Read The Ashes Online

Authors: John Miller

Tags: #Sports & Recreation/Cricket

The Ashes (3 page)

BOOK: The Ashes
Chapter 3

Until 1900 WG Grace dominated cricket, but in the fourteen years before World War I put a halt to Tests, two players dominated—dashing Australian batsman Victor Trumper and English medium-fast bowler Sydney Francis Barnes.

Trumper’s figures bear poor comparison to others but his style made up for it. One of the finest Ashes Test innings was completed by Trumper in Sydney in 1903–04. English wicket-keeper Arthur Lilley later wrote that the 185 not out was the finest innings by any batsman he had witnessed. Yet it did not save Australia, as England won by five wickets. Trumper’s first-class figures are: 255 matches, 16,939 runs, highest score 300 not out, average 44.58 with 42 centuries and 87 half centuries. His Test figures are: 48 matches, 3163 runs, highest score 214 not out and an average of 39.05. He played in 40 Ashes Tests and accumulated 2263 runs with six centuries.

Trumper was born in Sydney on 2 November 1877 and his cricket talent was cultivated in his backyard and in the streets of Surry Hills. Although described by schoolmate Monty Noble as a ‘short, spare, narrow-shouldered boy’, Trumper excelled at batting, bowling and fielding. At fifteen he played with Sydney’s Carlton club and at sixteen with South Sydney. Trumper competed at the Federation carnival in Sydney on 4 January 1901, winning the ball-throwing contest with 110.19 metres—his fast, flat throw was a feature of his fielding. Trumper was included late, as fourteenth man on reduced terms, in the 1899 team to tour England. Becoming the first Australian to score 300 in England, in a match against Sussex in July, the 21-year-old made everyone take notice, gaining a Test spot. He was out for a duck on his debut before making amends on his second appearance with 135 not out at Lord’s.

He excelled in the 1902 tour when he made 2570 at an average of 48.49 and including eleven centuries. At the time, cricket’s annual publication
said of him: ‘Of all the great Australian batsmen Victor Trumper was by general consent the best and most brilliant. He could play quite an orthodox game when he wished to, but it was his ability to make big scores when orthodox methods were unavailing that lifted him above his fellows.’

In the next series Trumper was equally formidable, with an unbeaten 185 in Sydney before making 74 out of 122 on a treacherous pitch in Melbourne. During the 1905 tour of England he was handicapped by a torn back muscle. In the fourth Test against England in Melbourne in February 1908 he failed to score, his only ‘ pair’ in any match. In his last tour in 1909 he was overshadowed by Warren Bardsley and Vernon Ransford but contributed much to the tour’s success. His care e r culminated when the South Africans visited Australia in 1910–11 and he recovered his finest form. In five Test matches he scored 662 with an average of 94. Vice-captain under Clem Hill against the English in 1911–12, Trumper, in the first Test in Sydney, became the first to score six centuries in Ashes Tests.

Under all conditions Trumper was fascinating to watch as his suppleness lent grace to everything he did. He perfected shots, such as leg drives off his pads and toes, that became part of the repertoire of great batsmen after him. His footwork was perfection, part of his computer-like ability to sight the direction, flight, length and pace of the ball quickly.

A testimonial played between New South Wales and the Rest of Australia at Sydney in February 1913 raised nearly £3000. An invitational Australian side toured New Zealand in February and March 1914 and, batting at number nine at Christchurch, Trumper dazzled with 293 in 178 minutes. Trumper’s final game was for his club, Gordon, against Petersham at Chatswood Oval on 24 October, 1914. By late 1914, kidney disease had taken its toll and by April 1915 he was confined to bed. In June he entered St Vincents Hospital, dying of Bright’s Disease on 28 June 1915. WG Grace died four months later.

Magician with the ball

Sydney Francis Barnes was one of the finest bowlers of all time. At medium-fast pace he bowled a range of deliveries—in-swing and out-swing, off and leg breaks, top spin and cutters. His debut Ashes Test in Sydney in 1901 set the pattern with 5–65. Clem Hill, who in successive Test innings scored 99, 98 and 97 against Archie MacLaren’s England team of 1901–02, said that on a perfect wicket Barnes could swing the new ball in and out very late, could spin from the ground, pitch on the leg stump and miss the off.

