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Authors: John Miller

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The Ashes (4 page)

BOOK: The Ashes

Barnes’ record is astounding—189 Test wickets at 16.43 and 719 first-class wickets at 17.09. He took 77 of his 106 Ashes wickets in Australia on mostly flawless wickets. As well as continuing his calligraphy he maintained an interest in cricket for the rest of his life.

Chapter 4

Australia dominated the Ashes after World War I, with Warwick ‘Big Ship’ Armstrong’s team recording eight successive victories starting with a 5–0 whitewash at home in 1920–21. Armstrong set the scene at the SCG with 158, and England was beaten by 377. Australia won the second Test in Melbourne by an innings, and again won in Adelaide, by 119 runs. Eight wickets was the margin in Melbourne when Harry Makepeace made 117 for England, while Arthur Mailey took 4–115 and 9–121 for Australia with Armstrong a centurion. In Sydney, Australia won by nine wickets and Mailey again took wickets, with Charlie Macartney scoring 170 and Jack Gregory 93.

Australia won the first three Tests in England in 1921 before a draw broke their winning streak. At Nottingham in the 100th Ashes Test the bowling of Gregory and Ted McDonald was too much as Australia won by ten wickets. It was an eight-wicket win at Lord’s with Mailey, McDonald and Gregory again firing. A century to Macartney set up Australia’s 219-run win at Headingley and the Manchester Test was drawn, after rain intervened, as was the Oval Test, with Phil Mead’s 182 not out an English highlight.

Australia continued its winning ways in the home series in 1924–25 with England’s fourth Test win in Melbourne its first since 1912. The series was the first to be played with eight-ball overs and auspicious debuts were made by Bill Ponsford and Arthur Richardson for Australia, and Herbert Sutcliffe and Maurice Tate for England. Rain blighted the 1926 English series with four Tests drawn and the fifth won by England to regain the Ashes. It would be the Test starting 30 November 1928, however, that would herald a number of firsts—the first Test in Brisbane, and the debuts of England’s Wally Hammond and Douglas Jardine, and Australia’s Don Bradman.

Bradman arrives

In Brisbane, England achieved a 675-run victory, scoring 521 in the first innings helped by ‘Patsy’ Hendren (169), who figured in a 124-run eighth-wicket stand with Harold Larwood (70), a quick bowler who then ripped through Australia with his best ever Test return of 6–32 as the home side made 122. England did not enforce the follow-on and racked up 8–342, leaving Australia a 742 target. Overnight rain did their cause no good and they were dismissed for 66. In Sydney Hammond began an extraordinary run with his 251 the second Ashes double century for England. It set up an eight-wicket win. Ponsford’s left hand was broken by a Larwood flyer, and his substitute in the field was Bradman, dropped for the only time in a twenty-year Test career. England won by three wickets in Melbourne, thanks to Hammond’s 200 and Sutcliffe’s 135. But the Test is remembered more for Bradman’s first Test century.

England’s margin in the fourth Test in Adelaide was even less, twelve, as Jack White took 5–130 and 8–126. Hammond hit centuries in both innings and figured in a 262-run third-wicket stand with Jardine, while for Australia Archie Jackson, nineteen, scored 164 on debut and Bradman hit 40 and 58. Australia triumphed in Melbourne, a fine effort after England scored 519 in its first innings. In reply Australia’s 491 included 123 from Bradman and 102 from Bill Woodfull. Australia restricted England’s second innings to 257 and on the eighth day the home team came out on top.

Australia won the 1930 series in England thanks to Bradman. England began well at Trent Bridge with a 93-run win. Grimmett took 5–107 in England‘s first innings of 270 and Australia replied with 144 on a rain-affected pitch. England set up a big lead with 302. Australia made a good fist of chasing the total thanks to Bradman’s first Test century in England, but a great diving catch broke a threatening stand. Australia made it one-all at Lord’s with a seven-wicket win. KS Duleepsinhji (Duleep) (173) emulated his illustrious uncle KS Ranjitsinhji, who 34 years earlier scored a century in his first Test, as England scored 425 but Australia replied with 6–729 including 254 from Bradman, passing Billy Murdoch’s Australian record of 211. The runs flowed as captain Percy Chapman scored 121 in England’s 375 but Australia passed the total. Bradman went even better in the drawn Test at Headingley with 334. A few weeks before his 22nd birthday, he went in at first drop in the second over, making 50 in 49 minutes and a century in 99 minutes out of 127 scored. He was 105 at lunch, 220 at tea and 309 at stumps. He batted for 383 minutes and hit 46 fours. Australia made 566 and England 391. Following on, England was 3–95 with bad light and rain their salvation. Rain and a slow pitch saw the fourth Test at Old Trafford drawn.

Bradman’s 232 at the Oval took his series aggregate to 974 with an average of 139.14 and set up a win by an innings. England could only muster 251 as left-armer Percy Hornibrook took 7–92. Australia had convincingly won the series and Bradman had announced his Ashes arrival in a way like no other. So what was England going to do to combat the threat of his domination?

