Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 3 — First Overseas Tour
First Overseas Tour
The season 1898–99 was to be an important one for New Zealand cricketers, the Cricket Council having decided to send a team to Australia.
Sims and 1 at once decided on an even more intensive training. For the time being we gave up Rugby football, and throughout the winter months went every Saturday afternoon to a cricket practice pavilion owned by old Mr. Dickenson, a member of the Canterbury team in its first match against Otago in 1864. This barn-like building was the only one of its kind I have ever seen. It was specially built for the purpose, being about thirty yards long, and five yards wide. There were plenty of skylights, so the light was good. The clay for the floor had been run in in liquid form, providing a level surface on which was stretched a six-foot width of coco-nut matting; it made a beautiful batting wicket. Netting was hung across the ceiling and down the sides, about a yard from the walls, so that we could walk from one end to the other without coming into the line of play. We were joined by Prankish, Cobcroft, Boxshall, and the two Ridleys, so it will be seen that we had splendid practice. In the early spring we transferred to a turf wicket at the home of Mr. H. Murray, at Avonside, and when the fateful season opened were all in our best form.
Great interest was taken in the selection of the team, for this was New Zealand's first overseas tour, although a Canterbury XI had visited Victoria as far back as 1878. Mr. Ashbolt of Wellington was appointed sole selector. This was a mistake, for New Zealand's principal cities are widely separated, and a single selector cannot always have the requisite knowledge of the form and ability of the players in every centre. This was to be illustrated in the selection of the team; the greatest mistake being the omission of Archie Ridley of Canterbury.
The standard of play in New Zealand was rated fairly high at this time, for we had splendid bowlers in Fisher, Downes, Frankish, and Upham, while the batting also was considered good. In 1894 Canterbury had beaten a New South Wales XI page 36 at Christchurch. New Zealand had won the Test Match against another New South Wales side in 1895, and in 1896 had beaten the Queensland team at Wellington. Against these performances must be placed the form shown by New Zealanders in the games with Trott's 1896 Australian XI. This side, playing against odds, simply overwhelmed all New Zealand teams until they met Otago. It was in this match that the Australians were to be given a real fright, for the men of Dunedin fought them every inch of the way. After gaining a lead on the first innings, and dismissing the Australians for 95 runs in their second, it looked as though Otago would win, but Trumble proved irresistible, and carried his side to victory with but 14 runs to spare. It was the sensational bowling of Fisher and Downes that made the Australians, in this match, appear to be little better than the local side. Fisher, in particular, was outstanding, as will be seen from his figures: six for 39, and five for 39. It was on this performance that the Australians invited him to Melbourne the following season, with a view to playing him in the Test Match against Stoddart's 1897 team. It was disappointing when it was found that on the hard Australian wickets Fisher was unable to get the same break and swing that made him so difficult to play under New Zealand conditions. It was for a touring team that the Australians should have considered his claims, for in England Fisher would have been a real success.
These matches against the various visiting sides could be used as a guide in assessing our chances of making a good showing against the Australian State teams.
Returning to the selection of the team, we were to be disappointed when it was learnt that Holdship, Williams, and Pearce were unable to make the trip; Holdship would certainly have been captain of the side; Williams was the best batsman in New Zealand at this time; and Pearce was an excellent all-rounder. Added to this was the loss of L. A. Cuff, one of our finest players and best captains, who, two years earlier, had gone to settle in Tasmania. Williams and Pearce were unable to obtain leave—a common difficulty in those days—but Holdship, holding a responsible position, decided not to go. He thus joined Harry Moses and Billy Bruce, the great Australian left-handers, who acted similarly in years gone by. Moses did not go to England with any Australian team. Bruce went in 1886, page 37 missed the '88 and '90 tours, going again in 1893; he later told me he wished he had made all four. Looking back over the years, one sees many promising business or professional careers cast to the winds for cricket tours. This applies to Australia in particular, although we have had one or two instances in New Zealand; no doubt England, too, could supply her quota.
We finally reached the point of leaving for Australia. All our bowlers could go, and we still had a sound batting side, although we tapered off too quickly about half-way down the list. The North Island members joined the Canterbury contingent at Lyttelton, and we went on to Dunedin by sea. I wonder what modern players would say of their executives sending them by steamer because it was cheaper than by rail?
The team, thus fully assembled, was now ready to play a two days' match against Otago. It was thought it would be an advantage to have us all play together, so as to become used to one another's ways in the field, and between the wickets. In the absence of Fisher and Downes from the Otago team, Hope-became their principal bowler. This player always had the misfortune of having to play second fiddle to the above pair. As a matter of fact, he was good enough to be on our side for Australia, but there just wasn't room for him. This first match of the tour was played on the proverbial Dunedin soft wicket, with runs hard to get. I will relate but the final innings.
