Sidelights on the Tests, 1948

Australia and England

VGJ Jenkins

It is a truism that you cannot have the best of anything in this life without having the worst of it as well. This applies to the history of England- Australia Test cricket as surely as it does to the freedom of the Press, Elizabethan drama, Aunt Agatha's cooking, or any other institution subject to the whims and caprices of human nature.

For some reason, wherever there have been Tests there has also been Trouble.

Larwood and bodyline we all know, except those fortunates still in their 'teens. More recently the umpiring controversies of the 1946-47 tour down under are too fresh in the memory to need recalling. But these are only the more recent instalments in a serial that has gone on since the earliest days. As far back as 1879 there occurred in Sydney an incident which, if it were repeated to-day, would call for the combined efforts of U.N.O. to restore order. Lord Harris's XI, beaten in the first Test match, were due to play a return, but it never took place owing to the high feeling caused by some remarkable scenes when the Tourists met New South Wales.

Umpires, even in those days, and an English one in particular, named Couthard, caused the trouble. So enraged were the crowd by one of his decisions that they invaded the pitch. Those players best tactically situated were able to grab hold of the stumps to defend themselves. Others has to use their fists. Lord Harris was struck by a man with a stick, but A. N. Hornby intervened and carried off the culprit struggling to the pavilion. One can only imagine what repercussions this would have today.

Much the same happened to Sir Pelham Warner's team on the same ground in 1903-4, but this time physical intervention by the onlookers was limited to long-range bombardment with bottles and other missiles. Once again the reason for the outburst had a familiar ring-- Rain stopped play--crowd not agreeing.

Money, too, has always been a bone of contention. Five of the first nine teams to visit Australia, from 1862 and 1886, were all-professional ones under professional captains; this might surprise many moderns who constantly clamour for this as though it were something new.

Not unnaturally, with cricket not thoroughly established then as now, the financial side was a matter of some hazard. Therefore it came as a shock to Arthur Shrewsbury's team of 1884-85 when they found after their arrival in Australia that their opponents, supposedly amateurs, also wanted a half share of the gate receipts. This was against W. L. Murdoch's team, recently back from a successful tour of England. They were at last grudgingly offered 30 per cent of the takings for the first Test at Adelaide. This they refused to accept, but after further wrangling finally agreed to take a flat guarantee of £450 from the South Australian Cricket Association.

In the next Test at Melbourne, Murdoch's men withdrew absolutely, and though they came back to the fold by ones and twos for future matches the whole series became a farce. At Adelaide, Murdoch refused to accept James Lillywhite as an umpire, and two local men were brought in with dire results.

Another extraordinary interlude occurred in 1887-88, when two English teams went off to tour Australia concurrently. One under the Hon. M. B. Hawke, who returned to England because of the death of his father; the other under C. Aubrey Smith, now better known in the role of a Bengal Lancer, with variations. They combined for the one Test, W. W. Read being captain.

Not unnaturally both teams suffered a severe financial loss, but provided an all-time deterrent to similar experiments in the future.

In those days Australian teams came to England on a share all profits basis, except for a few junior members, who had to be satisfied with a half-share as compared with their seniors. Victor Trumper was one such, but was so successful on his first tour that he was promoted to full-sharing status at the end of it.

Managers have always been fair game when other means of causing trouble have exhausted themselves. In 1912 six leading Australian players, Trumper, Clem Hill, Warwick Armstrong, Carter, Ransford and Cotter refused to come to England for the Triangular Tournament unless they were allowed to select their own manager.

To the credit of the Australian Board of Control, they stood firm in the matter and sent the team without the six players concerned, even though it caused a tremendous hullabaloo at the time.

For providing the real touch sinister, however, there has never been anything to beat dark hints about betting. We had a faint echo of it at Sydney in 1946-47. Yet it was in 1888 that some errant spirit, possibly no more than a misguided reveller, broke into the Adelaide Oval overnight to water the pitch and hack lumps out of the turf, and George Giffen was impelled to write: Whatever his object could have been is a mystery. If he had backed the Englishmen he did not need to damp the pitch, for they had us under the whip already, whilst if he was a South Australian backer he was not likely to improve our chance by watering the wicket. Presumably this accounts for the armed policemen who now stand guard over the wickets at night in Brisbane and elsewhere.

Not the bets have always been made sub rosa. George Bonnor once won a wager of £100 from a fellow-passenger on the ship to England that he would throw a cricket ball 115 yards on his first throw on landing. He did so--119 yards 5 inches--on the parade ground of Raglan Barracks. At once he offered to make it £200 or nothing on the next throw being 125 yards, but the loser was taking no more chances.

Catering deficiencies, very often with good reason, have frequently stirred the public to wrath. Yet it was an alleged excess of catering zeal that caused one of the noisiest scenes ever witnessed at Kennington Oval.

When the Australians, in 1884, needed only 11 runs to win with nine wickets to fall against the Players, lunch was taken for the sole reason, the crowd thought, of avoiding the caterer's loss. Whether rain might or might not have intervened appears not to have concerned them, and it took the united efforts of players and committeemen to restore order.

So it has gone on. Trouble in major or minor degree all along the line. But what of it? These have been but transient murmurings, squawks from the groundlings long since forgotten.

But Trumper is not forgotten nor Grace, Lohmann, Jackson, Ranji, MacLaren, Fry, Noble, Murdoch, Spofforth, Clem Hill, Joe Darling, Warren Bardsley, and a host of others whose names trip off the tongue more easily than any list of Cabinet Ministers.

Arguments on the respective merits of Hobbs and Bradman, Hammond and MacArtney, S. F. Barnes and O'Reilly will continue long after the storms about umpires' decisions have faded as surely as the minor squabbles of Gengis Khan's courtiers.

Never the best without the worst. But it is only the best that survives. For what we have received...

Enshrined in the following statistics of the meetings between England and Australia lies the true story of an ever-recurring wonder that stirs the blood of each succeeding generation as they see it come to light anew.



Date of First matchWon by EnglandWon by AustraliaDrawnTotal
In Australia 1876-773444482
In England 188021162966

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