Though they only suffered three defeats, the general feeling of the Australians with regard to the tour of 1905 was one of disappointment. The reason for this is not far to seek. The plan, which in this country only dates from 1899, of having five Test Matches makes the cricket success dependent to a far greater degree than was the case in the early tours upon the result of the meetings with England, and the fact of Darling's side losing the rubber without winning one of the five matches, outweighed everything that was done in the other fixtures. There is no need to go over familiar ground and insist upon Jackson's extraordinary luck in winning the toss upon all five occasions. Even making the most liberal allowance for this good fortune, the play pointed to the superiority of England, and this, I believe, the Australians themselves admitted, though they naturally thought they would have got on far better if they had once or twice had the advantage of batting first.
In comparing the sides that met in the Test Matches, it must be remembered that the Englishmen were only twice in a position of danger in the five games - on the first day at Nottingham and the last morning at The Oval. They won two matches, and in the three left unfinished they had much the best of the position. Thanks to the fine batting, Jackson put the closure rule in force three times, and in all probability he would have been able to take the same course at Lord's if cricket had been possible on the last day. Still, even the most patriotic of English cricketers would hardly contend that there was so much difference between the sides as the statistics of the Test Matches would suggest. It so happened that the English batsmen, with Jackson easily first, did themselves full justice on these all-important occasions, whereas the best of the Australians, though capable of getting any number of runs in ordinary matches, were for the most part curiously unsuccessful. Trumper furnished the most striking example of failure where a big innings meant so much, his highest score in the five matches being only 31. Leaving aside Duff's long score at The Oval, Darling was the finest batsman on the side in the Test games, playing superb cricket under very trying conditions. Nothing more remarkable than his hitting at Manchester was seen during the whole season.
Apart from the matches with England, the Australians had a brilliant tour. Indeed, if they could be judged by their doings against the counties alone, they might be placed on a level with the strongest of their predecessors. The only match they lost to a county was the first one with Essex, and on that occasion they ventured to take the field with far less than their full strength. Moreover, the players were stale and tired after a long journey from Dublin. Of the other matches, the only one they ought to have lost was the return with Surrey, and though they had the worst of the position against Yorkshire at Bradford, they never stood in any real danger of being beaten. Armstrong's bowling won the return match with Surrey, but the county would comfortably have avoided defeat if the batsmen had kept their heads at the finish.
The Australians stood at their highest point in public estimation when at the end of May they played the first of the Test matches. During the previous ten days they had in most decisive fashion beaten the Gentlemen of England, Yorkshire, and Lancashire, and nothing seemed impossible to them. Nearly all the men were in form, and the bowling problem appeared to have been solved, Frank Laver, who came over chiefly as manager, having developed an amount of skill with which scarcely any of his colleagues had credited him. Indeed, for a few weeks he bowled so well that for the time he was a competent successor to Hugh Trumble. His triumphs, however, culminated on the opening day at Nottingham. Being only a change bowler at home, he may have found the heavy work too much for him, but whatever the reason, he gradually lost his terrors for our batsmen. During the last few weeks of the tour, he, in a measure, recovered his form, but for a long time he was so much below the standard he reached in May that Darling made comparatively little use of him.
From the moment the selection of the team was made known, all good judges of the game, both in this county and in Australia, knew that the bowling was the doubtful point, and so it proved. A lot of good work was done, but except for the weeks during which Laver carried all before him, Darling up to the end of July felt the want of bowling of the highest class. Thenceforward, however, the position underwent a change. Cotter, after three months of failure, found his form, and Armstrong, who had had to spend a good deal of his time in merely keeping down runs, revealed himself in a far more formidable light, taking wickets in match after match.
Here we get to the most debatable point in connection with the whole tour. Darling is one of the best of captains, but in the light of subsequent events I cannot help thinking that his policy with regard to Armstrong's bowling in the Test matches, prior to the final game at The Oval, was a mistaken one. The motive was clear enough, Darling's object being to avoid at all costs the risk of losing the rubber while there remained a chance of wining it. It was, however, contrary to all the traditions of Australian bowling to play simply for safety, and the prestige of the team unquestionably suffered. The better plan would have been to let Armstrong go straight out for wickets in the ordinary way. To bowl as he did at Nottingham and Leeds was frankly a confession of weakness. For hours at a stretch he kept the ball outside the leg stump, trusting that sheer impatience would lead the batsmen to their destruction. Occasionally he succeeded, but the expenditure of time was so great as to make the cricket very flat and tedious. As a display of stamina and steady skill it was astonishing, but nothing more could be said for it. Untrammelled by this policy of run-saving, Armstrong, as the cricket in August proved, is a remarkable bowler. No-one in our time has combined a leg-break with anything like such accuracy of pitch. As a rule leg-break bowlers, even when successful, are extremely expensive, but except during the closing part of England's second innings at The Oval, when, with all danger of defeat over, Spooner and Tyldesley knocked him about, Armstrong scarcely knew what it was to be really punished. He showed what he could do at the Crystal Palace in the opening match of the tour, and it is a pity that he was not allowed to go on as he began. The method he afterwards adopted - of course, under Darling's instructions - illustrated the disadvantage of subordinating everything in the tour to the Test games.
While saying all this, however, one must not forget that Darling found his bowling resources far more limited than he had expected. Cotter, till the beginning of August, could obtain no command over his pitch, and Noble, wretchedly unlucky in the matter of dropped catches, had to a great extent lost the spin which made him so effective in 1899 and 1902. Howell was not thought good enough for the big matches, and so when Laver fell off there was no one except Armstrong and McLeod on whom real dependence could be placed. McLeod is a very steady bowler, but no one would pretend that he is good enough to be one of the mainstays of an Australian Eleven. P. F. Warner and one or two other members of the MCC's team in Australia told us to expect great things from Hopkins as a bowler, but their estimate of his powers proved to be altogether exaggerated. He was a fair change bowler, such as can be found in all our county elevens, but nothing more.
