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Opinions differed considerably concerning the quality of the twenty-fourth Australian team to visit the United Kingdom, but the fact remained that R.B. Simpson and his men achieved their objective in that they won the rubber and returned home with the Ashes which their country had held since wresting them from P.B.H. May's side in 1958-59.
The retirement of R. Benaud, R.N. Harvey and A.K. Davidson had certainly left the Australian ranks rather bare and, indeed, it could be said they arrived in England with an experimental side, eight of the seventeen being in a land completely strange to them.
They left themselves only ten days to settle down and unfortunately rain fell almost the whole of this time so that they began their match-programme very short of serious net-practice.
Happily the month of May was fine and generally the weather throughout the summer was grand; yet three of the five Test Matches were spoiled by rain. Rain halved the playing time in each of the first two Tests, at Nottingham and Lord's, and prevented a ball being bowled on the last day of the fifth at The Oval.
Consequently, these three games were drawn, with England having enjoyed the better of the argument in the first two. It was a different story in the third Test at Leeds. Apart from a cold wind, the weather stayed fine and on E.R. Dexter winning the toss for the third time (he won it again at The Oval) Australia, thanks to their opening bowlers, McKenzie and Hawke, whom they supported magnificently in the field, dismissed England for 268.
This seemed a modest total, but the Australian batsmen lacked confidence and were baffled by Titmus and Gifford, so that seven wickets fell for 178 before Burge came to the rescue with his now famous innings of 160. Unquestionably, this fearless knock by Burge decided the destination of the Ashes.
Three years earlier at Old Trafford, Australia were in similar trouble and England seemed certain of winning when in twenty minutes before tea on the last day Benaud changed the opposition's total from 150 for one wicket to 165 for five wickets and Australia went on to win by 54 runs. So it was at Leeds in 1964.
At the crisis, Australia found in Burge the man to pull them out of trouble and once they had lowered England's colours they took good care not to throw away their hold on the Ashes.
They knew they needed only to avoid defeat in one of the remaining two Tests to retain those Ashes and so they went to Manchester for the fourth Test with that single motive in mind. This was the only Test in which Simpson won the toss and he seized the opportunity not only to make his first century in any Test, but to stay at the crease for twelve and three-quarter hours, until the third day, while he carefully compiled his mammoth 311.
It was not the kind of cricket the majority of people like to see, but it was so typical of the pattern of many Tests over the past twenty-five years that England, who would probably have pursued the same tactics, could not object to it. Moreover, in Lawry (106), Simpson, found the ideal collaborator and between them they established a new record stand of 201 for the first wicket for Australia against England.
Eventually, the total reached 656 for eight wickets before Simpson declared and then England, thanks to Barrington (256) and Dexter (174), completed the stalemate by replying with a total of 611.
While it was easy to criticise Simpson for his negative tactics at Manchester, one must remember that his team was not over-blessed with talent. Indeed, when the party was chosen, the Australian critics almost to a man condemned it as one of the weakest ever to represent their country.
That they were near the mark can be seen from the following summary of first-class match results by Australian teams in England since the First World War:--
That the side fared as well as they did was due mainly to Simpson. He proved a shrewd captain as well as an outstanding cricketer of all-round ability. Although he began the tour by opening the batting with Lawry, he soon realised that he was deficient in spin bowling. Consequently, he dropped himself to number six in the batting order for the first two Tests, but as Redpath accomplished little in those matches Simpson was compelled to go in first again and no doubt that decision was right.
Simpson finished the tour as the leading batsman with 1,714 runs, average 57.13, but his intermittent spells of leg-spin bowling earned him only 32 wickets at a cost of 32.28 runs each. Still, he broke up some stubborn partnerships and played another valuable part in the field by holding 36 catches, the majority in the slips; many of these were brilliant efforts.
It was no mean feat on the part of Simpson and his men to go unbeaten through the first three months, but Glamorgan Surprised them in the August Bank holiday match at Swansea by winning on a spin-bowler's pitch and they narrowly lost the following game at Edgbaston after a most sporting contest with Warwickshire. Later in the month the Essex batsmen really collared the bowling at Southend before two spin bowlers, Phelan and Hobbs, gave Trevor Bailey's county victory by six wickets.
Potentially, this Australian team was well equipped with batsmen, but while seven of them scored at least 1,000 runs in the first-class engagements, there was a general lack of certainty when they came to the Tests. This was partly due to the wet weather as well as to the stubbornness of Lawry and Redpath, who surrendered the initiative to the England bowlers so that by the time men like O'Neill, Burge and Booth arrived, the attack held the mastery.
