War-time cricket in Australia has of necessity lacked the character which first-class matches alone can give to a season, but the State Associations, seized with the idea of providing amusement for Servicemen and for maintaining public morale, have done an excellent job by continuing inter-club fixtures under difficulties. Very wisely, rules have been sufficiently elastic in character to enable Club officials to cater for the Serviceman on leave, and so, despite short supplies of finance and material, the game has been nursed along so that when peace comes the expansion to normal conditions will be relatively easy.
The New South Wales C.A. experimented for a time with one afternoon games. This, naturally, suited the Serviceman on a fleeting visit, and the more audacious tactics of the batsmen seeking runs quickly pleased the onlookers who sought relief from their burdens and craved excitement as a counter to worry and anxiety. The matches attracted splendid crowds, but it would be foolish to say that they did--or could--produce or develop real cricketers. Actually there was a suspicion that a game of skill was being converted into a vaudeville exhibition, and though cricket must be entertaining, it can achieve that without sacrificing the dignity of craftsmanship to the hurly-burly of crude utilitarianism. Still, as a war-time measure the move was justified, but now that the Government has vetoed Daylight Saving, two Saturday games are again the vogue.
In Sydney there has been no upsurge of talent. It could not be expected with so many engaged in warlike pursuits, but maybe, when we return to the piping times of peace, there may arise some whose good fortune enabled them to get cricket in other lands, and so develop their skill. W. Alley is undoubtedly the most promising discovery in Sydney, and he may easily win a high place in the game. Certainly he is older than is usual for budding Australian stars, but at 25 he is still young enough to climb the ladder of success. A left-handed batsman, he loves aggression, but is by no means reckless, despite ability and willingness to score fast. Last season, for Petersham, he batted 24 times and scored 1,413 runs, with a highest innings of 230. This was a real achievement, and that it was no flash in the pan, he showed recently when he scored 122 in better than even time against St. George, hitting O'Reilly freely and using discretion as well as power. He is also a grand field and a fair right-hand bowler. Alley seems a sure State star in post-war years and a most probable Test match opening batsman. Experience in first-class cricket and a tour of England would mould him into a very fine player. For N.S.W. versus the Services last season, he scored 60 and 54 not out.
Of others in this State, Barnes has developed his skill. He has undoubted class, and could be the star of post-war years. Against the Services he scored a brilliant 104 not out. O'Reilly remains the best bowler in the land, despite increasing years, and in 1943-44 season he took 147 wickets at 8.2 runs apiece. Morris, in his early twenties, made a notable entry into the first-class field before the war with a century in each innings, but he is in The Army, and we have seen very little of him. That he has skill and temperament is, however, undoubted. He is a left-handed batsman with something of the Bardsley touch; if he and Alley make good, they will prove a source of strength to Australian Test teams. Both Gulliver and McCool have done well in Sydney cricket as batsmen and slow bowlers.
Pepper you have seen in England. He is regarded as a Test possibility, and the opportunity to develop his powers on English wickets should be of real benefit. There is nothing like cricket in a strange land to bring to the surface any latent talent. Sismey and Cheetham you also know, and young Cristofani has accomplished startling performances in England. He may make the grade.
Keith Miller, the Victorian, always looked a fine player, but somehow did not deliver the goods in the quantities expected. The batting is there, and no doubt the buds of promise will open out one of these days into rich blooms of achievement, as they have shown signs of doing in England. Hassett, another you know and appreciate, has played big innings in Cairo during the war: Englishmen will remember his many fine efforts in 1938, especially at Leeds where, at a critical stage, he smote Farnes and Company and won the game in the nick of time. Victorians think highly of R. Harvey, who, at 18 years of age, is building up a batting reputation. In fact, several of the younger brigade give excellent promise for the future. I have heard good reports of Dempster, a left-handed batsman with some bowling skill, Tribe, a left-hander of the Fleetwood-Smith type, and Watters, a solid batsman, but they have yet to be tested in the fires of first-class cricket. Ron Hamence, of South Australia, now in the R.A.A.F., when playing with success in Melbourne, showed undoubted skill which seemed certain to take him into the Test side. Hitherto he failed to make the grade, probably through impetuosity, but there is yet time.
In Adelaide, cricket has been quiet with no stars appearing. Grimmett still takes dozens of wickets and seems to have the secret of eternal youth. Quite recently he toured battle stations with a team that contained McCabe, O'Reilly, Barnes, Alley, and Saggers, and did wonderfully well.
Queensland, like the other States, has kept its competition in being, but has lacked the drawcards. Little has been seen of W. A. Brown, but, at the same time, enough to show that he has lost none of his skill. He scored two centuries in club games early this season ( 1944-45).
