Impressions of the Tour

MCC in Australia 1903-04

B. J. T. Bosanquet

Our team has been honoured with such a variety of names that it is difficult to select from the number, which range from An MCC XI. to England. The one I should prefer is P. F. Warner's XI, as our captain had so much to do with the success of the year. The above, however, is probably the most popularly known, for which reason I have adopted it. So much has been written about the tour, and all the statistics and scores are already so well known, that it is difficult to know what aspects of the tour to write upon at this distant date. I propose to give a mere outline of the actual cricket and deal chiefly with the incidents of the tour, with individual performances, and, especially with the conditions under which the matches were played, and the influence of weather on their results, concerning which there appears to have been muchmisapprehension in England, and elsewhere. Even in Australia an enthusiastic lady was good enough to send our captain an urn, labelled The ashes of Australian Cricket. Won by Captain Warner; assisted by Captain Weather! I hope to be able to show how unjust this view was, and also to give an idea of the wickets on which we played.

We were favoured with an exceptionally fine passage on the Orontes, Captain Weather being certainly kind to us in this respect. The voyage would have been worth taking if only for a wonderful display of phosphorescent brilliance which we ran into just before Colombo, and also a special performance by the Aurora Australis, which is rarely seen so far north. I refer to the voyage for the reason that, in my opinion, those four weeks of life on board ship, in which we were thrown so much together, were a great factor in our subsequent success. I am sure they went a long way towards helping us all to pull together, in furthering out better acquaintance, and in engendering that feeling of good-comradeship without which it is impossible for any side to do well.

Before touching upon the events in Australia, I wish to refer briefly to the remarkable soil known as Bulli, of which the wickets at Sydney are composed. Without some knowledge of the extraordinary qualities of this soil, it would be impossible for anyone to follow with any intelligence the course of the matches we played at Sydney. This soil was imported from the Bulli Range, laid down to a depth of some six inches, and rolled into a solid mass. In this form it possesses the unique property of being absolutely impermeable to water, which can never penetrate further than half-an-inch from the surface, and can only affect it to this depth owing to the roots of the grass, which break it up to a certain degree, and enable the water to penetrate to this slight extent. Where there is no grass a lump of Bulli will remain entirely unaffected by any immersion, however long in water. This being so it is not difficult to understand that the period during which the Sydney wicket remains affected by rain is of the briefest. Once the wicket becomes fit for play, it dries with extraordinary rapidity. The difficulty is to get it fit, for the water, as will be easily understood, being unable to sink through, simply lies on the surface and has to be mopped up, or run off to one side.

The first match v. New South Wales is a very good illustration of what I want my readers to understand. The day before the commencement of the match there was a terrific thunderstorm, and at six o'clock in the evening the playing arena was a veritable lake. Next day at 12 o'clock one end was quite dry, and hard, while the other was only sticky up to lunch time, and had perfectly recovered when we went in. Rhodes was innocuous at one end, and it was not till he changed over that he did any damage. Please, therefore, reader, when you hear of rain at Sydney, do not imagine that the match was played on a sticky wicket; one complete innings is usually the limit of time for which it is affected, and a proper appreciation of this fact will be of great assistance in following the course of these matches.

After the New South Wales match we had a fortnight's rest from serious cricket, and spent the time in a most enjoyable trip to Brisbane, and two matches on the return journey at West Maitland and Newcastle. The journey to Brisbane was remarkable for the great interest in the team that was displayed by the people of the various places at which we stopped. Crowds met the train, and pressed against the saloon, enquiring for Rhodes and Warner, who were the popular heroes. It was quite unsafe to give the real name of anyone, as he would have been promptly mobbed, and those furthest from the windows did duty, as being safest from friendly violence. We did not want a verdict of killed by kindness passed on our Yorkshireman.

Queensland gave us a good game, and produced a fast aboriginal bowler. Leonard Braund was selected to open the innings for us and didn't much fancy it. The first ball hit the bat somehow and went to fine leg for two; the second, passed batsman, wicket-keeper, and longstop, and hit the screen about the time Braund finished his shot. The third was slower, and the batsman, retiring gracefully, placed it gently into point's hands. His own account of the proceedings is worth giving, it is as follows:

I took first ball from the aboriginal, Henry, supposed to be the fastest bowler in the world, and certainly I will say that the first three balls he gave me were indeed the fastest I have ever seen. I got him away for two on the leg side, but the next ball, in cutting him, I was splendidly caught at point !

Queensland had a most promising cricketer in Evans, who is a very fine natural hitter, and a more than useful wicket-keeper. He should be heard of again.

