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Although the M.C.C. team which toured Australia in 1936-37 under the captaincy of G. O. Allen failed in their quest to regain the mythical "Ashes", it is probable that they would have achieved their object had not some wonderful batting feats by Bradman for Australia turned the scale. After winning two Tests, England were beaten in the remaining three and so for the first time a side which lost the first two games of a series came out on top. Australia must be heartily congratulated on the success. It is a point worth recording that in each of the five games the captain who won the toss led the winning eleven.
To weakness in batting, more than any other cause, must be attributed the failure of the Englishmen to return victorious. A glance at the batting figures for the representative games will show that only Hammond, Leyland and Barnett had an average of over 30. The deficiencies in run-getting threw a double onus on the bowlers, but Voce did some magnificent work with the ball and took twenty-two wickets in the first three Test matches; he was definitely the outstanding bowler of the tour.
The fluctuating nature of the Test struggles gripped the Australian public and financially the tour broke all records. The total number of people who watched the five games was over 900000 and the receipts amounted to £90909.
As the previous summer in England was wet, the authorities experienced great difficulty in finding players in reliable form. When announcing the names of players chosen, M.C.C. issued the following statement regarding Larwood and Voce, the Nottinghamshire bowlers:
"In the summer of 1935, both H. Larwood and W. Voce were approached by responsible officials as regards their attitude towards taking part in representative cricket, and each stated that he had no desire to play in first-class cricket except for his county. This decision was communicated to the Board of Control Selection Committee, who have treated it as confidential in the hope that the two players might alter their attitude, and, in the meantime, neither the M.C.C. nor the Board of Control Selectors have been able to consider either player as available to take part in representative cricket. The M.C.C. has now received an entirely satisfactory statement from W. Voce, who has placed himself unreservedly at the disposal of the Board of Control and M.C.C. Selection Committee whenever his services may be required. The selection committees mentioned have now been informed that, as far as the M.C.C. is concerned, no objection exists to W. Voce being considered on his merits for a place in any representative team."
E.R.T. Holmes (Surrey) received an invitation to go, but for various reasons he could not accept it and the side was completed by bringing in R.E.S. Wyatt. So the party which went to Australia consisted of the following seventeen players:
G.O. ALLEN (Middlesex) (captain), R.W.V. ROBINS (Middlesex), R.E.S. WYATT (Warwickshire), K. FARNES (Essex), W.R. HAMMOND (Gloucestershire), H. VERITY (Yorkshire), M. LEYLAND (Yorkshire), L.E.G. AMES (Kent), W. VOCE (Nottinghamshire), C.J. BARNETT (Gloucestershire), J. HARDSTAFF (Nottinghamshire), T.S. WORTHINGTON (Derbyshire), W. COPSON (Derbyshire), J. SIMS (Middlesex), A.E. FAGG (Kent) , L.B. FISHLOCK (Surrey) and G. DUCKWORTH (Lancashire), Manager: Captain Rupert Howard (Lancashire)
Seldom has a touring side been so persistently dogged by injuries and illness as this one was. Some idea of the problems which beset Allen can be gathered from the fact that as many as seven of the team were out of action for long periods. The roubles began in the first week when Robins had the top of the second finger of his right hand broken. Throughout the tour he could neither spin the ball nor get his injured finger round the bat, but despite his handicap he often fielded magnificently. After starting with a century, Wyatt fractured a bone in his left arm in the third match of the tour and missed all the first three Tests. Ames, who during the summer in England had played little cricket owing to back trouble, fell ill almost as soon as he reached Perth and did not play until the middle of November. As Duckworth, the other wicket-keeper, had dislocated a finger joint, Wade, of Essex, who was visiting Australia on his own account, assisted the side in a few games. A broken finger also kept Fishlock off the field from January 20 to early March.
Great sympathy has been extended to Allen in failing to bring back the "Ashes" but the fact remains his team was not quite good enough. Brimful of optimism and confidence, he was immensely popular with his men.
His regime was a democratic one. In the early stages of the tour he assumed the position of a University captain, who is sole selector. Later he co-opted R.W.V. Robins, R.E.S. Wyatt, Hammond and Leyland as a selection committee. Always troubled by the problem of an opening pair, he and his helpers failed to find a solution. Verity helped Barnett pt up the best first wicket English partnership of the Test- a meagre 53, in comparison with the historic stands of Hobbs and Sutcliffe- but he did not prove himself the long-sought man for the position.
