England 2 Australia 0

The Australians in England, 1890

From whatever point of view it is looked at the seventh tour of Australian cricketers in England can only be regarded as a failure. Though disappointed of the services of George Giffen, Moses, and one or two other players they would have wished to include in the side, the promoters of the trip set out with every confidence of having a successful season, and it certainly did not enter into their minds that the close of their campaign would leave them with a larger number of defeats than victories. Such, however, was the state of affairs when the tour came to an end the record standing at thirty-eight matches played, thirteen won, sixteen lost, and nine drawn. As soon as it was seen that the players were not bearing out the hopes that had been entertained of them, a good deal was said and written about the non-representative character of the team, and, as a wrong estimate of the strength of the side may have been formed, it is well to bear in mind the fact that when the tour commenced the team included no fewer than nine players who would have had excellent claims to be chosen in the absolutely best eleven of Australia, these nine being Murdoch, Blackham, Turner, Ferris, Jones, Lyons, Trott, Barrett, and Trumble. We by no means wish it to be understood that all these nine players would for certain have been chosen in a representative Colonial eleven, but it is an undoubted fact that the claims of all of them would have had to be considered in selecting such a side, and that most of them would have been sure of their places. Some readers may wonder at the inclusion in this list of Trumble; but however much the young Victorian bowler may have disappointed his friends in England, he had done wonderfully well during the previous season in the Colonies, distancing all rivals in the inter Colonial matches. Of the other five players, Boyle may be left out of the reckoning, as he came over as manager rather than as an active member of the side, and never intended to play except as an emergency. Charlton, Walters, Gregory, and Burn were the experiments of the team, and Charlton and Walters at least came with high credentials, one of the best known writers on the Melbourne press prophesying that the last-named batsman would come out in the top rank in the averages. As a matter of fact Walters was a great failure on English wickets, but the fact that he played poor cricket here does not alter the reputation that he enjoyed before the tour began. The one serious mistake in making up the side was the selection of K. E. Burn. The Tasmanian player had on many occasions - and notably against Mr. Vernon's English Eleven in the season of 1887-8 - proved himself a capable batsman, but it was as a wicket-keeper, not as a batsman, that he was chosen, and only when he had accepted the terms offered him and joined the ship at Adelaide was the discovery made that he had never kept wicket in his life. How this ludicrous blunder arose we are quite unable to say, but fortunately for the team the consequences were less serious than they might have been. Blackham, despite the length of his career and the enormous amount of work he has gone through, proved to be in marvellous form, and fairly equalled his exploits of 1880 and 1882. Though he was occasionally compelled by bruised hands to give up his post, he was only absent from the team for any length of time, a severe blow in the chest at Sheffield forcing him to stand out of a few matches.

We have already said that the tour was a disappointment, and the players themselves made no attempt to minimise their failure. They fell far below their expectations, and they did not scruple to admit the fact. The more the matches are examined, the more clearly does it appear that the team added very little to the previous reputation of Australian cricket. Of their thirteen victories a considerable number were gained in matches which, barring some extraordinary combination of circumstances, they could have hardly have lost. For instance, it would be scarcely worth while to bring an eleven a sea voyage of fifteen thousand miles unless victory against such teams as Warwickshire, Oxford University, Leicestershire, Sussex, (at its present strength), Staffordshire, and the North of England eleven at Leeds, was morally certain. Deducting these six matches as of insufficient importance to have any real bearing on the success or non-success of the trip, we find that the team, so far as victories are concerned, rest their claims upon the defeats of Lord Sheffield's Eleven at Sheffield Park; Kent at Maidstone, Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, and Lord Londesborough's Eleven at Scarborough. Of these seven successes by far the most brilliant were those against Surrey and Lord Londesborough's team, for both at Sheffield Park and Old Trafford the colonial players had such an immense advantage in the weather and the condition of the wicket, that neither Lord Sheffield's Eleven nor Lancashire had, after the opening day, the remotest chance of winning. At the Oval, with the wicket from first to last in perfect condition, the Australians fairly beat the leading county at all points, while at Scarborough, on a saturated wicket, they overcame a side which, but for the absence Shrewsbury, might without the least impropriety have been called England. Turning from the victories to the defeats, the list is an imposing one, and quite sufficient to dispose of any claim on the part of the Australian eleven to rank with their great predecessors. Not only were they beaten twice by England - the continuous rain causing the third match to be abandoned - but they also lost twice to the Players of England, twice to the South of England, twice to the M.C.C., twice each to Notts and Yorkshire, and once each to Kent, Mr. Laverton's Eleven at Westbury, the Lyric Club team at Barnes, and the Hurst Park Club at Hurst Park. Paradoxical as it may sound, they probably gained more credit from two of their defeats than from any of their victories, the matches against England at Lord's and the Oval standing out as the great events of the trip. Certainly at Lord's they were beaten in the end by the heavy margin of seven wickets, but all the same they made a brilliant struggle against an eleven obviously stronger than themselves, and gave a display of bowling and fielding that was not surpassed during the summer. In the Oval match, when from the first ball to the last the condition of the wicket gave the bowlers an immense advantage, they did something still more noteworthy, and there can be no reasonable doubt that if, at the crisis of the game, the efforts of Turner and Ferris had been properly backed up in the field, the result would have been a victory for Australia and not England. Bad mistakes, however, by Trott and Murdoch entailed serious consequences, and after a finish which recalled the excitement of the great match in 1882, the Englishmen got home by two wickets.

