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The fifth tour of Australian cricketers in England was emphatically a failure, whether we regard it as an event of itself, or compare it with the previous visits to this country of the picked teams of the Australian colonies. Perhaps if the eleven under the captaincy of Mr. Scott had been making a new experiment--had been breaking fresh ground--and had, indeed, come to us as Gregory's team came in 1878, we should have found much to admire, and very little to find fault with in the form displayed, and should have satisfied ourselves, with something very like smug conceit, that our rivals from the South had done very well, and, indeed, were quite as powerful as there had been any reason to expect.
But history cannot go backwards, and there can be no room for doubt that, satisfactory as the 1886 Australian tour may have been to the pride of Englishmen, and completely as the supremacy of our own cricket may have been re-established, the tour was a feeble and spiritless thing. To take the record as it stands - 9 victories, 8 defeats, and 22 drawn games - there is nothing to place the visitors on any higher standard than would have been attained by any good county team that went playing about the country, and taking its chance of weather, wickets, and opponents.
Indeed, if any English eleven, fairly strong at the various essential points, were picked in the early part of a season, and were to play a series of matches all over the country during the summer, the strong probabilities are that a far better result would be achieved even if the whole strength of England were met, as the Australians en-countered that power, and though the picked elevens of the South, the North, the Gentlemen, and the Players were opposed in succession. And if we compare the results of the last Australian trip with those of the elevens that came in previous years, the impression of failure is only intensified. Instead of an energetic, skilful, determined, bustling game, we saw on too many occasions a mere playing-out of time, and on one or two days a failure of nerve and an exhibition of weakness. which those who had looked upon the Australians at their best - as we saw them in 1882 - found it difficult to believe possible. We give here a record of this tour, with the averages in detail, and we also publish the names of the members of the previous teams.
The causes of the non-success of our last opponents were the limited amount of high-class batting, the partial failure of Spofforth's bowling, the uncertainty of the fielding, a lack of enthusiasm and cohesion in the team, and the absence of the necessary amount of authority and experience on the part of the captain. W. L. Murdoch, who was chief in the field of the three teams of 1880, 1882, and 1884, may not have exhibited all the qualities which go to make up that rare and valuable being, an ideal captain - but he certainly had a larger experience and a stronger will than the gentleman who, with the best of intentions, and the greatest sincerity of purpose, led the team of 1886. It is exceedingly doubtful whether even an ideal captain would have pulled the team through its engagements, unless, indeed, he had been backed up by that confidence and energy which we see so seldom in any teams but those that meet with early and brilliant successes.
It is probable that with a really good start, batsmen like Bruce, Trumble, and Bonnor would have done themselves better justice than the figures against their names give evidence; and if the bowling had been better managed, the accident to Spofforth, and his subsequent indifferent form, would not have had such a disastrous effect upon the team. But even if everything had gone well with them, and had they met with neither of those early reverses which so seriously dashed their hopes of success against England and their belief in their own ability, we do not think that the team would have compared at all favourably with that of 1882, or even of 1884. The new men who came did not, and, from what we saw of them, could not replace Murdoch, McDonnell, Alec Bannerman, Massie, Horan, and Boyle. And somehow or other the whole side seemed to have lost the knack of making runs themselves under difficult circumstances and speedily dismissing English sides on treacherous wickets. Of course the terror had to a large extent gone - the encounter between England and Australia was not the unique and nervous thing it was in 1880, or the battle of giants of 1882. We were far more familiar with what the Australians could do with the bat and with the ball.
Moreover - and this is a very important factor in the case - our own professional batting and bowling had greatly improved since the previous visit, and the Australians were meeting men who bowled more after their own fashion, and who batted with a determination and fertility of resource which at the most they could only hope to equal. Our Gentlemen were probably as a class below their predecessors of a few years back, but we still had in Mr. Grace and Mr. Read batsmen who were equal to the greatest emergencies. It would not be possible to deal exhaustively with the various arguments that have been put forward to account for the non-success of the recent trip. The leading points have been briefly described above, and before commencing to describe the matches in their chronological order, we should say that it is emphatically a satisfactory and pleasant thing for English cricketers and lovers of the game in England, that our strength should have been so happily proved, and our superiority so clearly demonstrated.
It would have hurt the game more than most people imagine if we had been beaten in the way that the Melbourne Club team hoped and intended to beat us ; and as, without the least ill-will towards the Australians, we in England are chiefly concerned with the prosperity and popularity of the game within our own borders, it would be mere affectation to pretend to be anything but contented with the general net result of the last Australian tour. In saying this we by no means wish to undervalue or overlook the lessons which Australian cricketers have taught us. They have to a considerable extent modified our fielding; they have again made fast or moderately fast bowling fashionable - to use a word which is often abused, and employed out of its proper meaning - and they have shown us in many little ways when to play a free game and when to keep on the defensive. That we have profited by the lesson, and in many cases improved upon the teaching, the records of 1886 will sufficiently prove.
Before proceeding to describe the matches in detail, I may say that the team had a splendid passage over in the "Austral", that after their arrival they enjoyed some capital practice at Chiswick Park, and that the only men new to this country were Evans, Trumble, Bruce, and McIlwraith.
Giffen was emphatically the success of the tour, and the fact that he came out first in both batting and bowling speaks volumes for his excellence. Indeed it would be impossible at the present day to name his superior as an all-round cricketer. But for having several not-out innings, however, he would have been beaten in batting by Jones, who fully made up for his failure in 1882, and proved himself one of the best men ever sent over from the Colonies. Scott played many fine innings, and but for the responsibility and anxiety of captaincy would no doubt have been still more successful. Of Spofforth's brilliant performances up to the time of his accident and his ill-success afterwards, of Palmer's improvement in batting and decline in bowling, of Bonnor's accidents and constant adoption of a cramped game, of the little use made of Evans's bowling, and so on, much might be written, but the detailed accounts of the matches will in most instances have supplied all necessary information. The team was most hospitably received everywhere, and, with trifling exceptions, the long series of matches was carried through with excellent good feeling.
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