SF Barnes was born in 1873 in Staffordshire and his father encouraged his cricket career on the proviso that he always have a trade, as in those days professional cricketers had short earning careers. Barnes was robust and powerful. He bowled accurately off a shortish run and made full use of his 186-centimetre height by hooking the ball down from a high right hand. He extracted bounce and imparted spin using his strong hands and fingers without seeming to use his wrists. He had the capacity to bowl at a batsman’s weakness and boasted he could send down a different delivery for every ball in an over. Looking ahead, however, he also followed his father’s advice and did a sign-writing and calligraphy apprenticeship, finding work in the Legal Department of Staffordshire County Council, a job that lasted 50 years.

Barnes had an unconventional career, playing mainly league and minor county cricket. He made his debut for minor county Warwickshire in 1893 but in 1894 went back to Lancashire league playing for Rishton as he preferred the security of the league with its steady wage. He was paid £3/10s a week, over three times the average skilled worker’s wage and substantially more than at Warwickshire. League cricket was also played on weekends, allowing him to maintain a clerk’s job in a colliery. It was difficult to get Barnes out of this mindset but Lancashire and English captain MacLaren succeeded, convincing him to play in the final county game of 1901. He took 6–70 in the first innings and MacLaren persuaded him to play for Lancashire again in 1902 by offering him a sweetener, a tour to Australia in 1901–02 to replace Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst, who stayed behind to boost Yorkshire’s county hopes. It was a gamble as MacLaren made his judgment based on one county game and the experience of facing him in the nets.

In lead-up games Barnes left no doubt about his ability, taking bags of wickets. In the first Test in Sydney MacLaren top scored with 116 as England made 464. When Australia was three, Barnes deceived Trumper with a slower ball and the great batsman pushed too early, sending back a return catch that he took one-handed. Barnes returned 5–65 in 35.1 overs as Australia was dismissed for 168. The follow-on was enforced, Barnes took one, and Australia lost by an innings and 124.

There was more to come in the second Test. On the opening day MacLaren won the toss and sent Australia in on an MCG pitch affected by rain. Barnes stunned everyone by having Trumper out off his second ball. He bowled Hill for 15 and Australia managed 112 with Barnes taking 6–42. T h e tourists did worse, scoring 61 due to Noble’s off-spinners returning 7–17. It was still day one when Australia batted again and, despite skipper Joe Darling switching the order around, struggled to 5–48 at stumps. On day two Hill led the charge with 99 while Reg Duff, at number ten, scored 104. Barnes was dangerous and dismissed Trumper cheaply for the third time in four innings, finishing with 7–121. Australia compiled 353 for a lead of more than 400 and England was beaten easily with Noble taking thirteen. Nineteen wickets from two Tests was Barnes’ tally as he broke down with a knee injury in Adelaide. Without him, England had no answer and lost the series 1–4 but Barnes sailed home with an enhanced reputation.

Barnes’ knee kept him out of the 1902 home series until the third Test, the only one ever played in Sheffield. He was not selected in the original twelve but when MacLaren woke to an overcast sky he cabled Barnes, asking him to come to the ground. MacLaren won the toss and sent Australia in. Just before taking the field he told Yorkshire bowler Schofield Haigh he would be twelfth man but Barnes was late and Haigh took the field, with Lord Hawke and other selectors unaware of the decision. When Barnes arrived he was summoned onto the field, replacing Haigh. It was a brave move given Haigh was in front of a home crowd and was Hawke’s choice. Barnes was too late to dismiss Trumper but dismissed the next four cheaply and took 6–49 in his debut home Test as Australia made 194. Now people realised why there had been such a fuss. Barnes was unable to prevent Australia winning by 143, thanks to a great second innings start by Trumper (62) and Hill (119), while Noble snared eleven for the match.

Then came Lord Hawke’s revenge and Barnes was dropped for the last two Tests. England lost its fourth series in succession but had Barnes played it may have been different. Barnes, 29, continued playing for Lancashire, taking more than 100 wickets in 1902. In 1903 he took 131 wickets at 17 and saw out his county contract. His independence cost him further Test selection, and with MacLaren no longer in charge of the national team there was no one to push for him. He was left out of Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner’s team for the 1903–04 Australian tour and his cause wasn’t helped when Warner returned with the Ashes after a stunning 3–2 win. RE ‘Tip’ Foster’s 287 on debut for England was a highlight.

Barnes was left out of the 1905 series despite many insisting he was England’s best. England won the series 2–0 and there was no cry for his return. Barnes was omitted from the 1905–06 tour of South Africa when England lost 4–1, and despite taking a record 119 wickets at 7.83 for Staffordshire in 1906, was again rejected for the South African tour of England in 1907. England struggled to win 1–0 but Barnes claimed 112 wickets at 3.91 for Porthill Park in the North Staffordshire league.

