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Was It All Cricket?

Chapter 6 — MacLaren's English Team

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Chapter 6
MacLaren's English Team

The great event of season 1901–2 was the visit of MacLaren's team. One has to live in Australia to appreciate the atmosphere that pervades all sections of the community, both before and after the arrival of an English cricket team. Australians are essentially cricket-minded, and when it comes to Test Matches, cricket talk is as common in drawing-rooms as it is in the workshops, offices, hotels, and clubs. It is always a surprise to visitors that so many women attend Test Matches in Australia.

On paper, MacLaren's team did not look as strong as Stoddart's two great teams of 1894 and 1897. Hirst and Rhodes were prevented by the Yorkshire County Committee from accepting MacLaren's invitation. This was thought to be a selfish attitude, prompted solely by consideration of their own county in preference to the interests of England; Lord Hawke got most of the blame for this. Ranjitsinhji, Jackson, and Fry also were unable to accept, so it will be seen at once how far this team was from being England's best.

England has always had far more players to draw on than Australia, but it is a fact that no English team that represented England's full strength has ever come out to Australia.

This was, nevertheless, a good side. The new men, as usual, attracted particular attention. Jessop's reputation had, of course, preceded him, and everyone was agog to see him in action. J. T. Tyldesley and A. O. Jones were the new batsmen; Barnes, Blythe and Braund the chief bowlers. There was great interest in Barnes. The fact that he was not a county player, but had been chosen by MacLaren from a Lancashire League team, added to the interest taken in him. The Australians had always an immense admiration for the play and judgment of MacLaren, so they were under no illusion as to the class of bowler that Barnes would be likely to prove. The matches against the States are in the present day looked upon as little more than preliminaries. In the period under review they were stern contests in themselves. The New South Wales match especially was like a Test Match, just as Yorkshire, Surrey page 82 and Lancashire matches were in England against Australian touring teams. The match against Victoria showed us that the “old firm” of MacLaren and Hayward, as the opening batsmen, was as good as ever, and with Tyldesley to follow, a good start always seemed certain. It was, however, Jessop we were waiting for, and he went in higher up in the batting list than was expected. He moved quickly off the mark, and one 6 over mid-on's head did not appear to rise more than 20 or 30 feet, yet it cleared the fence. He had almost reached the twenties when McLeod bowled him with an extra-paced yorker—always a good ball to bowl to a batsman eager for runs. McLeod was not unduly cheered for his feat, for everyone wanted to see the great Jessop get into his stride and show the fireworks that had made him famous in English county cricket. A century in forty minutes against Yorkshire was amongst his most recent performances. A. O. Jones looked a likely performer among the batsmen, but now it was on the bowlers that interest was centred, for they were all new to Australia. I was sitting with Trumble and others in the pavilion when Barnes began bowling. Trumble said nothing for a while, and sat watching intently. After about half a dozen overs, Trumble turned to us, and said quietly, “This chap can bowl.” How true this remark was to prove!

Colin Blythe, the Kent left-hander, made a great impression. He had a fine action, with the peculiar habit of putting his bowling arm right behind his back just before making delivery. He had an ideal pace for a left-hander on Australian wickets, and in this respect resembled Peel, who, the Australians considered, was the best left-hand bowler England ever sent to Australia. He must have been pretty good to have been better than Wilfred Rhodes.

Braund was at once more successful than he was expected to prove on the hard Australian wicket. His persistent length and direction, and appreciable leg-spin, made the batsman play him carefully. His plugging away at the legs and leg stump, with a cleverly placed, strong on-side field, seemed to cramp the play of the Victorians. Not since A. G. Steel had a right-hand leg-break bowler been included in an English side, but as Steel mixed an off-break with his leg-breaks, his attack was not as concentrated as Braund's.

