In many respects the twenty-sixth Australian team to visit England--the first white team that came in 1878 did not play any Tests--surpassed themselves even if they did not regain the Ashes. It must be remembered that for three years Australian cricket in the international scene had been at a low level. They had surrendered the Ashes to Ray Illingworth's team in 1970-71 and the previous season they had been overwhelmed in all four Tests they played in South Africa.
The odds were something like 3-1 against Australia winning the rubber when Ian Chappell arrived at London airport and the performances of the side in the early matches afforded no indication of the problems that would eventually trouble England.
That the Australians acquitted themselves so well was due to the intelligent work done earlier by their new selectors, R. N. Harvey, S. J. E. Loxton and P. L. Ridings. In their wisdom they decided to give youth a chance and many people were almost dumbfounded when the chosen seventeen excluded W. M. Lawry, I. R. Redpath and G. D. McKenzie. Only seven of the seventeen who toured England in 1968 were retained, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Paul Sheahan, John Inverarity, John Gleeson, Ashley Mallett and Brian Taber.
The weather was so bad in May and June that few matches ran their proper course and the one against Yorkshire at Bradford was abandoned without a ball bowled although both sides engaged in some unsatisfactory limited over contests considering the conditions. Consequently, the batsmen took a long time to find any settled form and the real power behind the five-man speed attack was yet to be revealed.
Dennis Lillee was the real find of the tour. He established a record for an Australian bowler in England by capturing 31 wickets in the Test series, beating 29 by C. V. Grimmett in 1930 and by G. D. McKenzie in 1964. Lillee first surprised the England batsmen by taking six wickets for 66 in the second innings of the first Test at Old Trafford, but Australia were put out for 142 and 152 and the England players dispersed happy in the thought that they were the masters. Then came the Lord's Test where Lillee unloosened the top-notchers and Bob Massie, on his Test debut, swept through the rest with the staggering analysis of 16 wickets for 137.
So by the end of June, Australia were on level terms and brimful of confidence. Bowlers win matches and in Lillee and Massie they possessed such a combination, for Lillee by sheer speed and bounce and Massie with skilful control of length allied to prodigious swing, mainly away from the right-hander, were largely responsible for the disappointing batting displays by England.
Although outplayed, England managed to escape with a draw at Trent Bridge in the third Test and a freak storm turned the Headingley pitch into a slow bowler's paradise that Derek Underwood and Illingworth exploited to the full. Defeat in the fourth Test there meant that England had retained the Ashes, but this did not spoil the attraction of the final Test, contested over six days. On three days the gates were closed and the crowds enjoyed an enthralling struggle which went Australia's way with the luck this time going against England in that at the crisis three bowlers were out of action, Illingworth, Snow and d'Oliveira.
So honours were even, but perhaps most satisfaction for those who have the welfare of cricket at heart was the fact that four of the five Tests produced definite results and the outcome of the rubber remained undecided until the very last moment.
A long and arduous programme included a number of one-day matches with three after the final Test against England at the summer bank holiday week-end. Again England, under Brian Close who deputised as captain for the injured Illingworth, won in the provinces, at Manchester and Birmingham, but Australia again won in London, at Lord's. Down the years Australia have to their credit a remarkable number of victories at Lord's and this tour proved no exception for they won all their four engagements there, beating England twice as well as M.C.C. and Middlesex.
Looking at the first-class results of Australian teams in England since the First World War one finds that Ian Chappell's men emerged with a quite respectable record:
|1921||W. W. Armstrong||33||21||10||2||--|
|1926||H. L. Collins||33||9||23||1||--|
|1930||W. M. Woodfull||31||11||18||1||1|
|1934||W. M. Woodfull||30||13||16||1||--|
|1938||D. G. Bradman||29||15||12||2||--|
|1948||D. G. Bradman||31||23||8||0||--|
|1953||A. L. Hassett||33||16||16||1||--|
|1956||I. W. Johnson||31||9||19||3||--|
|1964||R. B. Simpson||30||11||16||3||--|
|1968||W. M. Lawry||25||8||14||3||--|
|1972||I. M. Chappell||26||11||10||5||--|
True, this was the only side to lose as many as five matches, but Chappell was always seeking positive results when possible and they went down to Sussex after closing their innings with only two wickets down. Just before the last Test they were comprehensively beaten by Northamptonshire, the batsmen failing against the left-arm spin of the Indian Test cricketer, Bishen Bedi, and right at the end of the tour a miserable and lethargic display at Old Trafford contributed to defeat in two days by Lancashire.
Given a reliable opening partner for Stackpole and a genuine wrist spinner, this Australian combination could have been really formidable. As it was, Australia's best start in the five Tests was 68 by Stackpole and Francis in the first innings at Old Trafford. Their next best was 24 at The Oval, by which time Edwards and Watson, in turn, had gone in first. A good wrist spinner would surely have turned the scales in Australia's way in the drawn match at Trent Bridge and should have wrought havoc on the responsive Headingley surface.
Stackpole, the vice-captain, served his side magnificently by his consistently successful batting, especially in the Tests. Indeed he never failed in any of the five. He struck 114 at Trent Bridge and on five other occasions passed fifty, averaging 53.88 for the series. An adventurous player, he enjoyed some luck, but his methods were much preferable to those of the ultra cautious type of which class the Australians numbered few, if any. Stackpole excelled with the hook and the cut while dealing with short deliveries and he delighted in driving the half-volleys.