The main cause of the failure of the tour is not far to seek, and may be found in the weakness to the batting. With Murdoch, Trott, Jones, Barrett, Lyons, Turner, Blackham, and Walters on the side, little fear on this head was entertained, before the matches commenced, by the majority of the team; but Blackham, with, as it proved, a keener judgment than some of his colleagues, told the present writer before the practice began at Chiswick Park that, while he thought the side would be strong enough to beat any of the counties, the batting was not sufficiently powerful to offer much hope of defeating England on a hard wicket. When it came to actual play, however, the batting fell below even Blackham's moderate estimate, and the contrast to the form shown in 1882 and 1884 was very marked indeed. Indeed, as a run-getting body the team proved decidedly inferior to the Melbourne Club eleven of 1886, though the difference in the weather experienced last season and four years before precludes any close comparison being indulged in. Taking the players individually, the two conspicuous failures in batting were Jones and Walters. Within a few weeks of leaving the Colonies for England, Jones played a couple of remarkable innings in inter-colonial matches, and the promoters of the trip had every reason to believe that he had recovered his best form. Their disappointment, therefore, was all the more keen when he so utterly failed to play up to his reputation. Not to mince matters, the once famous New South Wales batsman was, except on three or four occasions, quite useless to his side. Towards the end of the trip his health failed, and he was left out of the eleven, but he was persevered with as long as possible, and had every opportunity of doing himself justice. It is an unpleasant thing to say, but we are afraid that Jones's day as a member of a travelling team is over. It is likely enough that with his immense natural talent for the game he may from time to time score a long innings, but to play day after day for the four or five months over which an English tour extends demands a tenacity of purpose and an amount of self-control that we are afraid he no longer possesses. At his best he ranked among Australian batsman with Murdoch, Charles Bannerman, Giffen, Massie, Horan, and McDonnell, but of his true form he showed in 1890 scarcely a trace. Even on the few occasions on which he made runs his cricket was curiously cramped and slow, and it may be said, without any reservation, that he never really got into form. Walter's failure was due primarily to want of nerve, and secondly to an inability to master the difficulties of the slow English wickets. There are some batsmen who are essentially match-players, and others who can never do their best on a big occasion. Walters, unfortunately for the team, proved conclusively that he belonged to the latter class. He could bat well enough at practice, but whenever anything was demanded of him he failed dismally. Even in his one innings of over 50 runs - against Surrey at the Oval on a perfect wicket - he scored at a laboriously slow rate, and showed none of the brilliant hitting with which reports from Australia had credited him. Two batting failures on the side had, of course, a very serious effect upon the general prospects of the eleven, and, to make matters worse, Trott, who had been playing very finely at home, ans was looked upon as the best bat in Victoria, barely maintained the reputation he had so honestly gained during the tour of 1888. As the season advanced he played some fine innings, but his successes were counterbalanced by a good many failures, and on the whole it cannot be said that he4 came up to expectations. That he is a very fine batsman we have not the slightest doubt, but the fact remains that he did not make the advance that, in the case of a young player, might reasonably have looked for. Having done so well in 1888, when quite strange to English bowlers and English wickets, it was only natural to think that, with increased experience, he would surpass his previous achievements; and in his case to remain stationary was really to go back. If, however, Jones and Walters failed, and Trott remained there where he was, there was on young batsmen for whom the trip was a great personal success. Reports from the Colonies told us that in Dr. Barrett we should find an efficient substitute for Alec Bannerman, and for once, anticipation was abundantly realised. Dr. Barrett - a left-handed player - is an extremely careful batsman, whose slow scoring is not redeemed, from the spectator's point of view, by any grace or elegance of style, but he possesses great confidence, and a defence that nothing can tire out. In the early part of the trip the slow wickets caused him a lot of trouble, but after a time he to some extent surmounted their difficulties, while when the grounds were in good order he proved in match after match invaluable to his side. Particularly would we commend his not-out innings in the England match at Lord's. On that occasion he went in first and took out his bat - a feat never before accomplished in a match between England and Australia - and it would be difficult to say too much praise of his efforts. As will be seen in the following pages, he did many other good things for his side, but it was the innings against England which mainly established his fame. As Dr. Barrett is staying in England to complete medical studies, it is likely enough that our public will have further opportunities of judging his merits. Whatever he may do in the future, however, he was emphatically one of the chief successes of the Australian tour of 1890.

