1953

Australia throw down the gauntlet

Neville Cardus

For the Coronation Year of 1953 we can think only by effort of the English cricketers who in 1862 sailed to Australia in a paddle-steamer virtually as missionaries to a foreign land, though they didn't look altogether missionary. They were a bewhiskered company, and after they had departed from these shores without notice and unobserved no more was heard of them until they arrived at Melbourne somewhere near Christmas.

Only twelve of them were taken: H. H. Stephenson (capt., Surrey), W. Caffyn (Surrey), G. Griffith (Surrey), W. Mortlock (Surrey), W. Mudie (Surrey), T. Sewell (Surrey), C. Lawrence (Kent), G. Bennett (Kent), T. Hearne (Middlesex), G. Wells (Middlesex), R. Iddison (Yorkshire) and E. Stephenson (Yorkshire). Twelve and no more; nobody, it seems, entertained the idea or risk of casualties accruing from fibrositis, wrenched muscles and what-not. Hardy pioneers. We have lived to see Test cricket go round the globe from Occident to Orient. But, none the less, it is still the privilege, prerogative and honour of Australia to throw down before us, in this country, the glove of the challenger and to say to all other comers and aspirants in the Test match tournament: "Hands off: this is mine own enemy!"

It was at Melbourne in March 1877 that the first recorded Test match was played between England and Australia; Australia batted first, and Charles Bannerman (born in Kent) opened the innings and scored the first of all Test match centuries, 165, then received a blow on the hand and retired hurt. Absit Omen! The England bowlers on this inaugural occasion were Alfred Shaw, Ulyett, Hill, Southerton, Armitage, Lillywhite and Tom Emmett; but it has never been reported what Emmett said about it all.

This score by Bannerman of 165 remained unbeaten in a Test match until 1884, when at Kennington Oval W. L. Murdoch amassed 211 out of an Australian grand total of 551. Already correspondence was breaking out in the newspapers protesting against the over preparation of wickets, and the passing of the game in general to the dogs. Ten years were to elapse before Murdoch's 211 was approached in a Test match by another Australian, S. E. Gregory, who reached 201 at Sydney in one of the most astonishing games of them all.

Australia batted first and lost three wickets for 21 to Tom Richardson, who, on this tour when A. E. Stoddart was the captain, rose to unprecedented and never since surpassed heights of endurance and grandeur of speed and action. Iredale and Giffen held Richardson at bay in a menacing hour; and the spearhead of Richardson's attack was supported by Lockwood, Peel, Briggs and Brockwell. Sadly and curiously, Lockwood was a failure in Australia, and while Australia were winning through from 21 for three to 586 all out he bowled only three overs. The Australian aggregate was the highest so far to stagger human eyesight and power of computation in Test cricket.

England could naturally find comfort only in resignation. Test matches in those days were played to a finish in Australia; there was no escape from defeat for one side or the other; every ball, from the first to the last, was a nail in somebody's coffin. England lost seven for 211 in the first innings; then Johnny Briggs flashed his bat and L. H. Gay, wicket-keeper, obtained 33, so that the total amounted to 325, 261 in arrears.

Now we come to the main clue to this wonderful struggle. In 1894 the follow-on was not optional; the side with the legal, or rather illegal, deficit was obliged to bat again, the conquering fielding side had no choice but to go into the tropical Australian sun once more. So it happened now. The Australians, dead-tired from labours extending from Saturday afternoon to the following Wednesday, could scarecly be blamed if England's second innings reached 437 and left them with 177 to make for victory.

Still there was no cause for Australian worry. The wicket remained a batsman's heaven. At the end of the fifth day Australia were 113 for two; only 64 needed, a mere formality for the next morning's performing. But during the night a terrific thunderstorm flooded Sydney. For reasons peculiar and amusing, it was not heard by Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs. The next day dawned hot and glorious.