The Otago opening batsmen made a better job of playing their own representative bowlers than Canterbury batsmen usually did; before a wicket had fallen, I was called upon to replace Fisher. I think it must have been the change to slower pace, and a more flighty delivery, but, whatever it was, there was trouble for Otago at once. First one wicket, then two, then three, in quick succession, but it did not end there, for at the finish Otago were all out for 37; Reese nine for 14, a performance that came in for flattering comment, for I was not yet twenty. As a youngster of fourteen, I had once taken eight wickets for 7 runs when playing for the Midland Club's boys' team against Christ's College Third XI, but in first-class cricket had not previously approached such figures as those obtained in this final innings of Otago's.
We went on to Invercargill by train to catch the intercolonial steamer at The Bluff. Out into the rough sea in Foveaux Strait over went my stumps again, for I was at this page 38 time a very bad sailor. Three days to Hobart, with the usual big southerly swell prevalent over this route, made an unpleasant trip. Captain Cook, in his log, makes mention of the persistence of these rollers, which come up from the Antarctic. I wasn't out of my bunk during the voyage, and they fed me on egg-flips—beaten up eggs and brandy. Arthur Sims was a remarkable sailor; he could go down to the dining-saloon, have one course, come up and be frightfully sick, then return to finish his meal.
The approach to the southern coast of Tasmania saw the gradual calming down of the sea, and the arrival on deck of passengers who had not previously appeared. We were close to the shore, passing the cliffs at Point Pillar, which resemble the pipes of an organ, before I made an appearance. It was late afternoon on a lovely summer's day when we steamed up the wonderful harbour at Hobart. Some of those to meet us on the wharf had been members of the Tasmanian team that visited New Zealand in 1884.
Fortunately, we had a day and a half ashore before our match against Southern Tasmania, and I was surprised to find how quickly one recovered from seasickness.
We practised the following day, and were a fit side to begin our first match. It was a typically hard Australian wicket, in fact, so hard that our spikes clinked when we walked on it, and the pitch had a sheen like bitumen. In all my later experiences in Australia I did not see a harder wicket. We won the toss, and made over 300 runs. Two or three of our batsmen shaped very well, but most of them found the pace of the wicket puzzling.
When it came to Tasmania's, innings, we knew that the strength of their batting was largely wrapped up in Kenny Burn and C. J, Eady. Burn had been a member of the 1890 Australian team to England, while Eady, who had gone as the second fast bowler to Jones in the 1896 tour, was also a first-class batsman. Burn, now a veteran, was still a very good player; Eady was in his prime, and trying hard to win a place in the 1899 team to England. They both got a good start. Burn just missed the half-century, and Eady had reached 64, when a remarkable incident occurred. Groping forward to my slower ball, Eady spooned one back about three-quarters of the way down the pitch; I threw myself forward to catch the ball just off the page 39 ground. The batsman hesitated to go, and the umpire at my end, when appealed to, said he could not see the catch. When an appeal was made to the other umpire he promptly gave the batsman out. To the astonishment of everyone, the umpire at the bowler's end then said, “Not out!” This was a strange situation. It was now not so much a question of whether I had made a clean catch, as whether an umpire, having said he could not see what had happened, could now take the law back into his own hands and over-ride the decision of the umpire standing at square-leg. Our captain refused to go on, and insisted that the batsman was out. Charles Eady, always a fine sportsman, then walked away, allowing the first decision to stand. His action prevented the development of what might have proved an unpleasant episode. With Eady and Burn out, the rest of the batsman were more of our own class, and Tasmania's innings finally reached a total of 343—only 8 runs ahead of ours; Reese five for 58. This success on such a hard wicket confirmed, rather than created, the obvious difficulty confronting our Selection Committee.
I have mentioned before that our main strength lay in the possession of four bowlers who had so proved themselves under New Zealand conditions. I was the fifth bowler of the side. It was thus obvious that my inclusion as an all-rounder made it necessary to drop one of the “Big Four.” This was to cause some heart-burning. Upham was an excellent medium-fast right-hander, very similar in pace and delivery to J. W. H. T. Douglas with the same perpendicular arm action that gave him an occasional in-swing from the off, if the wind was against him. When Jim Phillips was in New Zealand in 1898, fulfilling a coaching engagement with Canterbury, he was so impressed with Upham's bowling that he wanted to take him back to England with a view to his qualifying for county cricket. F. S. Frankish was a tall left-hander of the same style, and about the same pace, as George Hirst, but two years ahead of the Yorkshireman in developing his disconcerting off-swerve. Like Upham, he was a fast-wicket bowler. Downes and Fisher, I have already referred to in earlier pages; they were both spin bowlers. To cricket experts, it will be seen that had either Upham or Downes been dropped, we would have been left with three left-hand bowlers on the side. In the end Frankish was preferred to Fisher, who stood down for the first match. When page 40 one remembers that it was but the previous season that the Australians had invited him to Melbourne, it will be realized what a difficult decision the selectors were called upon to make. Even our own public could not visualize a New Zealand team without Fisher.