Close behind Stackpole in the Tests came Greg Chappell at 48.55. Having spent two seasons with Somerset, he was well versed in English conditions and his centuries in the two Tests Australia won, besides many other fine knocks, left no doubt that in him Australia possess a batsman of quality who should stand them in good stead for a long time.
His elder brother, Ian Chappell, the captain, was a pleasing personality whose leadership on the field matured as the tour progressed. Obviously, he was happiest with the bat when the situation permitted freedom of stroke play, and although he fell first ball in the first Test to a fine catch when hooking a bouncer he did not hesitate to continue to use this profitable stroke. He certainly got his head down to serious business in the final Test when the brotherhood produced the match-winning double century partnership.
Ross Edwards, tall and upright in stance and similar to Greg Chappell, was a sound number six, but although he hit 170 not out as an emergency opener in the Trent Bridge Test, he failed to score in either innings in the following Test at Headingley and then dropped down the order again. Nothing went right for Doug Walters in the first four Tests and his seven innings yielded him only 54 runs, but his brilliance was seen in other games for altogether he scored 935 runs in first-class matches, which suggested his decline on the big occasion may be only temporary. Paul Sheahan, third in the tour averages, with 41.47 runs an innings, figured only in the last two Tests and performed well in both for he fought doggedly on the difficult Headingley pitch and was in at the death of the final Test when his 44 not out helped considerably in seeing Australia safely home.
If Watson, Francis and Inverarity disappointed in the Tests with the bat each enjoyed success in other matches. Watson's finest hour was at Southampton where he hit 176 and with Stackpole (119 not out) put on 301, a record for a Australian opening stand in England.
In examining the batting feats, one must not overlook the important part played by Rodney Marsh, who was certainly not a wicket-keeper pure and simple. The Australians had only two left-handed bats, Marsh and Massie. Time and again Marsh came to the rescue, sometimes in belligerent style, as when all was lost in the first Test at Old Trafford where his audacious hitting earned him 91 including four 6's at Gifford's expense before Illingworth halted the display which everyone (the England team excepted) was enjoying by calling for the new ball. Behind the stumps, Marsh distinguished himself by claiming 23 victims in the five Tests, a record for an Australian 'keeper. He flung himself hither and thither gathering many of Lillee's erratic deliveries, his methods being in direct contrast to his stylish understudy, Brian Taber.
As Lillee and Massie helped themselves to 54 of the 83 wickets England lost in the Test their assistants played only a minor part in the attack. Ashley Mallett, the tall off-spinner might have been given a place earlier, but he figured in the last two Tests, taking 10 wickets. John Gleeson, the leg spinner, caused such little trouble that he obtained only three wickets in three Tests, and the medium-fast Colley could show only six victims for all the time he occupied meandering back to his bowling mark. John Hammond, the youngest member of the party, who was 22 just after they arrived, was possibly still feeling the effects of a strained back during the previous Australian season, but there were times when he looked a fine prospect with plenty of speed produced by good action.
While a few slip catches went amiss, the Australians on their day lived up to the high reputation of their predecessors in the field. Edwards and Sheahan were outstanding in the covers as was Walters in the deep.
The tour was a notable one for Western Australia. In their history they have staged only one Test, when Illingworth's team played Australia in Perth in 1970-71. Now, Sheffield Shield champions for the third time, they provided six members of the team-- Lillee, Massie, Watson, Edwards, Marsh and Inverarity--and all played in the final Test at The Oval whereas New South Wales, for the first time it was said, had no representative in that match. It would appear that G. A. R. Lock has shifted the balance of cricketing power in Australia.
That the tour went through so smoothly was in no doubt due to the tact and courtesy of the three officials behind the scenes: Ray Steele (manager) and David Sherwood ( scorer) completed their third tour of the United Kingdom and Fred Bennett (treasurer) his second.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Duke of Norfolk's XI v Australians at Arundel, Apr 22, 1972
Tour Match: Worcestershire v Australians at Worcester, Apr 29-May 1, 1972
Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, May 3-5, 1972
Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Bradford, May 7-9, 1972
Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Bradford, May 8, 1972
Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Bradford, May 9, 1972
Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v Australians at Nottingham, May 10-12, 1972
Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, May 13-16, 1972
Tour Match: Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, May 17-19, 1972
Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, May 20-23, 1972
Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, May 24-26, 1972
Tour Match: Glamorgan v Australians at Swansea, May 27-29, 1972
Tour Match: Derbyshire v Australians at Chesterfield, May 31-Jun 2, 1972
Tour Match: Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, Jun 3-6, 1972
Tour Match: Oxford and Cambridge Universities v Australians at Oxford, Jun 14-16, 1972
Tour Match: Essex v Australians at Ilford, Jun 17-20, 1972
Tour Match: Somerset v Australians at Bath, Jul 1-3, 1972
Tour Match: Leicestershire v Australians at Leicester, Jul 5-7, 1972
Tour Match: Middlesex v Australians at Lord's, Jul 8-11, 1972
Tour Match: Minor Counties v Australians at Stoke-on-Trent, Jul 19-20, 1972
Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, Jul 22-25, 1972
Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, Jul 23, 1972
Tour Match: Scotland v Australians at Perth, Aug 2-3, 1972
Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Australians at Northampton, Aug 5-8, 1972
Tour Match: Kent v Australians at Canterbury, Aug 19-22, 1972
Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, Aug 30-31, 1972
Tour Match: TN Pearce's XI v Australians at Scarborough, Sep 2-4, 1972