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Opinions may differ as to the exact place in the relative table of merit of visiting teams, occupied by the combination which, in 1928-29, for the first time since the war - or to be more exact, since 1911-12 - won in Australia the rubber for England. Having had the good fortune to see all their matches, I have no hesitation in allotting to them a very high position. There may have been a teams which included players more brilliant and skilful individually but rarely has a side gone to Australia and played from beginning to end of a strenuous and in many respects tiring tour with the team spirit so admirably maintained in every engagement. They set out in September with high hopes and a subdued confidence in their ability to retain the Ashes so splendidly won in the last Test match against Collins's side at The Oval in 1926, and returned full of honours in April with the record of four victories in the Test matches and only one defeat - sustained in the fifth - registered against them during the whole of the tour. The team consist of:
Mr F. C. (now Sir Frederick) Toone, the Yorkshire Secretary, as on the previous two occasions, was the manager.
It is not within the province of this brief history of their doings to argue whether they were, with the material at disposal, the best possible side that could have been sent. No doubt there were several other cricketers in England whose claims to a place in the team could be strongly urged. The fact remains, however, that those who went accomplished their purpose and in doing so restored the prestige of English cricket to a position it had not occupied for far too many years. The team was chosen with the utmost care not only from the cricket, but from the social, point of view, and it can be said at once that both on and off the field the members of it left an extremely favourable impression wherever they went. One may with confidence also assert that few, if any, bodies of men have gone through a tour together with such splendid harmony prevailing all the time. Personally - and I was very closely in touch with them - I do not think I heard a single wry word.
A happy family off the field, they pulled together in every match like a well-oiled machine. Almost immediately on landing two events occurred which might have upset the balance. In the opening match George Geary received a terrible blow on the nose but made a splendid recovery and was playing again in less than a month. Poor Sam Staples, however, was not so fortunate. He developed muscular trouble in the back, and, after lying on a bed of sickness in Melbourne and without taking part in a single game, returned to England at his own request just after his colleages had left Sydney for the first Test match at Brisbane. For a player so keen on the trip this was the saddest of disappointments. Towards the end of the tour, when most of the men were feeling the strain of travelling, his bowling would have been invaluable.
In estimating the prowess of the side it is proper to observe that the Australians found themselves when the first Test match was due to be played in much the same position as existed in England when Armstrong's team came here in 1921. Many of their great players of the few preceding years had dropped out and it was quite obvious they would experience considerable difficulty in filling the places left vacant by Collins, Bardsley, Macartney , Arthur Richardson, Taylor, and Mailey. I have omitted in this list J. M. Gregory and Kelleway, both of whom, if past their best, were still available. These two men played in the first Test, but not afterwards, for Gregory's knee gave way fairly early in the match and Kelleway - nothing like the all-rounder of previous seasons - fell ill during the game. Incidentally, Gregory had bowled against the team in Sydney but it was apparent he had lost his former terrors for our men. As things were, Australia, in picking their team for the opening Test match, were bound to call on several of the old hands, and while in each succeeding game they improved their eleven by alterations and brought in younger players, not until the final Test at Melbourne did they possess a combination representative of the best in Australian cricket.
All these points must be borne in mind in considering the doings of our own men. Far be it for me to strike a jarring note in this respect by suggesting England had little to beat. On mature reflection I still think England would have won the rubber even if Australia could have produced a fast bowler to take Gregory's place. England were stronger in batting, more reliable and consistent in bowling and very definitely superior in fielding. Nothing, indeed, could have been finer in match after match than the work of our men in this last respect until the concluding Test encounter. In that particular game more chances were missed of getting men out by accuracy in catching and smartness in ground fielding than in all the four other Tests put together. I think I am right in saying that, previously, only two palpable catches had been dropped. The high note was struck by Chapman himself at Brisbane when, with a catch that will be historic, he dismissed Woodfull. Only a man of his height and reach and possessed in a marked degree of the anticipatory sense could have made the ground and held the ball as he did with left hand outstretched to its fullest extent.
It is my opinion that catch had a pronounced effect on the course of events in the three subsequent Tests for fielding, as Chapman generally did, at silly mid-off he exercised a most restraining influence on the Australian batsmen. Proof of this was afforded in the final representative engagement when the Australians, not only attempted, of but frequently brought off strokes they would never have dared had Chapman been in his usual position. I shall always think a mistake was made by the Selection Committee of the team in allowing him to stand down on that occasion. His inspiration to the rest of the side could be seen all the time he was playing. While on this subject it would be a big omission if tribute were not paid to the uniformly superb wicket-keeping of Duckworth. He had to put up with a good deal of barracking from the crowds but remained unperturbed and his mistakes might almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. No small share of our exciting victory at Adelaide belonged to him for, when Australia looked like making the runs, the number he saved by getting across to the leg side was astounding.
