Setting forth in September, 1924, with great hopes of recovering the mythical Ashes, the M.C.C. team, under the leadership of Arthur Gilligan, failed in their quest, Australia winning the first three games of the rubber and altogether four out of the series of five matches. The disappointment to everybody in this country was, of course, very great but, in these depressing days, some consolation could be found in the fact that the reputation of English cricket suffered no such damaging blow as on the occasion of the tour of 1920-21. In the course of that disastrous undertaking not only did England lose all five Test matches but were badly outplayed in four of them.
The team of 1924-25, the only time they won the toss, gained a single innings victory, and, if they crumpled up in the concluding contest, they played a second innings of over 400 in the first encounter, replied in the second to a total of 600 with one of 479, and in the third ran their opponents to eleven runs. Moreover, in this desperately close struggle fortune was most unkind to the Englishmen, Gilligan and Tate both breaking down at a critical point of the game. Indeed there came a period when, with Freeman also damaged, only Kilner and Woolley of the regular bowlers were on the field. Likely enough, but for this piece of bad luck and that in the matter of tossing for choice of innings - this latter especially seeing that in every instance the side winning the toss won the game - the Ashes would have been recovered, but that is only a speculation. The fact remains that despite a victory in the one game played out between the two countries in the course of the Triangular Tournament of 1912, England have enjoyed no triumphant season with Australia since P. F. Warner's second team went out in 1911-12 and won four matches out of five.
While success in the great object of the tour was not achieved, it is gratifying to reflect that the team bore themselves so well on nearly all the big occasions. How the side went to pieces before Grimmett in the last Test even the players themselves could not explain. Still this was the only serious blot in the history of a great effort to wrest the supremacy from Australia. There was further matter for satisfaction in the fielding of the side. Four years previously faulty fielding had played no inconsiderable part in bringing about so sorry a record. Last winter it was generally agreed that the honours in this department of the game rested with the Englishmen. There was not, however, that solidity about the batting that could have been desired, the side on several occasions finishing tamely after a great start, while time and again the contrast between the failure of the English tail and the way in which Australia batted down to the last man was most marked.
Unevenness in this respect might not have been fatal had the M.C.C., when choosing the side, included a steady medium-paced bowler to share the heavy strain with Tate. There was never great probability that Gilligan, after the injury he had sustained in the previous summer, would prove effective in the long drawn-out battles into which Test matches in Australia resolve themselves, and, as things went, he accomplished little as bowler or batsman. For all that Gilligan proved himself a popular captain and set his men a brilliant example in fielding. How highly his efforts were appreciated in this country was shown in the welcome which awaited him on his return. Had he brought the Ashes with him he could scarcely have been received with more enthusiasm.
Finer and more consistent batting than that of Hobbs and Sutcliffe in the first four Test matches could not well be conceived. The two men, going in at Sydney against a total of 450, put on 157 before they were separated, and in the second innings when England had 605 to make to win, they raised the score to 110. An even greater achievement than either of these two followed immediately at Melbourne where, after an innings of 600 by Australia, they started the England batting with a partnership of 283. At Melbourne in the fourth Test they were associated in a stand that realised 126. Thus four times they participated in a first wicket partnership of over a hundred runs.
Had they received better support on two occasions, the history of the tour might well have been very different, but unhappily at Sydney after they were separated at 157 the other nine wickets went down for the addition of 141 runs and following the memorable partnership of 283 at Melbourne the innings was finished off for l96 more runs. Sutcliffe enjoyed the distinction of making four separate hundreds in the Test matches - a feat unprecedented in any tour. Three of these hundreds moreover were in succession - 115 in the second innings at Sydney and 176 and 127 at Melbourne - and the other game at Melbourne saw him put together a score of 143. His performance in the first match at Melbourne equalled the record of Warren Bardsley at the Oval in 1909, and his aggregate of 734 just beat that standing to the name of G. A. Faulkner for the South Africans' tour in Australia in 1910-11. Hobbs, with scores of 115 at Sydney, 154 at Melbourne and 119 at Adelaide, brought his list of hundreds in Test matches in Australia up to eight. He never really failed in any innings until that disastrous second encounter at Sydney, and in bringing his Test games aggregate up to 2,398 he beat that of A. C. MacLaren - 1,931. Figures do not necessarily mean a great deal, but those of Hobbs and Sutcliffe are so remarkable, especially in view of the circumstances in which they were compiled, that they demand special mention.
While the achievements of Hobbs and Sutcliffe overshadowed those of the other batsmen, both Woolley and Hendren, without quite realising expectations, did themselves more credit than when they were in Australia in 1920. Whysall, Chapman and Kilner made useful scores at times, but Hearne was again a disappointment, and Sandham failed in the two great games in which he appeared.
In its way quite as remarkable a performance as that of either of the crack batsmen was the bowling of Tate who, in taking thirty-eight wickets for 23 runs apiece, beat the record of Barnes - thirty-four wickets - in the tour of 1911-12. On that occasion, moreover, Barnes had in Frank Foster, who obtained thirty-two wickets in Test matches, a colleague practically as effective as himself. Tate, enjoyed no such assistance, for if Kilner secured seventeen wickets the Yorkshireman was not picked for the first two Tests, and no one else could get wickets except at a huge cost.
Towards the close of a tour in which no one on either side except Tate had accomplished anything out of the way in bowling came the extraordinary success of Grimmett in the final Test of taking eleven wickets for 82 runs. Another memorable occurrence was that in the second Test when Australia, after losing three batsmen for 47 and having two others run out, put together a total of 600.
Outside the Test games the M.C.C. team won and lost with Victoria and South Australia and won and drew with New South Wales. The first three Test matches each ran into seven days and the two others into five days apiece. No fewer than 514,084 people paid for admission to the five great contests, the total attendance being 687,134, and the takings amounted to £65,784. Eight balls to the over were allowed in all matches, whereas in 1920-21 the players had adhered to the law in vogue in this country, restricting the over to six balls.
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