England’s controversial answer

The answer was the ‘fast leg theory’ also known as ‘Bodyline’ that made the 1932–33 tour of Australia the ugliest and most controversial in the game’s history. It was a tactic meant to bruise batsmen into submission or cause them to fend off a catch, and its origins lay in an August 1929 county game. Ex-miners Harold Larwood and Bill Voce unleashed deliveries bounced at the batsman’s body which could primarily be played, if at all, on the leg side where the fielders were placed. In that game the pair collected fifteen wickets but their captain, Arthur Carr, decided to only use it a few times, avoiding the game’s ruling body, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), taking action against it.

Circumstances changed in the 1930 Ashes thanks to Bradman, who dominated England. Seeing him do the same against the West Indies and South Africa, the MCC appointed a new captain without the 1930 scars. But it was not easy to find someone and after considerable pressure Douglas Jardine finally agreed. He was urged by his father MR Jardine, the former Advocate-General of Bombay, that he should treat the tour with the discipline and precision of a ‘good military campaign’. The new skipper was urged to use leg theory, with Carr explaining to him how bowlers could intimidate and corner batsmen. Larwood had copped a pounding from Bradman in 1930 and was reluctant to tour; however, he and Voce met with Carr and Jardine in August 1932 to discuss how to restrict Bradman. Jardine asked Larwood if he could ‘bowl on the leg-stump and make the ball come up into the body all the time so that Bradman had to play his shots to leg’. He said he could and recalled the master batsman ‘flinching’ when hit at the Oval in the final Test of the series. So the grand plan was hatched.

In October Bradman, tired after a honeymoon and unofficial tour to North America, faced England in a lead-up match in Perth. A cunning Jardine left out his ‘fast leg theory’ trio believing Bradman would start with a dominant display. It wasn’t to be, as the Australians were caught on a sticky wicket and an out-of-sorts Bradman was dismissed cheaply twice in a day. The tourists won easily and Jardine had the mental advantage before his plan was revealed. It was uncovered in the next lead-up in Melbourne. Jardine didn’t play but left instructions to attack Bradman. As soon as Bradman came to the wicket Larwood set his field on the leg side with five men close and two deep for the hook. Bradman was unsettled, he ducked and weaved but adapted by stepping to leg and belting the ball into the unguarded off side. Larwood recalled that bowling bouncers at other batsmen ‘was like potting pheasants but Bradman was more like a wild duck’, tougher to strike. An observer at the MCG dubbed the tactic ‘Bodyline’ and the theory had a more pertinent name. Bradman did the same second time around but was bowled by Larwood for 13.

A week later Bradman was in the fray again for New South Wales against the tourists, who played without Larwood. Bradman contracted flu and failed with his second dismissal off a Bodyline burst from Voce. The flu worsened and Bradman missed the Test in Sydney in which Larwood dominated, taking ten. England’s attack created both unparalleled discomfort for batsmen and controversy. Only Stan McCabe resisted, hooking boldly with some good fortune and using his feet to cut ferociously. The opener batted through the innings of 360 to finish 187 not out but was battered and bruised. Larwood returned 5–96 and Voce 4–110. Sutcliffe (194), Hammond (112) and the Nawab of Pataudi (102 on debut) set up England’s 524. Larwood, with a strained side, took 5–28 in Australia’s meagre second innings of 164, and England won by ten wickets.

Bradman recovered for the Melbourne Test and used the lead-up to determine a course of action. ‘I decided to play some tennis shots,’ he said, intending to move across the crease to hook and cut from unorthodox positions against Larwood and other Bodyline bowlers. In a low-scoring match Bradman pulled a Bowes’ delivery into his stumps for a first-ball duck but used his methods in the second innings with a century that sustained the nation’s fervent faith in him. In Melbourne more than 200,000 watched Australia taste success. Australia made 228 in its first innings and England replied with 169 as batsmen struggled with Bill O’Reilly’s spin. Bradman’s 103 not out was the standout of the second innings of 191 while O’Reilly made it ten for the match with his 5–66 in England’s reply of 139.

Before the third Test in Adelaide the game was built up with accusations that British economic policy and advice had helped cause the Depression and Australia’s economic malaise. England was billed as the enemy and the embodiment of British Imperialism took the form of tall, lean Jardine complete with harlequin cap and silk cravat. England made 341 but the series erupted mid-afternoon on the second day. Gubby Allen, who refused to bowl Bodyline, had Jack Fingleton caught behind for a duck, which brought Bradman to the crease to join skipper Bill Woodfull. Bradman hadn’t been at the wicket long when Jardine clapped his hands above his head, signalling Bodyline positions. The crowd booed and jeered, and lines of police took positions. Moments later Larwood bowled a bouncer that struck Woodfull in the chest. Woodfull dropped his bat, staggered from the wicket and the crowd erupted.

