England 1 Australia 2

Australians in England, 1961

Adapting an almost carefree policy throughout their five months' stay in England, the twenty-third Australian team to visit this country returned home with their main object achieved. They had won the rubber by victories at Lord's and Old Trafford against one defeat at Headingley and therefore retained the Ashes which they regained during P.H.B. May's M.C.C. tour of the Antipodes in 1958-59. Thirteen years had passed since Australia previously proved victorious in a Test series in England.

The tour was a personal triumph for Richie Benaud, possibly the most popular captain of any overseas team to come to Great Britain. As soon as he arrived Benaud emphasised that he and his men wanted to play attractive cricket wherever they went and that they desired to keep the game moving by bowling as many overs as possible when they were in the field. Moreover, he stressed that, no matter what their opponents did, the Australians would not deviate from their policy of striving for the type of cricket which would please the onlookers.

When the team sailed from Tilbury in September it could be said that they had fulfilled Benaud's promise despite the fact that they had not shown themselves to be immensely strong in either batting or bowling. Their main assets were cheerfulness and boldness, particularly in times of adversity.

They never deliberately set themselves to play for a draw. Benaud preferred to challenge the clock in the three-day matches and, consequently, there were a number of exciting finishes in which the Australians sometimes only narrowly escaped defeat. Indeed, Northamptonshire finished level on runs with four wickets in hand, and clearly had the better of the argument. Except for some biting cold winds during the early matches in May the tour was marked by fine weather.

Unlike their experiences in 1956 and 1953, the Australians had no Laker to plague them, yet their final record of thirteen wins from thirty-two first-class engagements scarcely stamped them as a formidable combination. Indeed, there were times when their officials wore a worried look before their fortunes turned during the amazing last day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

It should be remembered that prior to this tour a controversy raged over the problems of throw and drag. Only the previous year the South African visit had been marred by the case of Griffin. In order to avoid a possible repetition the cricket administrators of England and Australia agreed on a throwing truce during the first five weeks of the 1961 season -- up to the first Test.

During that period if any umpire considered a bowler guilty of throwing (in an Australian match) he did not call no-ball, but sent a report to M.C.C. In the event H. Rhodes, the Derbyshire bowler, alone was reported and that when appearing for M.C.C. against the Australians at Lord's.

For various reasons --mainly loss of form -- the Australians left behind the controversial bowlers, and this move no doubt contributed to the goodwill that prevailed everywhere. Indeed, the tour which marked the passage of one hundred years since the first English party visited Australia went through without adverse incident and was most pleasant and entertaining for everyone.

Encouraged by Benaud, the Australians never queried an umpire's decision and at times, when they knew they had touched a ball and been caught, did not wait to be given out, but went their way as, indeed, did the England players. Moreover, they formed a high opinion of the ability of English umpires, especially J.S. Buller.

At first sight it might appear that Australia won the rubber comfortably, but that was not the case. Winning the toss again proved a mixed blessing, as England found when facing South Africa the previous year. Indeed, only once did the side that won the toss win the Test and that was at Old Trafford where England more or less threw the match away twice on the last day.

Since the decision was reached to cover the pitch when play is not in progress in England, there seems to be extra liveliness on the first day to the benefit of pace bowlers. In each of the five Tests, the side which first took the field led on the first innings as the following figures show:

VenueBatted FirstBatted SecondLead
Edgbaston England 195 Australia 516321
Lord's England 206 Australia 340134
Headingley Australia 237 England 29962
Old Trafford Australia 190 England 367177
Oval England 256 Australia 494238

On this evidence winning the toss was no longer of paramount importance in England unless the successful captain was willing to take the risk (and the criticism it would involve if things went wrong) of putting the opposition in to bat.