As this match against Southern Tasmania was confined to three days, these substantial totals left no time for either side to force a conclusion, so the game ended in an even draw.
We were all thrilled with Hobart. The harbour was magnificent, and the town nicely placed on its shores, with Mount Wellington overlooking the scene. We were taken up the mountain on the Sunday, and after lunch were treated to a feast-of strawberries and cream. Tasmania, with its wonderful climate, is, as everyone knows, noted for its fruit. The apples are amongst the world's best, and a great export trade with England is a feature of the island's industry. Peaches, grapes, cherries and other luscious fruits are available in plenty.
In Hobart I was to meet Mr. Robert Dawson, an old rowing friend of my father's. Three Dawson brothers came to New Zealand about the year 1860, the year before my father arrived from Scotland. The Dawsons were all expert oarsmen, reared and trained on this beautiful harbour on the Derwent Estuary. The races at regattas in those days were between boats owned by different groups of young men, who usually had a pair-oared, and a four-oared racing boat. The Reeses and the Dawsons joined forces, and built the Black Eagle, a boat that was to become famous. Although I had heard from my mother and my uncle many rowing stories of early years, I was to hear from Mr. Dawson more delightful tales of their picnics, training, and contests. One story is well worth re-telling.
The big event in the rowing season was the annual regatta at Lyttelton on New Year's Day. There was then no tunnel between Christchurch and Lyttelton, and it was usual to have the racing skiffs taken over the hill from Heathcote on some wheeled vehicle. For the 1863 regatta, the Black Eagle crew in a moment of daring, decided to row their boat down the Avon to Sumner, a distance of nine miles, carry it two miles along the beach to Scarborough, launch it there, and then row leisurely round to Lyttelton. There are few days in the year when such a venture would be possible, for from Scarborough to the Lyttelton Heads meant about two miles in the open sea. This page 41 safely accomplished, they were well on their eight miles' journey up the harbour, when, as so often happens in Canterbury, the nor'west wind veered suddenly to a strong southerly, which blew straight down the harbour. Soon white horses appeared on the surface, the boat was swamped, and the crew thrown out. My father, the stroke of the crew, was then a strapping young man, over six feet in height, weighing nearly fourteen stone, and a strong swimmer. He took the little coxswain on his back, and they all held on to the boat, treading water to keep themselves afloat-until a craft came out to rescue them. Earlier in the day, a sailing ship, the Brothers' Pride—They were all sailing ships in those days—had arrived from Scotland, and dropped anchor about half-way up the harbour. The romantic part of this story is the fact that my mother, then in her teens, was, with her parents, a passenger aboard the Brothers' Pride, and witnessed the happening. Although my mother and my father came from the same part of Scotland, they did not meet until some time later, in Christchurch.
The Black Eagle won the four-oared championship at that regatta, and its crew carried the boat back over the hill, 1,500 feet high, by way of the Bridle Path. Launching their pet craft on to the Heathcote, they then rowed down to the Estuary, where this river joins the Avon on its way to the sea. The return journey up the Avon was but a pleasant run. It requires some local knowledge to be able to appreciate the magnitude of this adventure and performance. I left Mr. Dawson feeling very indebted to him for giving me some glimpses of the past about which I was too young to be told by my father.
The mention of names and places often reminds one of other incidents, and Kenny Burn being in the Tasmanian team makes me feel that I cannot leave Hobart—or Hobart Town, as it was once called—without telling one of Hugh Trumble's best stories. Burn and Trumble were in the 1890 team to England. Soon after arriving in London, there was a big band concert at the Albert Hall. Burn was a bandsman at home, and naturally keen on band music. On this particular night, he said to Trumble, “Would you like to go to the concert, Hughie?” and the tall Victorian, having no other engagement, said he would be glad to. It was a splendid concert, some of the best bandsmen in England being among the performers. The item which Trumble liked best was a solo by the champion cornet player of page 42 England. Making the best of his story, Trumble told of the soft, high notes which were a feature of this player's performance. When they came away, Trumble turned to Burn, and asked, “Well, Kenny, what did you think of the cornet player?”
Burn, who had a slight impediment in his speech, answered in his own inimitable way, “We've got a b-b-bloke in Hobart T-town who could b-b-blow his b-b-blooming head off!”
We were sorry to leave Hobart, for we had enjoyed every minute of the five or six days we had been there. The weather was beautiful, and we were royally entertained.
A six hours' train journey took us to Launceston. It was a day trip, and we all keenly noted every town and village as we travelled north. Many books have been written of Tasmania, and we passed places referred to in stories of the old convict days, for Tasmania had more than her fair share of the people who were sent out from England, often for some trivial offence. Australians are able to joke about those old days, and quote cases of Jim Smith and Jack Robinson being sent out for stealing a canary, or poaching on some estate, a shooting pastime, which, even to-day, is enjoyed by many of our young men. I cannot imagine young Australians always asking the farmer, or the squatter, for special permission to shoot on his wide acres. There were, of course, criminals sent out for serious crimes, but they were like a drop in the ocean when these convict settlements were done away with.