As Briggs and Peel journeyed to the ground, under a blue sky, the storm had apparently left not a wrack behind. But according to professional habit Johnny and Bobby, still clad in their serge and watch-chains, went into the middle to inspect the wicket. Bobby looked at the turf hard, stooped down knees bent and pressed it with a finger, then got up and from behind his hand whispered to Briggs, "Hey, Johnny, somebody's bin watterin wicket in neight. We'll have'em out in a jiffy!" Australia collapsed for 166 and England won, in the face of Australia's first innings record score of 586, by ten runs. All the world wondered. It was a world capable of feeling wonder, a world unstaled by too much achievement, by too much abnormal skill cultivated by neglect of imagination and relish of risk.

Stoddart's invasion of Australia in 1894-95 belongs to the Homeric poetry of cricket. The struggle was gigantic fought in scourging heat. After the miracle of the ten runs victory at Sydney, Giffen won the toss in the second game of the rubber after Christmas at Melbourne. On a sticky pitch England were shot out for 75. Nowadays a captain might act with more canniness than Giffen on this occasion; the wicket had not lost venom when the Australians themselves batted, and they could score only 123. On a good pitch England retaliated to the tune of 475, Stoddart 173, in five and a half hours, a stern act of self-discipline--for Stoddart! Australia, one down in the rubber already--and if they lost this game England would be two up and three to play--went determinedly after 428 runs necessary for her triumph

At one period their score stood at 190 for one. Brockwell, of Surrey, a pretty harmless bowler in Australia, was visited by plenary inspiration at the pinch, broke the back of the Australian batting, and England won by 94. In England's second innings of 475 George Giffen bowled 78 overs and two balls for 155 runs and six wickets. In this match Richardson and Peel each bowled 60 overs in Australia's second innings. In the previously played Test at Sydney, Giffen had bowled 75 overs in an innings.

The climax of this rubber of 1894-95 gathered a momentum almost insupportable by lovers of the game scattered far and wide, with no radio messages to tell the news minute by minute. Australia won the third and fourth games. Two all. So on March 1 people journeyed thousands of miles to Melbourne and on a flawless turf saw Australia, first at the wicket, score 414, with no individual century but five contributions of 40 and over. In spite of one of A. C. MacLaren's finest innings, an imperial 120 until he hit his own stumps, England fell just 29 behind Australia's 414. The tug-of-war was torment to contemplate as night interrupted the action on its inevitable way to somebody's funeral. Magnificent bowling by Tom Richardson turned the scale. He took six for 104, and England would win the rubber if, in a fourth innings, 297 could be got. The beginning of the task was dreadful: Brockwell and Stoddart succumbed for 28. The position was desperate, narrates Wisden, but at this point Albert Ward and J. T. Brown made the stand which, if they never do anything more, will suffice to keep their names famous in the history of English and Australian cricket. By wonderful batting--Ward's patient defence being scarcely less remarkable than Brown's brilliant hitting--they put on 210 together, their partnership practically ensuring the success of their side. England won the rubber by six wickets; and in the depths of a London winter the Pall Mall Gazette performed a national service in arranging every afternoon for cable messages, keeping people in closer touch with cricket in Australia than they had ever been before....

Mr. Roy Webber, in his monumental and valuable book on Test Cricket, expresses the opinion that Tests In Australia before 1903-04 cannot by any stretch of imagination be compared to those played since. Not by any stretch? The players in Stoddart's titanic rubber included, besides himself, MacLaren, Ward, Brown, Peel, Lockwood, F. G. J. Ford, Briggs, Richardson, G. H. S. Trott, George Giffen, Iredale, Gregory, Joe Darling, Albert Trott, Turner. Where one or two only of these names gather together in memory or history it is a Test match--even as it was only the truth spoken by Sarah Bernhardt when, taken to task for appearing in Wanamaker's store in New York, she said, "Wherever I act is a theatre."

