England 2 Australia 1

The Australians in England, 1896

Though they did not succeed in winning the rubber in the test matches, the Australian team of 1896, had a career of brilliant success. Indeed, as was said when their last match ended, they recovered for Australian cricket in England an amount of prestige such as had not been enjoyed since the great tours of 1882 and 1884. To say that is equivalent to saying that the trip more than answered expectation. When the players set sail for England some of the best Australian critics were far from hopeful as to their prospects, one of the least sanguine being the once famous batsman Mr. Thomas Horan, who, in the columns of the Australasian, emphatically combated the contention of Frank Iredale, that the side would be found the strongest since 1882. The result of four months' cricket was sufficient to prove that even the best experts may at times go astray in their judgment. The teams of 1886 and 1893 were far more loudly heralded, but in neither case was anything like so good a record obtained. We are by no means convinced that, man for man, the eleven of last season were richer in individual skill than that of cordially together, and, taking one match with another, played vastly better cricket. To a very large extent the improvement was, we think, due to the change in the leadership. We would yield to no one in admiration for Blackham as a cricketer, but the experience of 1893 showed clearly that he was not well fitted by temperament to captain a travelling eleven. Anxious and nervous to a degree he lacked, both on the field and off it, the calm self-control which is almost the first essential of a leader. Not for a moment would we hold him directly responsible for the comparative non-success of a side from which so much was expected, but we feel convinced that under a different captain in 1893 much better results would have been obtained. The absolute antithesis to Blackham was Trott, who, with the exception of Murdoch, proved himself to be incomparably the best captain the Australians had ever had in this country. We have his own testimony to the fact that he was by no means anxious for the post, but almost from the fist match it was perfectly clear that he was in every way fitted for it. Of course the continuous success of his side made his duties far more pleasant and easy than those of some previous captains, but we feel quite sure that in a season of ill-fortune he would have earned just as great a reputation. Blessed with a temper that nothing could ruffle, he was always master both of himself and his team whatever the position of the game. More than that his judgment in changing the bowling was rarely or never at fault.

The team took part in thirty-four matches - the fact of their going home by way of America bringing their tour to a somewhat earlier conclusion than usual - and of these engagements they won nineteen, lost only six, and left nine unfinished. This is beyond all comparisons the finest record since 1884, and one on which, allowing for their natural disappointment at losing the rubber with England, the Australians have abundant reason to congratulate themselves. They had the satisfaction of beating England at Manchester and in not one of their many matches with the various counties did they suffer defeat, rivalling in this respect the famous team of 1882. Still though they did great things - apart from one or two failures in batting, their cricket was a marvel of consistency - it would be easy, judging from the results as they appear on paper, to form an exaggerated estimate of their merits. While giving them all possible credit for their splendid all-round play, it is necessary, in justice to English cricket, to insist upon the fact that except for their great victory at Manchester they did not on any occasion beat a first-rate mixed team of amateurs and professionals. They were beaten by England at Lord's and the Oval, by the M.C.C. at Lord's, by the Midlands Counties Eleven at Birmingham, and Mr. C. I. Thornton's England Eleven at Scarborough, and had the worst of the draw in their return match with the M.C.C., and in their opening fixture against Lord Sheffield's Eleven at Sheffield Park. While saying this, however, we must freely admit that on a good wicket they were a terribly hard side to beat. They were so rich in dependable run-getters that on nearly all occasions someone managed to make a good score, and, as will be presently explained, their bowling, in its general efficiency, surpassed all expectation. In collective ability, indeed, rather than in the possession of any phenomenal players, lay the special strength of the Australian team in of 1896. When the best eleven went into the field there was not a weak point of any kind, the only thing really lacking was being a fearless hitter of the type of Massie, Lyons, or the late Percy McDonnell. It was urged against the team that the batting, even under the most favourable conditions for getting runs, was apt to become monotonous, many of the players carrying caution to excess, and playing with far more steadiness than is necessary on perfect wickets. The charge was well founded, the batting on many occasions being so uniformly careful in character as to be decidedly wanting in attraction to those looking on. The explanation of this, however, is very simple. Of