Obituary

Ernie McCormick

McCORMICK, ERNEST LESLIE, who died at Tweed Heads, New South Wales on June 28, 1991, aged 85, toured England in 1938 as the lone spearhead of an Australian attack based on spin in the persons of O'Reilly, Fleetwood-Smith and Frank Ward. He had a fearsome reputation for high pace, which Bradman himself gently encouraged before the team arrived, but the tour was not over before some expressed the view that he was the most overrated bowler to visit England.

McCormick had been wreaking havoc in Melbourne grade cricket when he was given his first state game, against Tasmania in 1929-30. He took only one wicket, and on the second day he was involved in a controversial incident when the ball slipped from his hand as he was about to bowl. Not only did the umpire signal a wide, but the batsmen took a run without the ball being hit, and what should have been a dead ball seems to have found its way into the scorebooks as two wides. Two seasons later, in 1931-32, he came well to the fore with 22 wickets, twice taking five in an innings; but with Alexander blocking his path it was 1934-35 before he really established himself, capturing 22 wickets in Shield matches at 29.81 and winning a place in the team to South Africa under V. Y. Richardson in 1935-36.

There, in a series dominated by Grimmett and O'Reilly, he took fifteen wickets at a cost of 27.86, and in all first-class matches 49 at 18.06. When MCC visited Australia in 1936-37, he started the series explosively, extracting life and lift from the Brisbane pitch to remove Worthington with the first ball of the match and have England 20 for three when he sent back Fagg and Hammond with successive deliveries. But three overs later he was virtually put out of the match by an attack of lumbago, which also ruled him out of the Third Test. However, he played his part at Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia's recovery, and at the end of the season he delivered eleven overs of blistering pace at Adelaide to take the first nine wickets for 40 in South Australia's second innings. This left Victoria to score 49 runs to win the Sheffield Shield. That return and his match figures of twelve for 96 were career bests for McCormick.

Rarely has a touring cricketer had such a humiliating or frustrating experience as befell McCormick at Worcester in the opening match of the 1938 tour: he was no-balled nineteen times in his first three overs, and 35 times in the match. He regained enough control to produce a dangerous spell on the first day at Lord's in the Second Test, sending back Hutton, Edrich and Barnett with only 31 on the board. But this time Hammond remained to score a magnificent 240. His ten wickets in the series cost him 34.50, and in eighteen first-class matches on the tour he took 34 wickets at an average of 33.41. Back home he took 24 wickets at 35.70 as Victoria chased South Australia for the Sheffield Shield, but the war brought his first-class cricket to an end. In a career lasting nine and a quarter years he captured 241 wickets, many from the top places in the batting order, at a cost of 27.74, while in twelve Tests he took 36 wickets at 29.97. He was a left-handed bat of no great pretensions, but he could look back on one occasion at Melbourne in 1934-35 when he and Fleetwood-Smith made 98 for the last wicket against Queensland. They swiped at everything, and no-one could be absolutely sure how many times they were dropped before the pantomime was over. According to McCormick, who was undefeated on 77 (his highest score), it was thirteen. In 85 matches he scored 582 runs for an average of 8.68 and held 46 catches. An instrument-maker and jeweller, he made the Frank Worrell Trophy, contested in Australia-West Indies series.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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