England went to Australia in 1962-63 with two main objectives: to regain the Ashes; and to provide cricket capable of recapturing the enthusiasm of the public, as West Indies did two years earlier.
They achieved neither, but in each case the margin between success and failure was so narrow that the tour could well have gone down as one of the most interesting for many years.
Unfortunately, when everything seemed set for a thrilling climax, things began to go wrong, and in the end everyone felt there had been a big let-down which tended to obscure all that had gone before.
The first Test, at Brisbane, was drawn with the two sides fairly evenly matched. At Melbourne, England reached the peak of their form on the tour and somewhat unexpectedly won by seven wickets. Australia came back strongly at Sydney, where England played badly each time they went there, and levelled the series. The fourth Test, at Adelaide, provided the first real disappointment. The selection of the two sides and the manner of their play suggested that they were a little afraid of each other and both seemed content to settle for a draw, leaving everything to the final match at Sydney.
Despite the efforts at Adelaide, the situation could have been saved from the point of view of the tour and the public, had the last Test been fought out in a bold, imaginative way. The position could not have been better for a great game of cricket.
England were expected to go all out for the victory which would have given them the rubber; it was not anticipated that Australia, favourites before the tour began, would be satisfied with a drawn series, even though it enabled them to retain the Ashes. Although somewhat tarnished by previous events, the reputations of Benaud and Dexter as enterprising captains were still reasonably intact. As it happened this final game turned out to be the dullest and by far the worst of the five.
The Sydney ground must be held responsible to a large extent. The pitch was too slow for batsmen and bowlers; the square, devoid of grass in many places, tended to check the ball immediately it hit the ground, and until late in the match the outfield was not cropped closely enough. All this led to extremely slow scoring, but the players must also take a fair proportion of the blame.
Hardly any attempt was made to overcome the conditions, most of the batsmen resigning themselves to a gruelling struggle. England set the pattern by remarkably slow cricket on the first day. Australia did a little better, but not much. On the last day a little excitement came when England looked to have a faint chance of success, but Australia had no trouble in saving the match.
The end arrived with the small crowd slow handclapping and booing the players off the field, as no attempt had been made to entertain them even when the game was an obvious draw. So the tour finished on a dismal note, and with this the final memory all that had gone before was forgotten.
Only in patches had the cricket attained high class, but the games had been close and keen with the repeated swing in fortunes from day to day helping to make up for most deficiencies.
The general opinion before the Tests began was that the batting would be far too strong for the bowling. This turned out to be incorrect. Except for occasional inspired bowling spells, neither attack looked formidable, but the batsmen rarely established a mastery and only one total of 400 was recorded in the series.
It was difficult to separate the sides in batting and bowling, but once more Australia held the advantage in fielding, and this might well have cost England the rubber. Australia made their mistakes with dropped catches, but their chasing and throwing were superb. England held some excellent catches, but missed far too many, and at Adelaide the errors probably made all the difference to the result.
The other noticeable difference between the sides was in the running between wickets. Most Australians excelled at this and they often picked up thirty or forty runs an innings by their quickness to spot a single and by trying to get full value out of every hit into the deep. England had a few players with similar ideas, but too many neglected this important phase of the game, which helps to disturb bowlers and break up defensive field placings.
The following party flew to Aden on September 27 and continued the journey by sea on the Canberra, arriving at Fremantle on October 9:--
- E.R. Dexter (captain), Sussex (27);
- M.C. Cowdrey (vice-captain), Kent (29);
- D.A. Allen, Gloucestershire (26);
- K.F. Barrington, Surrey (31);
- L.J. Coldwell, Worcestershire (29);
- T.W. Graveney, Worcestershire (35);
- R. Illingworth, Yorkshire (30);
- B.R. Knight, Essex (24);
- J.D.F. Larter, Northamptonshire (22);
- J.T. Murray, Middlesex (27);
- P.H. Parfitt, Middlesex (25);
- G. Pullar, Lancashire (27);
- Rev. D.S. Sheppard, Sussex (33);
- A.C. Smith, Warwickshire (25);
- J.B. Statham, Lancashire (32);
- F.J. Titmus, Middlesex (29);
- F.S. Trueman, Yorkshire (31);
- The Duke of Norfolk (manager);
- A.V. Bedser, Surrey (assistant-manager);
- W.R. Watkins, Middlesex (scorer and baggage-master); and
- S. Cowan (masseur).
