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The M.C.C. tour to Australia in 1946-47 resembled that of 1920-21, not a Test being won by England. In both cases English cricket had not recovered from the effects of world war. M.C.C. were most reluctant to send out a team so soon after the cessation of hostilities, but so pressing was the invitation from the Australian Board of Control, backed in person by Dr. H. V. Evatt, they gave way. To my mind M.C.C. took the proper course. The presence of the English side not only revived cricket enthusiasm throughout Australia but, thanks to the great publicity given to the tour, cricket throughout the marvellous summer which followed in England received bigger public support than ever before. After all, the game is the thing, and, provided first-class players supply the enjoyment the people want, this M.C.C. tour has ensured support for many years to come. Off the field the tour was a tremendous success. The Englishmen were popular wherever they went, and so large were the crowds that flocked to the matches that the M.C.C.'s share of the profits reached £50,000.
Less than three weeks before sailing was the side completed, the last three places going to Edrich, Fishlock and James Langridge. So, on August 31, the following party left Southampton on the R.M.S. Stirling Castle for Fremantle:--
Major R. Howard (Lancashire) was manager, and W. Ferguson acted as scorer and baggage-master.
Weakness in bowling was the main cause of the team's failure, coupled with poor catching which affected the side in spasms. The inability of Hammond to make any large scores in the first four Tests in which he played and the time taken by Hutton and Compton to produce their true form in the Tests were contributory factors. That the side did not fare as badly as the men of 1920-21 and lose all five Tests was due to the fact that these matches, instead of being played to a finish, were limited to six days of five hours each, England in turn agreeing to allot five days of six hours for each of the 1948 Tests.
Before further criticism of our men I must emphasise that we found the Australians much stronger than we anticipated. By the time we arrived at Brisbane for the First Test we realised they were much better equipped in bowling. It was hoped that our batting would seal up part of the gap, but seldom did things run smoothly. Owing to the abnormal wet weather Hammond could not give all his men the match practice he desired. In Australia many games were drawn because at least seventeen were interrupted by rain. The weather turned bad at the very moment when the side was beginning to take shape. After some early disappointments in not winning any of the first-class matches at Perth and Adelaide, the team soundly beat Victoria, the Sheffield Shield champions, but little could be done in the next two games against An Australian XI at Melbourne, virtually a Test Trial for both sides, and against New South Wales at Sydney. Consequently, Hardstaff and James Langridge were repeatedly left out in order that the probable Test batsmen could get the match practice they had missed through rain. Meanwhile Fishlock was out of action having broken a bone in the hand while bowling in the nets at Adelaide. Also Gibb received more chances than Evans. Very wisely, Hammond nursed Bedser and Wright carefully in the early months of the tour, for he must have realised the serious weakness of his attack. Yet these bowlers, through sheer necessity, were called upon to do far too much work in the gruelling heat. Only those who saw them in action can be fully aware of the splendid way these two always responded to their captain. Special Army leave was given to Voce and Pollard for the tour, but neither had sufficient pace to be really troublesome in the clear Australian atmosphere. The change from English rations to the excellent Australian food, coupled with the benefit gained from a sea trip and glorious Australian sunshine, caused all the party to put on weight, and none more so than Voce and Pollard.
Naturally, people at home began to think the team were taking things too easily; that Hammond could not control his men. Let me say that no England captain could have had under him a more loyal set of men. All of them would have done anything for him. They appreciated his vast experience of Australia and did their best to order their play in the way he wished. Whereas a successful captain is rarely criticised, Hammond was not allowed to escape. His field placings did not always meet with approval, particularly with regard to Wright, whom he employed as a deep third man. In the last Test, when Yardley became captain, he moved point back to intercept cuts, and this left a spare fielder to strengthen either slips or the leg trap. When not bowling, Wright himself constantly occupied the third man position. This led to much comment, but by being out there instead of fielding close up Wright found mental relaxation between overs. Moreover, I understood that he preferred going there.