We cannot measure one against another the cricketers of different periods; each master was great in the conditions of his day and according to his solution of the problems then presented to him. It is doubtful if a finer innings has ever been played in any Test match than Arthur Shrewsbury's 164 at Lord's against Australia in July 1886; or a more magical one than Ranjitsinhji's 154 not out when at Old Trafford in 1896 he flicked the fast bowling of Ernest Jones from the lobe of his left ear; or a more stupendous innings than Jessop's 104 at The Oval in 1902; or a more brilliant and skilful innings than J. T. Tyldesley's 62 on a sticky Melbourne pitch in 1904, made out of England's 103 all out; or a more consummately governed innings than any Test century of Jack Hobbs; or a calmer and more confident one than Sutcliffe's 161 at The Oval in 1926 begun on a bad wicket and ended by Mailey in the day's last over; or a more audacious one than Macartney's century before lunch at Leeds in 1926; or a more ruthlessly directed and inevitable innings than Bradman's triple hundred in one and the same day at Leeds in 1930; or a more far-seeing innings than Hutton's 364 at The Oval in 1938; or a nobler one than Hammond's 240 at Lord's the same season, when the whole ground, members and crowd, rose to him as he walked at the end of it up the pavilion steps; or a more heroic innings than Compton's disciplined fight in the dark against the Australians at Nottingham in 1948; or a more decisively challenging innings than Trumper's century before lunch at Old Trafford in 1902; or an innings more thrillingly and handsomely shot through and through with the romantic colours of lost causes than McCabe's 232 at Trent Bridge in 1938.

So we could continue, with no compulsion to make arbitrary comparisons. The glory of the game is that its genius, whenever it changes--as change it must if it is to survive and evolve--remains the same creative thing. Spofforth or Barnes or O'Reilly or Tate or Bedser; Grace or Hobbs; Bradman or Fry; Tyldesley or Compton; Hayward or Hammond; Albert Ward or Hutton; Lockwood or Larwood; Richardson or E. A. McDonald; Peel or Briggs; Rhodes or Verity; Oldfield or Evans; J. M. Gregory or Keith Miller; they are not competitors for renown or for our admiration. They are planets in conjunction, equal in distinction and immortality. Amurath unto Amurath. Eternal sunshine falls on them all.

Who of English batsmen can boast the highest average in Test matches against Australia? Not Hobbs, not Sutcliffe, and not Hutton. None other than Eddie Paynter, who in eleven innings, four times not out, scored 591 with the figures 84.42. Only Bradman is statistically his peer, with 5,028 runs, average 89.78. Prodigious! In both cases! The best bowler, English or Australian, is George Lohmann, 77 wickets at 13.01 each, followed by C. T. B. Turner, 101 wickets at 16.53 each. One of the most remarkable performances by a bowler in the same rubber is seldom remembered to-day or commented upon; I refer to J. N. Crawford's 30 wickets, average 24.73, in the Australian summer of 1907-08. Crawford was then 21 years old, and against batsmanship seldom equalled even in Australia for skill and experience and in the teeth of heavy totals he dismissed Trumper (three times), M. A. Noble (three times), Clem Hill (twice), Warwick Armstrong (five times), S. E. Gregory (twice), and Macartney (twice).

We are usually inclined to discuss, praise and remember Macartney as one of the three or four most brilliant stroke players of all time, just as we dwell on the lovely style of Woolley's batting. We forget that each at one point of his career was good enough to have been chosen to play Test cricket purely and simply as a left-arm slow spinner. At Leeds in 1909 Macartney took eleven of England's wickets in the match for 85 runs. In 1912, at The Oval, Woolley overthrew ten Australians, in two innings, for 49. The bowling of S. F. Barnes before lunch at Melbourne is, of course, historical and comprehensible; for Barnes was capable of anything. But it would be difficult to demonstrate that in all the matches played between England and Australia anybody has excelled, for endurance, skill and power, faith, service, greatness of heart and beauty of physical motion and poise, the bowling here and at the other end of the earth of Tom Richardson:--

O.M.R.W.
Sydney, December 189453.5131815
Melbourne, January 1895266575
60101002
Adelaide, January 1895214755
31.28893
Melbourne, March 18954271383
45.271046
Lord's, June 189611.33396
47151345
Old Trafford, July 189668231687
42.316766

One could go on indefinitely recalling the great matches and the great players of England and Australia over the last seventy-five years. The subject is worthy of a whole Wisden in itself. I know I have omitted many names and done justice to few, but those whose taste lies in figures should find plenty to interest them in the details that follow.

© John Wisden & Co