During the acclimatisation period in Perth, the Duke and Dexter often promised attacking cricket at receptions and press conferences, and in the majority of the games this policy was carried out. Benaud, too, declared his intention of seeing that his players would adopt positive methods. All this was forgotten in the Tests where victory, or rather the avoidance of defeat, became the all important factor.
M.C.C. began with an easy success over Western Australia with a day and a half to spare, but received a set-back in the next match when a Combined Eleven beat them by ten wickets. M.C.C. quickly put this behind them, running up totals of 508 for nine and 633 for seven in successive matches against South Australia and An Australian XI, only to crumple on their first visit to Sydney, where New South Wales crushed them by an innings and 80 runs.
M.C.C. returned to big scoring form with 581 for six against Queensland, but they went into the first Test with a record of only one victory and two defeats in the major matches.
The draw at Brisbane gave them confidence, and for the next five weeks they showed their best form. In this period victories came over Australia, Victoria and the Combined XI at Launceston, while in the other first-class match a total of 586 for five was made against South Australia. In addition, three minor games were won and two drawn.
The turning point came on the second visit to Sydney, where Australia drew level in the series and M.C.C. did not win another first-class game until they went to New Zealand. There they were overwhelmingly superior and won all four games, including the three Tests, by large margins. Never before in Australia had three Tests between Australia and England been drawn, and for the first time a series between them ended level after five matches had been played. Allen, Graveney, Pullar and Statham returned to England when the Australian part of the tour ended.
M.C.C. were thought to be strong in batting and, except in the Tests with Australia, it rarely disappointed. Barrington once more showed his remarkable consistency abroad, scoring 1,763 runs, only 18 short of Compton's 1,781 in South Africa in 1948-49, the highest ever recorded by an M.C.C. player in first-class matches on tour. He hit six centuries, three of them in Tests, and whether at number five, where he started, or number three, where he finished, he played in the same solid way, rarely producing anything of an exciting nature, but showing an excellent temperament and the ability to take runs off any attack. Without his steadiness, the team might well have been in trouble on a number of occasions.
Dexter was a complete contrast to Barrington. A thrill went round every ground when he strode majestically to the wicket, and most bowlers feared the punishment they were about to receive. In the early matches Dexter did not disappoint. The tremendous power of his driving and his fast scoring were fine to see, but as the tour progressed and the tension of the Tests mounted, he began to play more carefully, and as a result lost much of his effectiveness.
He finished the tour with an average of over 42, but considering his ability he did not do as well as expected. Ten times in first-class games he exceeded 50, but only once did he go on to a century. Still, he performed reasonably well in the Tests, twice getting into the nineties. He did not always bring his dashing approach into his captaincy and in general his leadership lacked inspiration, but he made few mistakes and did his best to set a high standard of fielding by his enthusiastic work either in the covers or close to the bat.
Cowdrey, the most stylish of the batsmen, made a wretched start with three successive ducks. He went out as one of the opening batsmen, a position he had never liked, and after his run of early failures he returned to the middle order. His fortunes then changed, and the highlight of his tour was the 307 he scored against South Australia, at Adelaide, the highest innings ever played by an Englishman in Australia. He followed this with 113 and 58 not out, which helped considerably towards England's victory in the Melbourne Test.
Cowdrey's switch in the batting order upset the balance of the side. This left only Pullar and Sheppard as opening batsmen, with Parfit pressed into service as a makeshift third choice in some of the games.
Seldom was the side given a good start, and only at Brisbane did England overcome the early onslaught of Davidson. In the remaining Tests the first wicket fell at 0, 5, 4, 0, 17, 2, 5 and 40.
Sheppard helped to win the second Test with 113 in the second innings, his only century, and he played a number of useful innings which enabled him to become one of four batsmen to complete 1,000 runs on the tour in first-class games. In the early weeks he missed many catches, probably because his reactions were not quick enough following his absence from regular cricket for some years. As he lost his tenseness later in the tour he improved considerably in the field.
Parfitt, a splendidly keen team man, was sacrificed in the interests of the side and never looked like an opening batsman. Even in his normal position he had a marked weakness outside his off stump at the start of an innings, but when set he looked capable of becoming a regular player.
