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Tour and tournament reports

The Australians in England, 1926

No such triumphal progress through the land as Armstrong's side had enjoyed in 1921 attended the efforts of the sixteenth Australian team to visit this country

No such triumphal progress through the land as Armstrong's side had enjoyed in 1921 attended the efforts of the sixteenth Australian team to visit this country. Only one defeat, it is true, was suffered as against two sustained by the players who had come here five years earlier, but that reverse occurred in the solitary Test match brought to a definite issue, whereas the Australians of 1921 won the first three representative games of that season in most decisive fashion, and lost none of those contests. In these days success in Test games outweighs everthing else which happens in the course of a tour and so the men of 1926 must be said to have failed. As a matter of fact the limitations of the side were not confined to the ineffectiveness displayed in the great encounters.
The tour was admirably arranged--long journeys avoided and the day before each Test match set apart for rest--and yet out of 40 fixtures which constituted the programme, no fewer than 27 were left drawn and, while in many cases bad weather prevented the games being played out, there clearly existed no such match winning ability as has generally characterised Australian teams in England. Moreover, the list of victories--twelve in number--was scarcely convincing. Lancashire, it is true, were defeated in a single innings in June and Notts met with a similar fate a fortnight later, while Hampshire and Glamorgan also lost to the tourists heavily, but the other successes over counties were obtained at the expense of the teams occupying the last four places in the Championship. Oxford University, Durham County and two Scottish sides provided the Australians with their remaining wins.
For a team heralded--although of course no blame for the shouting and trumpeting attached to the players themselves--as a band of supermen, this was a sorry record. Certainly fortune was not kind to the side. Such wretchedly wet weather prevailed on the arrival of the tourists that little or no practice was possible before the opening of the tour and right up to the middle of June practically every one of their matches suffered more or less interference from rain. Under such cheerless conditions players accustomed to warmth and sunshine naturally found themselves greatly handicapped and the fact that several of them took a long time to run into form was scarcely matter for surprise. Further, to place the team at a disadvantage there occurred three cases of illness. Seized on the occasion of the first match against Surrey with indisposition which turned out to be scarlet fever, Hendry played no cricket from the early days of May until the first week in August. Collins, owing to an attack of neuritis, was kept out of the field all through the month of July, and Ponsford, suffering from tonsilitis, had to rest for three weeks in June.
A more serious matter for the team than the illnesses of these three men was the misfortune which overtook Gregory. Scarcely had the tour commenced when he found himself suffering from leg trouble and although under surgical treatment, he was kept sufficiently fit to turn out in three-fourths of the games, he found himself compelled to stand out of several contests and at no time could he undertake a long spell of bowling. Likely enough in such a wet season he would in any circumstances have fallen far below his achievements of five years previously when he and Macdonald were the great match winners, but the loss his side suffered through his inability to go all out could scarcely be over-estimated. While in 1921 he had taken 120 wickets for 16 runs each, his aggregate for last summer was only 38 wickets, and these at a cost of 31 runs apiece.
Making every allowance on the ground of bad weather and illness the conclusion could not be escaped that the selection of the side was not altogether happy. Whether Kippax and Victor Richardson should have had preference over some of the batsmen who came here it would be idle to argue, but there can be little question that, over and above the strange passing over of Kelleway, the choice of bowlers showed some lack of judgement. There always existed something more than a possibility that Gregory would fail to repeat his triumphs, and to provide against that danger the team ought to have included another really first-class fast bowler. So far from Gregory being given a colleague of pace, all the help he received in that direction was from Everett, a surprising eleventh-hour selection, who was neither fast through the air nor off the pitch, and, so far as could be seen, did not spin the ball at all. This player, also, was stated to have been handicapped by foot trouble, and, if that was so, his failure may to some extent be explained, but the measure of his success in first-class matches was limited to the taking of seventeen wickets at a cost of nearly 33 runs apiece, and it is scarcely too much to say that on his form in this country, he would have difficulty in getting a place in any ordinary county side.
While Gregory and Everett--the latter called upon to play in no more than a dozen or so first-class matches and in none of the Test games--accomplished so little, Richardson, an off-break bowler, slightly above medium pace, got through a good deal of work and had days of pronounced success but, considering his style, he was far too prone to indulge in leg-theory and in so doing certainly missed a great chance which presented itself in the final Test match. As a rule he had a fair command of length but in this respect he was not the equal of MacArtney, whose accuracy of pitch was truly remarkable. Although coming here essentially as a batsman, MacArtney was called upon to bowl a lot and by the middle of July had taken 45 wickets, but afterwards he rather lost his power of spinning the ball and met with scarcely any success, yet he could always keep the runs down. The fact that he should have been asked to do so much bowling emphasised only too clearly the limitations of the attack.