Hammond was not the same inspiring leader as at home against Australia in 1938. I believe his own batting failure upset him. In the past he had been the merciless killer of slow bowlers, but now he became their prey. Big scores at Northam and Perth suggested Hammond would again dominate the cricket, but apart from an innings of 188 in the return game with South Australia he failed to live up to his reputation. His figures in eight Test innings were: 32, 23, 1, 37, 9, 26, 18 and 22. During the fourth Test in a heat wave at Adelaide he was stricken with fibrositis and did not bat again until the team reached New Zealand.
Beyond question nothing went right for Hammond. Often when his men were battling hard and looked like establishing a promising position an umpire's decision changed the whole complexion of the game. These incidents caused some friction and certainly bitter disappointment to the England team. Let me quote Ray Robinson, the Australian critic, writing in The Cricketer: "More exasperating was the luck of umpiring. Usually debatable decisions work out fairly evenly over a Test rubber, but weight of evidence suggests that the umpires were mistaken in giving Bradman not out caught for 28 in the First Test, Edrich out leg-before-wicket for 89 in the Third Test, and Washbrook out caught behind the wicket for 39 in the Fourth Test. These decisions came at such points in England's bids to gain an advantage that they could almost be termed turning-points of the three games. Dismissal of Bradman for 159 runs fewer--and four hours earlier--would have altered the course of the First Test incalculably, and, perhaps, led to Australia having to play a second innings on the first of the sticky wickets. In the Third Test the undetected snick from Edrich's bat to his pad occurred when he and Washbrook were renewing their overnight century partnership and England had nine wickets in hand to get 211 more runs to lead in the first innings. When the opening pair led off with 100 in England's second innings of the Fourth Test and Washbrook snicked a fast ball, I believe nearby fieldsmen were impetuous in appealing as the wicket-keeper scooped up the ball, and that the hesitant umpire would have been wiser to have asked his square-leg colleague whether it carried to the gloves or was gathered on the half-volley." I agree entirely with all that Ray Robinson wrote, and I give his version because no one will accuse an Australian of possessing a disjointed view on decisions which meant so much to the victorious side as well as to the losers.
Compelled to bat twice on a treacherous wicket at Brisbane, England stood no chance in the First Test, but in the next, at Sydney, Hammond won the toss and feeble batting allowed the initiative to pass to Australia. Edrich, an exception, hit 71 and 119. Having lost the first two Tests, England gradually improved, avoiding defeat at Melbourne and Adelaide, but after a grand struggle were beaten again in the final match at Sydney.
A glance at the Test averages reveals the difference between the sides. Although Hutton came out top of the England batting, he did not enjoy good health. More than once he was laid up before tonsilitis drove him to hospital during the final Test and caused him to miss New Zealand. Instead, he flew home for an immediate throat operation. Yet there were days when Hutton batted splendidly. The best English innings of the tour was his not out 151 against Victoria at Melbourne. His first six Test innings yielded 7, 0, 39, 37, 2 and 40, but he finished with 94, 76 and 122 not out. Moreover, in the last three innings Hutton and Washbrook began with consecutive three-figure stands, and so equalled the feat of J. B. Hobbs and H. Sutcliffe in 1924-25. The Australian fast bowlers tried to unsettle Hutton by persistently bumping the ball short at him, but the Yorkshireman, by ducking, usually avoided trouble, although in the second New South Wales match he failed to hook properly and the ball cut open his chin. I felt that Hutton was subjected to this barrage because there was no fast bowler in the England side to retaliate.
Washbrook can be counted among the successes of the tour, yet he never allowed himself the freedom of stroke play he shows at home. No doubt a passive policy was ordered by his captain. In the field the Lancastrian was a joy to watch. Anyone who tried to steal a single while he was at cover ran a terrible risk. At first the position of number three appeared to be reserved for Gibb, presumably on his 1938-39 South African form, but he never approached that standard. Happily, Edrich on the eve of the First Test was promoted in the second innings against Queensland. From that day he established his position in the batting order and I think that he became the best man in the side. He silenced for all time those people who questioned his Test match temperament. Besides his grand work with the bat, Edrich was always ready to assail the opposition with his whole-hearted pace bowling, and he was one of the best fielders close to the wicket. An example of his pluck was shown on the first day of the Melbourne Test when, fielding at short leg, he received a fearful blow on the knee. He declined to leave the field until Hammond insisted, and next day, contrary to expectations, there he was opening the bowling, and he took a wicket with his first ball. Now that the tour is over it seems almost unbelievable that he was nearly left at home.
