CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1935

Bill Ponsford

William Harold Ponsford, about whose performances alone could be written far more than the space at disposal for these biographies permits, can in the course of a busy career point to many remarkable achievements. Indeed, as a modern run-getter he easily held pride of place until his fellow-countryman Don Bradman appeared as a more brilliant star in the cricket firmament. Ponsford was born on October 19, 1900 at North Fitzroy, Melbourne, and all his important cricket is associated with Victoria and Australia. Quite early in life he took a leading position, being Cricket captain for two years of the Alfred Crescent School. After that he assisted Fitzroy Metropolitan, a team just about equal in strength to a second-rate club eleven in England. Two years' play on matting wickets enabled him to perfect his footwork and timing and, from about 1917 he played for St. Kilda for something like fifteen years. Going there with a good reputation he went straight into the first eleven. Then in the Australian season of 1922-23 he played his first game in the Sheffield Shield Competition, turning out for Victoria against South Australia at Adelaide and scoring 108.

Before this he had received some coaching from Les Cody, a former well-known New South Wales batsman and secretary of the Fitzroy Cricket Club, and Ponsford very generously says that he owed a great deal of his subsequent success to Cody. An uncle at Fitzroy also gave him much valuable advice on the art of batting.

The fact that he put together a three-figure on the occasion of his opening appearance in Sheffield Shield Cricket did not come as a surprise to those who had closely watched his gradual improvement in a less exalted sphere, and before his 108 against South Australia he astonished not merely Australia but England as well by scoring 429 against Tasmania at Melbourne. That huge innings paved the way to his introduction into the highest grade of Inter-State cricket. It was at once obvious that a batsman of more than ordinary ability had arisen, and in the following season of Inter-State cricket Ponsford made 529 runs in seven innings (once not out), with an average of 88.16, his scores being 45, 24, 81, 159, 110, 110 not out and 0.

This fine work meant that he was to all intents and purposes a certainty for Australia in the following season when the M.C.C. team under A. E. R. Gilligan was in Australia, and he more than justified himself by scoring 110 on the occasion of his first appearance in a Test Match. The only other Australian batsmen to have accomplished this performance up to that time were Charles Bannerman, H. Graham, R. A. Duff, R. J. Hartigan and H. L. Collins. Ponsford followed this by making 128 in the Second Test Match, and he finished third in the batting averages for Test Matches with figures of 46.80. He also hit up a hundred in Inter-State games and, all things considered, more than maintained his form. His early promise had been fulfilled; but he had not yet begun his wonderful association with Woodfull as an opening batsman. Compared with his previous years, the season of 1925-26 was a comparatively poor one for Ponsford for he made only one hundred in State cricket and that in the last game played by Victoria. However, there never existed any doubt about him being destined for a tour in England, and in 1926 he paid his first visit to this country. Although not registering a century in either of the two Tests in which he took part--he was troubled a good deal with illness that summer--he made four hundreds during the tour, and in first-class matches finished fourth with an aggregate of 901 runs and an average of nearly 41.

To be quite frank spectators in England were a little disappointed in him. They had heard of his doings in Australia and expected much more. However, he more than recovered his form on returning to Australia where in the season of 1926-27 he put together scores of 214, 151, 352, 108, and 116 in consecutive matches, having an aggregate of 1,091 runs and an average of 136 for Victoria. He wound up with 131 in Macartney's benefit match, and altogether had by far his best season. A year later he set up a world record--since beaten by Bradman--with a score of 437 against Queensland, for which he was at the wickets more than ten hours. Other Inter-State matches brought him scores of 336 against South Australia, 202 and 133, his aggregate being 1,217 runs and his average just over 152. When, in 1928-29 the M.C.C. team under A. P. F. Chapman was in Australia he had another poor season. He appeared in only two Test Matches, scoring 13 runs in three innings. A broken bone in his left hand caused by a slightly rising ball from Larwood kept him out of cricket for the rest of that season, but before the injury that stopped his activities he played an innings of 275 not out for Victoria. He came to England again in 1930 when he was third in the Test Match averages with 55 and fourth in the batting averages for first-class matches with an average of just over 49. He hit up four hundreds, including 110 in the Fifth Test Match at the Oval. He batted much better than he had done four years previously but, generally speaking, his great days as a prolific run-getter seemed to be over.

Still, he was thought by the Selectors to be quite good enough to come to England again last summer when, on his third and last visit to this country, he showed English critics his best form. Scoring 181 and 266 in consecutive Test Matches, he took part with Bradman in two remarkable stands which produced 388 for the fourth wicket at Headingley and 451 for the second wicket at the Oval. Curiously enough he was out hit-wicket on each occasion, just as he had been in the first hundred he ever made in Sheffield Shield matches. His aggregate for the Test Matches was 569 runs with an average of just under 95, and he headed the list, while in first-class matches he was second only to Bradman, his aggregate being 1,784 runs and average over 77. In addition to the hundreds he made in Test cricket he scored 281 not out against the M.C.C. at Lord's, 229 not out against Cambridge University at Cambridge and 125 against Surrey at the Oval so that he finished up in England in a blaze of triumph.

It is, perhaps, scarcely too much to say that English bowlers last summer thought he was every bit as difficult to get rid of as Bradman. Never a graceful or elegant batsman, Ponsford could with greater emphasis be called sound and workmanlike. He seemed in 1934 to hit the ball much harder than when he was here in 1926 and 1930, while his placing improved out of all knowledge. A delivery overpitched to any degree, he almost invariably punished to the full, while he could cut and turn the ball to leg with great certainty. Opinions probably will always differ as to his ability to deal properly with fast bowling. There have been occasions, and the writer has himself seen them, when his batting against Larwood in particular was absurdly ineffective, and yet at other times--one remembers him in the last Test Match at the Oval in 1930--he has scored off rising balls on the leg side in wonderful style. Still, when all is said and done, one would incline to the idea that he does not care for the fast rising ball on the leg stump. Far too often last season he turned his back to it and got hit, and his one real weakness in batting has always been a tendency to step too far across to the off side and get bowled leg stump. All the same Ponsford, who announced his retirement from big cricket shortly after his return to Australia, can look back upon his career with the greatest personal satisfaction. In the course of roughly twelve years he has accomplished many remarkable performances and his name will go down to history as one of the most consistent run-getters in the game. If tending towards the end to lose some of his pace he was, for a long time, splendid in the deep field and, like nearly all Australians, could throw beautifully.

© John Wisden & Co