Naturally a good deal of the interest of the trip centred in the doings of W.L. Murdoch, who had returned to the game after an absence of about five years, and, as in 1880, 1882, and 1884, was captain of the side. It was rather a risky experiment for the greatest of all Australian batsmen to come back to first-class cricket after such a long interval, but the result proved that he had not misjudged his powers. It would be an exaggeration to say that he added anything to the laurels he had gained during his previous trips in England, but inasmuch as he scored the largest aggregate of runs and came out with the best average, it would be equally wrong to say that he failed. His style was as perfect as ever, and when the wickets were good he gave many a display of batting that was worthy of his best days. Especially must we mention his innings against the North of England at Old Trafford, his play in both the matches against Surrey at the Oval, and his innings of 73 against Cambridge University. His highest score was 158 against Sussex at Brighton, but that innings, though irreproachable in point of form, was marred by two or three palpable mistakes. Against the Past and the Present of Cambridge at Leyton he also made over 100 runs; but here again fortune was on his side, and the bowling against him was not very formidable. Where Murdoch struck us as having fallen off was in his power of playing on defective wickets. Certainly when the ground was affected by rain he was far less successful than in the earlier part of his career. This may perhaps be accounted for by the fact that he is no longer quite so quick on his legs as he once was. Looking at all he did for the team, we cannot see that he had any cause to regret returning to the game of which he has been so brilliant an exponent. Under the circumstances it was not to be expected that he would equal his best records of the past, and it was certainly a very considerable achievement on his part to beat all his colleagues both in the number of runs made and the average.

Before the tour commenced we were told to expect an enormous improvement on the part on the part of Lyons, but it cannot fairly be said that the South Australian batsman realised the expectations of his friends. On occasions, and notably in the Cricketer's Fund match at Lord's, and the matches against England and the Players of England on the same ground, he showed himself an extraordinary hitter - able to score at an alarming pace from our very best bowlers - but as a set-off against his successes he had many failures, and it would be going far beyond the truth to say that he sustained the traditions of Massie and McDonnell. On bad wickets he was far inferior to those two great hitters, and even when the grounds were good he frequently lost his wicket cheaply through ill-timed strokes on the off side.

Turning from the batting to the bowling, it is pleasant to be able to write in a very different and far more complimentary strain. Coming to England again after their extraordinary success in 1888, Turner and Ferris subjected themselves to a very severe test, but it must be frankly admitted that both of them came out of the ordeal triumphantly. True it this that Turner only took 215 wickets as against 314 in his previous trip to this country, but his record in 1888 was of such a phenomenal character that no bowler could hope to obtain it more than once in a lifetime. Moreover the season of 1890, though very bad, was not quite so deplorable as that of 1888, while the change bowlers who supported Turner and Ferris were certainly far stronger than before. Perhaps we shall not be wrong in saying that while Turner maintained his reputation, Ferris increased very considerably the high opinion that our cricketers and the cricket public had previously formed of him. When the wickets were really hard and true, the left-handed bowler certainly proved himself more generally effective than his famous colleague, and even when the grounds were wet and false he was able to hold his own. In the pages that follow, the doings of the great bowlers are set forth in such full detail that we need not here discuss them at length, but we will commit ourselves to the positive opinion that among the long list of Australian bowlers who have visited this country since 1878, Turner and Ferris will take rank next to Spofforth. It is no doubt saying a good deal to place them but their records in our judgement clearly entitle them to the distinction. As in 1888, both men showed themselves capable of any amount of work, and though Ferris gave way during the last few weeks of the season. He kept up wonderfully well till the really important matches of the tour had been completed. The change bowling, though, as we have already said, far superior to that of 1888, did not come up to anticipation. Reports from Australia had led us to expect a great deal of both Trumble and Charlton, but neither bowler succeeded in making English batsmen at all apprehensive. Of the two, Charlton undoubtedly bowled the more difficult ball, Trumble's straightness and regular length being insufficient to compensate for an obvious lack of "devil" and variety. On several occasions, particularly in the England match at Lord's, Lyons proved himself unusually difficult on dry wickets, but he seems to lack tenacity and perseverance.

In conclusion, we must not omit to pay a fitting tribute to Gregory. Before the tour began we were told that in this young cricketer - a nephew of David Gregory, the captain of the first Australian team in England - we should find a fieldsman of altogether exceptional brilliancy, and it is only fair to say that report had not exaggerated his ability. Of course, like all brilliant fieldsmen, he at times made mistakes, but he saved numberless runs, and the outstanding rapidity of his return from extra mid-off resulted in the downfall of many wickets. Early in the trip he gave considerable promise as a batsman, but the fatigue of playing two matches a week seemed to be too much for him, and after June he never made many runs.

Match reports for

1st Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jul 21-23, 1890
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 11-12, 1890
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Aug 25-27, 1890

© John Wisden & Co