The best and greenest turf anywhere, 1975

Old Trafford humiliated

Sir Neville Cardus

Old Trafford has now to stand in a queue, with other county cricket grounds, to receive the privilege of stagting a Test match between England and Australia. This is a humiliation which would surely have provoked A. C. MacLaren to a purpled vocal indignation. For ninety years Old Trafford has enjoyed the Royal Warrant; in other words, Old Trafford has taken it for granted that England and Australia would join issue on the greenest turf anywhere.

The first of all England v. Australia Test matches at Old Trafford occurred in 1884, July 10, 11 and 12. The opening day was ruined by rain. Six summers later, in 1890, the England v. Australia match at Manchester was entirely blank, rain throughout three days. In 1938 rain also prevented a single ball being bowled at Old Trafford in the England v. Australia engagement.

Typical Manchester weather is a familiar saying. Will it be believed that in 1934 the sun blazed down an Old Trafford with so much regal heat and splendour that three Australians were affected so that each could not do justice to his skill in the Test match -- Bradman, Chipperfield and Kippax. In four days in and under this Manchester furnace of sunshine, 1307 runs were scored, and only twenty wickets fell. It was at the outset of this match that Walters and Sutcliffe, in first for England scored at ease, 68 runs in the first hour, Walters as imperial of poise and style as ever was MacLaren -- which is saying much. Only Ted Dexter, in these modern times, has enthroned the crease with the disdainful command of MacLaren.

England 60 for none, the temperature, in the shade of the Press Box 88. So we all took what seemed a perfect opportunity to go down from our writing and typing seats for drinks. So, for a while, the Press box was more or less vacant, and during our absence from the Press Box, while we were refreshing throats of parched sand, Bill O'Reilly took three wickets in one over, Walters caught at forward short-leg; Wyatt bowled middle stump; and Hammond, clean bowled too. In extenuation of the Press Box's diversion from duty, on this historic occasion, it must be recorded that before O'Reilly bowled his famous over, the players themselves ceased scalding action, to imbibe refreshment. The ball, having gone out of shape, too, was being changed.

History murmurous and memorable has been made at Old Trafford by England and Australia; not Lord's, even, has inspired more illustrious deeds. Shades of great cricketers will revisit the glimpses and wonder why, with England and Australia in ball by ball issue elsewhere, Old Trafford is vacant. At Old Trafford, in 1902, Victor Trumper scored his immortal century before lunch. England lost the toss. The wicket was damp and soft, but would surely become helpful to bowlers later on, as the sun baked the pitch. As a fact, after lunch, Lockwood took 6 wickets for 48. Australia, 173 for 1 at lunch, were all out for 299. MacLaren, the England captain, went into the field with one plan -- We must keep Victor quiet before lunch; then we'll get into them. All the skill and strategy of MacLaren, and of his bowlers, Rhodes, Tate (the father), Braund, Jackson and Lockwood, were concentrated on one purpose -- to keep Trumper quiet.

As every schoolboy knows, or should know, England lost this match by three runs. Poor Fred Tate missed a catch at the crisis, then last man to bat, with Rhodes at the other end, he came to the wicket, eight to win, snicked a sightless four, then was catastrophically bowled. If he could have blindly snicked again his name would today be heroically acclaimed.

In 1896, six years in advance of Fred Tate's match of heartbreak, Ranjitsinhji conjured at Old Trafford one of the magical innings of his life. England, following on, 181 behind lost three wickets more or less cheaply, then Ranjitsinhji scored 154 not out, sheer necromancy of batsmanship. He glanced the bouncers of Ernest Jones to leg with Oriental ease and grace. In his last years he told me that he missed aim to one of Jones's high flyers, and the ball grazed Ranji's left ear. "I could not have been seeing the ball with my usual sharpness of vision," explained Ranji. Well, six years later, the ironic gods mocked Ranjitsinhji at Old Trafford, in the three-run Test match referred to above. Hugh Trumble, the Australian off-spinner, exorcised the genius from Ranjitsinhji, rendered him impotent, immobile, reduced the magician to mortality, and got him out twice, l. b. w. for 2 and 0. A sinful transformation -- and inexplicable.

