Leaders of England and Australia, 1964

The gift of captaincy

Neville Cardus

The captain of a cricket team is often judged, as a tactician, by hindsight. We applaud his judgment and power of anticipation many times simply because something has come off.

At Trent Bridge, in May 1905, England closed their second innings at a quarter to one on the third and last day of the first Test match of the rubber, leaving Australia to score 401 in four and a half hours (because of injury Victor Trumper was unable to bat). A draw seemed certain when Australia had 70 on the scoreboard and only one wicket down.

B.J.T. Bosanquet, one of the first and most eccentric of googly bowlers, was losing his length. F.S. Jackson, the England captain on this occasion, was in a fix. Only the spin of Bosanquet seemed likely to break through Australia's defences on a reasonably good pitch -- still, there was the risk that Clem Hill and R.A. Duff might play havoc with Bosanquet's long-hops.

A.C. MacLaren, who at this date had led the England XI in fourteen Tests consecutively, was now serving under Jackson, and he whispered, "Keep him on another over or two, 'Jacker'". And Bosanquet at once finding his length again, ran through the Australians, taking 8 wickets for 107. Jackson led England to victory in this rubber of 1905. He won the toss in all five Tests.

And this was his only rubber as skipper. He was as lucky as MacLaren was unlucky. MacLaren was England's captain no fewer than 22 times, still a record number for the series approached only by Darling, who held the reins for Australia nineteen times.

A.C. MacLaren not once directed England to victory in a rubber. He, in fact, suffered eleven Test match defeats and enjoyed only four victories. He, naturally enough, has been written down by certain historians of credit as a captain of some shortsightedness. The truth is that his knowledge of the game, and his capacity to look ahead, were extraordinary, equalled in his period by none except M.A. Noble. MacLaren was pursued persistently by malicious fortune.

In 1901-1902 he was in charge of the England team in Australia. He had risked taking S.F. Barnes out with him on the strength of one or two inspections of Barnes mainly at the nets at Old Trafford. England won the first game of this Australian 1901-1902 series by an innings and 124. MacLaren scored 116, and Barnes took 5 for 65 and 1 for 74.

At Melbourne, next match, MacLaren won the toss and sent Australia in to bat. Australia were all out 112, and England had to cope with a wicket still vicious. All out 61. Then the turf became less unruly, so that Australia amassed 353. England lost easily. But Barnes took 13 wickets in the match for 163. Now happened the cruellest blow to MacLaren. Barnes incurred a leg injury, playing no more in this rubber.

Back in England in 1902, England scored 376 for 9 (declared) at Birmingham. Then Hirst and Rhodes ran through Australia -- 36 all out, Trumper bowled Hirst 18. Again the fates mocked MacLaren. Rain saved Australia.

But a scourge more spiteful still afflicted MacLaren at Manchester this same rubber. England lost it by three runs -- as every schoolboy knows. For some reason I have never been able to fathom, so various is the evidence, England in this tragic Test left out Fry and Jessop, actually selecting Fred Tate of Sussex. In the game preceding this match of MacLaren's utmost mortification, S.F. Barnes had taken 6 for 49 at Sheffield. But he also was not chosen. I was told many years ago that when MacLaren first saw the names of the XI for the match he said, "My God, look what they've sent me!"

What they had sent him was a company consisting of Palairet, Abel, Johnny Tyldesley, K.S. Ranjitsinhji, F.S. Jackson. Braund, Lilley, Lockwood, Rhodes and Tate. On the third and final afternoon, England needing 124, were 36 for none at lunch. After lunch heavy clouds loomed in the Western sky. MacLaren fearful of rain drove imperiously, and was caught in the deep.

When he came back to the pavilion he flung his bat on a locker with a crash. "I've lost the -- match and the rubber!" he groaned. His trouble was a temperament which would brook no denial. He has been called pessimistic. As a fact, he was too much of a sanguine gambler.

It is best to be born lucky. Sir Leonard Hutton experienced his darkest hour at Brisbane in December 1954. He actually asked Australia to bat first on a firm wicket. Australia scored 601 for 8, declared. England lost by an innings and 154. Tyson's analysis was 29 overs, 1 maiden, 160 runs, 1 wicket. Whereupon Hutton acted with a firm-mindedness and shrewdness never excelled by any other captain of cricket, English or Australian.

For the purposes of the next Test match and the England XI at Sydney, Hutton dropped the Pilot, dropped Alec Bedser, who for years had nobly acted as the spearhead of England's attack.

During the previous tour of F.R. Brown's team in Australia, after England had lost four games and won only one, Hutton one night in a Sydney Hotel said to me, "when we come back here next time we'll beat'em with fast bowling." So, following his darkest hour, came Hutton's brightest. His star shone because Frank Tyson bowled as fast as mortal man can possibly bowl -- with Statham as accessory.

Hutton regained the Ashes for England, and was rewarded by a knighthood. He put into force a strategy of hard patient realism, an outlook much the product of his period.

Any great leader of men must adapt himself not only to the technical resources at his disposal but to the spirit of the age which subtly conditions human behaviour. A.C. MacLaren was, in terms of cricket, the symbol or expression of an epoch of confident extravagance. Hutton learned his game, and had his outlook influenced, in years of care and rationing.