His Middlesex colleague, Denis Compton, began brilliantly in the preliminary matches, but his scores in the first three Tests were 17, 15, 5, 54, 11 and 14. After those disappointments Compton scarcely knew the word failure. For the first time in his career he hit four successive hundreds, the last two being 147 and 103 not out in the Adelaide Test. Possibly England would have fared better if Compton had pursued his natural free-hitting game. He was most happy when going down the wicket to all types of bowlers, especially the slow ones. Rarely allowed a turn with the ball, Compton headed the first-class bowling averages for the tour, thanks mainly to a masterly all-round performance on a sticky wicket in the final match at Auckland, where he made 97 not out and then took eleven wickets for 49. Success never spoiled Compton and his cheery face out there on the boundary made him very popular with the crowd.
More work fell on Yardley than was expected and, like a true Yorkshireman, he shouldered his responsibility well. Instead of going in when the total reached respectable proportions, Yardley too often was called upon to pull his side out of trouble; but he provided the biggest surprises as a bowler. After six matches, he was tried first at Melbourne when Morris had made a century, and in his first over he got the left-hander caught by the wicket-keeper. After that Yardley more that once broke up a stubborn stand as soon as given the ball. Three times in succession he dismissed Bradman, and in the Melbourne Test first innings he sent back Bradman and Johnson with following balls. Able to keep a steady length and direction with his medium-paced deliveries, Yardley moved the ball into the batsmen with a leg trap set. As a fielder he excelled in the gully, and whenever Hammond took a rest Yardley proved an efficient captain.
Often associated with Yardley in a batting crisis was Ikin, the Lancashire left-hander, and he never allowed the situation to worry him. A good cricketer, he usually found the bowlers completely on top, and he played many fighting innings. As a fielder he had no superior in the slips or at short leg. Given an opportunity at Perth to show what he could do on an Australian pitch as a right-arm leg-break bowler, Ikin failed to make any real impression, and Hammond rarely used him afterwards. Only the second-choice wicket-keeper at the beginning of the tour, Evans never looked back when picked for the second Test at Sydney. He began his Test career by allowing no byes while Australia scored 1,024 runs--659 at Sydney and 365 at Melbourne. With his place certain, Evans became more confident in batting. His best performance was at Adelaide when, in an unforgettable stand with Compton which saved the side from defeat, he batted ninety-five minutes before opening his score--a Test record.
Australian pitches do not encourage the fast-medium bowler in the way they did in the days of Maurice Tate, otherwise Alec Bedser would have fared better. Still, the tall Surrey bowler, who was accompanied throughout Australia by his inseparable twin brother, served his side splendidly. He got through twice the amount of bowling done by the Australia opening pair, Lindwall and Miller, and if only there had been a Farnes or someone of really high speed to help, his burden would have been lightened. Bradman, whom Bedser bowled for a duck in the Adelaide Test, considered he was one of the best of his type England have sent there.
Wright, like Bedser, suffered from too much bowling, but on his day he looked the true artist. He impressed the former Australian Test players by his ability to spin the ball either way while maintaining a much faster pace than other bowlers of his kind. If Hammond could have used him in shorter spells he must have been more effective. Peter Smith played in the two Tests at Sydney, the second and the fifth, but did not trouble the quick-footed Australian batsmen. Midway through the tour Smith was laid up with internal trouble and underwent a minor operation. At the same time England also lost the services of James Langridge, who, chosen among the twelve for the Third Test at Melbourne, pulled a groin muscle while at fielding practice on the eve of the match. This was most unfortunate for Langridge because at that time he had played in only three first-class matches. To make matters worse he returned to the team before he was thoroughly fit, and, though he hit a century, he only aggravated the trouble and could not play again during the tour. Hardstaff batted well in his only Test, but Fishlock never found his English form and constantly fell to the slow bowlers. England badly needed a competent left-hander of the Leyland or Paynter class; of the three available, Ikin, Langridge and Fishlock, none came up to expectations.
