Warwick Windridge Armstrong
May 22, 1879, Kyneton, Victoria
July 13, 1947, Darling Point, Sydney, New South Wales, (aged 68y 52d)
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium, Legbreak
Warwick Windridge Armstrong was a huge figure in Australian cricket, both literally and metaphorically. Known as the "Big Ship" on account of his sheer physical size, the larger than life Armstrong gained dual reputations as a brilliantly enigmatic all-rounder and a player who flouted officialdom throughout his career. After making his debut for Victoria in 1898-99, the name that he made for himself on the field of play was as a forceful batsman, tidy legspin bowler, and ultimately one of Australia's finest ever captains. Following a string of consistent performances for Victoria, he was selected to represent the national team for the first time in 1901-02 and made an immediate impact, joining with Reg Duff to register the first ever century partnership for the last wicket in a Test match.
Such was the extent of Armstrong's success in the Test arena that his hold on a berth in the Australian side was only disrupted by his decision to decline to tour England in 1912 as a protest against the means by which the Board of Control had decided that the team would be managed. Even after such an open act of truculence, Armstrong remained extremely highly regarded, however, and was not only re-included in the side for Australia's very next Test match but was also promoted to the position of captain! It was in the subsequent ten games in which he carved the clearest niche for himself as one of the most successful players ever to don a baggy green cap; as Australia's leader, he guided the team to eight straight Test wins before closing with two draws.
Overall, Armstrong participated in 269 first-class matches, scored in excess
of 16,000 runs and captured over 800 wickets. He also played in 50 Tests
over a period that spanned close to two decades in total. To honour his
contribution to the sport and his success therein, he was bestowed with
several awards, the most recent of which came in early 2000 when he was
posthumously inducted into Australian cricket's Hall of Fame.
While a great allround player, he remains in one's memory chiefly for his unequalled triumph in leading Australia to victory in eight consecutive Tests with England. After the first world war our cricket took a long time to settle down. During this period the England touring team, led by JWHT Douglas, lost all five matches, and the following summer Armstrong commanded Australia, who won the first three Tests and drew the other two. In that superb manner Armstrong terminated a remarkable career. Of colossal build at 42, Armstrong then weighed about 22 stone and bore himself in a way likely to cause offence, but he invariably carried his desires over all opposition and sometimes with good reason.
Born on May 22, 1879, Armstrong rose to prominence in the season of 1901-02, when he did well for Victoria before playing in the Tests of which AC MacLaren's team won the first and lost the other four. Armstrong headed the Australian Test averages, thanks to being not out four times. His bowling then was hardly wanted, but, coming to England under Joe Darling, he took 81 wickets at 17.50 runs each, besides scoring 1087 runs, average 26. He surpassed these efforts on his second trip to England, making 2002 runs, average 48.82, and taking 130 wickets at 17.60 apiece, being top of both averages. These figures constitute a record, no other visitor to England having scored 2000 runs and taken 100 wickets in a season. His 303 not out at Bath was the highest innings hit on the tour, and his 248 not out contributed largely to victory by an innings and 189 runs over the Gentlemen at Lord's.
If not quite so successful in 1909 he scored 1480 runs, average 46.39, and claimed 126 wickets at 16.23, being second in each table and by far the most effective bowler. He was absent from the Australian team that came over for the Triangular Tournament in 1912, but when he captained the 1921 side with such marked success he ranked third in batting and top of the bowling. With 1405 runs, average 43.90, and 106 wickets, average 14.56, he for the third time accomplished the cricketer's double, so equalling the record for any Australian in England established by George Giffen twenty-five years before. In four tours in England he helped Australia win the Test rubber three times, the exception being in 1905, when FS Jackson won the toss in each of the five matches.
He was fortunate to lead a very powerful combination, with JM Gregory and EA McDonald, the fast bowlers, too much for England's impoverished batting, while Macartney and Bardsley headed an exceptional array of batting talent, eight men having aggregates ranging from 2335 to 1032, with averages from 58 to 30. The only defeats suffered by that 1921 team were at Eastbourne and Scarborough when the serious part of the tour was over. Armstrong led Australia to victory at Nottingham, Lord's and Leeds before rain ruined the Manchester match, and England recovered something of her lost prestige at The Oval.
On that occasion Warwick Armstrong acted in an extraordinary manner by way of emphasising his opinion that all Test matches should be played to a finish irrespective of time. When a draw was certain he rested his regular bowlers, went into the long field himself, an unknown position for him, and actually picked up and read a fully extended newspaper that was blown from the crowd! Clearly he was then indifferent to what happened; but he was very much alert a few weeks before at Old Trafford, where the England captain erred over a declaration. Rain prevented play on Saturday, and so the match became an affair of two days. With England's score over 300 for four wickets the Hon LH Tennyson, at ten minutes to six, went on to the field and called the players in. Ernest Tyldesley and PGH Fender, the batsmen, left the field, but Armstrong demurred and sat on the turf near the stumps where he had been bowling. After a wait the Australians and umpires went to the pavilion, and Armstrong pointed out that the law, amended in 1914, showed that a closure in the circumstances of a lost first day could not be made later than an hour and forty minutes before the time for drawing stumps. It was amazing that no England official or player in the pavilion knew enough to prevent such a lamentable blunder; that the captain should be corrected by his Australian rival was a humiliating incident. The umpires, also at fault of course, were so muddled that when, after twenty minutes delay, play was resumed, Armstrong himself was allowed to commit an error by bowling the next over -- two in succession.
Armstrong established a record by playing in 42 Test matches against England -- one more than Clem Hill. In these games he scored 2172 runs, average 35.03, and took 74 wickets at an average cost of 30.91. He made four Test centuries against England -- all in Australia -- and in ten Tests with South Africa he twice reached three figures. Altogether 46 centuries stand to his name in first-class cricket. With MA Noble, Armstrong put on 428 at Hove against Sussex in 1902 -- still an Australian record for the sixth wicket. In Sheffield Shield matches Armstrong scored 4,993 runs, average 49.93, and took 177 wickets at 24.16 runs apiece. At Melbourne in November 1920 he made two centuries for Victoria against South Australia -- 157 not out and 245. In November 1912, in the corresponding match, also at Melbourne, he scored 250, his highest innings in these tournaments.
Very tall and slim when first coming to England, Armstrong was of quite different build nineteen years later, and his massive frame made him a dominating personality as captain, quite apart from his ability with bat and ball. If appearing ungainly at the wicket because of bent knees, almost inevitable in the case of such a big man, Armstrong was a splendid stroke player, with the drive and cut most in evidence, and his defence was untiring. Bowling slows, usually round the wicket from a great height, he did not turn the ball a lot, but his leg theory was so pronounced that on occasions he sent down over after over wide of the leg stump without being punished, because he dropped the ball with what really was deceptive flight and usually very little break. Against a field cleverly placed for catches, batsmen refrained from taking risks. In fact, Armstrong was adept at keeping down runs in emergency. John Tyldesley, at The Oval in 1905, countered this, stepping back a yard and cutting the alleged leg-breaks where no fieldsman stood.
Like many cricketers, after retiring from active participation in the game, Armstrong wrote for the Press, and his caustic Test criticisms created ill-feeling of a kind which should not be associated with cricket.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
Batting & Fielding