is reasonably assured.

© John Wisden & Co