The procession of illustrious ghosts of England and Australian cricket at Old Trafford is almost endless. Not at Kennington Oval did Jim Laker choose to perform his miracle -- 19 wickets in the same Test match, v. Australia. No author of romantic fiction would expect his readers to believe in a hero who bagged 19 wickets in the same game -- even in a preparatory school match.

It was not at Lord's that Ted Dexter produced an innings clean out of Debrett (or, in this context, should I say Ruff's Guide to the Turf?), an innings blue blooded, on August 1, 1961. England, on the closing day, needed 256, in three hours, fifty minutes. Dexter, with strokes of royal command, scored 76 in eighty-four minutes, placing England on the doorstep of victory, 150 for one wicket.

And it was at Old Trafford, this very afternoon, that Richie Benaud achieved the bowling performance of his much too abruptly curtailed career. He went round the wicket, dropping his spin into rough earth caused by Trueman's thunderous stampings or thuddings; and taking six for 70 he wrecked the England innings to defeat by 54 runs.

Not at Lord's, but at Old Trafford, R. B. Simpson amassed 311 for Australia against England. Not at Kennington Oval, but at Old Trafford, did Tom Richardson send down 110 overs and 3 balls (five balls to the over in 1896) and, but for a dropped catch from him, would have scaled heights to snatch victory for England. This was the noblest, the most sacrificially arduous, the most nobly Spartan bowling known in all the annals of cricket. It ennobled Old Trafford turf for all time.

Old Trafford was, once in a time, when I was little boy, situated in the country, surrounded by green fields. From the top of the pavilion could be seen the meadows of Cheshire. No smoke, except from the adjacent railway; no trace of industry. At the top of Warwick Road, approaching the county ground, was the Botanical Gardens. One night I actually saw A. C. MacLaren in these Botanical Gardens, but he was not, I think, studying botany.

The Old Trafford scene in those days was quite suburban. At the Manchester end of the ground reposed a Ladies' Pavilion, black-and-white timbered. Afternoon tea was served there by white-laced maids. When drinks were requested by the cricketers in the field they were not carried out by the twelfth man but by Old Trafford's ancient retainer, the original Jeeves; and he served the drinks from a silver tray.

The scene and background suited the presence at the wicket of A. C. MacLaren, R. H. Spooner and J. T. Tyldesley. No cricket team has had three opening batsmen as wonderfully diversified in style as these -- MacLaren blue-blooded and Caesarian, Spooner all graceful curves and lyric ease and flow, Tyldesley a swordsman with a square-cut as though executed by a battle-axe. The crowd represented the social structure of the period; the working class in the sixpenny seats, the middle-class (upper) in the Ladies' Pavilion and adjacent enclosure, the aristocrats on the main Pavilion, wealthy shipping merchants, lawyers, bankers, etc.

I first entered Old Trafford as far back as 1900, on June 4, at the age of eleven, Lancashire were playing Kent; and Kent won the toss. The Lancashire attack began with Mold, very fast, and Briggs, slow left-hand. The new ball was never mentioned then; only one ball was at the bowlers' service throughout the longest of a side's innings. Mold and Briggs threatened to destroy in quick time the Kent batting on this morning of June long, long ago. Alec Hearne, W. H. Patterson and B. D. Bannon were out for next to nothing. We young Lancashire urchins crowed with ravenous delight. Then J. R. Mason came in; and he looked helpless, sightless, facing Mold. The truth is that he stayed in with C. J. Burnup while 110 were added. At close of play Kent's total, all out, was 420, Burnup 200 exactly. It was a sad young Cardus that walked home, nearly four miles, that sunny evening. Burnup, by the way, was taken to task by The Times cricket correspondent for slow play; but the critic relented by adding maybe Mr Burnup's dilatory progress could be excused because of Kent's disastrous start to the innings. Mark you, 200 in a day, single-handed... but dilatory.