West Maitland provided an interesting draw. Their fielding and bowling were a bit slack, and Foster remonstrated. Unfortunately when we took the field, I had an off-day, and at the close of the match their captain said quietly to Foster, Well, I don't think our bowling was much worse than Bosanquet's !

Newcastle produced another draw, and here George Hirst was insulted. Having adjourned for a drink, he was just in time to hear someone say, that Hirst is a rotten player ! Leaving his drink he retired, being with difficulty restrained from wreaking summary vengeance, and never knew a happy moment till, having persuaded Foster to send him in first, he had taken 50 of the very best in our second innings.

This brings us to the first test match. Of this I will merely say that the luck was evenly distributed and, that we thoroughly deserved our win. I think this will be a good opportunity for me to give a brief summary of the test matches, and the conditions under which they were played.

It is unnecessary to discuss the two matches at Melbourne, which were robbed of all interest by the weather. In the first we had all the luck, and winning the toss meant the match. In the second the conditions were exactly reversed, and they won the toss, and with it the match. These two matches then exactly counter-balanced each other and the real struggle was confined to the two matches at Sydney, and the match at Adelaide. It was, in fact, a series of three matches, in which we won the rubber. In these three matches I venture to say - in spite of many assertions to the contrary, made in the papers, here and elsewhere - that the luck was as evenly distributed as possible, and I hope to be able to make this clear.

In the first match (at Sydney) rain fell on the Friday night, and the wicket did not recover till lunch-time on the second day. In this period (two hours) their last three wickets fell for an addition of twenty-six, and we lost Warner and Hayward. Only a magnificent effort by Tyldesley saved us from further disaster, as the wicket was quite difficult. After lunch it was much easier, though not quite perfect till about 4 o'clock. No one, therefore, can possibly maintain that this rain was to our advantage, and it was the only rain that fell. The rest of the match was fought out under absolutely even conditions, unless the fact of having fourth innings be counted a disadvantage to us, which it was to a certain extent, as the wicket had worn appreciably. At Adelaide no rain fell at all, and conditions were again even, except that again we had to bat last. In the other match at Sydney a great deal of rain fell at various times, and it is somewhat difficult to convey a true notion of how it affected the play.

There had been a good deal before the match started, and the wicket was a bit soft on the first day, though never exactly difficult. Our score of 207 for seven, therefore, was not a bad one, though nothing out of the way. The wicket was much better next day, our three wickets added forty-two runs, and they had thirty-five for one wicket, when a slight drizzle came on, which stopped play for about an hour and a half. After this they had two hours on a fast true wicket, in a slight drizzle, and we got five of them for 114, a good performance on this wicket. There was no more play till the Tuesday at 4 o'clock. The wicket then was quite hard underneath, with water standing on the top. (Remember the Bulli soil.) Rhodes and Arnold, for some unaccountable reason, got the rest of them out for an addition of 17 runs. Not a ball turned an inch, and why they got out is one of those mysteries that make cricket the game it is. We had an hour on the drying wicket, though it never got difficult, and Hayward and Foster made about 50 without being parted. Next day more rain, and a wicket getting worse right up to the end, which found us with nine men out for 155. Next day a plumb, fast wicket, as was shown by the ease with which Warner and Rhodes added 55 runs. Our opponents thus had to get 329, a task which they were confident of accomplishing in the condition of the wicket.

Well, I don't think there is much in all this that was to our advantage. Personally, I think things were about even. It was a great pity the two matches at Melbourne were robbed of their interest, but the other three were all worthy of the highest traditions of the game. A word is due to our opponents and particularly Noble, for the fine and sportsmanlike spirit in which they met us, which did much to make the games so enjoyable.

Now how was it we managed to win? Of course, as was only to be expected, we are informed that Australia is weaker at the present time than for years past. That is an assertion which I think it is unnecessary to refute, and its fallacy will be sufficiently demonstrated when they are over here next year. I am inclined to think that it was the greater variety we possessed in bowling that carried the day. There was little to choose between the teams as far as batting was concerned. Their famous quartette were, of course, far superior to our four best batsman, but the rest of our batting was superior to theirs. Trumper was far the best bat on either side, though Noble and Duff have improved enormously since they were seen over here in 1902. They had plenty of bowling, but it was all too much of a kind - nearly all right-hand medium - and it was this lack of variety that let them down.