At 34, Barnes had missed Test selection for five years but was not forgotten. A lack of talent willing to tour Australia in 1907–08 brought his name to the surface again. But before agreeing to tour he cut a good deal—£300 payment at the end of the tour, first-class return ticket, 30 shillings a week on the sea voyage and 40 shillings a week expenses while in Australia. The thrilling first Test in Sydney saw Australia win by two wickets. Barnes dismissed Trumper for three and Noble for 27 in the second innings. England’s second Test win at Melbourne belonged to Barnes for a fine all-round effort and marked the Test debut of English stalwart Jack Hobbs. Barnes took 5–72 in Australia’s second innings and with England at 7–198, needing 84 for victory, he came to the crease and achieved a one-wicket win. Although Australia exacted revenge with a 245-run win at Adelaide, Barnes was not disgraced and among his five victims was Trumper for a duck. At the MCG for the fourth Test Barnes struggled and Australia regained the Ashes. In the dead fifth Test in Sydney he removed seven, Trumper among them. The master batsman turned the tables in the second innings, scoring 166 and setting Australia up for victory.

Australia returned to England in 1909 and Lord Hawke reinstated MacLaren as captain but failed to select Barnes until the third Test. The series was one-all when Barnes came into the team, and although Australia won the match it was not his fault, as batsmen succumbed to the guile of spinner Charlie Macartney who took eleven. Barnes took 6–63 in Australia’s second innings. He continued in the drawn fourth Test at Old Trafford collecting 5–56 in the first innings and it was again drawn at the Oval where Barnes took two in each innings.

Barnes declined to tour South Africa in 1910–11 but was available for the tour of Australia the following year. Olympic boxing gold medallist Johnny Douglas led England in the first Test in Sydney and made a decision, in keeping with his amateur status, to open the bowling himself despite the objections of Barnes. Another amateur, Frank Foster, opened at the other end and Australia made a fair start. Trumper was well set when Barnes was introduced and he made 113 while Barnes snared three. It was a similar story in the second innings as Australia rammed home the advantage while Barnes was kept out. Douglas got the message for the second Test at the MCG and gave Barnes the new ball. His first delivery was an in-swinger that bowled Bardsley off his pads. He also bowled Hill with an in-swinging yorker, trapped Charlie Kelleway lbw and had Warwick Armstrong caught at the wicket. He took 5–44 as Australia was dismissed for 184 and England cruised to an eight-wicket win. He was revved up for Adelaide and instrumental in England tasting another success, taking 3–71 and 5–105. It was another match-winning effort in the fourth Test in Melbourne, with Barnes taking 5–74. Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes gave England a great start of 323 for the first wicket and the visitors won comfortably. With a 3–1 lead they rubbed the Australians’ noses in the dirt at the SCG and Barnes captured seven wickets.

Barnes was 39 years old at the time of the next minor county season and selected for the triangular series against Australia and South Africa. The first two Tests against the Australians were washouts and the third was won by England, with Barnes taking another five-wicket haul in his final Ashes match. He was devastating against South Africa, taking 34 at 8.28. He toured South Africa in 1913–14, taking 49 at 10.93 in four Tests. The 40-year-old’s stamina was astounding and he seemed as fit at the end of the tour as at the start.

At 41, Barnes was too old for active service in World War I and his nine seasons with Porthill Park finished in 1914 after he collected 893 wickets at just five. The team won the championship six times and were runners-up three times during his stay. Barnes signed with Saltaire in the Bradford league and the association lasted until 1923, with Barnes 404 wickets at 5.17.

In 1920 Barnes was invited to tour Australia but declined; he considered it was too long to be away from his family and he could not come to terms with the MCC. England was humiliated 5–0 by Armstrong’s team. In 1921 Barnes was not too old at 47 to return to Test cricket at home but his disagreement over terms for the previous series put him out of favour. He plundered the Bradford league while Armstrong’s men won the series 3–0. At 51 Barnes returned to Staffordshire and took 73 wickets at 7.17. He emulated these returns until 1933 when, at 60, he played three games for his county and concentrated on league cricket with Rawtenstall. In 1935, at 62, he retired after 22 seasons with Staffordshire in which he had taken 1441 wickets at 8.15. He kept playing league cricket on weekends until 1940, when at 67 he retired.

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