We loved Launceston just as we had loved Hobart, but it lacked the glorious setting of the southern capital. However, situated as it is, on the banks of the Tamar, about thirty miles from the coast, the river running through the city adds to its picturesqueness. It is “The Gorge” which is the main attraction. This is a very charming spot, where paths cut out of the solid rock overlook the foaming waters swirling down to join the Tamar. This place is lit up at night, and on warm evenings it is pleasant to go for a stroll, and hear the band music—a feature in the summer months. It is a great meeting-place for young people. One concert night Sims and I were sitting on the slopes of “The Gorge” when we thought we heard a snake in the grass, and the four of us bolted for our lives!
Our match against Northern Tasmania was, up to a point, an even struggle, but they were left with fourth use of the wicket, which was, by then, showing signs of wear, and Upham page 43 and Downes dismissed them for the small total of 51; however, this was not their true form. In our second innings. Baker and I, in less than half an hour, put on 50 for the first wicket. Until then I had not realized how quickly runs can come off fast bowling. They had a good, nippy fast bowler in Pickett, but he was short of stature and did not make the ball lift much from the pitch. As Baker and I were both strong in front of the wicket, we found ourselves hitting him hard through the gaps left when a fast bowler has more than half his fieldsmen behind the wicket. I took three wickets in their first innings, but it was the bowling performance of Upham and Downes, mentioned above, that enabled us to win so convincingly.
The outstanding player in this match was E. A. Windsor on the local side, for he played a beautiful innings of 181, then bowled like a champion—his off breaks being typical of McKibbin, who got more spin on his off breaks than any other Australian, except C. T. B. Turner. Windsor injured his shoulder in our second innings, or we would have had a harder struggle. Given more opportunities, Windsor would have become a Test Match player.
The inclusion of George Palmer in the Tasmanian side revived memories of a great name. Palmer was now a veteran, and I was disappointed to find him so far past his best that no basis of comparison could be made with the top-notchers of this time. Hugh Trumble used to tell us that his boyhood impression of Palmer was that he possessed the most perfect bowling action he had ever seen; he could whip in a fast yorker better than anyone in his time.
Having played three matches, we were now able to take stock of ourselves. It was clear that several of our bowlers would not succeed on these hard wickets. Except for a few overs, the swervers could not swerve much in the lighter atmosphere of Australia, and the spin bowlers could break very little. Downes was the first to show resource, and he began to vary his pace more than I saw him do in New Zealand. This bowler, by the way, played a remarkable innings in the second effort at Launceston. A hard hitter, never better than possibly an eighth wicket batsman, he this time took the long handle with a vengeance, and batted brilliantly for 74; the highest score he made in first-class cricket. I particularly remembered a slashing drive he made through the covers, which fairly brought down page 44 the house. It was his innings that put us in a strong winning position at the finish. We were a good fielding side, and were by now shaping into a fairly sound all-round team. Socially we were something of a success, and also a very happy crowd. There was a great deal of practical joking in those days, and our manager, F. C. Raphael, showed much cleverness in this respect.
Leaving Launceston in the early afternoon by the Oonah, we found the trip down the river most interesting. The Tamar runs into a long, narrow inlet, rather like a fiord, which is twenty miles in length. We then had to cross Bass Strait—one of the roughest seas on the Australian coast, for it catches the full force of the southerly gales, as does Cook Strait in New Zealand.
We had an uneventful trip over, and passing through the Rip, entered Port Phillip at daylight. Like Johnnie Briggs, who got up at this hour to see what the weather was like on the morning of his first Test Match, so I had a peep out of the porthole to catch the first glimpse of the Australian mainland. It was exciting for us to be met at the wharf by noted people about whom we had read. They certainly made us feel at home from the moment of our arrival. We were driven in a coach up Collins Street to our hotel. Melbourne did not disappoint us, even when measured against our extravagant conceptions.
An elderly New Zealand friend of mine was to say to me, years later, after a trip abroad, “The three things that impressed me most were the City of London, Great Britain's government of India, and the City of Melbourne.” Truly, it was then, and is more so now, a wonderful city, planned by Englishmen determined not to reproduce the narrow streets of London, and other English cities.
The River Yarra runs through the city a short distance from Flinders Street, and in this narrow strip is situated the great railway station that handles such an immense suburban traffic. It is the continuous beautifying efforts that have made Melbourne reputed for its picturesque surroundings. The Botanical Gardens on the banks of the Yarra, Alexandra Avenue nearby, and St. Kilda Road, with its layout of a double tram track in the centre, and one-way traffic parades on either side, separated by rows of trees, are all the result of splendid planning. Such places as the Fitzroy Gardens, and the parks and reserves in page 45 every district, complete the picture of one of the great cities of the world.
But let us return to cricket, for the cricketer may be impatient to learn how this New Zealand team shaped when it met one of Australia's best State XI's.
