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Inasmuch as they beat England in decisive fashion- not only winning two of the three Test Matches that were played out, but having all the best of the drawn games at Manchester and the Oval- the Australians can look back on the tour of 1909 with keen satisfaction. They achieved their main object, and in comparison with that nothing else mattered. Truth to tell, the tour, apart from the Test Matches, was less interesting than most of the previous trips. The persistently wet weather was a great handicap and of the thirty-nine fixtures that made up the programme, no fewer than twenty two were left unfinished. The preponderance of drawn games, however, was not such a serious matter as it would have been in the case of the earlier teams. More and more in these days the interest of an Australian visit centres in the matches with England, all the other fixtures being strictly subservient to the great games. This state of things became almost inevitable when in1899 it was determined to have five Test Matches instead of three. The system of playing five matches and pooling the receipts has proved a substantial benefit to the English counties, but the new arrangement has brought with it unavoidable disadvantages. The Australians have become more or less indifferent to the ordinary matches on their list, their one object being to have their best eleven fit and well, and at the top of their form on the five big occasions. There is no likelihood of a return to the old system, but looking at the matter from a sporting point of view, and ignoring financial considerations, I cannot help thinking that it would be better to have only three Test Matches, with an extra allowance of time to admit of their being played out. Looking back on the season of 1909 there is no getting away from the fact that at many grounds the presence of the Australians was not the event that it used to be. Even at Scarborough in September there was a marked falling off from the public support of previous years. The Test Matches themselves, especially those at Lord's and the Oval, were as attractive as ever, but they dwarfed the other fixtures to an extent that was certainly not the case in earlier tours. I do not want to press this point too strongly, great allowance having to be made for the deplorable weather, but I think everyone felt the Australians took many of their fixtures in a less stern spirit than in former days. Of course, there were notable exceptions, the matches with Surrey, Yorkshire, Notts, Kent and the M.C.C. being played as keenly as ever.
Coming to the merits of the Australians as an all round combination, I am convinced that never before in the history of cricket has a fine side been so under rated. Even after the rubber had been decided, critics, ordinarily possessed of sound judgement, were loth to admit that the Australians deserved their success. So grudgingly was the praise for the winners, and so many were the excuses urged on behalf of the beaten team, that it was not surprising to find the English press accused in the Australian papers of being one sided. In expressing my personal belief that the Australians were estimated at far below their proper worth, I know that I am, if I may use the expression, rowing in the same boat as Mr. C.B. Fry. When the England team for the fourth Test Match was being selected, Mr Fry told me that the trouble was wholly due to the fact that the Australians had been absurdly under rated. When towards the end of May the Australians lost three matches in a fortnight, a good many people who ought to have known better, jumped to the conclusion that the tour was going to be a failure. A closer study of the three matches lost might have saved them from error. At the Oval the Australians, having had the game in their hands, were beaten by a margin of five runs, and at Lord's they only went down before a powerful M.C.C. team by three wickets, a couple of dropped catches in the last innings having much to do with the result of a strenuous fight. Moreover, the fact had been generally overlooked that in this match at Lord's the Australians, by some curious chance, included in their team all the men new to England. The slope at Lord's always presents some difficulty to batsmen playing on the ground for the first time, and in this particular match the wicket was far from easy, the prevalence of bitterly cold winds in May having parched the turf and made it rather fiery. Then as to the Test Match at Birmingham, though England won in the end by ten wickets, it was clear to impartial critics that the difference between the two elevens was not anything like so great as such a result seemed to suggest. Early on the third day the Australians looked almost certain to draw the game, but an unguarded stroke when he was firmly set cost Gregory his wicket, and as it happened his downfall was followed by the worst collapse that the Australians have experienced in Test Matches in England since 1896. To my mind there was nothing in these three defeats to make one think the Australians would be an easy side to beat. The turning point of the tour came with the victory over England at Lord's on the 16th of June. Thenceforward the Australians enjoyed a career of uninterrupted success until Lord Londesborough's team beat them at Scarborough, this being their fourth and last defeat. I think the fact that they were unbeaten for more than three months should in itself be enough to give their detractors pause. Having dealt with the matter in another portion of the Almanack, I need not here dwell upon the blunders by which the Selection Committee courted England's overthrow at Lord's. We ought to have had a much stronger eleven, but allowing for everything the game revealed the Australians in a most favourable light, as at no point were they found wanting.
