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In connection with cricket, history has not often repeated itself so curiously as in the experiences of the last two English elevens taken out to the colonies. Mr Stoddart's second team, which went to Australia in the winter of 1897-98, won the first of their five Test matches and lost the other four, and precisely the same fate befell Mr MacLaren's eleven in the Australian summer of 1901-02.
Though, however, the actual result in the important games proved the same, there was a great deal of difference in the general character of the cricket. Mr Stoddart's team, after their one triumph against the full strength of Australia, could not in any way hold their own, being beaten by an innings and five runs, an innings and thirteen runs, by eight wickets, and finally by six wickets. In the last match they looked at one time to have a great chance of retrieving their reputation, leading on the first innings by nearly a hundred runs, but in the latter half of the match they were completely out-played. MacLaren's side made a much bolder bid for victory, for in every one of their four defeats, there was a time when they stood apparently in a winning position. They lacked the tenacity of their opponents, however, and, to borrow a racing expression, failed to stay home. It is only fair to them to say that in the fifth and last Test match, which they only lost by the narrow margin of 32 runs, the weather was very unkind to them, the wicket being seriously damaged by rain during the last innings.
Apart from the Test matches, which of course overshadowed everything else in the tour, they played two games each with South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and of these six engagements they won four and lost two. They beat Victoria twice, and New South Wales and South Australia once each, and were beaten in the first month of their trip by South Australia and New South Wales. Thus they played in all eleven big matches, of which they won five and lost six - not, it must be confessed, a very brilliant record. In one respect they were desperately unlucky. Barnes, who on the strength of one performance for Lancashire and a good record in league cricket was picked by MacLaren, bowled so finely in the early matches that he promised to be the special success of the tour, but his knee gave way in the Test match at Adelaide in January and he played no more. It has been said that if he had gone on playing his knee would have proved equal to the strain, and confirmation of this view can be found in his experiences after he returned to England, but on this point we cannot, in the absence of any exact knowledge, express an opinion. The important fact is that after the 18th of January he gave the team no assistance, his absence quite crippling the bowling. Apart from a little assistance from Jessop, practically all the bowling in the last five eleven-a-side matches had to be done by Braund, Blythe and John Gunn, and as may easily be imagined the combination was not strong enough. Braund probably bowled better than he had ever done in England, but he had, of necessity, to be kept on so long that his leg-breaks lost their sting.
The team could not, at its best, be regarded as at all representative of English cricket, but for this MacLaren was in no way to blame. When, after the MCC had reluctantly abandoned the idea of getting up an eleven, he undertook the task he found it impossible to secure all the men he wanted. To mention only a few names, private business prevented J. R. Mason and R. E. Foster from joining the eleven, and in deference to the strongly expressed views of the Yorkshire committee, Rhodes and Hirst declined the invitations extended to them. This action on Yorkshire's part came in for a good deal of criticism but, apart from personal considerations, the committee acted wisely in the interest of their two bowlers, who clearly stood in need of rest after their tremendous labours during the English season of 1901.
The side as finally made up consisted of: A. C. MacLaren (Lancashire, capt) J. T. Tyldesley (Lancashire) G. L. Jessop (Gloucestershire) W. G. Quaife (Warwickshire) A. O. Jones (Notts) A. A. Lilley (Warwickshire) H. G. Garnett (Lancashire) L. C. Braund (Somerset) C. McGahey (Essex) C. Blythe (Kent) C. Robson (Hampshire) S. F. Barnes (Lancashire) T. Hayward (Surrey).
This side on the face of it did not seem nearly good enough, more especially in bowling, to beat the full strength of Australia, and when the players left England no-one felt at all sanguine as to their prospects. The brilliant victory at Sydney, however, in the first of the Test matches raised great hopes even among the least optimistic of cricket lovers at home, and the subsequent defeats caused extreme disappointment. As regards the general play of the team two points stood out above everything else, MacLaren batted magnificently, proving himself, as in the tour of Stoddart's second eleven, a veritable champion on the Sydney ground, and the fielding was pronounced on all hands to be the most brilliant that English cricketers had ever shown in Australia. Jessop earned golden opinions for his work on the off side, and Braund, MacLaren and A. O. Jones in the slips formed an unsurpassable combination.
As to batting, Hayward was next to his captain the most dependable run-getter, and Tyldesley finished up in brilliant form after taking a long time to accustom himself to strange conditions. Jessop, from whom of course a great deal was expected, quite failed to show his English form, McGahey, A. O. Jones and John Gunn were sad disappointments, Jones being out again and again for trivial scores in the big matches, and H. G. Garnett - not afforded many opportunities - did little or nothing. The bowling, so long as Barnes played, far exceeded expectation, but in the latter matches, despite all the hard work done by Braund and Blythe, the attack was weak. As an all-round man for the side, Braund stood alone. Lilley began well as a wicketkeeper, but on the whole was not up to his best standard at home.
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Dec 13-16, 1901
2nd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 1-4, 1902
3rd Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 17-23, 1902
4th Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Feb 14-18, 1902
5th Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Feb 28-Mar 4, 1902