Even with all this talent for batting and bowling, it was the page 83 fielding of Braund, MacLaren and Jones in the slips that was to be the outstanding feature of the Victorian match. Braund has been likened to George Lohmann, the greatest of all English slip fieldsmen, while the other two appeared to be little his inferior. We had come to know of Trumble's greatness in the slips; his enormous reach enabled him to pick up catches that to others would have been impossible. This making difficult catches look simple no doubt took away much of the spectacular effect from Trumble's fielding. With Braund it was different; he was alert and agile, and would cover the same reach as Trumble, but by a spring to right or to left with an activeness that arrested attention and won admiration. Braund was a really great slip fieldsman. It was not until the arrival of Jack Gregory, twenty years later, that slip fielding such as that of Trumble and Braund was to be seen again.

In Sydney, MacLaren's team had much the same experience as most previous English teams, for New South Wales at that time included about half the Australian XI, but it was the Test Matches we were now waiting for. Until Queensland became a competitor for the Sheffield Shield, Test Matches were allotted two to Sydney, two to Melbourne, and one to Adelaide.

The first Test was always played in Sydney, and, like Stoddart's team, MacLaren's started off with a handsome win. The Sydney wicket at that time was the slowest of Australia's fast wickets, and suited the English batsmen better than either Melbourne or Adelaide. MacLaren began with a glorious century. His batting on the Sydney cricket ground on his three tours of Australia was always brilliant. Old cricketers will remember what a majestic figure he was at the wickets. Ever a commanding personality, he seemed to take charge of the game when he was batting. Splendid batting, followed by the bowling of Barnes, Blythe and Braund, made this team look a formidable side in this match.

The second Test, at Melbourne, was one of the most extraordinary in the whole series of International games. There was the excitement over the selection of the team—always a matter of great interest to the Australians. Poidevin, who played finely in the New South Wales match, was selected, but an injured hand prevented him from playing. Everyone expected that McAllister of Victoria would be chosen in his page 84 place, but to the amazement of all, young Duff of Sydney was selected instead. The tirade of newspaper criticism in Melbourne has rarely been equalled, and all and sundry gave vent to their feelings. I remember in the dressing-room, after practice one evening, a member of our club eleven said to Trumble, “What in the dickens have you picked Duff for?” And Hughie's quiet answer was, “Alf. Noble says he's a champion.”

It is doubtful if Australia ever had a better Selection Committee than Darling, Trumble and Noble, who acted that season, and there is something fine in Trumble's faith in Noble's judgment.

The clouds banked up late in the afternoon of the day before the match, and about five o'clock there was a terrific thunderstorm. I have never seen hail like it in my life. Hailstones the size of bantams' eggs broke almost all the skylights in Melbourne, as well as the glass-roofed verandahs. Torrential rain followed. The morning broke fine and sunny, so here was all the making of a sensational start, with enormous interest in the result of the toss. The system of covering the wickets overnight and when it rains, as is now done in Australia, robs the game of one of its best features. It may ensure substantial gate takings for the match, but I will never believe that a Test Match of to-day can ever be charged with the electric atmosphere that prevailed on that Friday morning in Melbourne.

MacLaren won the toss, and promptly told Darling, the Australian captain, to bat. Trumper cut beautifully Barnes's first ball of the match, but third man fielded it brilliantly. In a moment, Trumper was out to Barnes before he had scored, and Australia began to struggle for runs. They were eventually all out for 112. Duff was top scorer with 32, and he played wonderfully well under difficult batting conditions against the really great bowling of Barnes and Blythe, who bowled unchanged throughout the innings.

The Englishmen fared worse than the Australians, and were all out for 61. Noble took seven wickets for 17 runs, but although he bowled finely, there is little doubt that MacLaren was bustling his men to get in quickly and get out quickly, for, like the Napoleon he was, he saw that he was racing against time. He knew that if he could get the back of the page 85 Australian batting strength broken in the second innings before time, he was almost certain to win.