It is therefore useless to set one Test match captain against another to make comparisons. Some of them, leading England and Australia, have obviously overshone others, both as players and as thinkers. Sir Donald Bradman must be placed high amongst those who have watched every move of a game with precision, and have also known how to hold an eleven of disparate tempers and temperaments together.

Still, if you happen to be a Bradman, with magnificent bowlers such as Lindwall, Miller and Bill Johnston at your call, you have behind you a rich balance of strategy to draw on.

It is generally supposed that tactics in cricket, field placing especially, has become more and more cunning than ever it was in what is known as The Golden Age. My own impression is that field-placing has always been skilfully arranged, according to the style of attack in vogue.

M.A. Noble exploited for the first time an inner. and outer ring, according to the state of the wicket. It is a fact, though, that photos exist showing only one man positioned on the leg-side -- what is more, at deep long-leg. How would 'Ranji' have performed his famous leg-glance if a modern 'leg-trap' had been set for him? is a question once asked of C.B. Fry. "He would not have risked it," replied Fry, so that the chances of getting him out at all would have been reduced to nil -- because Ranji's leg-glance was the only stroke giving any bowler the faintest hope.

When Hugh Trumble bowled England out in the famous three runs Australian victory at Old Trafford, he exploited off-spinners. Did he bowl them from round the wicket? And did he have a close-up leg field? I have put this crucial question to surviving players who took part in the match. None of them was able to remember.

In the W.G. Grace period, off-theory was put into force on good pitches. The bowlers pitched outside the off-stump mainly with six or seven fieldsmen on the offside. In 1902, at Kennington Oval, G.L. Jessop won the match for England on the third and closing afternoon by scoring 104 in an hour and a quarter.

Joe Darling was the Australian captain. Why didn't he instruct his attack to aim at Jessop's legs, and place a leg-side field? Darling was a man of an intelligence rare among cricketers. And no great brain-power is needed to think of the negative save-runs-anyhow policies so frequently practiced nowadays.

The simple truth is that in a three-day Test match negative bowling is of no use. Besides, Darling would have scorned to ask great bowlers, such as Trumble Noble and Armstrong, to avoid facing up to any batsman's strokes.

True that in 1905, at Nottingham, Warwick Armstrong bowled wide of the leg-stump, hoping to keep England's runs down. He sent down 52 six-ball overs for 67 runs and one wicket. But he couldn't prevent MacLaren from scoring 140 in two hours forty minutes.

Ill-informed historians have maintained that Armstrong, in this Nottingham Test, was a forerunner of the notorious Jardine-Larwood body-line methods. Nonsense. Armstrong was a slow bowler. There was no menace of hurt to skull or breastbone in his attack. Jardine's daring plan of attack was designed to bring down the batting average of Bradman.

He succeeded. But these questionable bowling methods were soon disapproved of by the majority of English cricketers when Jardine and Larwood returned home, victorious in the rubber of 1932-1933. Jardine was, no doubt, a commanding presence on the cricket field, and a man of brains and courage. You hadn't to look hard at the field of play, when Jardine was England's captain, to see the man who clearly controlled every move of the attack during the longest day.

At this extreme in outlook on cricket, Test and of all kinds, was A.E.R. Gilligan, captain of England in Australia 1924-1925. He lost the rubber, four defeats to one victory, against opposition artfully deployed by the wily Herbie Collins, who had one of the sharpest cricket intelligences of all time. He played within the rules, of course, but the chivalry of Gilligan was rather wasted on him.

In a Test at Melbourne when England were scoring plenteously in face of 600 runs, Collins went on to bowl himself, and in 11 eight-ball overs put the brake on to the extent of 3 maidens and only 8 runs. "I was nearly pitching them on the wicket alongside being prepared for the next match," he said.

Gilligan, gallant and frustrated, didn't suffer quite the humiliation of J.W.H.T. Douglas, who, in the Australian summer of 1920-1921, and the English summer of 1921, suffered seven consecutive Test match defeats. He lost Hobbs to illness and accident. The Master didn't bat in a single Test in 1921. J.W.H.T. was a superb fighting defensive batsman, and one of the greatest of newball bowlers. Maybe he was tempted too often to overbowl himself.

A barracker at Sydney called out to him, "Johnny, put yourself on at the other end. Then you'll be able to see the scoreboard and your bowling analysis". But Douglas in his zeal for attack with the ball, didn't measure up to George Giffen, Australia's magnificently gifted all-round player of the mid-1890's. At Adelaide, the Australian captain, J. McC. Blackham, daren't take off Giffen, who in one England innings, total 437, bowled 75 six ball overs.

After Douglas had been deposed from the England XI captaincy in July 1921, Lionel Tennyson (then the Hon. L.H.) was chosen for the office. And at Leeds, with a damaged split hand he drove the dreaded fast bowling of Gregory and McDonald all over the place, while at the wicket's other end J.W.H.T. Douglas himself put up a staunch defence. Douglas also was hurt, so much so that at his innings' end he could hardly remove his glove, because of congealed blood.