It would be churlish to criticise Allen's captaincy. During the first two Tests, almost every one of his moves succeeded instantly; a change of bowling would get a wicket, or an alteration of the field would secure a catch. No doubt, Allen had studied his opponents carefully and knew their weaknesses, and if his tactics were not always dictated by accepted principles they certainly proved very successful. Those who attributed so much of the England captain's success to good luck were inclined to overlook the many stratagems exploited by him and to note the several occasions when he unselfishly gave Voce the benefit of bowling with the wind behind him and took the other end himself. Unfortunately, on the first day of the Fourth Test Match, he strained a leg muscle and although he took a long rest he did not appear to be absolutely fit for the ordeal of the final and vital contest. Consequently, he not only bowled below form, but also dropped two important catches. Copson was not employed very much on the tour, partly because he, for a time, suffered from a strain. When he found a pitch to suit him, Copson was always dangerous. Ames, as soon as he was fit, kept wicket admirably. Australians admitted that he was every bit as good as Oldfield and so Duckworth, as in the previous tour, held a watching brief in the Tests. The trip was an unfortunate one for Fagg who, apart from helping Barnett in an opening stand of 295 against Queensland, did little with the bat, and, contracting rheumatic fever, he returned home before the rest of the party, an invalid. Barnett, Worthington and Hardstaff were the best fieldsmen next to Robins.
The weather played an important part in the Tests, for only in the fourth game was there no interruption through rain. In the first two matches England benefited, but in the third and fifth Tests the luck of the weather favoured Australia. Had England won the toss in the last and deciding Test at Melbourne, it is quite possible that the side would have registered as decisive a victory as did Australia.
This last Test, however, was not a happy one for England. Disastrous errors in the field were followed by weak batting for which there appeared to be no excuse. After Barnett, Worthington and Hardstaff had given the side a fair start, the men who were expected to strengthen the position and make a real challenge to an Australian total of 604 failed lamentably.
Actually, the "Ashes" should not have depended on the final match. England had the rubber within grasp in the fourth Test when Australia were put out for a moderate total of 288. The England first innings began within fifty minutes of the start of the second day, but the batting was woefully slow, though the score reached 174 at the close for the loss of only Verity and Hammond. At least 250 runs should have been possible that day and then England might have resumed in an impregnable, instead of merely a commanding position. This failure to press home an obvious advantage when Australia had their tails down was emphasised when, on the Monday, the batting broke down badly. Barnett took his overnight 92 to 129, and Leyland added 10 runs. Ames alone of the following batsmen made a fight, with the result that England gained a lead of 42 runs instead of the much larger advantage which was reasonably expected of the side. Bradman was quick to seize the chance so unexpectedly offered and, with a classic innings of 212, aided by good scores from McCabe and Gregory, turned the tables completely.
The cause of England losing grip of the situation when the destination of the "Ashes" appeared- even to the most fervid Australian- a foregone conclusion, was a question discussed throughout the cricket world. It would not be true to say that the luck of the toss entirely influenced the position because, as clearly pointed out, England, even after taking second innings should have won easily at Adelaide.
Some of the touring party never found their true game. Fishlock, one of the best batsmen of the 1936 season in england, could not find a vestige of form and Worthington was dead out of luck throughout the trip, often being dismissed in a most amazing way when apparently set. Allen bowled magnificently at Brisbane, but, despite Herculean efforts, was never afterwards such an effective force. Sims got some useful wickets but often disappointed when a first-class spin bowler was urgently needed. After the first two victories, England were only half a team and by that time Bradman was at his best.
The Australian Board of Control grappled with the "barracking" problem efficiently and it appeared as if the entire public had combined with the authorities in making this a "good-will" tour. The games all passed off happily and there was a noticeable camaraderie between the two teams which enabled the matches to be played in the most sporting spirit imaginable. During the few days immediately preceding the final Test Match, there were rumours circulating that "bumping" tactics might be adopted. Both at Sydney in the State match and in the game with Victoria that immediately preceded the Test, Australian bowlershad indulged in this form of attack to a greater extent than the Englishmen considered justifiable in view of the very "fair" tactics which they had adopted throughout the whole trip. Allen is understood to have expressed the view that on certain occasions certain Australian fast bowlers had employed this form of bowling too much and although he would very much regret being compelled to take reprisals he had every intention of doing so should his opponents make the first move. Whatever the truth there may have been in these rumours, there were no signs of any "bumping" deliveries during the match. For this the whole cricket world must be grateful.