With about an hour and a half to go, we all got a surprise when Darling came out with Hugh Trumble as his partner to open the innings. Darling was a lion-hearted captain, and although naturally a brilliant left-hand hitter, could play the dogged game, as he had so often proved. Hugh Trumble was a better batsman than he was generally given credit for. Although not possessed of the scoring strokes of a great batsman, the straight bat and stout heart of the tall Victorian made him an ideal man for such an occasion. We were now to witness one of the bravest fights imaginable. Runs did not matter, for it was the clock they were watching. They knew, as MacLaren knew, how much depended on the first hour's play, for the wicket, though still bad, was already improving. Ball after ball, over after over, held the crowd in a state of suspense. The first half-hour went by with few runs scored, but no wickets down. Nearly an hour had gone, with everyone feeling that all danger of a collapse had been averted, when Tyldesley made a brilliant running catch in the outfield to dismiss Darling who had begun to open out a little. From then on, to use a colloquial term, the side came in upside-down. The tail-enders, thus promoted in the batting order, could not stand up to the spirited attack that had revived after the dismissal of Darling, and the end of the day's play saw Australia with five wickets down for 48. For sustained simmering excitement, it would be impossible to imagine anything greater than that which prevailed throughout the whole of that day in Melbourne.

The following day was to prove the wisdom of Darling's sacrifice of his tail-enders the previous evening. Hill was to play a fine innings for 99. Just as we were waiting for the other single, along came a short ball on the off from Barnes, which he hit with great force straight to Jones at point, who held a good catch. Clem looked disconsolate as he walked away from the wickets, but his cup of disappointment was to overflow in the next Test, at Adelaide, when he made 98 and 97. The Sydney Bulletin, noted for its facetiousness, as well as satire, said that these scores showed that Mr. Hill was obviously going off in his batting. But Hill's score in this Melbourne match was eclipsed by Duff's 104—a grand effort, and one page 86 that confirmed Noble's opinion of him. Armstrong, making his début in Test cricket, played very well for 45 not out, and stayed to allow Duff to reach his century. It is difficult to imagine the great Armstrong going in last in a Test Match, but that is what he did on this occasion.

England was left with over 400 runs to make, but it always looked too much for them. Tyldesley played finely, but rain falling again on the last night left the Englishmen no chance of making even half the number required.

It was an extraordinary match, and although MacLaren's men were soundly beaten, there were moments on that first day when it looked as if Australia was getting into a corner from which escape seemed improbable. Barnes, in taking thirteen wickets in the match, created a tremendous impression. Noble also took thirteen, an equally great performance. It is unique that Noble and Trumble between them took all the Englishmen's wickets in each innings.

In Australia's second innings the batsmen gave a remarkable demonstration of their cleverness and adaptability. Braund had bowled so persistently and successfully to a strong on-field that the Australians changed their tactics and just played him for singles, which was not difficult between his widespread field. Two, three, even four singles an over kept coming, and with Clem Hill at the wickets for so long, it will be seen how hard it was for Braund, and what an arduous task for the fieldsmen, when they had to change over for the lefthander. Braund finished with one wicket for 114 runs.

It was by the same tactics that the versatile Australians of the 1894 side ridiculed Humphreys, the underhand lob bowler, out of the later first-class matches in the tour of Stoddart's first team. After losing one or two wickets in attempting to hit his high-tossed, shoulder-high lobs, the batsmen settled down to singles, singles, and still more singles. Left-handers Darling and Bruce were in the game at that time, so it will be seen that Humphreys had the same tantalizing experience as Braund.

The fifth Test Match of the series against MacLaren's team was also played in Melbourne, and proved a keen fight from start to finish. Although Australia had already won the rubber, there was still great public interest in this second game in Melbourne. Rain had fallen prior to the match, and although page 87 the wicket was not a treacherous one, it was never a good batting wicket throughout the three days. It was, in fact, worse on the last day, for more rain had fallen. As at Adelaide, Trumble, in the absence of Darling, captained the Australian side. These are the only occasions that I remember Trumble leading the side. There was some speculation about what the captain winning the toss would decide to do. But old Hughie was one of those who believed in batting first, always. As far back as 1882, Murdoch had set a policy that was to be followed in the main by all Australian captains—“Bat first!” In the first innings of that famous match in '82, Australia made only 63, yet in the end won a glorious victory by 7 runs. This game, played at Kennington Oval, remains one of the most dramatic and historic games of the whole series.