Hugh Trumble and Charlie McLeod stood out of the Victorian side. Trumble had already been to New Zealand, and would know that it did not require the States' best XI to play us. Opportunity was taken to give two young players a trial, but when I tell that they were Warwick Armstrong and Frank Tarrant, who therefore came into the side, it will be realized that we were out of the frying-pan into the fire. The calibre of this Victorian side may be judged by the following names: Worrall, Graham, Laver, McAllister, McMichael, and G. L. Wilson, the ex-Sussex amateur, in addition to the colts already mentioned.
Before the match started it was interesting to meet in the pavilion such famous old players as Jack Blackham, Tommy Horan, Harry Boyle, Frank Allen, Bob McLeod, Harry Trott, and others. The first four had been to New Zealand with the 1878 and 1880 Australian XI's. It was my first experience of Major Wardill's charm of manner, for he took hold of us, and in the most friendly way, introduced us to everyone. As Secretary of the Melbourne C.G., Wardill was renowned throughout the cricket world.
We won the toss, and the Victorians had taken the field when Blackham turned to our manager, and said, “Well, how many do you think you will make?”
“It all depends on those two” Raphael replied, pointing to Baker and me as we walked to the wicket, for in three of the four innings in Tasmania our opening partnership had yielded more than half a century.
Laver opened from the Richmond end. His slight off break was not as troublesome as his sudden little swerve, which he always obtained with a new ball. It was soon 10 up, then 20, then 40 up, and at lunch-time, 80 for no wickets, of which I had scored 60. I remember there was quite a ripple of excitement in our camp, and this excitement was to be raised still higher when we went on to score 135 for the first wicket; Reese (out) 88. Worrall became fidgety as we passed the century and began to drive his team, which, as cricketers will know, is often the page 46 way of a good captain when the tide appears to be running against his side, and an extra effort is necessary. Finally, he said, “Give me the ball.”
In his younger days, Worrall had been a fair bowler; now he relied on subtle ways. In his second over along came that slower ball—higher and slower—and I was down the pitch after it like a trout after a fly. I must have been a good yard out of my crease when the wicket-keeper removed the bails. It was the old head out-witting the young; the impetuosity of youth. I disappointed my comrades, who were hoping I would score the first century of the tour. Baker went on to make 56, and other useful scores brought our total to 317, just before six o'clock. We were all very satisfied with that first day's play.
Next morning was to bring us more thrills. Worrall and McMichael opened against Downes and Upham. In the second over, Worrall hit the former for 21. It was magnificent hitting; two 6's? two 4's, and a single. We rubbed our eyes to see anyone dash in like this so early in his innings. Frankish replaced Downes, his third ball clean bowling Worrall with a beautiful off swerver. In the next over McMichael was out to a similar ball, and Frankish had taken two for 8. Could an innings have started more sensationally and fortunes change so quickly! From a bewildered side, following the initial onslaught by Worrall, we at once turned into a fighting unit, with our bowlers bowling better than ever, and every man on his toes, fielding brilliantly.
Victoria's troubles were not yet over. Downes replaced Frankish, and, undismayed by his previous rough handling by Worrall, had soon taken a wicket. When Armstrong was caught at point off my bowling, I had taken two for 24. The incoming batsman, Stuckey, was missed in the slips off my next ball. Victoria had then lost five wickets for 129; no wonder Worrall was pacing the floor in the pavilion. He was to tell me later that we gave them a scare. The wickets of Laver, Graham and Armstrong falling in quick succession was something for us to be jubilant about. But could we last the distance? From then on the tide turned with a vengeance. McAllister, who was batting beautifully, went on to make 224. Stuckey, G. L. Wilson, Murray, and Tarrant, all made runs, and Victoria reached the huge total of 602.
But how we let the horses out of the stable.! We dropped page 47 catch after catch. Alec Downes started it. He was a splendid field at point, but this time missed a simple catch; a ball spooned up into the air, about thirty or forty feet above him. He said the bright blue sky dazzled him, and I believe this did affect us, for it turned into a very hot day with brilliant sunshine. I heard Englishmen complain of this light on their first appearance on the Melbourne ground. The Sydney Bulletin's old satirical story does not provide us with an excuse, namely, that 99 per cent of catches dropped are because the sun was in the fieldsman's eyes! What would have been more applicable to our performance is the old story told of Tom Emmett, famous Yorkshire bowler and humorist, who, when several catches had been dropped off his bowling, exclaimed, “There's an epidemic on this ground, but it ain't catchin'!” Downes finished with four for 125, Frankish two for 120, Reese two for 118, and Upham two for 114, so we all got a good trouncing at the finish.
Our second innings was on a slightly worn but still good wicket. We were all out for 153, Cobcroft, our captain, making 56. After hitting two 4's and a 2, I was clean bowled by a beautiful ball from Laver, who was bowling very well. Thus we suffered an innings defeat. Had we held even some of those catches, it might have been Victoria who would have had last use of the wicket. Who can tell?
