Individualists, with parallel careers, 1959

Charles Macartney and George Gunn

Neville Cardus

Among several notable personalities who died in 1958 were two famous batsmen, Charles Macartney of Australia and George Gunn of England. Each played in his first Test at Sydney in 1907 and their careers ran parallel.

Charles Macartney and George Gunn were two great individualists amongst batsmen, alike in their determination to occupy the crease on their own terms. But they were independent with a difference. Macartney revelled in constant aggression. He played a defensive stroke as a last resort. A maiden over to him he received as a personal affront and insult. George Gunn would one day make runs quickly and as audaciously as Macartney, but he never appeared to bustle. Next day, in fact, it might happen in the same innings, he would suddenly change mood and gear, and indulge in stonewalling obviously at his own whim, no credit to the bowler. George took little notice of the scoreboard. A few days before his death he came to Lord's last summer, and he told me that he had always batted according. It would have been beside the point if I had asked him according to what?

In June 1913, at Trent Bridge, Yorkshire went in first against Nottinghamshire and scored 471, leaving Nottinghamshire with only a draw to play for. Gunn scored 132 in six hours, so wilfully slow that the Yorkshire bowlers taunted him, asking, "Hast lost thi strokes, George?" And George replied, "Oh, you'd like to see some strokes, would you? Well, next innings I'll show you some." Yorkshire declared their second innings closed and Nottinghamshire's total, when rain washed out the day, was 129 for three wickets. The score-card, preserved in silk at Trent Bridge, reads as follows:

Gunn not out109
Lee b Haigh4
Hardstaffrun out3
Alleston c Booth b Rhodes0
Gunn, J. not out8

Gunn scored his 109 in 85 minutes. "I decided to play swash-buckle just to show'em," he explained. In another match at Trent Bridge, in August 1928, Nottinghamshire, playing Kent, wanted only 157 to win on a perfect wicket on a beautiful third afternoon. There was heaps of time left and the crowd settled down to watch Gunn and Whysall jog home comfortably. But George scored exactly 100 in an hour and a half, so that the game came to an unnecessarily abrupt end, with an hour or two of sunshine wasted. I asked Gunn afterwards, "Why did you hurry? And on such a lovely afternoon." "Well," he replied in his amiable, indulgent way, "when 'Dodge' (Whysall) and me were coming down pavilion stairs, a member spoke to me and said something he shouldn't have said. I can't tell you what it was, but it annoyed me. So I went and took it out of Kent bowlin'."

Macartney on the kill was as the tiger with his prey. George played with bowling, the best in the world, like cat with mouse. He didn't eat it after he'd killed it. Macartney put the attack unmercifully to the sword. In 1926 Armstrong's conquering team feared Macaulay of Yorkshire. Macartney decided to knock Macaulay out of the rubber at Leeds, the third Test, and Macaulay's first that year. A. W. Carr, captain of England, won the toss and sent Australia in on a soft but not difficult pitch. (Charles Parker, deadliest of left-arm spinners, was drink-waiter.) Warren Bardsley fell to a slip catch off the first ball sent down by Maurice Tate and Macartney was missed by Carr in the slips off the fifth ball of the same over. Macartney, not at all interested in his good or Carr's bad luck, immediately annihilated the England attack. He scored a century before lunch, incidentally removing the menace of Macaulay once and for all out of Australia's way.

In 1921 at Trent Bridge, he scored 345 in three hours fifty minutes. He was missed when 9 in the slips by none other than our other hero--George Gunn. Macartney cut and drove with a blinding swiftness and so utterly demoralised the Nottinghamshire attack that A. W. Carr decided to make a gesture which would convey to the critics in the Pavilion some idea that he, at least, was keeping his head. He decided to change his bowlers round. "It wouldn't have mattered a damn to Charles which end Fred Barratt or Tich Richmond was bowling from, but the move would be proof that I was still in charge." He decided to bowl the odd over himself to enable the change-round. "It'll look all right in the score-sheet in all the slaughter," he thought. "A. W. Carr 1--1--0--0." If my readers will consult Wisden of 1922, they will discover that Carr's single over was plundered to the extent of 24 runs. "And I pitched 'em wide where I thought he couldn't possibly reach them," said Carr. No bowler, no tactics, no kind of field could tame Macartney.

In the 1926 Test at Old Trafford against Fred Root's leg theory inswingers, Macartney took three hours to reach a century. Though he hit 14 boundaries in that time, he assured me afterwards that he had hated the innings. "'Rootie' knew he couldn't get me out, so he bowled wide. Only fools get out that way." He often batted in a temper. In the Triangular Tests of 1912 when England played Australia at Lord's, somebody in the dressing-room teased Charles as he was putting on his pads. "Cripes, Charlie, 'Barney' (Barnes) and Frank Foster are goin' to do it again." (It was the season following the great Barnes-Foster triumphs in Australia.) "Cripes, Charlie, 'Barney's' pitchin' 'em on the leg and only just missin' the off." When Charles went out to bat he was, so I was authoritatively informed, livid with rage. He scored 99; D'Artagnan and Mercutio in one. Barnes took none for 74.