At Old Trafford, in 1906, a tall, rather gawky young man from Tonbridge played for the first time at Old Trafford for Kent. Lancashire won the toss; and at six o'clock, J. T. Tyldesley was fielding at third man but he had scored 295, and Lancashire totalled 531 in five and a half hours. He was missed by the gawky Tonbridge lad with his score in the thirties. Next day this Tonbridge novice was l. b. w. for 0. Then, when Kent followed-on, he drove and glanced effortlessly for 50 or so; and we all knew, now, that a rare batsman was here in the bud, ready to blossom bountifully. His name was Frank Woolley and it was his first county match.

In the summer of 1920, or thereabouts, the Manchester Guardian contrived to gather together a cricket team, of which I was captain. One of our matches was against Manchester Club and Ground; and it actually took place on the, for me, legendary turf of Old Trafford, trodden over the ages, by all the great cricketers, from Grace to Bradman. What is more, the captain of the Manchester Club and Ground was none other than A. C. MacLaren, then cricket coach for Lancashire. He opened the Club's innings. I could not believe my eyes. The hero of my boyhood was standing there, taking guard white haired, but none the less, A. C. MacLaren. I could not resist the temptation. I put myself on to bowl, praying to myself -- Please God, let me get him out. If I can get him out, with Your help, I shall remember the event all my life. After an over or two, I bowled an off-break at MacLaren. He played forward, majestic as ever, missed the ball, which missed his stumps by half-an-inch; and went for one bye. When MacLaren had lazily run to my end of the wicket, he said. "Well bowled, Cardus, well bowled. I didn't realize that you could turn the ball back. But, so long as we know." Next time, and every ball, he didn't push forward to me. He went back on his right foot and -- whoosh! - he dismissed my off-breaks from his presence, to the boundary.

Not only Australian Test matches have contributed to the ripe harvest of cricket lore at Old Trafford. Lancashire v. Yorkshire are part of the historic harvest. During the 1930's, the wicket at Old Trafford was so much a batsman's heaven that seldom did a Lancashire v. Yorkshire match completely finish. Each team played to gain first innings points. If Lancashire should win the toss, Harry Makepeace would say to his colleagues "We're in first. Now play steady. And no fours before lunch." The match was a comedy of North country character. The score-board told you little of the subtle show of character going on in the middle. The joke was that the batsmen were not refraining from strokes because they couldn't make them. They were not making strokes on principle. Roy Kilner, lovable Yorkshire cricketer, once said, In Lancashire and Yorkshire matches, "Mr. Cardus, we should have no umpires -- and fair cheatin' all round." Vast crowds looked on; gates closed at eleven o'clock. In a Lancashire v. Yorkshire match at Old Trafford a spectator was seen and heard to applaud everything. "Ah, well played! Well bowled! Well fielded, sir!" Dour Lancashire (and Yorkshire) men, cloth-capped, noted this indiscriminate applause; and at last, one of them said, "Hey, tha seems to be enjoyin' thisself impartial. Does tha coom from these parts?" "Oh, no" replied the impartial spectator, "I've come up from Brighton." "Well then," retorted the cloth-capped native, "keep thi tongue quiet. This match has nowt to do with thee."

Australia or no Australia in a Test match at Old Trafford, the ground, the place, the accumulated history remain. And amongst the visiting ghosts lovingly haunting Old Trafford is a small boy once myself, poor as a church mouse in his pocket but rich in vision as he looked upon his Lancashire heroes. "O, my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!" But these famous lines are getting a little out of date. For myself, I change them to MacLaren and my Spooner long ago -- not forgetting Cyril Washbrook and Brian Statham, not so long ago.

© John Wisden & Co