At luncheon on the second day, when felicitations were exchanged, Worrall and Bruce, in their speeches, made kindly reference to my batting, and both advocated my inclusion in the team representing the Rest of Australia, which was about to be selected to play against the Australian XI.
On the Saturday evening of this Victorian match, both teams were the guests of the local association at a theatre party. This was in the days of sensational melodrama, so wonderfully portrayed by the Bland Holt Theatrical Company, then well known throughout Australia and New Zealand. Devotees of modern pictures will have no conception of the thrills of this class of drama; a hero and a heroine, an outstandingly bad man as a villain, with always a black-haired, dark-eyed associate, spurred on by jealousy, hatred and revenge. I have heard the gallery, or pit, as it was called then, hoot and hiss the villain, and sometimes, when he was about to commit some foul deed, yell, “Look out!” as a warning to the unwary hero who was page 48 naturally the idol of the crowd. So much for heavy drama of forty and fifty years ago.
On the Sunday, the Melbourne Cricket Club entertained us at an all-day picnic at Beaumaris, on the foreshore of Port Phillip. We played on the beach like a lot of school kids, and the party was like one of those afternoons at Charlie Clark's in Christchurch.
One more Melbourne story. Alec Downes was among the most worldly members on our side. On the Sunday he told us he had to call on some relations whom his father and mother wished him to see. An afternoon call extended to Sunday night's supper. We were all still up when Downes arrived back at the hotel. How we laughed when he told us he had had nothing but tea to drink. “Tea!” he repeated, and in addition said he had to join in singing Moody and Sankey's hymns during the whole evening. “But I knew the songs,” he insisted.
The send-off at the railway station was as enthusiastic as had been our welcome at the wharf on arrival. There was a good number of players and officials down to bid us good-bye, and so we left, with the happiest memories of this great city, and a genuine fondness for the people.
We were soon speeding along at a pace greater than we had been used to in railway travel in our own country. The Victorian Limited Express to the border was a smooth-running train. A dining car was a novelty to us. Dinner, and our interest in new scenes when passing through some of the best pastoral country in Victoria, made the journey seem all too short. Four hours brought us to Albury. Then came the change of trains. The arrangements were very good, and one simply had to cross from one side of the platform to the other. Sleepers, and a cool night, made it a comfortable journey. Breakfasting at Moss Vale, it was not long before we reached the suburban areas of Sydney, which seem to stretch so far out beyond the city. Next, we were rolling into the great Central Station. Horse cabs took us to Petty's Hotel a fine, old-fashioned place we were to like very much. Before the erection of some of the great modern hotels in Sydney, Petty's was the popular hotel of the pastoralists, or squatters, as they are often called in Australia.
Our match against New South Wales was so one-sided that it dampened the enthusiasm we had developed over our southern matches, despite the second half of the Victorian match page 49 when we were so out-classed. The publication of the New South Wales team gave us food for thought: Iredale, Gregory, Howell, Noble, McKibben, Trumper, Duff, Poidevin, Pye, Farquhar, and Evers, the latter taking the place of Kelly, the famous wicket-keeper, who was not available.
I was to learn later that the New South Wales Selection Committee met on the previous Saturday afternoon, when, following our first innings' score of 317, word had come through that Victoria had lost five wickets for 129, and they promptly decided to play their full strength. This was certainly a compliment to us, but with dire consequences.
I should say that outside the English and Australian Test Teams this was probably the strongest side in the world at that time. It included eight players of Test Match calibre, although Trumper and Duff had not yet won their International colours. Noble, Howell, and McKibbin, then all at their best, made a magnificent trio of bowlers.
New Zealand all out for 140. We were troubled by the fast pace of the wicket, but much more severely tried by their wonderful bowling; Howell taking five for 22. He fairly fizzed off the pitch. Four months later, making his first appearance in England, Howell was to take all ten wickets in Surrey's first innings. Then New South Wales batted, and their innings opened almost as sensationally as had Victoria's in Melbourne. Duff was at once caught at third-man off Prankish for o, and two overs later Upham secured Pye's wicket; two for 13. A promising player named Farquhar then joined young Victor Trumper, but before they got properly started there were more thrills. Frankish twice missed Trumper in one over off his own bowling, and, to our amazement, Downes twice missed Farquhar off his. Could any side survive such disasters? That was the end of our chances. Trumper then set about giving the most glorious exhibition of batting I have ever seen; the ease, grace, and power of his play were a revelation. Farquhar seemed mediocre in comparison, but played good cricket to score a century, and this pair added over 250 runs; Trumper scored 253. A few weeks previously he had scored 222 against Queensland, and 202 against Tasmania, so it was truly harvest time for him. As he had made but moderate scores against the crack bowling of the other States, he had not yet, despite public clamour, been chosen in the Australian team then in the process page 50 of being finally selected for the English tour. As all the batsmen had already been selected, and the remaining places to be decided lay between all-rounders and bowlers, the selectors decided to take Trumper as an extra batsman.