Whereas England brought seven players experienced in Tests against Australia, only Bradman and Hassett remained of the opposition. Yet they produced one of the best teams ever to represent them. For this happy state of affairs I am sure Australia were largely indebted to Bradman, their captain and one of their three selectors. Early in the season Bradman looked far from well, but long days in the sun soon restored him to almost his old self. At first his batting, for Bradman, was uncertain. He has set such a high standard that one could not help being surprised at seeing him in difficulties; but, as in the past, his mammoth scores put Australia on top. Even more important was the way he moulded his men together, always encouraging them on the field and telling the bowlers what they should do. As a leader he clearly outshone Hammond, but I think Bradman would admit he was more fortunate than his rival in possessing so much talent at his command. As many as seven Australians shared ten Test centuries, whereas four Englishmen shared five Test centuries. England suffered from the lack of all-rounders compared with the number at Bradman's disposal. Three of their leading bowlers, Miller, McCool and Lindwall, hit hundreds; McCool also scored 95 on his debut, and Tallon, the wicket-keeper, claimed 92 as his top score.
Before the Tests were finished the Australians were in a dilemma as to which bowlers they should leave out. They had the right men for any emergency. Lindwall, genuinely fast with a beautiful action; Miller, quite fast; Toshack, left-arm medium-pace, sending down in-swingers over the wicket to a leg trap and also able to turn the ball the other way; Tribe, left-arm slow with mixed spin; two right-arm leg-spinners in McCool and Dooland; and a delightful off-spinner in Johnson. Moreover, Bradman was never worried about having to hide someone in the field. Barnes was magnificent at short leg, McCool a sure catch at first slip--one of the best in the world--and Tallon a really brilliant wicket-keeper.
On top of all this talent, Australia produced a grand left-hand opening batsman in Morris, a man worthy to rank with the great Warren Bardsley. There was no question as to which was the better side, and, apart from Bradman, the Australians were a young team. They thoroughly deserved to retain The Ashes.
During the tour an M.C.C. team travelled for the first time by air. The first flight, at night from Adelaide to Melbourne, was due to a railway strike. When the tour finished in Australia, Gibb, Langridge, Hardstaff and Ferguson went home with the main baggage by sea, and Hutton by air, but the rest of the party flew from Sydney to Auckland and back for the brief visit to New Zealand. They travelled in four separate groups by air from Australia to England. I accompanied the side on all their flights, and while I think the long sea route is more beneficial between the cricketing seasons, I would suggest that M.C.C. think seriously about allowing the side on future tours to travel by air between the various Australian capitals. This would avoid the tedious rail journeys and ensure the players sleeping comfortably in hotels instead of on the trains.
It was a great privilege to visit Australia and see their wonderful grounds and the enthusiasm there for cricket. I would thank all those players and officials of both teams who made my travels so pleasant, and particularly would I thank Major R. Howard, the M.C.C. manager, for all the help he gave me as correspondent for the two world news agencies, Reuters and Exchange.
Official crowd figures for the Tests:--
|First Test, Brisbane||77,344||14,515|
|Second Test, Sydney||196,253||26,544|
|Third Test, Melbourne||343,675||44,063|
|Fourth Test, Adelaide||135,980||18,117|
|Fifth Test, Sydney||93,011||12,619|
Match reports for
Only Test: New Zealand v England at Christchurch, Mar 21-25, 1947
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v England at Brisbane, Nov 29-Dec 4, 1946
2nd Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Dec 13-19, 1946
3rd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 1-7, 1947
4th Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 31-Feb 6, 1947
5th Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Feb 28-Mar 5, 1947