Graveney, full of graceful style, once more failed to do himself justice in the Tests, although he had a good overall tour average. Knight, a beautiful timer of the ball, was always splendid to watch, and Titmus made several useful contributions with the bat.
Titmus, in fact, rivalled Barrington as the success of the tour. He was one of the three off-spinners unexpectedly chosen by the Selectors for the trip. Allen was originally regarded as the number one spinner; but Titmus took over that role, and as the tour progressed he became a real personality whether bowling his cleverly controlled off-breaks, showing his fighting qualities as a batsman or revealing his keenness in the field. His big success came in the second Test at Sydney, where he took seven for 79 in the first innings, although it failed to bring victory. In the series he took twenty-one wickets, one more than Trueman.
Allen went through a long period with limited reward, but improved when he altered his run-up slightly, and his strong finish suggested that he could still be England's most successful slow bowler. The third off-spinner, Illingworth, did little to justify his choice, either with ball or bat. In New Zealand he opened the innings and played quite usefully at times.
There were fears when the team left England that Trueman and Statham were past their best, but this certainly did not prove correct as far as Trueman was concerned. On his day he bowled as well as he had ever done and few Australian batsmen were comfortable against him. His eight wickets at Melbourne played a vital part in the result, and he had several other menacing performances. He returned home with 250 Test wickets, the first bowler in history to reach that figure.
Statham also beat A.V. Bedser's Test record of 236 wickets, finishing with 242, but although always a willing worker who gave little away, he had lost the zip which previously made him so dangerous.
High hopes were held of Larter, but he failed to come up to expectations. Occasionally he looked good enough to take over from either Trueman or Statham, but far too often he lacked accuracy in length and direction. For a long time he had trouble with his approach to the wicket and was repeatedly called for overstepping the crease, but later he ironed this out. For all that, he was potentially the most likely wicket-taker, after Trueman, and if he develops consistency, could become a leading Test bowler. Neither Coldwell nor Knight was fast enough or did sufficient with the ball to worry good batsmen.
For the second tour running Murray could not maintain his English form behind the stumps, and Smith, who showed a sounder, if less classical style, became the number one wicket-keeper. Murray fought his way back in the Third Test with Australia, but injured his shoulder when making a brilliant catch early in the match and did not appear again for England until he played in one game in New Zealand. Smith did particularly well at Adelaide in the fourth Test and held his position at Sydney.
The Australians were weaker than expected, particularly in batting. Lawry, who began so well against the touring team, fell away badly and his lack of strokes made him dull to watch. Simpson, the other opening bat, was consistently good and was always in the game with his batting, leg-break bowling and wonderful slip fielding.
O'Neill found his form only in the last two Tests, but remained an excellent-looking player with his pugnacious approach. Harvey fell away a good deal. He made 154 in the fourth Test, eventually batting splendidly, but he was badly missed three times early in that innings.
Booth scored centuries in the first two Tests, but with the England bowlers discovering a weakness, he could not maintain his form. Burge, dropped after two games, returned for the last and scored 103 and 52 not out, looking extremely sound in doing so. With MacKay sometimes batting number eight and Benaud to follow, the Australians had no tail, but for all that they accomplished far less than anticipated.
Davidson and McKenzie were the mainstays of their attack. In his first few overs Davidson was as good as ever, swinging the ball in, and varying this by making it run away from the bat so well that the early batsmen rarely knew what to expect or how to cope with him. He was seldom so dangerous in later spells, but he finished with twenty-four wickets at 20 runs each and was the most successful bowler on either side.
McKenzie's strength lay in his fitness and ability to keep going for long spells. Even at the end of a tiring day he was still banging the ball into the pitch hard and awkwardly. Despite that, the England batsmen played him fairly comfortably.
Benaud began with a flourish, taking seven for 18 with some remarkable bowling for New South Wales and following with six for 115 in the first innings of the Brisbane Test. He looked to be England's biggest problem at that point; but he fell away badly, and his seventeen Test wickets cost over 40 runs each.
As a captain he retained his enthusiasm and rarely allowed the game to settle into a routine, but he appeared to become more cautious than in the past, and at Adelaide, in particular, he gave up hope far too soon.