Chapman captained the side uncommonly well, improving out of all knowledge as the tour progressed. He bowled Larwood most judiciously and though he had to call upon White for long spells of work the Somerset amateur never once let him down. White, indeed, may justly be described as one of the great successes and, without disparagement to him, the surprise of the team. Who, for instance, would have imagined when the side left England that on the hard wickets of Australia he would, with his slow left-hand bowling, have been able to subdue all Australia's best batsmen? He owed triumphs to his deceptive flight and accuracy of length; and if he was not always taking wickets nobody mastered him. Moreover, his stamina was extraordinary. He had to bowl for long periods and that he could keep one end going while the other bowlers were, in turn, being rested, was a great relief to Chapman. White had his outstanding success in the Adelaide match. Better length and more cleverly flighted bowling has rarely been maintained for such extended spells.
Of Tate, it would be hard to speak in terms of too high praise. Although he found that he found that he could not make the ball lift as on the previous tour he was the one man whom the Australians really feared. He did not enjoy the best of luck, for many were the occasions when he would beat the batsman with an extraordinarily fine ball only to miss the wicket. His record does not convey to the reader the great work he did. On one stifling afternoon, in the third Test match, when Australia looked like getting on top and all the Englishmen were thoroughly weary, Tate, asked by his captain to go on and keep runs down, bowled in a style which recalled Tom Richardson's effort to win the Test match for England at Manchester in 1896. He sent down over after over with scarcely a ball that could be hit with any approach to safety.
Larwood, bowling finely to begin with, did not maintain his form in the later matches. On that memorable afternoon at Brisbane when Australia lost four wickets for 40 runs, Larwood was faster than I have ever seen him, but after the third Test he lost something of his pace and nip off the pitch. Still, whatever his shortcomings subsequently, he certainly laid the foundations of our success at Brisbane and had no small share in the victory at Sydney. Geary, if at times his bowling gave the appearance of being a little innocuous, had his great days, notably at Sydney, while in the final Test match he sent down no fewer than 81 overs in Australia's first innings for five wickets and had only 105 runs hit from him - one of the finest exhibitions of steadiness and accuracy ever seen. Whenever he was able to make the ball go with his arm, he proved a difficult bowler and he thoroughly justified his inclusion. Moreover, on more than one occasion he, like Larwood, rendered invaluable assistance as a batsman. Larwood's innings at Brisbane in a big stand with Hendren enabled England to put together a far better total than at one time had appeared probable.
Hammond, as a bowler, was not a success, but in the last Test he had one inspired period when he made the ball break and come off the pitch at an astonishing pace. He would be the first to admit that as a bowler he was something of a disappointment. Leyland never found the hard wickets to his liking for bowling, while Freeman, like Ames, did not play in a Test match. Freeman took plenty of wickets outside the big games and had real excuse for feeling disappointment at not being included in the team at Brisbane. Probably the Selection Committee thought that against a representative side he might prove a little too expensive. With Duckworth at his very best Ames had no chance of keeping wicket in any of the five Tests but he batted so well in most of the other matches and was in such splendid form that he would most probably have been picked as a batsman in the concluding fixture at Melbourne. Unfortunately, just before that match, he broke a finger while playing against Victoria.
The batting strength of the side was really tremendous. Still, admirably as they acquitted themselves on many occasions, it would the be idle to pretend that as an opening pair Hobbs and Sutcliffe were the dominating personalities they had been four years previously. That they were both very difficult to get rid of, however, the Australians had convincing proof. Nothing was finer than the manner in which they paved the way for our victory at Melbourne which gave England the rubber. On what may fittingly be described as a beastly wicket England had to make no fewer than 332 to win. Then it was that the wonderful skill of these two showed itself so prominently for, with the ball turning and getting up almost straight, they put on 105 for the first wicket. What would have happened had Hendry at slip, caught Hobbs, when only three, need not now occasion any worry. The fact remains that the two batsmen rendered England splendid service by an historic stand and made victory probable.
Even admitting that the Australian bowlers did not turn their opportunities to the best account - Blackie seemed afraid to pitch the ball up and a' Beckett bowled wide of the off stump - too much praise cannot be bestowed on the two Englishmen. Hobbs for over two hours brought all his wonderful skill to bear and, as at the Oval in almost similar conditions in 1926, cleverly manoeuvred to get most of the bowling. And he showed his appreciation of the situation by sending in a message to Chapman to alter the order and put Jardine in when either he or Sutcliffe got out. This astute move meant a lot; for the battle was far from won when Hobbs left. Jardine, Hammond and Hendren gave Sutcliffe admirable assistance and, although three more wickets fell after Sutcliffe's great innings ended at 318, the Yorkshireman's batting had removed all doubt as to what the result would be.
