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Under the zealous and skilful captaincy of Len Hutton, England won the rubber in Australia for the first time for twenty-two years and so retained the Ashes they took from A. L. Hassett's side at Kennington Oval in 1953. On paper the success gained by the players who sailed from Tilbury in September appears most convincing and rather suggests a comfortable tour against indifferent opposition. That was far from the case. It was a hard tour with its days of triumph and days of regret, but in the end superb fast bowling by Tyson and Statham turned the scales so that finally the Australian batsmen were completely humbled.
Some people in England never expected the side would return home conquerors by three victories to one--the final match, ruined by rain, was drawn heavily in their favour. In fact not only was the choice of Hutton as captain in the balance until mid-July, but the omission of the three bowlers, F. S. Trueman, G. A. R. Lock and J. C. Laker, who took 15 of the 19 wickets in that victory at The Oval in 1953, occasioned much surprise. In addition, M. C. Cowdrey was given a place although he had not approached his splendid form of the previous year.
At first only seventeen were selected, but Compton became doubtful owing to a recurrence of his knee trouble. He stayed behind for treatment, travelled by air and joined the team at Adelaide. Consequently, Wilson, the Yorkshire left-hander, was a late addition to the party which comprised:
Thus the complete party numbered 21 and at once I desire to emphasise the important parts played by the three officials. Geoffrey Howard carried out his duties as manager in a pleasant and efficient manner and was very well received by the Australian officials; George Duckworth, with his vast experience of numerous tours, was a cheering and inspiring influence, especially when things were going badly, and Harold Dalton, if only by keeping Tyson and Statham at the peak of condition for seven Tests, proved the wisdom of M.C.C. in sending out from England for the first time their own masseur.
The tour took three courses. There was early evidence that given fast pitches Statham would be a thorn in the side of the Australians. M.C.C. won their first two matches in Perth with some ease, but going to Adelaide they encountered a slow pitch and could only scramble home by 21 runs against South Australia. Rain spoiled what was virtually an Australian Test Trial at Melbourne and then New South Wales, under the dynamic captaincy of Keith Miller, severely shook M.C.C. in a drawn match which was saved only by the splendid batting of Hutton and Cowdrey--three centuries between them.
So M.C.C. flew to Brisbane in mid-November for the first Test not completely satisfied with their performances but nevertheless still unbeaten and knowing they were developing into a real team. Little did they realise they were entering the second phase and would soon be touching rock bottom. Against Queensland they found the fast pitch they desired, but although Simpson and Compton hit centuries against an attack which included Lindwall, the batting was still inconsistent. No one anticipated the devastating blow the team were about to receive from the pick of Australia, and indeed it might not have occurred if the fielding had approached even a reasonable level.
On the eve of the match, Evans was stricken ill and could not play. His absence was a severe loss and may well have been the turning-point, but that was only one of three factors which told so much against England. The second was Hutton's decision on winning the toss to send in Australia. I do not blame Hutton for taking the course he did. In four of the six first-class matches the team had played, the captain who won the toss preferred to take the field: Hutton and May at Perth; Miller at Sydney and Archer at Brisbane. In the previous match against Queensland, the pitch was ideally suited to fast bowlers and Hutton anticipated the same conditions, but this did not turn out to be the case as the Test pitch could not be watered immediately before the match because of the Queensland game. Yet if the England fielders had held their catches Hutton might have been hailed as a wise man; but when twelve chances go unaccepted, how can a side expect to win?
The third factor was a mishap to Compton on the very first morning when, trying to save a boundary, he ran into the wooden fence palings and fractured a bone in his left hand. Small wonder Australia won by an innings and 154 runs. So M.C.C. approached Christmas and the second Test at Sydney with none of their batsmen at all sure of themselves and knowing that Australia, somewhat doubtful about their ability before Brisbane, were now brimful of confidence as to the destiny of the Ashes.