Grout broke his jaw against M.C.C. while playing for Queensland and missed the first three Tests, Jarman taking over efficiently, but he showed he was still a fine wicket-keeper when he returned for the last two games.
A noticeable feature about the tour was the lack of class batsmen or bowlers in Australia outside the Test side. With Harvey and Davidson announcing their retirements from international cricket, and Benaud and MacKay not touring again, Australia have to reshape their team; and unless bowlers, especially, are found they may have a struggle ahead.
An unfortunate sight was to find Meckiff returning to his former bent elbow action when playing for Victoria. His forty-seven wickets were important in giving Victoria the Sheffield Shield, but with his action like that it was a hollow triumph and something to which the other States might reasonably have objected.
Meckiff was called for throwing on two separate occasions during the season, so at least some notice was taken. He played twice against M.C.C. without doing anything exceptional, but because of his success in Shield games there was some clamour in that State for his inclusion in the Test team, particularly with Australia searching for a third pace bowler. The Selectors wisely decided against bringing him back.
The tour was long and tiring with little rest between matches. Apart from the 19 first-class games, 12 up-country fixtures were included, and it was felt generally that this was far too much. Only rarely did the attendances at the minor matches justify the trip, although it would be unfair to judge things entirely on gates.
Smaller areas are entitled to expect visits from touring teams in order to keep the game alive in those places, but they should be chosen with discrimination. One-day rather than two-day matches were favoured by all the players.
Australian authorities need to examine their pitches in the interests of better cricket. Far too many of them were lifeless and consequently difficult for the players to provide the right sort of entertainment. On at least two occasions the look of the pitches misled England's selection committee, which consisted of Dexter, Cowdrey, Sheppard and Statham.
At Sydney, where spin was more successful, they chose a third pace bowler for the third Test. At Adelaide, two off spin bowlers were included on a pitch which gave them no help. It appeared that the selectors and their advisers preferred to believe what they imagined might happen rather than judge on the evidence of what they saw in the State games on the two grounds, conditions being no different.
Five days of six hours each were allocated to the Tests in Australia. Previously there were six days each of five hours. The change sometimes had the effect of reducing the time available because poor light often interfered with the last hour. The attendances at the Tests, 736,000, was about 30,000 less than in 1958-59, but with increased admission charges receipts were larger. The overall profit on the tour was about £30,000 sterling, compared with £44,984 on the previous visit.
New Zealand, after their successful tour of South Africa in 1961-62, were expected to continue their improvement, but again they were outplayed. Obviously they lack enough good-class cricket against better opposition, and it is difficult to see how they can improve unless they get it.
Suggestions were made that New Zealand should be visited during the tour instead of at the end when cricket in that country is finishing for the season and the Englishmen are somewhat jaded after the Australian tenseness.
For a change, injuries and illness did not handicap England unduly. Those that came were towards the end of the tour and were not too serious. Murray damaged a shoulder in the third Test, Parfitt missed a few games with a cracked thumb and Pullar damaged leg ligaments which needed an operation when he returned home.
Considerable interest was aroused with the appointment of the Duke of Norfolk as manager. In the early weeks he impressed with his off-the-field personality, but once the cricket started he was naturally less prominent. He returned to England for a month to undertake his private duties, and this was extended to six weeks because of illness.
In his absence S.C. Griffith, the M.C.C. secretary, took over most successfully and was able to see for himself the problems -- none of them very serious -- confronting a touring team in Australia.
In the second half of his tour the Duke relaxed more as he began to know and understand the players and press, and in the main he was popular everywhere he went with his dry wit and friendliness. The team liked him and always found him willing to listen to any troubles.
The cricket and financial side were undertaken by A.V. Bedser, the assistant-manager who worked hard and keenly throughout. Australia always has a soft spot for Bedser and they were delighted with his appointment. He and some of the players did much valuable work visiting schools and giving talks and instruction.
Overall much of the cricket was grim, particularly in the Tests, but there were few unpleasant incidents on or off the field and for this we should be grateful.
SUMMARY OF THE TOUR -- RESULTS OF ALL MATCHES
All Matches -- Played 32, Won 16, Lost 3, Drawn 13.
First-Class Matches -- Played 19, Won 8, Lost 3, Drawn 8.
Test Matches -- Played 5, Won 1, Lost 1, Drawn 3.