First Test Match

England v Australia 1936-37

England gained a totally unexpected but wholly meritorious victory before lunch on the fifth day. Prior to this match, the record of the team had been so poor that on the form it was impossible to concede them more than an outside chance of making a good show. Batsmen who had gone to Australia lauded as leaders in the recovery of English cricket- Fishlock, Hardstaff and Fagg- had played lamentably, being made sport of by every slow leg break bowler they met; some bowlers barely good enough to gain a regular place in an English county side.

Apart from the sudden finding of form by Barnett, only Hammond, Leyland and Ames had given any confidence in batting. Voce had not produced the anticipated bowling performances and Farnes had shown little of his speed and fire, while Robins still suffered from the injury to his finger. Also the fielding had been ragged in the extreme.

That England became transformed in a single night into a great and victorious side was entirely due to the example and enthusiasm of G.O. Allen, the captain; and this match will go down in history as "Allen's Test". Aided by Robins, Wyatt, Hammond and Leyland, who formed the advisory selection committee, Allen sprang surprises in his make-up of the eleven, and his choices succeeded. He followed this up by winning the toss.

Don Bradman will have reason to remember his first essay as captain of Australia, for he lost the toss, was in some Australian quarters criticised for his captaincy, and he failed with the bat.

A thunderstorm threatened when play opened but actually no rain fell until the night between the fourth and fifth days. The Brisbane wicket is always lively for an hour and a half or so on the first day of a match and, though it later became easy, McCormick was able to make the ball lift during that spell before lunch. His height aided the natural conditions, and he had three of England in the pavilion with only 20 on the board. Worthington was caught at the wicket off the first ball of the match.

The loss of Hammond, also out first ball, was a severe blow to English hopes. Happily, Leyland on joining Barnett again proved himself reliable, so that the fourth wicket added 99 and Leyland, batting over four hours, made a hundred. The first day ended with England's score 263 for six wickets, Hardstaff having justified his unexpected selection with 27 not out. Many critics had forecast a score of 500 by Australia in their first innings, and this start did not look safe, though it was far better than at one time appeared possible. However, at the beginning of the of the second day Hardstaff and Robins gave one of the brightest batting displays of the match, the Nottinghamshire man throwing off his former hesitancy and making many of the strokes so much admired from him when in England. Allen, too, batted splendidly and, finally, England reached the total of 358.

Bradman had been seriously handicapped on the Saturday by the inability to bowl of McCormick who was attacked by lumbago and made only fitful appearances for the remainder of the game. At the end of the second day England's worst fears looked like being justified, for Australia's score was 151 for two wickets, Fingleton being 61 and McCabe 37. It is true that Bradman had been dismissed, caught in the gully off Voce, but the third-wicket pair looked formidable and seemed capable of a huge partnership on such a good wicket.

But on Monday, the third day, the game swung round completely. England showed fight before lunch and Voce ran through the Australian team afterwards. That period between lunch and tea was the vital point of the match and probably laid the foundations of England's success. Despite a calm innings by Fingleton whose defence over five hours was admirable, Australia were dismissed for 234, leaving England with a lead of 124 runs. Voce's ability to make the ball run away was mainly responsible for Australia's collapse.

England's batting, particularly in regard to the vexed problem of finding an opening pair, once more disappointed in the second inning. Allen again put Worthington in first with Barnett, and followed up with Fagg, but at the close of the third day they were two wickets down for 75. On the fourth day there came a further improvement, led by the captain, who figured in valuable partnerships with Hardstaff and Verity. The way Allen played O'Reilly was a revelation of concentration and masterly batting; he has rarely played a better innings. Again it was after lunch that England turned the tables, so that, with half an hour left for play, Australia opened their last innings wanting 381 to win. In a poor light, against which five appeals were made, Fingleton, the hero of the first innings, was bowled first ball by Voce. A storm threatened, but even had not rain fallen during the night, it was felt that Australia's task of getting 378 still needed, with Fingleton out and McCormick a cripple, would be beyond their compass.

The last shower before the fifth and final day's play occurred about 6 am, and the wicket, already worn, assumed the properties of a "sticky dog". In former days, fast bowlers would not have been able to get a foothold, but with the run ups to the wicket protected, Voce and Allen were able to bowl from first to last and Verity was not called upon. The Australian batting was deplorable. Badcock went out to Allen's second ball of the day, and the England captain dismissed Sievers and Bradman with the fourth and sixth balls of his second over. With Bradman's departure Australia's last hope disappeared. Half the side were dismissed with only 16 on the board, and Australia were all out, McCormick not batting, for the paltry total of 58. Voce came out of the match with ten wickets for 57 runs, one of the finest Test feats imaginable, although not a record.

Leyland deserved a lot of credit for two fighting innings, and Barnett also did well. Among the bowlers, apart from the two who clinched victory, Verity must not be forgotten. In the first innings he bowled in his best form and contributed to many of Voce's wickets. He recalled the work of J.C. White, who in 1928-29 played the same marathon role of keeping one end closed up at Brisbane. So difficult was Verity to score from that batsmen in desperation tried to get runs off Voce, with disastrous results to themselves.

Fingleton's century stood out for Australia. The placing of the field in England's second innings was remarkably good, and little fault could be found with Bradman's tactics. England's wonderful fielding surprised everyone. Oldfield, when he stumped Hardstaff in England's second innings, set up a new record for Test cricket, surpassing Lilley's figures of 84 successes when keeping wicket for England.

© John Wisden & Co