Just as England suffered through ill luck, so did Australia in their turn. Neither Ian Johnson, their captain, nor Keith Miller were fit for the second Test. The Englishmen thought this would be the vital match. Even a draw would be useful. Meanwhile Hutton having entered the Brisbane Test with an attack of four seam bowlers, Bedser, Statham, Tyson and Bailey, decided variety was essential. He felt the need to include Appleyard as an off spinner and Wardle, left-arm slow, and so he sacrificed Bedser.
This time Morris, the Australian captain, put in England and no one in that country condemned him when Hutton's men were dismissed for 154, but it proved a very low scoring match. Only three men made 50--May 104, Cowdrey 54 and Neil Harvey 92 not out, but Tyson and Statham began their deadly combination and England won by 38 runs. All was square, the second phase was over and what turned out to be the long triumphant third phase had begun. M.C.C. were on the crest of the wave.
That Sydney victory restored confidence and, with May and Cowdrey developing high-class and reliable batsmanship, Evans keeping wicket at his very best, Bailey always doing something useful, and the tail, notably Wardle, making important little scores, England assumed the mastery; but above everything else counted the pace of Tyson and Statham.
The New Year brought a thrilling win in the Third Test at Melbourne by 128 runs, Tyson taking seven for 27 in the final innings. Then after a holiday in the lovely temperate climate of Tasmania M.C.C. went back to Adelaide for the fourth Test, which provided another hard tussle before England, thanks to 80 by Hutton, 79 by Cowdrey and some excellent bowling by Tyson, Statham, Appleyard and Bailey, won by five wickets and clinched the rubber. The last two months, February and March, provided an anti-climax. The tension was over but there were still three more Tests awaiting decision. Owing to rain, nothing could be done in the fifth Test at Sydney until the fourth day and then England outplayed Australia, though time prevented them gaining the victory they deserved.
Finally, a brief tour of New Zealand where both Tests were won, the team setting the seal on their great work in the last innings of all when they routed New Zealand for 26, the lowest total in the history of Test cricket. Hutton made his farewell to International cricket in that match. Certainly he could not have wished for a more triumphant finale to a wonderful career.
Only twice in the Tests did a team exceed 300. Australia reached 601 at Brisbane and England 371 in the fifth match at Sydney. While credit must be given to the bowlers the fact remains that no longer did the batsmen find themselves on shirt-front or even easy-paced pitches. As in England, the modern Australian groundsmen leave some grass and the pitches do not undergo so much rolling as in the days when Sir Jack Hobbs and Sir Donald Bradman were in their prime.
Most surprising was the deterioration in Australian batting. During the tour only four hundreds were hit against M.C.C. and none after the first Test, whereas nineteen were hit by Hutton's men including two in New Zealand. England never found a satisfactory opening pair. Here are the figures for the first wicket in the five Tests: Brisbane 4, 22 by Hutton and Simpson; Sydney 14 and 18 by Hutton and Bailey; Melbourne 14 and 40 by Hutton and Edrich; Adelaide 60 and 3 by Hutton and Edrich; Sydney 6 by Hutton and Graveney. Hutton had four different partners and the burden he carried in this respect, added to all the care and attention he gave to the captaincy both on and off the field, severely taxed him both mentally and physically.
At first there was no indication of any decline in Hutton as a batsman; his first three first-class matches yielded him scores of 145 not out, 37, 98, 102 and 87. Then came the Test matches and for the remainder of the tour he reached 50 only four times, his best being 80, a most valuable innings in the fourth Test at Adelaide. Indeed it was the highest of that match and went a long way towards winning the rubber.
For May, the vice-captain, the tour brought enhanced reputation, for not only did it reveal his qualities of leadership on the few occasions when Hutton rested, but it put beyond shadow of doubt his ability as a batsman. Compton, after his wretched experiences of the previous tour when eight Test innings brought him an aggregate of no more than 53, average 7.57, quickly found his form against South Australia and Queensland, but that fielding mishap at Brisbane accounted for his low scores in the first Test and not until late in the tour did he look his real self again although his aggregate of 78 for once out at Adelaide was an important factor in England's success.
