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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 9 (December 1, 1934)

The Battlefields of Sport — The Making of the Ashes

page 54

The Battlefields of Sport
The Making of the Ashes.

Like a field of mushrooms the umbrellas spread above the 20,000 watchers at the Oval. There had been a downpour at 10 o'clock, but it was clearing now and an exciting finish to the match was in prospect. England were still 38 runs ahead after that curious first day; they would win, surely, with Grace in form (though he had made a mere four runs yesterday), with Barlow bowling deadly stuff. But the Australians had their giants, too, that man Blackham who made runs even when all the others failed; Murdoch, of the wall-like bat; Giffen, whom these men from far away called “Our Grace.” And there was that ominous record of success throughout the tour, only three matches lost in the twenty-nine played, with “the demon” Spofforth pitching every ball just where he wanted it and with a giant appetite for wickets.

Yet England would win. Even though Spofforth had taken seven wickets for 46 yesterday, Barlow had bettered that with an average of five wickets for less than four runs apiece. He had bowled twenty-five maidens in thirty-one overs and this against a team which included a man who had hit three sixes and a four off successive balls sent down to him by Lucas at Scarborough, and another who had made a double century at Oxford—five times the score that the rest of his side was able to put together. Well, this was the fateful innings. And there went Bannerman and Massie in to bat.

It was evident at first that the wicket was easy. The deficit of 38 runs was gone in the first hour. Massie, the man who could score with a stroke to any part of the field, was fifty-five now, but at last he made a mistake and Australia's great opening run ended at last. The total score is sixty-six, three runs more than the whole team made yesterday, and the promise of the tour is being borne out. They will be hard to beat, these Australians. This first test match is providing a measuring rod for English cricket, and it is not as far ahead of the men from far away as everyone had thought. But Peate is in deadly form, and from the way Bannerman and Bonner are shaping it is obvious that the wicket is giving the batsmen greater difficulty. That summer sun, in all its English heat, is dragging up the moisture from this level turf. The ball is doing strange things, shooting and swerving. Ah! fourth ball and there goes Bonner's middle stump. Bannerman is tied up now and will fail before long. He has made thirteen, it will be unlucky for him. It is! He fails to a swift, low one, and what looks like a collapse has begun.

Now it is Grace's turn. Murdoch and Horan are the next men, Murdoch the man to check the attack at a moment like this; Horan, the reliable. Blackham is to come, too, for he can stop anything; Blackham, the great wicket-keeper, of such a splendid eye that (imagine it!) he needs no long stop to cover his errors. But Peate is bowling again, and they cannot handle him. The ball is beating them, they must do better or leave it alone. There goes Horan, not so reliable after all, a perfect catch by Grace at point. And there goes Giffen on the next ball, the same way! Five for seventy-nine; five wickets for thirteen runs! What a change of fortune!

It is Murdoch and Blackham now. Can Blackham stay with Murdoch? It is all over with Australia if he does not. Yes, it is obvious that they will be together for a while. The wicket-keeper is batting more confidently than the others, making few runs it is true, but giving Murdoch the chance of piling up a steady total. They have reached ninety-nine now and Murdoch is still going well. But Blackham has mistimed this one, it is travelling
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Christchurch-Invercargill express passing through Timaru, South Island,

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Christchurch-Invercargill express passing through Timaru, South Island,

high, he will be out—he is out! Caught at the wicket by Lyttelton. He made only seven runs, but every run counts now.

Jones has come in to replace Blackham and the score is moving up again. Jones has reached six now and Murdoch is facing the bowling. He has hit it to short-leg, and there goes Lyttelton in pursuit with Grace moving in from point to cover the stumps. They have run their single and Jones has gone out to pat the turf. But Grace is waving to Lyttelton, who returns the ball and the doctor raps it against the wicket. “Out!”

The Australians are dumbfounded. “Cricket, but dirty,” says one of them. “The sort of thing that happens when tinkers play tailors,” says another. (Later, Hornby, the greatest of English captains will say to Murdoch: “I never thought one of my side would have done it.”)