W. Tallon and R. Rogers, a burly left-hander, who made 41 and 39 for the Services against New South Wales, have done well, but J. Ellis, who was the best of the fastish bowlers, has not played much cricket.
Thus the present gives us little indication as to the future, except that there is every probability that batting gaps will be filled adequately--apart, of course, from Bradman. Wicket-keeping will be better than in 1938, with Saggers (N.S.W.), D. Tallon (Queensland), Livingstone (N.S.W.) and S. Sismey all first class, while the first three are fine batsmen; but the bowling is still resting on W. J. O'Reilly who cannot indefinitely retain his skill and hostility. Good reports are heard of Barras, a West Australian, while Carmody, unfortunately now a prisoner of war, must have improved by his English experiences. Of the 1938 side, I have mentioned Brown, Hassett, O'Reilly and Barnes.
Bradman has not played cricket for a few years, and is not, I think, a prospect for the next tour. His back trouble, which caused his discharge from the Army, was symptomatic of a general break-down in health, the result no doubt of extraordinary cricketing efforts, which so strained his nervous system and depleted his physical resources that his medical adviser forbade him to take part in strenuous activities, ordering complete rest.
At the same time, it can now be disclosed that he would not have toured England again as captain had there been no war. He told me this during our trip home in 1938, and no argument could move him. Even then, he was feeling the strain of making both centuries and speeches, and he was most definite that he would not be capable again of representing his country in such a capacity, either to his own satisfaction or in the manner expected of him.
Thus we must face the position that the greatest run-getter and amazing box-office attraction probably has made his last appearance on the Test Match stage. Cricket did much for Bradman, but he did much for cricket, and his going leaves a gap that will not easily be filled.
Whether he will again play for his club or State is a matter which cannot be determined now. Bradman himself does not feel that it is a time to talk of his cricketing future while the nation is fighting a life and death war. He is, however, generally better in health though occasional setbacks are a worry. Evidently when he talked in 1938 of the future, he felt doubts about his health; doubts which would appear justified by events.
My mind goes back to 1926, when the Selection Committee, of which I was a member, brought him to Sydney for a trial. He came to my office. I opened the door and a lad said: Are you Mr. Moyes? I'm Don Bradman! Twelve years later I listened to this country lad make speeches in England that were surely among the finest ever made by a cricketer. I saw him lead Australia; make centuries by the dozen, but the picture that remains is that of the lad who said so quietly: I'm Don Bradman.
To me he has never changed. I believe that no one received more of his confidence in matters of cricket, and he was always the sportsman. Bradman was subjected to criticisms; that is inevitable with anyone who is great, but for the most part they were conceived in jealousy and nurtured in ignorance. Donald George Bradman was in the highest degree a cricketer.
S. J. McCabe is another whose Test match career seems to have finished all too soon. He makes very rare appearances these days, owing to foot trouble, and unless a miracle happens he could not stand a first-class game. So we lose one whose every gesture with the bat was poetry; a man who was the artist painting a picture, as he did on that memorable day in 1938 at Trent Bridge. There are many in first-class, and even Test cricket, who are of solid mettle, no doubt, but they provide merely settings for the gems, among whom was McCabe.
J. H. Fingleton and A. G. Chipperfield have drifted out of the game, while E. L. McCormick, that humorist whom Worcester will never forget, has done likewise. M. G. Waite joined the Services, and is not, I think, a possibility for next tour, F. Ward went overseas with the A.I.F. and is not any younger, while E. S. White, who did fine work in the Middle East, retired from cricket before the war, in order to attend to his business. C. L. Badcock, suffering from lumbago, went back to Tasmania; apparently his health improved and he made runs in club games, but repeated failures in the big events may mar his chances even if thoroughly fit. L. O'B. Fleetwood-Smith is out of the game, and, alas, that charming comrade Ben Barnett was taken prisoner in the tragedy of Malaya. And so it would appear that of the 1938 side, only O'Reilly, Hassett, Brown and Barnes are left as a basis on which to build a Test Team.
After World War One, the A.I.F. side gave us Gregory and Oldfield, while Collins, Pellew and Taylor developed their powers as members of that team. Perhaps World War Two likewise will produce something out of the ordinary, though the Gregorys of the game come but seldom. Still, we are not devoid of talent even if the bowling position is obscure, and, when the fight for The Ashes is resumed, we may hope to find an Australian side ready to do battle with Hammond, Hutton, Compton, Edrich and Co., though my memories of 1938 suggest that on our wickets those young men from Yorkshire and Middlesex will give our bowlers many a headache.