With each side in turn fighting to extricate themselves from a difficult situation, all five Tests provided plenty of excitement. England recovered splendidly in the first and fifth Tests as did Australia when succeeding in the fourth and clinching the rubber. In the second, at Lord's, Australia won because their bowlers performed so much better on the ridge than did Statham and Trueman, but the whole series was virtually decided during the twenty minutes which preceded the tea interval on the last day at Old Trafford.

England began the fourth innings wanting 256 to win in three hours fifty minutes. They lost Pullar at 40 and then while Subba Row remained steady, Dexter gave such a wonderful display of driving that he kept England well up with the clock. At five minutes to four England's total stood at 150 for one wicket. Then Dexter, having hit 76 out of 110 in eighty-four minutes, fell to Benaud and by a quarter-past four England had slumped to 165 for five wickets. The rest was plain sailing for Australia and the man of the moment was Benaud who claimed six wickets, including that of May, the England captain, for a duck.

In one respect this was not a happy tour for Benaud. With their refashioned attack which included five bowlers new to English conditions, Gaunt, Mission, McKenzie, Quick and Kline, it was clear that the Australians would rely on two key bowlers, Davidson and Benaud. During the first match at Worcester, Benaud broke down with an inflamed tendon in his right shoulder. For many weeks he underwent specialist treatment and though he did bowl with effect at Old Trafford and on other matches during the latter stages of the tour, he suffered much pain which prevented him exploiting the leg-break or his most deadly delivery, the googly.

Instead, he relied on slow to medium pace in-and-out-swingers, using the seam of the ball to obtain movement. At Old Trafford he bowled round the wicket, and relied on the worn bowlers' footholds to turn the ball. Even then, after only a few overs, the pain returned.

While the Australians were severely handicapped through the inability of Benaud to bowl in his normal style, they found batting strength from an unexpected source in W.M. Lawry. Some Australian critics were not happy at Lawry's selection for the tour, despite the fact that at the New Year he hit 266 for Victoria against New South Wales at Sydney, the highest individual innings in the Sheffield Shield since the War.

A tall, lean left-hander, Lawry possessed an extremely sound defence and he not only drove hard but scored freely on the leg side. No one who saw his long innings in the Lord's Test on a difficult pitch will forget his courage. He deserved all the luck which came his way. His value to Australia in the two Tests they won was immense, for he scored 130 and 1 at Lord's and 74 and 102 at Old Trafford.

Altogether Lawry hit three of his nine centuries at Lord's, for besides his 130 in the Test he made 104 against M. C. C. and 109 against Gentlemen, his only failure at headquarters being against Middlesex. Lawry alone reached 2,000 runs in the first-class matches and he rightly headed the averages.

Next in the batting his Norman O'Neill, a most gifted right-hander who arrived with a big reputation and had his moments of disappointment chiefly because he would persist in sweeping across the line of the ball. A glorious stroke-player, he learned to master English conditions and his century in the last Test came when Australia needed runs. O'Neill finished with an aggregate of 1,981 runs. He was a brilliant fielder, notably at cover and his returns from the long field were a joy to watch.

The value of Neil Harvey, the most experienced of the six left-handed batsmen in the party, could not be judged solely on the number of runs he scored, although he made 1,452 with an average of 44.00. This was his fourth trip to England and he proved a most capable vice-captain. His solitary Test hundred came in the first match at Edgbaston; he led Australia to victory in the absence of Benaud at Lord's, and he showed his greatness on the treacherous surface at Headingley, his correct technique earning him scores of 73 and 53 while most of his colleagues floundered. Sir Donald Bradman alone has made more runs for Australia.

Although R.B. Simpson could not claim a century in the Tests, he hit six in other first-class matches and finished with an aggregate of 1,947 runs. At first, Simpson was partially eclipsed by Lawry, who superseded him as one of the opening batsmen. It was felt necessary to consolidate the middle order batting and this task devolved upon Simpson. Because of the breakdown of Benaud, he was also asked to provide more leg-spin bowling than was originally expected. Later, when McDonald was absent through injury, Simpson regained his place as opener and then he played many excellent innings. He fully lived up to this reputation as a superb slip-fielder.

