England 0 Australia 3

The Australians in England, 1921

The Australians had a wonderful tour, and narrowly missed setting up a record that might have stood for all time. When on the 27th of August, they stepped on to the field at Eastbourne to play the England eleven A. C. MacLaren had got together it seemed any odds that, surpassing the doings of all previous teams in this country, they would go home unbeaten. As every one knows, they met with an outstanding reverse, and after that, in their last match, they were defeated for a second time. No doubt they were much disappointed at the change that came over their fortunes, but they had done more than enough for fame. Their final record was almost exactly the same of that of the great team of 1902, the only difference being that they won 22 matches out of 38, and Darling's famous side 23 out of 39. Both teams lost two matches and left 14 unfinished.

A comparison between the two records, however, would be very delusive. . Last year the summer was one of almost unprecedented sunshine, whereas in 1902 we had an enormous rainfall, and the really fine days were comparatively few. Thus the conditions of play were utterly dissimilar. Whether the team of 1902 would have been quite so formidable in a dry season is a question difficult to answer, and one can only conjecture as to how Armstrong's side would have got on in a wet summer. On one point, however, there can be no dispute. In the tour of nearly twenty years ago the Australians were put to a far more searching test, English cricket in 1902 being overwhelmingly strong, and last summer lamentably weak.

Allowing for all this, however, one need not hesitate to say that Armstrong had a great side. Their record speaks for itself, but the statistics on the printed page give a poor idea of the consummate ease with which for four months they crumpled up nearly all the teams that opposed them. Only twice did they look at all likely to be beaten, and on one of those occasions they were without Warren Bardsley and Macartney. I cannot think that they were estimated at quite their true value. Even when they were winning match after match there was a tendency in many quarters to underrate them and explain away their victories.

One critic - usually the soundest of judges - went so far as to say that their bowling was weaker than that of almost any previous team from Australia. This, in face of the repeated failures of our batting, was rather an astonishing pronouncement. I am inclined, personally, to take perhaps too flattering a view of them. They seemed to me to be fully equipped at every point for matches on fast wickets, and even if English cricket had been up to its pre war standard I think they would have been terribly hard to beat. It was, of course, a strong testimony in their favour that with exactly the same body of players, barring Kelleway, they won all the Test matches at home against the M.C.C.'s team. That remarkable series of victories told us plainly what we should have to face.

Given fine weather the Australians as a side had not a weak point of any kind. They could all get runs, even the last man being capable on occasion of hitting up twenty or thirty; their fielding was magnificent; and above all they possessed in Gregory and McDonald two very fast bowlers of the highest class. It was the fast bowling more than anything else that brought about our undoing. Never before have English batsmen been so demoralised by great pace. The Test Matches at Nottingham and Lord's were both practically lost in the first half hour, Gregory in one and McDonald in the other neutralising all the advantage we had gained by winning the toss. The two bowlers had fine records for the whole tour, but their value to the side was far greater than their figures, good as they are, would suggest. I am sure that some of our batsmen, knowing they would have to face Gregory, were out before they went in. Since Knox bowled his fastest in 1906 I have never seen batsmen so obviously intimidated. McDonald struck one as being really the finer bowler of the two, but Gregory was by far the more alarming. Gregory was apt when he pitched at all short to get up dangerously high, but old cricketers were inclined to be sarcastic when they saw batsmen frightened by long hops. They perhaps remembered Mr. R.D. Walker's dictum years ago that the batsman who could not take care of himself ought not to play cricket. Finding the effect of the rising ball so great Gregory would have been almost more than human if he had not now and again dropped one short with intention.

To back up McDonald and Gregory the Australians had in Armstrong himself and Mailey two right-handed slow bowlers so strongly contrasted in method as two men could be. Armstrong had an almost miraculous accuracy of pitch, combined at times with enough break to beat the bat, whereas Mailey, varying very much in length and constantly asking to be hit to the ring, relied to an enormous extent on his finger spin. Armstrong headed the bowling averages of the whole tour with 106 wickets for just over 14 and a half apiece - remarkable figures for a slow bowler in such a summer - and Mailey, though more expensive, took 146 wickets. Except that Hendry sent down 52 overs the four leading bowlers, though Mailey was left out at Nottingham and Manchester, carried the side through the Test matches. Few critics seemed to think much of Mailey, but he was always getting wickets, and it was a strong proof of his excellence that batsmen who tried to make light of him always came to grief, his spin resulting at once in false hits and easy catches. A striking instance of this occurred in the final match at Scarborough.