the fourteen players who made up the team, only five - Trott, Giffen, Gregory, Graham and Trumble - had been to England before, and the other men had necessarily played all their first-class cricket in Australia, where big matches are fought out to a definite issue, irrespective of the length of time they may occupy. With cricket played under such a system drawn games are of course impossible, but the advantage thereby obtained is, if we may judge from the present character of Australian batting, somewhat too dearly purchased. Time being a matter of no importance, batsmen naturally get into the habit of risking nothing, and the result is that their careful methods often beget tedious cricket. The difference involved in playing out matches often irrespective of time was fully realised by Mr. Stoddart when he took his team out to the Colonies. Whether rightly or wrongly he came to the conclusion that the steady game paid best, and in the interest of his side he adopted a style that was certainly too steady to be quite natural to him. That the Australians last season often played in a fashion better suited to their infidelity-extended matches than to our three-day fixtures can scarcely be questioned, and but for the fact that their bowlers proved so much more effective than even the most sanguine of colonial critics had expected, there would, we think, have been a considerable increase in the number of drawn matches. This over-steadiness, however, was only the result of long habit, and we have no doubt that when such fine players as Iredale, Darling and Clement Hill pay us their next visit they will be quite capable of adapting their style to the requirements of three-day matches. Allowing for the disadvantage of an occasional drawn game, some of them prefer our style to their own, Gregory and Trumble being especially emphatic in declaring that they enjoy cricket far more in England than in Australia. Backed up as it was by surprisingly successful bowling, the over-cautious batting answered very well, and from the commencement of the tour one felt that to beat the team in three days, on a hard wicket, would in the ordinary way be a desperate business. As we have already said, all-round excellence was the making of the eleven. There was not in the team a bowler of quite the same class as Spofforth, Palmer, Turner and Ferris - taking these four celebrities a their best - no batsman to compare with W.L. Murdoch as we knew him in 1882 and 1884, and Kelly, though a highly competent wicket-keeper, did not come within measurable distance of Blackham. Still the side played so well together and maintained such a high standard of skill at all points as to form a truly formidable combination. The consistent excellence of their bowling can perhaps be best judged from the fact that only England at Manchester and the M.C.C. in their return match at Lord's, obtained totals of over 300 against them, and that the only individual scores of a hundred were Ranjitsinhji's 154 not out in the test match at Manchester, Abel's 116 for Surrey at the Oval, and Mr. C.J. Burnup's 101 for Kent at Canterbury. Such facts in a season of enormously high scoring speak for themselves. We cannot believe that on the whole English batsmen played up to their form against the Australians, but the main cause of their repeated failures must have been the excellence of the bowling they had to play.

The batting averages do not give a fair idea of the strength of the team on hard wickets - the figures of nearly all the men suffering very much on the wet wickets in August. Up to the end of July the tables would have presented a far more flattering appearance. This being so, it may of course be urged that the team was not strong in batting on all wickets, but the criticism - though to a large extent true - would be a little misleading. Had the wet come in the early part of the season the players would no doubt have accommodated themselves to strange conditions but as it was they played for very nearly three months on the sort of wickets to which they were accustomed at home and when the weather broke up they were not prepared for the change. Admitting all this, however, the fact remains that had they happened to come here in a wet season they would assuredly have felt the want of a really brilliant forcing player. The best bats on wickets affected by rain were Darling, Gregory and Iredale, but not one of these fine players could, under more or less impossible conditions, rise to the height of a McDonnell or a Massie. While the sun shone and wickets were hard the batting was so even in character that there was not very much to choose amongst half a dozen men - Gregory, Darling, Iredale, Giffen, Trott and Hill being all first rate. On all wickets and under all conditions however, we certainly think Gregory was the best bat on the side, and his position at the head of the averages was no more than a just reward of some exceedingly brilliant work. He came off several times on very bad wickets, and in the England match at Lord's when the pitch, it will be remembered, was in perfect order, he and Trott gave, in our judgment almost the finest display of batting of the whole season. Gregory had made great strides since he came here first in 1890 and, for a man of small physique, he is in his way as remarkable batsman as Abel. His astonishing