On examination of individual performances, Bradman emerges as the star player of the Tests. After a disappointing start, he had an aggregate of 810 runs, in which were included scores of 82, 270, 212, and 169, and an average of 90. Though McCabe was next with an aggregate of 491 runs, Hammond had rather the better average- 58 as against 54. Owing to the restriction of his on-side stokes by O'Reilly in the later Tests, Hammond could never recapture his grand form of the first few State matches of the tour when he hit four consecutive hundreds, including two in the game against South Australia.
On England's side the advance of Barnett was most heartening. He was a fluent stoke-player with plenty of confidence and the ability to hit the ball hard, but the problem of his partner was never satisfactorily solved. Leyland, though very restrained, was one of the mainstays of the batting and Hardstaff, after an unaccountably bad start, demonstrated towards the close of the tour that high skill he is known to possess. All the same, it was the batting and not the bowling which let England down. Farnes bowled with great heart when he received his chance in the Tests; Verity admirably performed the task of keeping one end closed and took high honours for his consistently good work. No doubt if the English Selectors had known how Australian wickets had changed in the last few years they might have picked different bowlers. There were no fiery pitches for this series of Tests and the one on which the last game was played was entirely unlike the traditional Melbourne wicket. In past years the ball has "kicked" for the first few hours on the opening day; this wicket was quite tame all the way through.
In order to ensure the wickets lasting for a week, groundmen water and roll the turf to an extent unknown in England. In addition to that, the season opened at the end of a long drought which was followed by more rain than is customary in a normal Australian summer.
With regard to the other first-class matches of the tour, there were frequent complaints from Australian spectators that the M.C.C team did not regard these fixtures seriously enough. Two defeats at the hands of New South Wales required some explanation, even allowing that the tourists were hard hit by injuries. The indifferent play, compared with the hard fighting in the Tests, was reflected in the gates at Sydney, which were very disappointing, falling below those of previous tours.
The English explanation was that, for the first representative match at Sydney, against an Australian eleven, Australia put a weak team in the field, and so left the way for Allen to reserve some of his key men before the Tests began.
As manager of the team Captain Rupert Howard was eminently successful, both as financial expert and social sheet anchor with Allen. He is almost sure to be invited to fill the post again.
Borwick and Scott "stood" in all five Tests and the umpiring gave general satisfaction. The experimental L.B.W. rule and the eight ball over were in force in all the matches. The following comments on the play of some of the leading Australian cricketers have been contributed by an experienced cricket writer who saw all the M.C.C. team's matches:
From the Australian point of view a significant feature of the season was the discovery of at least half a dozen talented young batsmen. Badcock seemed to be the most promising. Short of stature- like many Australian batsmen- he hit the ball very hard and resembled Hendren in his play, except that he never made the lofty drive to the screen. Ross Gregory was another recruit who looks destined to enrich the fame of Australian batsmanship and Robinson and Hassett were others who shaped splendidly. As in England, the supply of young bowlers was not great.
The way to play O'Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith, who are still at the zenith of their bowling skills, is an urgent problem. O'Reilly falls short of the great bowlers of the past- Sydney Barnes for instance- because of his reliance on leg-theory instead of attacking methods. A way must be found to score off his negative bowling for he can go on for ever waiting for a batsman to get himself out. Hammond never really mastered O'Reilly and, until some of England's younger batsmen can do that , the Australian bowler will remain a constant menace.
Fleetwood-Smith had one great match in the series, when, at Adelaide in the Fourth Test, he took four for 129 and six for 110. He kept a perfect length throughout; that was the secret of his success but it is certain that when attacked boldly, he is likely to fail in length and surely he need not be regarded as the "bogey man" that Grimmett has been on past tours in England. Ward should get more wickets in England than in the Commonwealth but he does not yet threaten to assume the mantle of Grimmett. Examine the position as one will, O'Reilly is the chief danger and it should not be beyond the ability of young batsmen like Edrich, Gimblett and Compton to find out how to hit him. McCormick was a good average fast bowler but neither he nor any other Australian bowler of similar pace came up to the English standard.
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v England at Brisbane, Dec 4-9, 1936
2nd Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Dec 18-22, 1936
3rd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 1-7, 1937
4th Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 29-Feb 4, 1937
5th Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Feb 26-Mar 3, 1937