Apart from the leading men and Hendry there was another bowler of good reputation in Ryder, but he was not given much chance, only bowling 229 overs during the tour. Apparently Armstrong had not much faith in him. In view of his tremendous value as a batsman Macartney was put on as little as possible, but as a left handed bowler he would have had to do more work in a wet summer. It puzzles me that anyone should have thought the Australian bowling other than first rate. The strongest evidence of its high quality could be found in the meagre scores obtained in a season of huge run getting by most opposing sides. Still, I think that our batsmen flattered Armstrong by playing him with such exaggerated caution. In old days a Hornby or a C. I. Thornton would have knocked him off his length or perished in the attempt.

As to the collective excellence of the Australian batting the figures speak for themselves. Of the fifteen players all but two could show an average for the whole tour of over 20, the records ranging from Macartney's 58 to Carter's 21, and even Mailey and McDonald, with a liberal allowance of not outs to their credit, managed to reach double figures. This run-getting power shows what a task it was for any team to beat Australia in three days on a hard wicket. Macartney and Bardsley stood right out above their fellows, and were the only batsmen who could be described as great, Armstrong, though he hit up three hundreds in the last few weeks of the tour, failing for a long time to approach the wonderful form he had shown at home against the M.C.C.'s team. For this, however, there was an easy explanation, as, apart from the anxieties of captaincy, he had to do a great deal more bowling than he had expected.

Of Macartney and Bardsley it would be impossible to say too much. Each in his way was magnificent. Playing from the 30th of April to the 10th of September, with very few intervals for rest, neither batsman seemed to know what it was to be even temporarily out of form. Both, of course, had occasional failures, but they were so much at the top of their game all through the summer that whenever they went in one looked for a big score. Such almost unvaried success says as much for their stamina and condition as for their superlative skill. Bardsley hit up nine hundreds and Macartney eight, the latter's 345 against Nottingham being the highest score of the season and the highest ever obtained by an Australian batsman in this country. There is a reluctance among English critics to place Bardsley among left handed batsmen on a level with Clem Hill. This, I confess, I cannot understand. He seems to me quite as good as ever Hill was, with the advantage of having a little more freedom and variety of his hitting. More than that, of all Australian batsmen who have come to England, left handed or right, he has proved himself the most consistent. He has now gone through three tours in England, and in every one of them he has scored over 2000 runs - a marvellous record indeed. I am not so well acquainted with his doings at home, but so far as I know he has never had a set back except when he found Frank Foster's bowling unplayable during the tour of the English team in 1911-12. He is the ideal batsman for a big occasion, starting an innings with the same supreme confidence in a Test Match as in an ordinary game. He did not happen to get a hundred against England last summer, but he made 66 at Trent Bridge, 88 and not out 63 at Lord's, and headed the averages in the five matches.

For the whole tour Macartney beat him both in aggregate of runs and average, but only by a trifle. In point of efficiency the two men stood absolutely on an equality. Macartney was a law to himself - an individual genius but not in any way a model to be copied. He constantly did things that would be quite wrong for an ordinary batsman, but by success justified his audacities. Except Victor Trumper at his best no Australian batsman has ever demoralised our bowlers to the same extent. Macartney scored the only hundred against England in the Test matches, but, curiously enough it was not one of his really characteristic innings. Taking nearly three hours and a quarter to get 115, he was at times, for him, unusually restrained. In his various hundreds against the counties he reached almost the extreme limit of brilliancy.

Of the Australian batsmen other than Bardsley and Macartney, and at the end of the tour Armstrong, I should be inclined, from what I saw, to place Andrews distinctly first, but judged by results he was no better than Collins, who was kept out of the team for some little time by a broken thumb. Still by reason of his straighter bat and finer play on the off side, Andrews, who narrowly missed his hundred against England both at Leeds and the Oval, struck one as the higher class batsman of the two. Collins made five hundreds, but two of them were in holiday games in Scotland. His great triumph was in the Test match at Manchester, when there was nothing to play for but a draw. He withstood the English bowling for four hours and fifty minutes on a slow wicket, and averted all possibility of defeat. His inexhaustible patience recalled memories of Noble's play on the same ground in 1899.