The Hon. Lionel's batting that day so thrilled me that in my report I was inspired to quote the poet Tennyson, something like this:

We are not now that strength which in the old days'tho

Moved heaven and earth that which we are, we are ...

Next day Tennyson thanked me, and when l told him whence came the quotation, he said, "The old boy? Pretty good, isn't it. I must read him." He wasn't exactly a cricketer dependent on fundamental grey matter. But he was a great spirit.

At Manchester, also in 1921, v. Armstrong's Invincibles, the first day was rained off. Next day, at ten minutes to six, Tennyson appeared on Old Trafford's amateurs' balcony to declare England's innings closed with the score 341 for four wickets. Warwick Armstrong wouldn't have it -- Tennyson had overlooked the ruling of Law 55 stating that when there was no play on the first day of a three-day match, Law 54 should apply as if the match were a two-day. And Law 54 stated that in a two-day match a declaration had to be made not later than one hour and forty minutes before close of play.

The Old Trafford crowd howled at Armstrong, who sat down on the grass. He was, of course, playing the game legally. In the hubbub Armstrong was permitted to bowl two overs consecutively, one before the interruption, one after.

It isn't, of course, the best brains that necessarily provide the successful Test match captain. C.B. Fry, an Aristotelean of a cricketer, could hardly be described an inspiring leader. A.P.F. Chapman, whose intellect compared to Fry's was childlike, urged his England team to victories in two rubbers out of three.

He succeeded the unfortunate A.W. Carr in 1926, for the Fifth Test at Kennington Oval, where the Ashes were recaptured; then in 1928-1929, he urged his men to another victorious rubber in Australia. A.W. Carr was surely born to be an England captain. Somehow he missed the way -- he certainly missed Charles Macartney at slip at Leeds in 1926. Macartney, then only 2 runs up, scored a century before lunch.

Not only A.W. Carr, but others who carried themselves like leaders of men, have been lost to the England cricket leadership. Pelham Warner -- would you believe it? -- was England's captain v. Australia only once -- in the triumphant rubber in Australia of 1903-1904. True, he was nominal skipper of the even more triumphant England XI of 1911-1912; but illness laid him low throughout the campaign.

Cyril Walters and the Rev. David Sheppard could very well have gone into the sovereign MacLaren-Jackson class, but for circumstances which stole them precipitately from first-class company. Gubby Allen commanded England in the heroic battles of 1936-1937 in Australia. He was a truly brave and vehement general and fighter. But Bradman was in his way, indeed was in every England captain's way for years.

If you are intending to serve cricket, either as captain or baggage man, be sure to choose your period and your opponents carefully. Ted Dexter finds himself steering an England team with dubious wheel. At any rate, it is an England XI lacking two dependable opening batsmen. "Ah," Dexter might often have signed, "if only I had a Hobbs and a Sutcliffe." Yet such are cricket's chances and irony, even with the great Hobbs-Sutcliffe first-wicket partnerships, England couldn't boast impregnability.

A.C. MacLaren used to defend himself, when accused of uncertain judgment in his leadership: Look at the players who were against me -- Trumper, Hill, Noble, Armstrong, Darling, Gregory Trumble and Saunders. But Joe Darling, MacLaren's contemporary and Australia's commander-in-chief, could, with more justification, have claimed that he was opposed, at Birmingham in 1902, with one of the strongest all-round XI's of all time -- MacLaren, Fry, Ranjitsinhji, Jackson, Tyldesley, Lilley, Hirst, Jessop, Braund, Lockwood and (last man in) Rhodes.

England and Australia have each had as skippers tough men and men not so tough, in turn. On the whole I fancy the Australians have put forward the tougher. Even the friendly smiling Benaud has proven himself fairly uncompromising and tactically un-generous. He was, however, a shining light of the magnanimity amongst the dark lanterns of Collins, Armstrong, Bardsley and Co.

Bill Woodfull, a reversion from type, had nearly an ethical approach, even to a Test match. Another of the game's ironic twists -- Woodfull, of all Christian men, was supposed to counter the body-line realpolitik of Jardine! Peter May's air of polite quiescence was rather misleading; he could undoubtedly set his teeth and achieve the power of preservation of a Hutton.

Colin Cowdrey, I suppose, we must include along with the happy -- or happier -- captains of cricket. He is subject to periodical inactivity, as though saying Absent thee from duplicity awhile. And Dexter remains in a fascinating balance -- a romantic manqué!

F.R. Brown goes down in the roll of Test match captain-heroes for the grit, determination and endurance he exercised in Australia 1950-1951, his only rubber as chief. He inspired a barrow boy in Sydney to sell his wares crying "Luvely lettices - all got the 'eart of Freddie Brown!"

There have been captains and captains, of England and Australia, some born to leadership, some having leadership thrust on them, some eager to go into action over the top intrepidly, some preferring to remain warily underground, some glorying in urging their men on, like the general in battle who cried out "Forward! Charge! What's the matter with you -- do you all want to live for ever?" And there have been captains who, like the Duke of Plaza-Toro, led their regiments from behind -- they found it less exciting.

© John Wisden & Co