power of taking balls off the middle stump and sending them to square leg cost him cost him his wicket a good many times, but the stroke earned him any number of runs and often demoralised the best of our bowlers. To look at, Gregory was one of the best of the Australians, his finished style and brilliant hitting all round the wicket making him far more attractive to the spectators than some of his over-cautious colleagues. In usefulness to the team, however, he was not much ahead of Darling, who more than came up to his reputation and proved himself perhaps the best of present-day left-handed batsmen. Considering his great strength we think Darling might have ventured to hit more than he did, but probably, as we have already explained, he did not find it easy to depart from the methods which had answered so well in Australia. He has not many ways of scoring - making most of his runs by hard drives - but we have known few left-handed batsmen who were so difficult to get out, his defence being extremely strong and his patience inexhaustible. With his upright style and good straight bat he plays as orthodox a game as a right-handed man. Iredale among the good bats on the side was by many degrees the most uneven. Up to a certain point he did so little that on the 22nd of June he was left out of the first test match, but at the end of the same week he ran into form with a score of 94 not out at Nottingham, and during the month of July he could scarcely do wrong, playing, in half a dozen successive matches, four innings over a hundred. As one of these big scores was made in the England match at Manchester, he gained the greatest distinction that can now-a-days fall to any batsman. In July he made a very large proportion of his runs, but in August also he did several good things, being less affected than some of his colleagues by the break up of the weather. Iredale bats in prettier and more finished form than any other member of the team, and has no lack of hitting power, but he has one great weakness, being constantly liable to give catches in the slips during the first few minutes he is at the wickets. When once thoroughly set he wants a lot of getting out, as a good many English bowlers found to their cost. George Giffen was not heralded this time by the flourish of trumpets that accompanied his reappearance in England in 1893, but, possibly by reason of less being expected of him, he was a far better and more consistent batsman than during the previous tour. His method presented the old combination of steady defence and powerful hitting, and, except for a little extra freedom, his play was just the same as it has always been since he got to his best. Richardson had not the same terrors for him as in 1893, and more than once he played finely against the Surrey bowler, notably on the first day of the England match at Manchester. As in 1886 and 1893, Giffen scored a thousand runs and took a hundred wickets, thus maintaining his reputation as, far and away, the best all round cricketer the Colonies have yet produced. Considering the splendid form he showed on some occasions, Trott's average is a little disappointing, but when a special effort was required he was not often at fault. Nothing could have been finer than his great innings of 143 against England at Lord's, and in the return match with the M.C.C. he was also seen at his best. It may here be added that his fielding at point was finer than during any of his previous visits to England. Clement Hill, the youngest member of the team, had some failures in the biggest matches, but for all that, his first trip to England was a brilliant success, and, all being well, we shall no doubt see him again. He is a left-handed batsman of an entirely different style to Darling, lacking that player's driving powers, and getting most of his runs on the leg side. In a different way he can turn balls off the middle stump with much of Gregory's facility, and he has by no means a bad cut behind point. He is still so young that it is only reasonable to expect great things of him in the immediate future. Of the rest of the batting there is not very much to be said. Donnan, though he scored a thousand runs, and in his cautious style played many good innings, did not create any profound impression, and although he is a very capable batsman, we failed to see anything exceptional in his cricket. Graham, who was very ill at the beginning of the tour and had for some weeks to stand out of the team, was the mere shadow of the batsman he had been three years before, and apart from two or three good innings he did little. Eady, the Tasmanian player, was unfortunate in being affected by rheumatism when the season was half over, and, under the circumstances, it would perhaps be scarcely fair to criticise him either as batsman or bowler. We are inclined to think, however, that a mistake was made in including him in the eleven. His opportunities of playing in first-class company in Australia have been very restricted, and, as a batsman at least, he has a great deal to learn. Particularly in the latter half of the season the batting at the tail end of the team was very good, Trumble and Kelly - the two men who at the finish won the England match at Manchester - playing excellent cricket on many occasions, and Jones proving himself beyond doubt the hardest hitter on the side.