The selection of the team gave rise to a good deal of criticism in Melbourne and Sydney, and on the general play of the season the fault-finders were justified in much that they said. Judging by results, it was a mistake to bring over Gregory and Howell again, and the reason for choosing Newland as second wicket-keeper is a mystery upon which no light has been thrown. Presumably he had shown some promise at home, but when put to the test here he was a dismal failure, the varying pace of our wickets being altogether too much for him. In this place it is only fitting to pay a tribute to Kelly. Compelled through lack of support to do far more than his fair share of work, he showed undiminished skill and amazing stamina. The veteran of the team, Kelly is the most underrated man among the prominent Australian cricketers of the present day. As a wicket-keeper in Test matches he can point to an even more remarkable record than that of our own player, Lilley. The explanation of his being ranked at less than his real worth is very simple. When he came here for the first time in 1896 he had to follow Blackham - by general consent the greatest wicket-keeper the game has known - and in the nature of things he could not hope to be regarded as more than an efficient substitute. If there had been no Blackham, Kelly would have had twice the reputation he now enjoys. His skill last season was most strikingly shown when keeping wicket to Armstrong. With the batsmen vainly striving to score on the leg-side without the risk of being caught, his position was one of no little physical risk, but he took it all as part of the day"s work, successfully avoiding every danger and making very few mistakes.
The three men in the team new to England were Cotter, Gehrs, and Newland. Of Gehrs I scarcely know what to say. He came over with a great reputation from Adelaide, and it is quite likely that three years hence he will justify it. So many of our own batsmen have at various times failed in Australia on the occasion of a first trip that one must guard against depreciating a player because on strange wickets and amid unfamiliar surroundings he falls below expectation. Two or three times in the small matches Gehrs showed good cricket, and he is quite young enough to do better another time. Cotter, judging him on his form from the beginning of August and ignoring his previous shortcomings, was one of the most interesting cricketers in the team. There is no telling what the future may have in store for him. All going well in the meantime, he may be a great force when the Australians pay us their next visit. He has the extra pace so distasteful to many batsmen who revel in ordinary fast bowling, and if he can gain increased command over the ball without any loss of speed there need be no limit to his success. His improvement began when he shortened his run-up to the wicket. Before that his bowling, though at times effective, was often a quaint mixture of long-hops and full pitches.
The Australians thought at the beginning of the tour that they had the best fielding side they had ever brought to this country. It cannot be said that this extremely sanguine estimate was borne out by results, but on many occasions, notably in the Test matches at Nottingham and Lord's the ground fielding was a marvel of brilliance and safety. Noble, as in 1899 and 1902, was a point unsurpassed in his generation, and Trumper, Hill, and Hopkins did any amount of fine work in the deep field. Gregory, too, was almost as good as ever on the offside. The placing of the field, more especially to Armstrong's bowling, seemed to reach the furthest limit in the art of saving runs. Darling's one mistake in regard to the fielding of the side was his slowness to realise that Armstrong was utterly out of place at slip. The policy of preserving with him in that position after he had missed many catches cost the team a heap of runs. When shifted to mid-off, Armstrong proved himself a capital field, but at slip he could do nothing right, his blunders discounting to a considerable extent his enormous value to the team as batsman and bowler.
If asked to sum up the Australian batting in a phrase, I should say it was a little too brilliant. More attractive play from the spectators' point of view has perhaps never been shown by a travelling eleven, but the extreme freedom of style involved some loss of stability, and it so happened that this lack of steadiness, though it did not matter in the ordinary games, told against the side in the two Test matches that were lost. A great change has come over Australian batting since the splendid team of 1899 laid themselves open to the charge of being too careful on perfect wickets. The fault is now just the other way, and it was especially noticeable in the cases of Trumper and Clement Hill. Trumper no doubt felt bitterly disappointed at the result of his efforts. He was judged by the extraordinary standard he had set up for himself three years before, and for him an average measure of success meant nothing less than failure. He tried to play the same daring game that answered so wonderfully in 1902, but he was not in the same form as before, and, more than that, the faster wickets did not seem so well suited to his methods. He played many brilliant innings, but his big scores were all obtained outside the Test matches. Hill, who finished the tour in great style, would certainly have met with more consistent success if he had retained his old self-control. He was somewhat indiscriminate in hitting at the off-ball, and many a time his impatience cost him his wicket.
Noble was much the same as in his two previous tours in England, playing a more watchful game than anyone else on the side. Again and again he was the man to save the situation when things were going badly. His defence was impregnable, and, unlike Hill, he could always resist the temptation to hit on the off-side. Darling, though he too could be steadiness itself, was invaluable in another way, several times getting his side out of difficulties by means of magnificent hitting. The great batsman of the eleven was Armstrong. In form nearly all through the tour, he struck the happy medium, being brilliant without recklessness, and safe without over-caution. In point of style he has improved out of knowledge since he was here in 1902, all the clumsiness which then marred his fine natural powers having disappeared. He played many splendid innings, and to him belongs the distinction of having made the biggest score ever obtained by an Australian batsman in this country, his 303 not out against Somerset at Bath beating Victor Trumper's 300 not out against Sussex at Brighton, in 1899. Duff often played admirable cricket, but, except in the Test match at the Oval, he scarcely rose to greatness.
As the Test matches went against them, the Australians were disappointed but, though they fell below their hopes, the general record of the tour shows that they were a very hard side to beat. Financially I believe they had the fullest reason to be satisfied with the result of their labours.
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