For reasons that I have already explained I judge the Australians on their form in the Test Matches rather than on the general play of the tour, and looking back on the Test Matches as a whole, I am at a loss to imagine how competent critics could regard the team as other than extremely good. Apart from the breakdown at Birmingham, the batting was maintained at a very high level, the small totals at Leeds and Manchester being fully accounted for by the state of the wickets, and never, I think, in a series of Test Matches in England has the fielding of any eleven been so consistently fine. If there were any means of calculating the number of runs saved the records of the five Test Matches in 1909 would indeed be illuminating. The method of placing the field became in Noble's hands almost an exact science, the favourite hits of the various batsmen being blocked in a way that I have never seen equalled. In estimating the batting strength of the Australians, one must always bear in mind the abnormal character of the summer. The early matches against Notts at Trent Bridge and Essex at Leyton, showed clearly enough what the team would have done if they had been favoured with a season of sunshine and dry wickets. They did not have many chances after May of playing on the sort of wickets they are accustomed to at home, but in the England match at the Oval in August the pitch was perfection and, apart from Carr's success during the first hour, the English bowlers could do nothing. I thought when the names were first cabled over that the Australians had picked a side too strong in batting to be beaten in three days on a first rate wicket, and the play, whenever the conditions were favourable to run getting strengthened my belief. I freely admit that the bowling of the eleven did not, as regards individual excellence, come up to the level of the batting. No one, taking the season as a whole, approached the excellence of such giants of the past as Spofforth, Palmer and Turner, but in the Test Matches great things were done, Armstrong at Lord's and Birmingham, Macartney and Cotter at Leeds and Laver at Manchester, equalling the best performances of the old bowlers. A better piece of bowling than Armstrong's on the third day at Lord's no one could wish to see. Again and again he made the ball do enough to beat the bat, and once or twice, unless I am mistaken, he varied his leg breaks by turning a little the reverse way. For accuracy of length he remains unapproached among leg break bowlers. It is the fashion in England to under rate Cotter, the fact being overlooked that he is appreciably faster than any other bowler now before the public. This extra pace more than makes up for his occasional vagaries of direction. Macartney may not be a first rate left handed bowler every day, but he was beyond doubt first rate at Leeds, having the best English batsmen at his mercy in both innings. O'Connor found English wickets too slow for him, and was only played in one of the five Test Matches, but he did some excellent work towards the end of the tour. Still, as he was picked as a star bowler, he must be put down as a disappointment. Whitty, the experiment of the side, was often effective, but he was left out of the Test Matches after the first one at Birmingham. Noble, who seldom kept himself on for more than a few overs at a time, managed his bowling with unfailing judgement, but he had one great point in his favour. In all circumstances he could feel sure that no one was likely to bowl badly.
As regards the batting, one could write a column without exhausting the subject. Bardsley and Ransford were the heroes of the trip. Never have two Australian batsmen, coming to England for the first time, met with such extraordinary success. Rising superior to the difficulties of the soft wickets they proved themselves legitimate successors to Clem Hill and Darling. Nothing in recent cricket has been more remarkable than the fact of Australia losing two champion left handers and at once finding two others to take their places. English critics were unanimous in pronouncing Bardsley the finer batsman of the two, and with this verdict there is no temptation to disagree. Bardsley has a better style than Ransford, is much more skilful in using his feet, and in playing a long innings suggests a far more complete command over the bowling. Even when he has made a hundred Ransford does not always seem at his ease. Still, in point of actual efficiency, there was not much to choose between the two men. Bardsley came out first both in average and aggregate of runs for the whole tour, but in the Test Matches Ransford was more consistent, Bardsley owing much to his unprecedented feat of getting two separate hundreds at the Oval. Armstrong came between the two left handers in the seasons averages, a large number of not-out innings placing him above Ransford. I have no doubt he could have made many more runs if he had not had to play to orders. His mission in match after match was to keep the side together by means of his impregnable defence, and he did exactly what was required, only on rare occasions giving free play to his hitting power. Whemn he likes to let himself loose there is no harder driver in the world. Bardsely made seven scores of over a hundred, and Ransford six, Ransford playing three wonderful innings in the latter part of August. Trumper was overshadowed by the left handers but nevertheless finished up with a record that for anyone but him would have been considered excellent. I think he realised early in the tour that he could not do all the daring things that he found so easy in 1902; at any rate when I saw him make runs he was comparatively orthodox in his methods. That he is still a very great batsman was proved in the England Match at the Oval, and even more conclusively in the second match with the M.C.C. It cannot be said that Noble added to his reputation as a batsman. His defence was as strong as ever, but he was not such a run getter as in his previous trips, only averaging twenty five. No doubt, however, he thought less of personal distinction than his duties as captain. While among the new men Bardsley and Ransford triumphed as batsmen, Macartney as an all round cricketer, took the honours. Although his batting record does not look much on paper he often played well; his bowling was mainly instrumental in winning the Test Match at Leeds, and his fielding on the off side all through the tour was magnificent. No catch was too hard for him to hold, and the runs he saved could not be counted. Gregory fielded as finely as ever but only on a few big occasions, notably against England at the Oval, did he do himself full justice as a batsman. Carter, as an Australian wicket keeper, I should rank above Kelly, and therefore only second to Blackham. Fortunate in escaping accidents he got through an immense amount of work, and so far as I know his mistakes were very few. He does not stand so close up as most great wicket keepers, but for all that he is very quick in stumping. Carkeek struck me as being a good wicket keeper, but I did not see much of him. McAlister proved himself a good batsman, but he should have come here ten years ago. I think there was some feeling about his being made vice captain over the heads of Trumper and Armstrong. In praising the Australians so highly, I may repeat that I am judging them on their play in the Test Matches, when they were strung up to their highest pitch.
Match reports for
1st Test: England v Australia at Birmingham, May 27-29, 1909
2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 14-16, 1909
3rd Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jul 1-3, 1909
4th Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jul 26-28, 1909
5th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 9-11, 1909