As we have already said the surprising point in connection with the Australians' play was their bowling. It is no exaggeration to say that nine out of ten English cricketers thought it would be the weak point of the team, and that for its sustained excellence all through the season no one was quite prepared. For the mistake they made in this particular English critics have ample excuse. There was not very much in Jones's record in the Colonies to suggest his brilliant success on English wickets, and so far was Hugh Trumble from being regarded as the best bowler on the side, that Mr. Thomas Horan, writing in the Australasian, said that, much as he liked him personally, he could not see him as a member of a team for England. More than that the inclusion of McKibbin, despite all his success in the two previous Colonial seasons, was only determined on by a casting vote in the selection committee, Giffen and Garrett being in his favour, and Bruce strongly opposed to him. There was of course Giffen to be reckoned with, but, with all his skill and knowledge, there was no reason to suppose that he would be more effective at 37 years of age than he had been in his younger days. All things considered therefore, it was only natural to form a modest estimate of the Australians' bowling capabilities. When it came to actual play, however, the opinions expressed in this country were soon seen to be altogether beside the mark. Jones's tremendous pace made him from the start very effective on the fast and occasionally fiery wickets of May and June; Giffen showed no falling off from his form of three years before, and Trumble, for the first time in three visits to England, was able to inspire our batsmen with a feeling of apprehension. At first, it is true, McKibbin was a sad failure, but for a couple of months very few opportunities were afforded him, and when once he ran into form he did great things, the amount of work he got on the ball on the wet wickets in August being almost incredible. Judging by figures - not always a trustworthy guide where bowling is concerned - Trumble did not show any great advance upon his doings in 1893, but there can be no doubt whatever he was a far better bowler. Overshadowed in 1890 by Turner and Ferris, and three years later by Turner and Giffen, he was for the first time the mainstay in bowling of an Australian eleven, and he rose to the occasion. He had a few bad days, as of course he was bound to have in such a run-getting season, but the way in which he kept up his form through four months of almost incessant work was remarkable. He said himself that he played on few wickets on which he could not make the ball turn a little, and when the ground helped him he was very difficult indeed, notably in the England match at the Oval when he bowled with wonderful steadiness and obtained a splendid average. His great strength lay in the combination of spin with extreme accuracy of pitch. It was seldom that he bowled a really bad ball, reminding one in this respect of Alfred Shaw in the Nottingham player's best days. Taking one match with another, he was on all wickets distinctly the best bowler on the side, and to his efforts the success of the tour was in no small measure due. McKibbin, as a bowler, was of an entirely different school and style. No one who attempts to get such a spin on the ball as he does, can expect to be very accurate, but when he did happen to get his length, he was almost irresistible. In a long experience of first-class cricket we have never seen any bowler get on such a break both ways as he did at the Oval in the first match against Surrey. In trying to play him on that particular day even a batsman so skilled and experienced as W. W. Read confessed himself utterly at fault. In the latter part of the tour M'Kibbin did many brilliant things, his record against Lancashire at Liverpool being quite astounding. It was fortunate for the team that McKibbin was so dangerous on soft wickets as Jones's effectiveness declined to be a considerable extent when the weather broke up. As long as the wickets were hard, however, the fast bowler rarely failed. As regards Giffen there is nothing fresh to say. He showed himself as clever as ever in tempting even the best batsmen to hit, but he was, as he has always been both in this country and Australia, rather more expensive than one expects a bowler in the front rank to be. Trott himself bowled on a good many occasions with fair results, and in the test match at Manchester caused quite a sensation by getting W.G. Grace and Stoddart stumped at the start of England's first innings. Eady - who perhaps owed his place in the team more to his bowling than his batting - did a brilliant piece of work against Hampshire at Southampton, but for the most part there was nothing in his efforts that rose above the commonplace. It was unfortunate for him, however, that owing either to rheumatism or an accident, he could not bowl during the latter part of the tour.