It is all over now, with the last batsman gone. Spofforth leaves the crease without scoring a run; Garrett, the change bowler, makes two, and Murdoch tries to force the pace so that the runs may come before it is too late. He will overdo it, of course, and he does—run out by a smart return. The Australians have not made a big score after all—122 after that beginning which gave them sixty for no wickets—and England has to make only eighty-five to win.

But there is tension as the Australians take the field. They are determined to be revenged on Grace for what he has done, and Spofforth is putting everything he possesses into his bowling. The opening is sound, though slow. But now Spofforth is fully warmed up—he has done it. Grace may have warded off the attack, but Hornby, England's other hope, has been beaten. Barlow comes, and Spofforth page 55
(W. W. Stewart collection.) “Power.” A photographic study.

(W. W. Stewart collection.)
“Power.” A photographic study.

conquers him with the first ball. Two for fifteen, and two such batsmen! Here comes Ulyett now, the burly batsman whose name is as great in Yorkshire as Hornby's is in rival Lancashire. And Grace is not to be tamed. He has, at bottom, a contempt for these Australians who would show England how to play cricket, and however fierce the attack he is thriving on it. In less than an hour he has taken the score to fifty, and victory is in sight. Another run, and Spofforth is changing ends. It is to be a move which will provide an entire change of scene. In his first over, Spofforth, with a more secure foothold for his delivery than he has enjoyed at the other end of the pitch, sees Ulyett play one into the capacious hands of Blackham, crouched behind the stumps. In the next, with Boyle taking the ball from Garrett, Grace goes back to the pavilion, caught in a flying leap by the alert Bannerman. It was a hard cut, which Bannerman just managed to rake into his keeping. Four for fifty-three. Victory, so close a moment ago, is not so certain after all. But there are good batsmen yet. Lyttelton and Lucas are now charged with the task of getting the runs. Lucas has a superb defence, but he is in difficulties; it is all he can do to keep up his wicket against Spofforth. And at the other end the wily Boyle has struck such a magnificent length that he has tied up Lyttelton. Two maiden overs out of four sent down. And now twelve successive maidens! The batsmen are helpless; they cannot succeed against such an attack as this. But Blackham has missed a drive and there is a groan from the Australians. There goes Bonner from slip to cut off the four. He does it, and Spofforth gets Lyttelton next ball; Blackham's error has been fruitful after all. But it is hardly likely that England can fail now. Only nineteen runs wanted, and five wickets to fall. Even Spofforth cannot bottle up the opposition to the extent needed to save the match. Steel and Lucas are together, and Steel is captain of Cambridge, while Lucas has just shown what he can do against a bowler virtually unplayable for over after over. Steel has Boyle's measure, and has cut the wily bowler for four, showing Lyttelton how to do it. But he faces Spofforth, and the demon bowler raises a chance and takes it himself. With his third ball Spofforth gets Read's wicket—Read who has made centuries and yet fails at a moment like this. Seven for seventy and one of the Australians says to Lord Bessborough, the President of M.C.C.: “We ought to win now.”

Studd is next. He has already made one century against the Australians, but as he comes out it is seen that he is so excited that he has put on a pad upside down. Someone calls out, “You'll get a duck,” and he does not even hit the ball before he is back again; such is the odd turn of fate. At seventy-five Lucas plays Spofforth's shooting delivery on to the wicket, and the last batsman is gone, save Barnes. He comes in—with a season's average of eighty—at ninth wicket. That is how strong this English team has been. The first ball he cuts hard to point and Murdoch's hands stiffen for the catch. Nine for seventy-five. Peate is last. He is no bat, but only nine runs are wanted, and last week he made 145 for last wicket. He pulls the first ball round to leg to score two. But he misses the next entirely and the third ball clean bowls him. Studd is unbeaten, but he has got his duck all right, and Australia has won by seven runs. Garrett, in the slips, kneels down and kisses the turf, the team's manager rushes out, incoherent with excitement; Blackham hurriedly pockets the ball, and at the side bar a moment later “W.G.” booms, “I left seven men to get thirty-two runs, and I'm damned if they could get them!”

In the evening Murdoch will offer Blackham £5 for the ball, and Blackham will say “No thanks, that ball's an Australian heirloom,” and in the sporting press there will appear the funeral notice:

“Sacred to the Memory of English Cricket. It's end was Peate.”