At last, Peter Burge established himself in the Australia XI. A powerfully-built man, he excelled as a solid batsman, being seen at his best in the Lord's and Oval Tests. His solitary Test century, 181 at The Oval, was notable first for his vigilance while O'Neilltook toll of the bowling and afterwards for the way he used the sweep and drive to perfection.

Altogether six batsmen made over 1,000 runs, the last being Brian Booth, a tall right-hander of elegant strokes, a real stylist. Picked for the final two Tests, he played extremely well at The Oval for 77. He was also among the first four batsmen who set up an Australian record against the University at Cambridge were each hit a century in the same innings, the others being McDonald (before lunch), Lawry, and MacKay.

Much was expected from McDonald, who contributed heavily towards the downfall of England in Australia two years earlier, but he made only 95 in the first three Tests and then missed many matches through a badly strained wrist.

The task of bowling was shared by many willing hands and no fewer than eight of the side took at least 50 wickets while Gaunt, twice kept out of the team through injury, finished with 40. For the first time since the war, Australia came without Lindwall and Miller (both arrived as commentators) and, well as Davidson performed on occasion, the attack lacked its old fire. Indeed, Gaunt headed the averages at 21.12.

In the big matches, Australia's main hope reposed in Davidson and he responded by taking 23 wickets in the five Tests. His fast left-arm deliveries, bowled over the wicket with the ball going across the right-handers and sometimes lifting nastily, presented many problems.

The three young pace-men, Gaunt, Mission and McKenzie, all lacked experience and must have learned much from the tour. Lack of accuracy in direction was a serious fault which could have been costly had England possessed opening batsmen willing to hit the ball.

McKenzie twice served Australia nobly with the bat in a crisis. In the Lord's Test he made 34, helping MacKay (54) and Mission (25) to add 102 for the last two first-innings wickets. At Old Trafford, McKenzie stood firm for 32 while he and Davidson (77 not out) added 98 for the last wicket in the second innings. Both these efforts opened up the path to victory for Australia.

Possibly the only sign of negative cricket by Australia was the medium-paced short-of-a-length bowling by MacKay, but without it they might have been in a bad way. By his persistent accuracy, ability to move the ball a little either way and his untiring energy, MacKay often shut up one end. He sent down most overs on the tour and accomplished his best Test performance with the ball in the second innings at The Oval where his analysis read: 68 overs, 21 maidens, 121 runs, 5 wickets.

The team possessed two left-arm slow bowlers in Kline and Quick. When Benaud broke down each had a golden opportunity, but neither was able to trouble the best batsmen and both failed to gain a place in the Tests.

On the whole, and especially in the Tests, the fielding reached the high standard usually associated with Australian teams. Perhaps they were fortunate that the few errors they did make in the Tests were not so expensive as those committed by England at Old Trafford and The Oval. There were two excellent wicket-keepers in Grout and Jarman. The former set up a new Test record for an England- Australia series by claiming 23 victims, some being poached from the slips.

That the tour ran so smoothly was not only due to the efficiency and courtesy of Richie Benaud, but also to these same qualities shown by the manager, Mr. Sydney Webb, Q.C., the treasurer, Mr. Ray Steele, and the scorer, Mr. Cameron.

The finances revealed a profit of about £29,000 sterling compared with £42,057 in 1956 and £65,696 in 1953. This was considered satisfactory by Mr. Steele, who at the end of the tour said that expenses were considerably higher and many more members watched the matches at the various grounds. Touring teams do not take a share of membership ticket sales.

Match reports for

1st Test: England v Australia at Birmingham, Jun 8-13, 1961
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 22-26, 1961
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jul 6-8, 1961
Report | Scorecard

4th Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jul 27-Aug 1, 1961
Report | Scorecard

5th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 17-22, 1961
Report | Scorecard

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