Taylor, who did not have the best of health, scarcely lived up to the reputation he enjoys at Sydney, but he often played well, and was at his best against England at the Oval. Ryder, Pellew and Mayne did not impress one as being batsmen of high class, but they were all capable of getting big scores. Mayne could not be fairly judged, as he was kept so much in the background. Ryder, considering the position he holds in Victoria, was certainly not given the prominence to which he felt entitle, being left out of all the Test matches.

Gregory, for a crack fast bowler, had an extraordinary season as a batsman, scoring 1171 runs with an average of 35. There was no style in his batting, but he hit very hard, and on several occasions pulled the game round when a small score seemed in prospect. He was emphatically the match winner of the side, and apart from his value as bowler and batsman, he was an almost incomparable field at slip.

People might argue that the Australian bowling and batting were not really quite so good as the figures make them out to be, but as to the fielding of the side there could not be two opinions. Never day after day on hard wickets has one seen such run saving. The work of Andrews, Pellew, Taylor and Macartney, in their several positions on the off side, Bardsley in the deep field and Gregory and Hendry in the slips, was a revelation and beyond all praise. Within my experience there has never been a combination so perfect. Pellew was generally the most conspicuous figure on the field, his speed in chasing the ball being exceptional. The placing of the field was reduced as nearly as possible to an exact science. Neither of the wicket keepers was a Blackham, but Carter more than upheld his old reputation, and Oldfield - the youngest player in the side - got on wonderfully well. It was quite a fitting compliment to give him his place against England at The Oval.

In a sense the record of the tour was, as it always must be when the Australians come to England in full strength, very flattering. More than half the matches were without significance, the English sides having no chance of success. People would laugh at the idea of our weaker counties playing England on even terms. Against the conquerors of England such elevens as Essex, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, to mention no others, were attempting the impossible. Still, the hopelessness of the task did not in any instance keep the public away, the Australians attracting big crowds wherever they went. In a financial as well as in a cricket sense the tour was a huge success, and on reaching home in December the players were given a bonus of £200 apiece. The team enjoyed an extraordinary immunity from illness, and no one except Collins met with a bad accident. - S.H.P.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Leicestershire v Australians at Leicester, Apr 30-May 2, 1921
Scorecard

Tour Match: L Robinson's XI v Australians at Attleborough, May 4-6, 1921
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Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, May 7-10, 1921
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Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Bradford, May 11-13, 1921
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Tour Match: Combined Services v Australians at Portsmouth, May 14-17, 1921
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Tour Match: Essex v Australians at Leyton, May 18-19, 1921
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Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, May 21-24, 1921
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Tour Match: Oxford University v Australians at Oxford, May 25-26, 1921
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1st Test: England v Australia at Nottingham, May 28-30, 1921
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Cambridge University v Australians at Cambridge, Jun 1-3, 1921
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Tour Match: Middlesex v Australians at Lord's, Jun 4-6, 1921
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Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, Jun 8-10, 1921
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2nd Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 11-14, 1921
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, Jun 15-17, 1921
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Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, Jun 18-21, 1921
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Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Australians at Northampton, Jun 22-23, 1921
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Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v Australians at Nottingham, Jun 25-27, 1921
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Tour Match: Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, Jun 29-30, 1921
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3rd Test: England v Australia at Leeds, Jul 2-5, 1921
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, Jul 6-7, 1921
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Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Sheffield, Jul 20-22, 1921
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4th Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jul 23-26, 1921
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Essex v Australians at Southend-on-Sea, Jul 27-29, 1921
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Tour Match: Glamorgan v Australians at Swansea, Jul 30-Aug 2, 1921
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Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Liverpool, Aug 3-5, 1921
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Tour Match: Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, Aug 6-9, 1921
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Tour Match: Kent v Australians at Canterbury, Aug 10-12, 1921
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5th Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 13-16, 1921
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Cheltenham, Aug 20-23, 1921
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Tour Match: Somerset v Australians at Taunton, Aug 24-25, 1921
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Tour Match: England XI v Australians at Eastbourne, Aug 27-30, 1921
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Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, Aug 31-Sep 2, 1921
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Tour Match: South v Australians at Hastings, Sep 3-6, 1921
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Tour Match: CI Thornton's XI v Australians at Scarborough, Sep 8-10, 1921
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© John Wisden & Co
 
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