The New South Wales score eventually reached a total of 588; it was the Trumper-Farquhar partnership that demoralized our attack. Our second innings was a worse disaster: we were all out for 64. McKibbin bowled so well that he was irresistible, and took seven wickets for 30. I have not seen anyone get so much off break on those hard Australian wickets. As McKibbin also bowled a very good leg break, it will be appreciated that our batsmen were up against a great Test Match bowler in his very best form.
As in Melbourne, we were to have the pleasure of meeting old Australian players of International fame: Dave Gregory, captain of the first Australian XI; Tom Garrett, one of the great bowlers of earlier teams; Charles Bannerman, the greatest Australian batsman of the earliest period of Test Matches, and Alec Bannerman, the dapper little stonewaller, as slow-scoring batsmen were called in those days. I don't suppose any other batsman of this type received as much applause as did “Little Alec.” If his side was in a tight corner, the crowd “on the hill,” in Sydney, would cheer and laugh over every ball he played. As he usually had a Lyons, a Massie, or a McDonnell at the other end, the play did not become tedious from the spectators' point of view. Tom Garrett, at this time, was one of the Australian selectors. It was not a very tactful action on the part of one of our players to say, just as Baker and I were going out to open the innings, “There's Tom Garrett come down to see you bat.” The remarks of Worrall and Bruce, urging my inclusion in the Rest of Australia team, had been reprinted in the Sydney papers, so I suppose there may have been some interest in my play. My failure in both innings, caught and bowled each time, settled the matter. After all, it was something of an ordeal, considering that but three weeks earlier I had celebrated my twentieth birthday.
On the Sunday we were taken for an all-day picnic up the Hawkesbury River, that great and picturesque waterway that flows out to the sea twenty-five miles north of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. It will, no doubt, be known to readers that the Parramatta, the other great river of the State of New South page 51 Wales, flows into the Sydney Harbour, contributing largely to the extensiveness of the foreshore, as well as to the beauty of this wonderful harbour. Like all the other outings of this sort that were given us on this tour, we were to enjoy as much as anything else the close personal contact with famous players.
Our match in Sydney finished on the Monday afternoon, and as we were not to sail for Wellington until the following Saturday night, we enjoyed three days' sightseeing and further entertainment before being the guests of the New South Wales Association at the cricket ground on the Friday and Saturday, to witness the match Australia v. the Rest of Australia.
When I stated earlier that we stayed at Petty's Hotel, I did not mention that we arrived there to find the two Perry sisters—leading ladies in the Geisha—also guests of the hotel. They were most attractive young women who had been brought out from England by Williamson and Musgrove, and their dainty appearance, acting, and singing, made them universal favourites with the Australian theatre patrons. Well, this was a nice environment for a band of young cricketers. I had not previously seen actresses at close range, as one would expect from my Presbyterian upbringing. I was disillusioned to find polished, refined, and highly educated Englishwomen. We had some gallant young men on our side, and the reader will need very little telling of how they were bowled over. As usual, our handsome Prankish was first favourite. His Launceston affair was now forgotten. This time he was in love; it was the real thing! We had great fun in passing back to him, in devious and subtle ways, alleged admiring remarks by the lady in question. One day our best humorist came to lunch and said that Miss Perry would love to live in New Zealand. He then started to calculate how far a bank clerk's salary would go, and how long it would be before Prankish became a bank manager. This all seems very boyish to-day, but those who remember Frankish's personal qualities, and his rippling and infectious laughter, will understand why our tall left-hander was such a favourite.
Mrs. Gannon was the proprietress of Petty's and by this time we had become her boys. She was a very gracious lady, and insisted on giving us a picnic. Other guests at Petty's were invited, but, of course, it was the Perry sisters who dominated the scene. Whatever may have been the effect of their Japanese costumes on the stage, their evening clothes, or their street page 52 attire, it was their appearance in plain linen frocks and picture hats that overwhelmed the younger members of the party; yes, and some of the older ones too! This outing was held at National Park. Lunch was provided by our hostess, and was laid out on the ground among the trees. The men gathered sticks and attended to the boiling of the billy. It was our first experience of a real Australian outdoor picnic. The Australians are expert at making “billy” tea. Apparently its secret is to bring the water to the boil, put in the tea, and, replacing the lid, bring it to the boil again for a few seconds. Our English visitors were thrilled with the experience, which, they said, was so different from picnics held in the more refined surroundings of their own homeland.
After lunch we all went to the water's edge and hired some rowing boats. There was no thought of bathing, for sharks find their way into the uppermost reaches of this harbour. We all felt grateful to our hostess who had given us what was probably the brightest day of our tour. We still had two more days, and it is not telling secrets when I say that some of the members of our team went again to see the Geisha!