The introduction of Cotter made a great deal of difference and he should do very well over here. His action is a bit low, but he has plenty of pace, a sure foothold on any wicket, and can generally make the ball get up in a disconcerting fashion. It is strange to Englishmen to see a fast bowler begin the bowling when the wicket is thoroughly wet, but in Australia the ground is so hard underneath that a fast bowler is almost unplayable under such conditions. Cotter certainly was; he got a footing where Rhodes was unable to, and made the ball fly tremendously. It was generally chest high, and frequently over one's head. We made the discovery too late in the tour to take advantage of it, but it looked as if it were always advisable to play a fast bowler on these wet wickets. Hopkins is a greatly improved bowler, and has changed his style. Noble was as good as ever and Trumble not much his inferior. Individually their bowlers were probably quite as good as ours, but they did not form nearly such a strong combination, and that was where we had the pull. In wicket keeping also we had the advantage. Lilley was magnificent throughout, and hardly missed a catch. Kelly, though bringing off some brilliant catches, was not safe or consistent. (Strudwick, of course, never had a chance.)

Another important factor in our success was the personality of our captain. The keenest of enthusiasts, and as he would say, a cheerful optimist he infected the whole team with his own spirit, and in addition never spared himself if he could do anything for the comfort, or pleasure, of the men under him. His sole thought was for us, and no one of us can ever properly appreciate, or be sufficiently grateful for, all he did for us. A wise, and most successful captain on the field, his tact and kindly influence in less strenuous moments had even more to do with his final triumph. Most of the hard work of the tour, and most of the troubles and worries incidental to such a trip, fell on his shoulders. He never shirked and never complained, and herein performed the greater portion of a captain's duty. In his own words the day on which we won the rubber constituted the happiest moment of his life, and never was happiness more deserved. We could have wished him better luck with the bat, but personal success was the last consideration with him. In other fields he earned distinction, notably as an orator. In this connection we suffered, if I may use the word, from excess of hospitality. Much as we appreciated the kindly feelings which prompted the welcome extended to us on all hands, one can have too much of a good thing, and speeches, when one has just arrived after a fatiguing journey, sometimes about 10 p.m., can hardly be too short. The kindness and hospitality shown to us by private individuals all over the country could not have been surpassed and everybody did their best to give us the best of good times, which we certainly had, and we can never be sufficiently grateful for all that wasdone for us on every hand.

In future tours one would like to see the up-country matches omitted. They are no sort of trial, even for one's opponents, and cause slackness, if only from the fact that they can never be finished. They do more harm than good, and in future a team would do far better either to play only first-class matches or, if that would be too great a strain, take six weeks' holiday in the middle of the tour, and visit New Zealand and Tasmania, playing a few matches, which would pay well - pecuniaomma vincit - and be of far more interest than those matches in Australia. The trip would be a most enjoyable one, and be a nice rest in the middle of what must always be an ardous undertaking. It was a pity our tour was not financially successful, but on the terms financial success could hardly be looked for, though had we been favoured with finer weather at Melbourne much of the deficit would have been made up. As Warner told Major Wardill, in joke, the Melbourne Club will have to give a guarantee for future matches!

As we are to have a visit next year from our late opponents, a word as to the new men we are likely to see over here. Cotter, for one, Gehrs, Claxton and possibly Newland from S. Australia, and McAlister from Victoria. The last-named is one of the soundest batsmen in Australia and a very fine player. He cuts beautifully, drives well on the off, and seldom lets off a leg ball. He should do extremely well over here if he finds a dry season. Gehrs is the most promising bat in Australia. His forcing strokes both back and forward, are splendid. He has tremendous possibilities, and might well be another Trumper. Both these two are magnificent fieldsmen. Claxton is a good bat, and a very much better bowler than he looks. Right-hand, round the wicket, he is much faster than one thinks, and goes away with his arm. He was consistently successful for South Australia last season. Newland is a good wicket-keeper, and a really good bat, though not recognised as such. His on-side play is remarkable. Jennings is also a most promising batsman, and Windsor (of Tasmania) has been mentioned, but, though a good bowler, he is not quite class enough. There is also a probability of Darling being once more seen over here, though not necessarily as captain.

Their chief need is a really good left hand bowler (Saunders being too uncertain), and a right-hand bowler to take the place of Trumble - should the latter adhere to his decision to retire from the game. Personally, I think the odds are about 100 to 1 against his coming here again. In this case his mantle may fall on Hopkins' shoulders. Anyhow they will be a very strong side, equal, I think, to any they have sent over for many years, and probably the best batting side Australia has ever produced.

Let us not underrate them, and let us do our best to beat them. It has been a great pleasure to go over the tour once more, if only in recollection. If I have failed to convey any true impression of it, let the distance of time be my excuse. After the lapse of such a period the tour presents itself to the mental vision as some vast panorama, in which the details are obscured by distance, and it is not easy to provide the telescope wherewith to pick them out clearly. We had the very best of games, and the Goddess of Victory smiled on us. Finish coronat opus, and the tour may be written as successful in every way - except financially.

© John Wisden & Co