There is one thing left to be said and that unfortunately is not of a pleasant nature. Up to last season one of the special virtues of Australian bowling was its unimpeachable fairness. Despite the evil example set by many English throwers, team after team came over to this country without a bowler to whose delivery exception could have been taken, but unhappily things are no longer as they once were. We have not the least hesitation in saying that a fast bowler with the action of Jones, or a slow bowler with a delivery so open to question as McKibbin, would have found no place in the earlier elevens that came to England. Jones's bowling is, to our mind, radically unfair, as we cannot conceive a ball being fairly bowled at the pace of an express train with a bent arm. The faults of our own bowlers with regard to throwing have been so many and grievous that we are extremely glad Jones was allowed to go through the season unchallenged, but now that the tour is a thing of the past it is only a duty to speak plainly on the matter. We do so with the more confidence as we know that our opinion is shared by a great many of the best English players. As was only natural in the case of a slow bowler McKibbin's action was less talked about, but there can be little doubt that he continually threw when putting on his off break. It is no new matter for McKibbin's delivery to be called in question, as we believe Blackham once went to the length of saying that he would probably be no-balled if he ever went to England. Now that the evil effects of our own laxity with regard to unfair bowling have spread to Australia, it is to be hoped that the M.C.C. will at last be moved to action in the matter. In conclusion it should be said that the tour was in every respect one of the pleasantest of the series, the tact and courtesy of Mr. Musgrove, the manager, in carrying out the various arrangements off the field, being no less conspicuous than Trott's skill as captain of the side.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Lord Sheffield's XI v Australians at Uckfield, May 11-13, 1896
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Tour Match: Essex v Australians at Leyton, May 14-16, 1896
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Tour Match: CE de Trafford's XI v Australians at Crystal Palace, May 18-19, 1896
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Tour Match: South v Australians at Eastbourne, May 21-23, 1896
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Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Sheffield, May 25-26, 1896
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Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Manchester, May 28-30, 1896
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Tour Match: Oxford University v Australians at Oxford, Jun 1-3, 1896
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Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Bristol, Jun 4-6, 1896
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Tour Match: Wembley Park v Australians at Wembley, Jun 8-9, 1896
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Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, Jun 11-12, 1896
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Tour Match: Yorkshire v Australians at Leeds, Jun 15-17, 1896
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Tour Match: Midland Counties v Australians at Birmingham, Jun 18-20, 1896
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1st Test: England v Australia at Lord's, Jun 22-24, 1896
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Tour Match: Nottinghamshire v Australians at Nottingham, Jun 25-27, 1896
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Tour Match: North v Australians at Manchester, Jul 2-4, 1896
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Tour Match: Hampshire v Australians at Southampton, Jul 6-7, 1896
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Tour Match: Players v Australians at Leyton, Jul 9-11, 1896
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2nd Test: England v Australia at Manchester, Jul 16-18, 1896
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Tour Match: Derbyshire v Australians at Derby, Jul 20-22, 1896
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Tour Match: Marylebone Cricket Club v Australians at Lord's, Jul 23-25, 1896
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Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, Jul 27-29, 1896
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Tour Match: Earl de la Warr's XI v Australians at Bexhill, Jul 30-31, 1896
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Tour Match: Warwickshire v Australians at Birmingham, Aug 3-4, 1896
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Tour Match: Kent v Australians at Canterbury, Aug 6-8, 1896
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3rd Test: England v Australia at The Oval, Aug 10-12, 1896
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Tour Match: Sussex v Australians at Hove, Aug 13-15, 1896
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Tour Match: Surrey v Australians at The Oval, Aug 17-19, 1896
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Tour Match: Gloucestershire v Australians at Cheltenham, Aug 20-22, 1896
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Tour Match: Somerset v Australians at Taunton, Aug 24-26, 1896
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Tour Match: Lancashire v Australians at Liverpool, Aug 27-29, 1896
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Tour Match: CI Thornton's XI v Australians at Scarborough, Aug 31-Sep 2, 1896
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Tour Match: South v Australians at Hastings, Sep 3-5, 1896
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