In Test matches Macartney scored 2,132 runs, average 41.80. George Gunn, in two rubbers, both against Australia in Australia, scored 843 runs in nineteen innings, with an average of over 44.

Only once was he invited to play for England in England--at Lord's in 1909, when he was lbw Cotter 1, and b Armstrong 0. Nobody to this day knows why George Gunn was not called into action for England in 1921 against Gregory and McDonald. He liked fast bowling and used to walk out of his crease, in leisurely fashion, to play it. "If I stayed in crease for it," he explained to me, "it comes up too 'igh, because I'm not tall. So I goes out to meet it on the rise, where I can get on top." A young Lancashire wicket-keeper who had not seen George before was astounded to see him walking-out to McDonald. "Ah," thinks the young wicket-keeper, "if ah can stump him off 'Mac' ah'll sure get me county cap." So next ball, as George sauntered forth while McDonald was still gliding into action, the young wicket-keeper risked stealing up to the stumps. Gunn played down a nasty kicking express to his toes, then turning round, saw the young 'keeper's nose near the bails. "Good mornin', young feller," he said. "Nice day, isn't it?"

He celebrated his 50th birthday in June 1929 by scoring 164 not out against Worcestershire. He promised me, weeks in advance of the event, that he would thus celebrate it. There was nothing, in fact, that he couldn't do with a cricket bat. He once said to me, "Ever since I played the game--and I began in 'W.G.'s' time--batters have always made two big mistakes. First of all, they take too much notice of the state of the wicket, pattin' and pokin'--it only encourages bowlers. Then--and this is more serious--they take too much notice of the bowling."

Often he stonewalled with obvious self-determination, seldom because he was compelled to by the attack. "I never hurry," was his motto. "Either on the field or off it." When he made runs swiftly, he was still apparently taking his own time with ample ease and leisure to enjoy himself. He was a shortish, well-built but not at all a sturdy man, a little bandy in the legs, quizzical of eye and face, and slow and humorous in his talk. In 1906 he suffered a haemorrhage of the lungs and was obliged to winter in New Zealand. He happened to be in Australia in December 1907 when A. O. Jones's M.C.C. team were there. He was called on for the Test matches and scored 119 in his first Test innings at Sydney. Though he seemed to improvise strokes and do all sorts of original things with the best bowlers, he was at bottom faultless of style; he owed much to instruction when young from the scrupulously classical Arthur Shrewsbury. It is true that Gunn totalled 35,190 runs in first-class cricket, average 35.90 with 62 hundreds, but statistics tell little of his genius. We might as well add up the quavers and crotchets in Rossini's operas. He was himself, delightful and lovable; and he always batted according.

Macartney's resource and brilliance were vehement. His innings often plundered the attack savagely. His strokes might flash at times all round the wicket, but there was no yielding humour in them. He was after the blood of Englishmen. As the bowler prepared to run, Macartney would raise his bat above his head, legs apart, as though stretching himself loose for action. From under the long peak of his green Australian cap gleamed two eyes bright as a bird's. The chin was thrust out in defiance. His shoulders were square, and he also was below medium height. His arms were powerful, wrists as steel. He was not born commanding; only after hard service did he earn his nickname "The Governor-General". He was self-taught, never coached. To begin with he had few strokes at all. In his first Tests--during 1907-1908 rubber, the same in which Gunn first had international honours--Macartney's place in the order of going in varied. Twice he was seventh or eighth. He was known then less as a batsman than as a left-handed slow spinner. In England, his first trip here, he took 11 wickets for 85 against England at Leeds, in July 1909. In the same rubber, at Birmingham, in England's first innings, he went on first and in a few overs he got rid of MacLaren, bowled for 5, Hobbs lbw for 0 and C. B. Fry bowled for 0. No spinner has enjoyed so impressive a haul at so little expense. In those days his spin and length were superb.

Macartney goes down in the game's history side by side with Victor Trumper. He did not share Victor's effortless and chivalrous poise. For all his dazzling sword play and footwork, Macartney was an ironside cavalier. None the less, he belongs to the great immortal and decreasing company of cricketers who, while they are attending to the duty to their team--and the first duty of any player is to try to win--combine serious intent with personal relish, thus winning not only our admiration, but our affection, remaining warm in our memory for years.

© John Wisden & Co