I remember in the 'nineties, when quite a lad, reading one of the English weekly magazines in which a questionnaire was put to all the English county captains of that time. Grace, Lord Harris, Lord Hawke, Stoddart, Hornby and others were asked independently, “What would you do on winning the toss on a soft wicket?” Practically without exception the answer was, “Bat first.” That is a rule that most captains follow, and, I think, wisely. MacLaren broke it in the previous match in Melbourne. He, no doubt, seemed justified in doing so, and it nearly came off, but in the end he was left with last use of the wicket, and more rain on the last night of the match spoilt any real chance of winning.

In this fifth Test, the Australians began at once to force the pace, and were all out for 144. Barnes' continued absence from the English team completely changed the strength of their attack. He had broken down in the third Test at Adelaide, but before this had proved himself an exceptional bowler; he was a temperamental man, and a little difficult to manage.

The opening of the Englishmen's innings was to bring a surprise and thrill to us all; MacLaren took Jessop in with him. Jessop had failed to get going properly on these fast Australian wickets, his best effort up to this time being 87 against New South Wales. He took first strike to Noble, and hit the first four balls of the innings for successive 4's. The Melbourne crowd cheered as each hit the fence. We knew this could not last, but on it went until he reached 35, when he was caught at long-on. How many batsmen have jumped page 88 out to hit Trumble, only to find that they have not jumped far enough? The first 50 runs were scored at the rate of more than two a minute.

Jessop was the most remarkable hitter I have ever seen. We all expect a slogger to get down the pitch and hit the ball on the half-volley, but the man of Gloucester could hit the fast ball on the rise, just as Anthony Wilding, in that famous Wimbledon tennis final, hit back McLachlan's terrific serves that had driven all others behind the back line. Jessop hit the fast bowlers as well as he hit the slow, but this type of hitting meant, at times, a cross bat, and a cross bat on Australian wickets is fatal. All the great Australian hitters have been what we call “straight hitters.” McDonnell, Massie, Lyons and Graham didn't hit much outside the line of mid-on, except to an off-break bowler. One can imagine the difficulties of a hitter dealing with Hugh Trumble. He would be bound to get some of his off breaks away, but what about the ball that “went with his arm”? Apart from the pace of the wickets, some measure of Jessop's failure to hit in Australia as he could hit in England, was because of clever bowling by the Australians; they do not make it easy for a batsman to thrive on his pet stroke, unless it is to lead him into a trap.

The Englishmen were all out for 189, giving them a useful lead in a low-scoring game. Trumble took five for 62. He was a tower of strength to Australia in this series.

An intense fight developed as Australia set about to wipe off the deficiency, and leave England sufficient runs to make to give Australia a chance. Clem Hill, as usual, was the stalwart of the side, but again he was to be denied his century. This time he made 87. When one reads the record of centuries in Test Cricket, it is well to remember this great sequence of scores by Hill that fell just short of the coveted three figures. Australia was all out for 255, which did not seem enough to give them victory. Braund bowled splendidly and took five for 95.

It was a new experience for the Australians to see a purely leg-break, right-hand bowler of the Harry Trott type meet with so much success on their own hard wickets. There is little Boubt that part of the reason why Clem Hill shone more than his comrades in this series was because neither Braund nor Blythe was as difficult to the left-hand batsman as they were to the right.