The match between the two Australian teams composed of the best players in the Commonwealth proved of intense interest to us. As we had not played at Adelaide, it gave us an opportunity of seeing and meeting the great South Australians who had come over for the match. Giffen, Lyons, Jones, Darling, and Clem Hill—these are names to conjure with in the cricket world of those or any other days. If he looks back at the New South Wales team of that period, and adds the great Victorians and South Australians, the reader will be able to appreciate the strength of Australian cricket at this time. If the student of cricket will go farther and look up the imposing names of English Test players of the time, he will be able to see that this was of the period C. B. Fry, in his recent book, termed “The Golden Era” of cricket.
The evening we were to sail for New Zealand, the New South Wales Association gave a dinner to both Australian teams, as well as to the New Zealanders. It was a happy gathering, and our presence there no doubt contributed to the good-fellowship of the party. I remember sitting next to Jones, the famous fast bowler, and when he found that I did not like oysters, he gleefully exchanged his empty plate for page 53 mine. This dinner was a bright affair, most of the Australians had been finally selected, and, as one might say, could take the lid off.
We were due to sail at 10 p.m., so this would account for any lack of restraint by some of the players. It was a merry band of men who came down to the wharf to see us off. Major Wardill, always a genial man, was in his happiest mood, and kissing me on the cheek, said, “I've made a bet that you'll beat Laver for a place in the Australian team.” This was something of a shock to me, for my failure with the bat in Sydney, and getting only two wickets, had dismissed any illusion about getting into the Rest of Australia team, let alone the Australian team for England. I do not know whether I was really considered; anyway Laver was selected.
At last we sailed for New Zealand. It was a calm trip, and there was not as much seasickness as on the way over. We now had plenty of time to hold post-mortems and review the tour in all its aspects. The point most manifest was the fact that we had been away for more than six weeks, and had played only four matches. We should certainly have gone to Adelaide and played South Australia, and also to Brisbane to play Queensland. The two New Zealand teams that have since toured Australia have done this, but excluded the Tasmanian matches, which I think was a mistake. In that island State one experiences the same hard, fast wickets as on the mainland, and meets players below Test Match standard, who provide a good try-out before meeting the great Australian players. I know we should never have shown the form of the early part of the Victorian match but for our experience in Tasmania.
When we turned to individual play, the greatest surprise and disappointment was in our bowlers. Had anyone said that Fisher and Prankish would not succeed, the reply would have been, “Well, the New Zealand side had better not go.” Measured by any standard, these two were fine bowlers, but they just could not adapt themselves to the Australian conditions, and discovered that it needs more than beautiful, swinging deliveries to get wickets over there. We had no rain throughout the tour, so every wicket was the typically fast one.
George Hirst was a failure on his first tour to Australia. I remember Bob Crockett, the famous Australian umpire, page 54 saying he could not understand why Hirst did not get wickets. He said, “To me he looks a beautiful bowler.” Although Hirst was a better bowler when he returned with the 1904 English team, and could now swing the ball, he owed his success this time to a better understanding of Australian conditions. He also got the chance to bowl once or twice on a damaged wicket which is a great pick-me-up for bowlers in Australia.
The bowling honours went to Downes, Upham, and Reese. The wickets taken are a fair indication of the order of merit, but even totals are misleading, for Fisher stood down in two matches, and Frankish in one, and Downes and Upham bowled unchanged when Northern Tasmania was dismissed so cheaply on a worn wicket.
In batting, Baker was top of the averages, and deserved his position, for he always played soundly. I came second, and Lusk third. The latter played a fine innings of 91 against South Tasmania, followed by 83 at Launceston. All of our batsmen found these very fast wickets different from our own, and few became used to them, for in a tour of four matches only, there were not many chances to make up for failure.
And so ended New Zealand's first overseas cricket tour. We had been an extraordinarily happy family. F. C. Raphael, our efficient manager, by his tact and good humour, kept us all swinging along in merry mood, and this means much to a touring team. L. T. Cobcroft was a first-class field captain, but it was Hugh B. Lusk, our vice-captain—later to become a leading barrister in New Zealand—with his charm of manner and oratory, who stood out when it came to speech-making. In his younger days Lusk would have been a formidable rival to Frankish in some of the romantic incidents of this tour.
I have often wondered what would have happened had this New Zealand team gone to England instead of to Australia. In Fisher, Downes, Frankish and Upham we would have had, for English wickets, a bowling side that not many counties could have bettered. As this was two years before George Hirst had developed his devastating swerve, Frankish, with Young of Essex, would have been the first bowler of this type to startle English batsmen. At Leyton, in 1903, I saw C. B. Fry lift his bat over his shoulder and step across to protect his page 55 wickets from one of these swingers, but the ball got past “C. B.'s” pads and hit the top of the off stump. Young, like Frankish, was a fine natural bowler, and was known as “Sailor” Young; when he began to experiment and try to break from leg, he lost not only his dash, but also his original nickname, for his team-mates re-christened him “Professor” Young!