Australians in English club cricket

Cricket has done much to foster the feeling of good fellowship and to maintain friendly relations between Australians and Englishmen during the second world-war. The Royal Australian Air Force cricketers, many of whom may never enjoy the privilege of visiting the old country again, finished the 1943 season unanimous in their appreciation of the way the game was played here. One well-known airman stated during the last match that he would like to do an extra tour of flying operations so that he could fit in another cricket season. When another player returned to the M.C.C. pavilion after making a duck he remarked: Well, I have had the honour of playing at Lord's. They can send me home now if they want to. He had just completed his operational tour of duty as a bomber pilot.

There were really no big names among the R.A.A.F. cricketers who took part in representative, inter-Service, Dominion and club cricket in England in 1943. When war broke out many were schoolboys, some promising, others unknown. Of the Australians who appeared at Lord's in the Dominions XI and for the R.A.A.F. team, which, after losing to Sir Pelham Warner's team, finished the summer by gaining a great victory over the Royal Air Force side, composed solely of Test and county players, only four had inter-State experience.

From the Australian point of view, the find of the season was Flight Sergeant Keith Miller, the young Victorian. He revealed the ability and temperament of a champion and showed every promise of developing into one of Australia's best all-rounders. The fast bowler, Flying Officer A. W. Roper, played in the Sheffield Shield for several seasons for New South Wales, and he and Flying Officer S. G. Sismey, the wicket-keeper, also of N.S.W., were the most experienced players. Sismey displayed brilliant form behind the stumps, and his actions indicated that he had modelled himself on that fine stylist W. A. Oldfield, who between the two wars appeared in 55 Tests for Australia. Oldfield was a product of the successful A.I.F. team of 1919, which was formed by the military authorities in England and became the nucleus of the 1920-21 Australia Test team. Another N.S.W. representative, Flying Officer Keith Carmody, captained both the R.A.A.F. and Dominions teams. Before coming over here he was making his way in State cricket. An opening batsman, he closely resembled in style S. J. McCabe, with whom he played in Sydney club cricket. Apart from these few the R.A.A.F. men had not graduated beyond club or park cricket.

In England, cricket has been more than a game for them. Only those who have played with or against English clubs can appreciate the great difference between club cricket here and at home. We Australians love our cricket and thoroughly enjoy the way we play it, but we had to travel 12,000 miles to appreciate the real atmosphere of the great game which has contributed so much to war-time recreation. This may sound strange to English people who have seen Australian Test teams in action, but I am not thinking of big cricket. I refer to the club cricketers -- the thousands of flannelled fools -- who keep the game alive without receiving any limelight.

In Australia these men play in open paddocks, on hard dirt wickets which have been scraped smooth, or on 22 yards of concrete laid down by local councils in public parks. Flags resembling small pennants are used to mark out the boundary, and in the cities and large towns the wickets are so close and the boundaries so overlap that the fieldsman in the outfield talk, in a whisper, to the slips or square-leg of an adjoining game.

Park matches form the nurseries for club cricket in Australia. It was from these surroundings that players such as Don Bradman, Jack Ryder, Fleetwood-Smith, Bill O'Reilly, Charlie Macartney and others found the first rung of the ladder to cricketing fame. From park competitions players graduate to club cricket. Then comes the Sheffield Shield, in which the four main cricketing States, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, meet each other twice in a season; form shown in these matches wins a place in Australia Test teams.

Australian club cricket is played on council-owned grounds -- much larger than those used for your club cricket -- with large grandstands and small crowds. At the end of the day's play most players go their own way, and unless a member of the team visits the ground for practice during the week, he may not see his teammates until the match is resumed the following Saturday.

What a contrast to the atmosphere of your smaller, friendly-looking grounds, where the spectators sit in deck chairs or on the grass around the boundary! These surroundings give the player confidence and make him feel at home. When stumps are drawn he is one of a happy family fraternising in the club room over a mild-and-bitter or a pale ale. Licensing laws in Australia do not encourage this after-the-game social spirit. Is it any wonder, then, that we park and club cricketers considered it a privilege to play in this country?

Australians are Saturday afternoon cricketers. Some people over here have the impression that we live on the cricket field. This is not so. A player is lucky if he gets 12 innings in a season. We are not as orthodox as English cricketers; our early experiences on dirt or concrete wickets and the absence of coaches account for that. Play your natural game is the usual advice to young Australian players.

In England, 9, 10 or 11 usually go to the wicket in much the same way, and with the same idea, as the openers. In Australia the tail-enders revel in the long-handle game and their one idea is to have a go. This does the game no harm, as a six by O'Reilly or Fleetwood-Smith provides as much pleasure and entertainment as a hook to the fence by Bradman or a late cut for four by McCabe. Still, as I said before, we Australians are glad we have had the opportunity of visiting the cradle of cricket. We greatly admire the game as it is played over here as well as your cricketers, and we appreciate all the hospitality we have received from everyone connected with it.

© John Wisden & Co