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To return to this stern contest in Melbourne; the Englishmen, with 211 to get to win, looked like fulfilling MacLaren's ardent wish to win this Test. MacLaren took little Willie Quaife in with him, and the English captain started, in his commanding manner, to take charge of the game. After Quaife went out, Jessop followed, and soon they were off as in the first innings. It was then that a really tragic happening occurred, which was instantly to change the fortunes of the visitors. Jessop drove Trumble straight past the bowler to Clem Hill fielding on the boundary. They ran one, and MacLaren turned and was off for a second run, but Jessop had run past the wicket, thinking there was a single only. By this time it was clear that he must send MacLaren back. At the critical moment Trumble called to Hill, “Right through,” and Clem, with a beautiful return, threw straight over the bowler's head to Kelly who whipped off the bails before MacLaren got home. The English captain slipped and fell as he turned, but even then, with a supreme effort, nearly managed to reach the crease in time. I can still see MacLaren walking back to the pavilion with head erect, but, as everyone knew, with anguish in his heart. He had batted beautifully for 49, and with three wickets down for 87 runs at stumps, the Englishmen still looked like winning.

Rain during the night ruined their chances, and Australia got home with 32 runs to spare. Tyldesley played finely on the bad wicket, and A. O. Jones at the finish made a brave effort when he forced the pace, knowing the tail-enders had no chance against Trumble and Noble. These two bowlers took fifteen wickets between them in the match. It was a titanic struggle from start to finish, with the fortunes of war first with one side, and then with the other. Here was the old story of the toss again. What would have happened had Trumble sent the Englishmen in to bat?

And so came to an end my first experience of Test Matches. Although I was later to see more Australian—English matches, and Australian—South African Tests, not at any time did I get such thrills as from those two remarkable Melbourne matches in 1901. It was MacLaren's third and last visit to Australia with an all-England XI, and he enhanced his already big reputation. His captaincy was an outstanding feature of the tour. Barnes qualified to be rated among the world's great page 90 bowlers. On his second and third visits to Australia, he rose to greater heights than any other English bowler has reached in these parts. Blythe and Braund proved an extraordinarily good pair of bowlers, but in some matches had a fair amount of help from the wicket. In batting, Tyldesley, like Tom Hayward, could always be depended upon. The little Lancastrian was a much more brilliant and daring batsman than most English professionals. Jessop and A. O. Jones did not play up to their English reputations, but Lilley, besides proving a great wicket-keeper, batted splendidly.

As illustrating the keenness of MacLaren as a captain, the story of the sequel to his great first-wicket partnership with Hayward against New South Wales is worth telling. They had scored over 300 runs when Hayward was out to a bad stroke. He had just had his shower-bath when MacLaren, the next man out, bounced into the dressing-room. One would have expected a, “Well played, Tom!” Instead, he said, “Why in the devil did you want to make a stroke like that?” MacLaren's team came much nearer to disputing Australia's claim to supremacy than the scores and results would indicate.

This proved to be the last of the privately managed teams to tour Australia. Illustrious names appear in the list of those who have played a great part in the management of English teams. Lord Harris, Lord Sheffield, with Grace as captain, and A. E. Stoddart are the names best remembered of those who came after the pioneering efforts of the professionals. It is not generally known that the Melbourne Cricket Club had intended to invite Ranjitsinhji to bring out his team in 1901, but changed its mind and issued the invitation to MacLaren. Looking back over the years, one feels that great as MacLaren was as a player and a leader, a rare opportunity was lost in not asking the Indian prince. It would have proved an event of enormous Empire interest, and may have had far-reaching influences. A great deal of cricket is played in India by the Indians, and one can visualize the interest of both Hindu and Moslem in the doings of an English cricket team captained by one of their own princes.

Ranjitsinhji, later to become the Maharajah of Nawanagar, was not only one of the world's greatest cricketers, but also a great imperial figure. It will be of interest to record that “Ranji” had the same faculty for remembering cricket scores page 91 as Sims and I had. Some years ago, Arthur Sims spent an evening with the Maharajah; Test Matches of the past naturally formed part of their conversation. My old New Zealand friend later told me that before the evening was out he had discovered that the Indian prince's retentive memory in quoting scores was more than a match for his own impressions gained from reading of the games played.

Sims was more successful with H. H. Massie. On being introduced to this great Australian hitter of the 'eighties, he laughingly said: “You made 206 in your first match in England in 1882.” “No, 205,” said the elderly Mr. Massie, but Sims was right!