Still, while Richardson and MacArtney rendered valuable assistance, the weight of the bowling fell upon Mailey and Grimmett. Wonderfully well as a rule did these two men--the one depending chiefly upon the googly, and the other upon his leg-break--acquit themselves day after day, but they were a strange pair to take the places which Gregory and Macdonald had filled in the Australian team of 1921. At times uncertain in pitch, Mailey, on occasion met with severe punishment, but when he found his length, there was no one, however high the class of the batting opposed to him, so likely to go through a side as he and in matches with the weaker elevens he enjoyed some remarkable triumphs. Against teams of note his best performances were the taking of eleven Lancashire wickets at Manchester, and fifteen Notts wickets at Trent Bridge. In the last Test match he secured nine wickets but at a very heavy cost.
A steadier bowler than Mailey, Grimmett had good reason to be gratified with the measure of success attending his efforts on the occasion of his first visit to this country. He took more than a hundred wickets for less than 18 runs apiece and with remarkable accuracy of pitch he proved no mean successor to Warwick Armstrong. In contrast to that famous player, he was rather under middle height, and he appeared somewhat slight in physique while a low delivery suggested that he must be easy to see, yet the average English batsman certainly found him difficult to score from and at times he kept his opponents pegged down to a very pronounced extent. He varied the leg-break with a quicker ball which generally came straight along and with this secured a good many wickets.
Well as Grimmett and Mailey performed their part and ably as these two men were at times assisted by Richardson and MacArtney there was nothing in the Australian attack, except when Mailey happened to be at the top of his form, to cause first-rate batsmen real anxiety. If a player declined to take risks, runs might be--and generally were--difficult to obtain, but no strong reason existed why he should lose his wicket. The Test matches furnished the big indictments. At Lord's, when once the England batsmen had gained the upper hand the bowling fell away so completely as to raise the question whether such poor work had ever before come from an Australian team in this country. At Leeds the pitch--a different one from that specially prepared for the occasion--was in its later stages, in a condition which the Australian bowlers ought to have been able to turn to account sufficiently to have forced a victory. Finally at the Oval on the third morning, superbly as Hobbs and Sutcliffe batted, the state of the wicket was such that first-rate bowling, used with judgement, could scarcely have missed pronounced success.
For the failure of their bowlers on the big occasions the Australians had to find what consolation they could in the doings of their batsmen. Here certainly was matter for gratification. Woodfull, seeing that he was without previous experience of English wickets, achieved an exceptional triumph, playing three-figure innings in the first two important games in which he took part, making hundreds in the Test matches at Leeds and Manchester, and altogether putting together in the course of the summer eight separate centuries. He lacks grace of style, but, possessing unlimited patience, he watches the ball most carefully, plays with a very straight bat and gets remarkable power into the strokes he makes so late.
Greatly as Woodfull distinguished himself, the outstanding figure of the team was MacArtney who, on the occasion of his third visit to this country, showed himself a truly glorious artist. His footwork was as remarkable as ever and the variety and brilliancy of his strokes gave unqualified joy to the spectator. Despite the large amount of bowling he was called upon to do, he made seven separate hundreds, three of these being consecutive Test match innings--133 not out at Lord's, 151 at Leeds, and 109 at Manchester. His display at Leeds, where he gave a chance after scoring two, was his most dazzling performance but, as a masterly piece of batting, nothing quite equalled his 160 against Lancashire at Manchester.
Bardsley, doing comparatively little in the early games, ran into splendid form towards the end of June, and excelled himself in the Test match at Lord's, carrying his bat through the innings for 193. Had he accomplished nothing else he would have justified his selection and, if perhaps not quite the player he had been five years earlier, he was once again a tower of strength to the side. For Ponsford, considering his great reputation in Australia, the tour must have been something of a disappointment, especially as his participation in Test matches was limited to the last two games, neither of which brought him any success. Still he batted well enough on occasion to demonstrate his undoubted abilities and, before illness laid him aside for some weeks, had the satisfaction of making a hundred on his first appearance at Lord's. Gregory again showed himself a powerful hitter, and Richardson, also depending a good deal upon the drive, played some fine innings while Ryder, a free, if not particularly sound batsman, often scored at a great pace and reached three figures on four occasions. Andrews, possessed of a capital method, played a lot of good cricket but cut a poor figure in the Test games. Collins, much handicapped of course by the indisposition which kept him off the field for so long, had a disappointing season and Taylor--to an even greater extent than in 1921--could not find his form.
While quite good as a rule the fielding fell considerably below the exceptionally high standard which had characterised the efforts of the 1921 side. Still, if the team-work lacked something and a number of catches were dropped, Andrews near the wicket and Taylor in the deep worthily maintained Australian traditions. Neat, quiet and skilful, Oldfield showed himself as well-equipped a wicket-keeper as any side could desire to possess and completely overshadowed his deputy, Ellis.
The team consisted of sixteen players. Ten of these had previously visited England, the new-comers being Woodfull, Ponsford, Richardson, Grimmett, Ellis, and Everett.