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The Australians rendered a great service to English cricket by staying in the country after the World Cup and playing four Test Matches, for the tour was not in the original calendar. It was arranged a few months earlier while the M.C.C. team were in Australia and losing heavily. The presence of the two controversial and hostile fast bowlers Lillee and Thomson ensured the attendance of large crowds and as the summer was one of the hottest for many years were closed on several occasions.
I do not propose to deal here with the performances of the Australians in the memorable one-day World Cup-ties. These have already been covered in the preceding section. Over a period of nearly two and a half months the Australians took part in fifteen first-class matches and were generally very popular visitors. Naturally, their main objective was to retain The Ashes, which they had deservedly won back earlier in the year from Denness's side. That they did hold England at bay was due to two factors, their luck in catching England on a rain affected wicket in the First Test at Edgbaston and the loss of the fifth day at Headingly where England had a good chance of winning had not vandals ruined the pitch.
I doubt whether any previous Australian side has brought together such a galaxy of genuine pace bowlers for besides Lillee and Thomson, there were Walker, Gilmour and Hurst. Many other captains would have envied Ian Chappell's problem of whom to leave out. Little was seen of the capable, but unfortunate Hurst, who never got into the Test side, and even such a superb all-rounder as the left-handed Gilmour appeared in only one Test.
Of the sixteen players in the party, nine were newcomers to Britain; six under twenty-five and the oldest twenty-eight. These included six bowlers, Thomson, Walker, Gilmour, Hurst, Mallett and Higgs, three opening batsmen, McCosker, Turner and Laird and the reserve wicket-keeper, Robinson. The Australians have always believed in catching their players young when they are fit and in form even if only with the minimum of first-class experience.
Indeed, the new batsmen ,strangers to English conditions, usually acquitted themselves well, notably McCosker, but the fast bowlers laboured on very different surfaces than the rock-like ones of their own country. It was even suggested in some quarters that the groundsmen deliberately made soft pitches for the Australian matches, which was absurd. The same type of pitches prevailed almost everywhere for County Championship matches. There had been constant rain in Britain for almost twelve months. Not only had the water gone very deep down, but in the autumn and early spring much preparatory work on the grounds could not be done.
So the batsmen who opposed the Australians were never subjected to the pace and bounce off the pitch, nor the hard knocks that were suffered by the M.C.C. team in the Southern hemisphere.
Nevertheless, one enjoyed the beautiful rhythm of Lillee as he moved along his approach to the crease and his perfect delivery. No longer did he nearly tear himself to pieces as he did three years earlier. Now he had absolute control of length and direction as well as ability to move the ball either way off the seam. His was a great feat to take 21 wickets in the four Tests. Thomson, in his quest for lightning speed, had some very wild spells, especially early in the tour. Sometimes he fared better in the second spell when some of the shine had gone from the ball. Ian Chappell never forgot the damage he had done in Australia to England's cause, and he never forsook him despite all the reliability shown by Walker and Gilmour. At Hove, Gilmour showed his prowess as a punishing batsman when he hit five 6's and fourteen 4's while racing to 102 in only seventy-five minutes. No wonder Sussex tried to persuade him to join them, but he turned down the offer after giving it serious consideration.
When the accent on speed there was little scope for the two slow bowlers, Mallett and Higgs, especially as Ian Chappell could himself provide leg-spin when he felt inclined. In the Tests, Mallett's off-spin proved expensive - nine wickets for 42.88 runs each - but both he and Higgs were given plenty to do in the county games.
Looking at the batting, Australia owed most to Ian Chappell and McCosker, who figure amongst The Five Cricketers of The Year. In eleven matches all told, each topped 1,000 runs and excelled in the Tests. Most disappointing was the lack of success in the Tests of Greg Chappell. Whereas in five matches in 1972 he hit 437 runs, average 48.55, now in four matches against the England bowlers he made only 106 runs, average 21.20. Walters, too, seldom did himself justice in the Tests, yet he headed the full averages with 784 runs, average 60.30.
The steadiness of Ross Edwards saved some critical situations, notably in the First Test at Edgbaston, but mainly Australia suffered from uncertainty at the beginning of their innings after McCosker and Turner had begun with 80 in the only innings at Edgbaston. In their anxiety to find a place for Gilmour in the third Test at Headingly, where he wrecked England in the World Cup, Australia omitted the left-handed Turner and promoted Marsh as partner to McCosker, but this did not work well and so Turner, by now losing confidence, returned at The Oval, only to fail in both innings. A neat right-hander, Laird did not figure in the Tests, but in other matches he impressed with his driving and hooking.
True to their reputation, the Australians were brilliant in the field. Sometimes there was an array of six in the slips including Mallett, a superb gully, the two Chappells, McCosker and Walters, all splendid in holding hot catches, with Turner and Gilmour close on the leg side and Edwards a host in himself at cover and as swift as a hawk in getting to the ball. And far away behind the stumps was the ever reliable Marsh, leaping hither and thither when the pace men were wide of the mark.
Behind the scenes was the popular manager, Mr. Fred Bennett with David McErlane, physiotherapist and once again, David Sherwood as scorer. The presence of Mr. Tim Caldwell, chairman of the Australian Board of Control, was also welcome and must surely have strengthened the link between the two countries.
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