Lawry, after his tremendous success in 1961, was somewhat disappointing. Although he played two more innings his aggregate not only fell from 2,019 to 1,601, but he took much more time to make his runs.
The three most attractive batsmen were Booth, the vice-captain Burge and O'Neill. A true stylist, Booth gave some glorious displays without distinguishing himself in the Tests apart from his 98 at Manchester.
O'Neill fared even more moderately in the Tests. Knee trouble kept him out when Australia won at Leeds and it inconvenienced him at other times; but on his day he lived up to his reputation as a splendid driver.
Burge seemed to reserve his best efforts for the big occasion, as when he dominated the only Test which reached a definite conclusion.
The State of Victoria sent three new batsmen in Redpath, Cowper and Potter and easily the best of them was the left-handed Cowper, who finished third in the averages at 51.48 with a total of 1,287 runs. An enterprising player, he showed the right approach to the game.
In two of the Tests, Australia were indebted to Veivers for his confident left-handed batting. He probably saved them from complete collapse and possible defeat at Lord's with a top score of 54 in a total of 176 and his not out 67 helped considerably towards Australia gaining a first innings of 197 in the final Test. A popular character on and off the field, Veivers might well have made many more runs but for his main duties as an off-spin bowler. Who will forget his mammoth spell of endurance in the Manchester Test?
Reviewing the bowlers as a whole, one formed the opinion that their figures at the end of the tour were better than many people expected. There were four of fast-medium pace who could use the new ball; McKenzie, Hawke, Connolly and Corling, and the first two served their side handsomely. Both possessed excellent physique and played a vital part in the Tests.
In fact, McKenzie, by taking 29 wickets in the five matches, equalled the record number by an Australian bowler in Tests in England -- Clarrie Grimmett in 1930. Hawke, who headed the bowling averages with 83 wickets at 19.80 runs each, virtually denied England any chance of drawing the rubber when on the first day of the Oval Test he played the main part in dismissing England for 182 by taking six wickets for 47 runs, his best performance in Test cricket.
Corling, aged 22, the youngest member of the party being junior by three weeks to McKenzie, was the surprise choice and gave cheerful support in all five Tests. Connolly, on the other hand, missed many games through a variety of aches and pains which were never satisfactorily diagnosed.
When the party left Australia it was expected that the main spin bowlers would be Simpson, Veivers, Sellers and Martin. Sellers, a tall leg-spinner had the misfortune to damage his bowling hand in one of the preliminary games before the team arrived in England and appeared in only one match before the first Test.
Martin, an unorthodox left-hander of the Wardle-Tribe type, was not sufficiently accurate to command a place in the representative matches and, with Simpson forced to concentrate on his batting, the main burden of the slow bowling fell on Veivers, the off-spinner whose 56 wickets cost 36.17 runs each.
The side possessed two capable wicket-keepers in Grout and Jarman who came with the 1961 party and again Grout, the senior, kept in all five Tests. While some individuals like Simpson, O'Neill and Grout excelled, the fielding generally did not reach the usual high standard associated with Australian teams. Yet, when they won the Test at Leeds, not a chance was missed and everyone performed splendidly under the eyes of their Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies.
At the end of the tour, the players spent a fortnight's holiday on the Continent before playing three Tests with India and one with Pakistan on their way home. They eventually arrived in Australia, tired but triumphant, in November.
That the tour went through smoothly was due in no small way to the efficiency and courtesy of Mr. Ray Steele (manager), Mr. Jack Ledward (treasurer) and Mr. David Sherwood (scorer).
Test Matches -- Played 5; Won 1, Drawn 4.
First-Class Matches -- Played 30; Won 11, Lost 3, Drawn 16.
All Matches -- Played 36; Won 14, Lost 4, Drawn 18.
Wins -- England, Duke of Norfolk's XI, Gloucestershire, Somerset, M.C.C., Cambridge University, Minor Counties, Northamptonshire, Sussex, Yorkshire, Kent, A.E.R. Gilligan's XI, T.N. Pearce's XI, Sussex (Knock-out rules).
Losses -- Glamorgan, Warwickshire, Essex, Netherlands.
Draws -- England (4), Worcestershire, Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Glamorgan, Cambridge University, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire, Middlesex, President of M.C.C.'s XI, Scotland (2).
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