Edrich, nearing the end of his career, never revealed his former powers and Wilson, the Yorkshire left-hander, always a magnificent fielder, could not settle down on the fast Australian pitches. Both Simpson and Graveney were unreliable although Graveney, when the tension had gone, finished in a blaze of glory.
Against all these batting disappointments was the success of Cowdrey, the Oxford captain of the previous English season. From the moment the ship stopped for a day at Colombo he rarely knew failure. Any hesitation which may have existed in Hutton's mind about including Cowdrey in the Tests disappeared when, on the team's first appearance in Sydney, Cowdrey hit 110 and 103 against New South Wales. In the second innings of that match, Hutton switched places with Cowdrey and when this brilliant young batsman of only 21 years of age made his second hundred Hutton had serious thoughts about opening with him in the Tests. As it was Cowdrey proved his worth lower in the order, notably when he made 102 out of a total of 191 in the first innings at Melbourne.
Before the party was chosen in England the decision was reached to assail Australia with a battery of fast bowlers. The attack was well endowed numerically and in variety. There were five seamers, Bedser, Statham, Bailey, Tyson and Loader, and three spinners, Appleyard, Wardle and McConnon. The accent on speed turned out far more successful than anyone dared to hope.
Moreover it was accomplished without much assistance from Bedser. That was the big surprise. Bedser fell ill with shingles soon after the team landed in Perth. He was scarcely fit for the first Test at Brisbane and let down by fielders who missed seven catches he finished with one wicket for 131. Hutton included Bedser among the twelve for Sydney, but on the morning of the match he made the dramatic announcement that Bedser would be omitted. This must have been a very hard decision for Hutton, but there were many factors including the difficulty of hiding him in the field. Events alone justified Hutton, but above everything else the transformation of Tyson between the first and second Tests saved the captain from adverse criticism long before the last ball of the tour was bowled.
After taking only one wicket for 160 runs at Brisbane, Tyson shortened his run and gained complete control over length and direction without losing any of his fire. In the next three Tests he took 26 wickets and, with 15 falling to Statham, a devastating alliance was formed between these two young Lancashire-born players. Thanks to their efforts all the other bowlers had a very light tour.
Neither Loader nor McConnon could gain a place in any of the Tests, but Loader who took 41 wickets in first-class matches, bowled extremely well. McConnon suffered from injuries and after receiving a broken finger while fielding at Hobart he returned home before the fourth Test. By this time the presence of eighteen players in the party was an encumbrance, for with lack of match practice it was difficult to keep the understudies in form. Simpson, Graveney and to some extent Wilson were handicapped in this respect.
Mention has already been made of the wonderful work of Evans behind the stumps. Always brimful of energy no matter how exhausting the heat of the day, he was an inspiration to the whole team and especially the bowlers. Andrews, the deputy wicket-keeper, lacked Evans's effervescence, but he was neat and efficient in an ordinary way.
For Australia, three defeats in successive Tests came as a severe blow to their cricketing pride. The three selectors, Sir Donald Bradman, Jack Ryder and D. Seddon were the target of harsh criticism from some quarters but they were unshaken in their belief that they chose the best players available and later events in the West Indies upheld their opinion. The same men who went down before England showed there was little wrong with Australian cricket that concentration and determination could not put right. A word of praise must be given to the Australian umpires who achieved miracles by satisfying almost everyone.
Clearly England won on their merit and to Hutton, particularly, must be given the credit for the way he conducted himself and his men. For me it was a privilege and pleasure to accompany M.C.C. on this eventful tour as the representative of Reuters and the Press Association. I should add that the team were showered with hospitality wherever they went and although rivalry was as keen as it should be, the true spirit of cricket and good-fellowship always existed between the two teams.
All Matches--Played 28, Won 17, Lost 2, Drawn 9
First-Class Matches--Played 21, Won 12, Lost 2, Drawn 7
Test Matches--Played 7, Won 5, Lost 1, Drawn 1
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