Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1954-55

My baptism of fire

Keith Andrew
Keith Andrew recalls a gruelling experience in Brisbane in 1954

Keith Andrew recalls a gruelling experience in Brisbane in 1954

Ray Lindwall traps Peter May lbw for 44 during England's second innings © WCM
I shall always remember November 25, 1954. It was the day before the first Test match between England and Australia at Brisbane. It was the day I heard over the local radio that Godfrey Evans was ill and that I might be playing for England the following day. That night, as I lay awake in the famous Lennon's Hotel, I thought of the great players on both sides. I thought of my name being printed against theirs, cigarette-card names about whom I was still starry-eyed. After all, not much more than a year before, I had been playing for my battalion side in the Army.

In the morning, the news that I was definitely playing came over the radio, later to be confirmed by the captain, Len Hutton. The fact that those in the game rated me highly when standing up to the wicket did nothing for my confidence on that November day, especially when I realised that England were going into the match without one recognised spin bowler of any type.

Jim Swanton's late communique read: "Evans did not recover from an attack of sunstroke and had to be replaced by Andrews. Australia left out Davidson from the twelve previously named."

And so began my most memorable match, a five-day experience that affected my life in so many ways. It could have been a disaster, but apart from the result, it wasn't. In fact, I don't think it was for any of us, on reflection. It gave me the incentive to try to become something I wasn't at the time - a top-class wicketkeeper. More importantly, it taught me to live with pressure, even to enjoy it. It taught me that sometimes heroes have feet of clay, but it also gave me the opportunity of meeting Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, special men who understand. It seemed to teach even that most remote of men, Len Hutton, that balance is essential to any team plan, although I am sure he was the first to realise that slowing down the over rate was effective in terms of results, if of nothing else.

'It gave me the incentive to try to become something I wasn't at the time - a top-class wicketkeeper'
We won the toss and had no alternative, I suppose, but to field. Lord Hawke, another famous Yorkshireman, may not have agreed, but I quote Hutton, or Sir Leonard as he now is: "As I have no slow bowling, my only hope of winning is to get Australia out cheaply while the wicket is new and then try for a long lead. So, with some misgivings, I am going to do what no-one but the oldest can remember a captain doing before in a Test match in Australia and put them in to bat."

He may well have been right. We dropped a considerable number of catches, certainly double figures were reached if we count half-chances. Neither were we the fittest team in the world. Compton broke a finger fielding on the first day and Alec Bedser was never well, as was proved when it was discovered that he had developed shingles. One or two of us also got a touch of the sun, but there was no getting away from the fact that "catches win matches". Subsequent events proved this conclusively.

I will go on record and say that if Evans had played, the result would have been very different. Contrary to reports at the time, I did not miss one catch throughout the match - a catch that I got a hand to, that is. In fact, I failed to reach any number of snicks that I like to think I would have pocketed two or three years later. So much for confidence and experience, or lack of it. In spite of everything, however, I was pleased to read a reasonable report on my performance by Swanton. I have liked him ever since! Neville Cardus wasn't so generous, and rightly so. Disappointingly, however, he wrote his report from Manchester! Another lesson learned!

Keith Andrew © The Cricketer
However, not only did England field badly in the match, but they also batted badly on what was a beautiful batting wicket. Only now, as I look back, do I realise that there were only three scores over 15 from our first five batsmen in the match! It seems even more incredible when those batsmen were Hutton, Simpson, Edrich, May and Cowdrey. The injured Compton contributed only two runs in the match. I must say I do not feel quite so guilty now! At the end of the first day Australia were 208 for 2; at the end of the second, 503 for 6; and just after lunch on the third day, 601 for 8.

Towards the end of the second day, I noticed a sign just over the top of the sightscreen. It simply said "Atlantic Petrol" in huge red letters. I am ashamed to relate that from then on I could think of nothing else but my favourite Cornish beaches and the beautiful Atlantic breakers. Maybe it was a touch of the sun, but my concentration was in tatters - another lesson learned!

There was nothing much to remember about both England's innings, with the exception of a fighting knock from Bill Edrich - although a £100 prize for the first six of the fourth day was surprisingly won by Trevor Bailey. We had been well and truly walloped by an innings and plenty; but strangely there seemed no sense of great disappointment. In fact, there was a peculiar sense of optimism for the next match, even in our darkest hour. Neither was it misplaced, as we now know. Tyson became the 'Typhoon'. May and Cowdrey gave England and cricket great batting again. Evans came back at his peak with a series of brilliant exhibitions of wicketkeeping. His catching of Neil Harvey off Tyson in the Melbourne Test will never be forgotten by those who saw it. Tom Graveney charmed lovers of fine art; and, as it always will, guile, in the form of Johnny Wardle and Bob Appleyard, gave the team the balance it lacked in the first Test.

In the years that followed I was lucky. I loved cricket and played with and against the best. But those five days in 1954 will forever be with me. Even now, every November 26 my thoughts return to Woolloongabba. I can still smell the heat and taste the salt in my sweat as it rivered its path from my brow. I can hear again the distinctive sounds of Australian cricket and I can see in my mind's eye Typhoon at full speed as he rocketed the ball towards me. Great days. I wish I could really have appreciated them at the time . . . but I do now!

Keith Andrew played one other Test for England, nine years later, and again was on the receiving end of a massive defeat, this time by West Indies, although he conceded just three byes in a 500-plus total.