Beyond question, the batting success of the tour was Hammond, who enjoyed a remarkable series of triumphs. Leading off with 145 in the second match of the tour at Adelaide, he went from strength to strength, making 225 against New South Wales and 251 against Australia at Sydney, following that with 200 at Melbourne in the next Test and finally enjoying the distinction of scoring two separate hundreds at Adelaide in the fourth. In five consecutive innings in Test matches he totalled no fewer than 779 runs - a truly phenomenal performance. Hammond did not bat as we had previously seen him do in England. He exercised a certain restraint without, however, ever becoming a plodder. He knew, as we all did, that if he stayed there the runs would come. He ran no unnecessary risk and yet all the time batted beautifully. Like many other English batsmen he found it hard to get the ball away on the off-side but, even with the field placed to meet his favourite shots, he discovered means of placing the ball through the covers in masterly style. If he never goes to Australia again, he has left behind him a remarkable reputation for skill and beauty of batting.
As everyone expected, Jardine was also a success. He began with three successive hundreds and, if he had his days of failure, he played many delightful innings. He impressed everybody with his great strength in defensive strokes no less than by his power in forcing the ball away when going back on to his right leg. One of his best innings was his 98 at Adelaide when all except Hammond and Tate failed. The manner in which he dealt with Grimmett on that occasion was masterly. Time after time he would step right out with his left foot and sweep the ball round to leg. He also has imprinted his mark on international cricket in Australia. Hendren batted better than in any of his previous tours, his forward strokes which in most of his innings sent the ball careering past cover-point, being a joy to see. At Brisbane he gave a magnificent display of well-judged batting, playing carefully while the position was anxious and then hitting with tremendous power and certainty. His fielding, too, was uniformly brilliant.
Chapman himself began well in batting but in the later matches was too prone to lash out at the off ball and, as the tour progressed, the Australian bowlers discovered his weakness. Still, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with his doings. Leyland, playing in the last Test match only, distinguished himself by two really delightful displays, in one of which he joined the band of cricketers who have made a hundred on their first appearance in one of these encounters. His exhibition of powerful, well-timed driving past cover-point will long be remembered by those who saw it. Tyldesley, after beginning in most promising fashion at Perth, had the misfortune to be out for a series of small scores and he, like Mead, and Leyland, appeared in only one Test match. Mead played in the first; Tyldesley in the last. In games outside the big ones, Tyldesley made many good scores but failure to find his form to begin with ruined his chance of a successful tour.
Much has been written and said about the barracking. No doubt it was disturbing but, except possibly for the foolish outburst when Larwood was bowling in the second match against Victoria at Melbourne, it is questionable if it proved any worse than that to which many previous teams have been subjected. One must always remember that, objectionable though it may appear to be to us in England, it has grown up with Australian cricket and is recognised by the public out there as part of their day's enjoyment. On the question of the umpiring, one can hold very definite opinions. Taken all round the umpiring in the Test and State games was, with a notable exception, generally satisfactory. I would also say, with perfect confidence, that G. Hele, of Adelaide, is an umpire comparable with the best we have in England.
The public interest in the tour, in Australia, was remarkable. Below is given a table of the attendances and gate receipts at the Test matches. The figures speak for themselves. Out of the exceptional profits that accrued - estimated to reach £20,000 - the M. C. C. last summer granted a sum of £500 to each of the counties and to the Minor Counties Cricket Association.
|First Test match||74,546||6,043|
|Second Test match||169,537||17,128|
|Third Test match||262,467||22,561|
|Fourth Test match||138,994||12,400|
|Fifth Test match||213,464||15,745|
It only remains to add that in Mr. F. C. Toone, the team had the perfect manager. His forethought in all the travelling arrangements and for the general comfort of the side never once failed. To him, in his capacity as manager, might with every justice be applied the words suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. For his tactful help to me, personally, to the courtesy of Percy Chapman, the captain, and to the kindliness of the whole team in making my journey with them happy and pleasant, I pay grateful tribute.
Match reports for
1st Test: Australia v England at Brisbane, Nov 30-Dec 5, 1928
2nd Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Dec 14-20, 1928
3rd Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Dec 29, 1928 - Jan 5, 1929
4th Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Feb 1-8, 1929
5th Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Mar 8-16, 1929