It wasn’t long before Bradman was out for eight, caught off Larwood. The crowd was incensed but with Allen refusing to bowl in that manner there was some respite. Had Jardine used Voce there may have been serious trouble. A courageous Woodfull battled until tea when MCC manager Plum Warner visited him in the dressing room. The captain then uttered: ‘There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket and one is not. It is too great a game for spoiling by the tactics your team is adopting. I don’t approve of them. It might be better if I do not play the game.’

Later that day, wicket-keeper Bert Oldfield had his skull cracked as he tried to hook Larwood. The Australian Board sent a cable of protest to Lord’s saying the tactics were ‘unsportsmanlike’. The response stated that the MCC had full confidence in their team management and that if Australia thought fit to cancel the rest of the tour, MCC would consent ‘with great reluctance’. A further dispatch was sent saying Bodyline was ‘opposed to the spirit of cricket’ and ‘dangerous to players’ but that cancellation was not considered necessary.

Australia replied to England’s 341 with 222, Ponsford top scoring with 85 and taking many deliveries on the back. England increased its advantage with 412 and Australia was set 512 to win with Bradman likely to be the only saviour. He thrilled the crowd as he sliced and cut Larwood. Soon after reaching 50 the threatening quick was removed from the attack to the relief of Bradman, whose normal control went missing. He hit Larwood’s replacement Hedley Verity for six, his first in Test cricket, then tried another and was caught and bowled for 66. Despite Woodfull again showing courage with 73, Australia lost by 338 in the ‘Battle of Adelaide’.

Debate developed about how Australia should fight back. Some wanted to fight fire with fire. The press picked up on the retaliation theme but Woodfull, backed by Bradman and O’Reilly, would not hear of it. They thought the game would be reduced to thuggery and an awful spectacle if both used Bodyline. England won the Ashes with a six-wicket fourth Test win at Brisbane. The first innings was closely fought with Australia registering 340 and England 356. Bradman hit 76 before being bowled by Larwood as he tried to off-cut. Australia made 175 in its second innings and England 162 for the loss of four. In Sydney England made it 4–1 after both teams were evenly matched in the first innings. Australia scored 435 including 48 from Bradman with Larwood capturing 4–98. Hammond scored 101 in England’s 454 but Larwood surprised everyone, with 98 as nightwatchman. Australia’s second innings 182 owed almost everything to a stand of 115 between Woodfull and Bradman. England made the required runs for the loss of two wickets.

Larwood, slowed at the end of the series by a splintered bone in the foot, finished with 33 Test wickets at 19.51. Bradman had the best batting record of both sides with 56.57 but had been reduced to half his usual effectiveness. Jardine and his bowlers had won back the Ashes and were heroes on their return. Yet Bodyline caused repercussions as England suffered at the hands of the West Indies’ fast bowlers who used the same tactics at Old Trafford in 1933. Hammond had his chin split and said he wouldn’t play again if Bodyline was not outlawed, which it was in Tests although Larwood and Voce continued to use it in county games.

Chapter 5

Sir Donald Bradman is the most revered cricketer of all time. His extraordinary achievements have been widely chronicled and his Test batting average of 99.94 is the sport’s best-known statistic. The legend of ‘The Don’—not merely as a player but as administrator, selector, sage and cricketing statesman—only intensified after his last Test in 1948, and even his death in 2001 did not take anything from the special meaning his name has for every Australian and every cricket enthusiast.

His figures are a constant reminder that there is a standard in batting—the Bradman standard. He batted 338 times in first-class cricket from 1927 to 1949, scoring 28,067 and averaging 95.14. He hit 117 centuries at better than one every three innings, including 452 not out for New South Wales in 1930. Bradman hit 37 scores of 200 or more while his nearest rival in this field, England’s Wally Hammond, hit 36 in three times as many innings. In 52 Tests he scored 6996 runs at 99.94, or, rounded off, a century every time he went out to bat in his 80 innings.

How did Bradman manage to be so far ahead? His key characteristics provide part of the answer: concentration, character, courage and determination, technique, knowledge of the game, natural athleticism, competitiveness, leadership skills and intelligence. His aim was always to win and in the most entertaining way possible, giving the paying public the best value, and he did so without seeking comments about his prowess. Bradman’s technique was both orthodox and unorthodox. Early in his career he was criticised for playing ‘cross-bat’ shots when pulling balls from the off-side to the on, but said: ‘How else do you score on the on-side when a ball is well outside off-stump?’ Unlike others he could play these shots with ease due to his extraordinary skills. He used the top hand to lever the bat up when playing a shot, which ensured the ball was kept down in attack or defence. He only lofted when he wanted to and only hit 44 sixes in his 338 innings but stroked 2580 fours.

Donald was born in the New South Wales’ town of Cootamundra on 27 August 1908, the youngest of five children to farmers George and Emily Bradman. Before World War I the family moved to Bowral, a community of 2000 where George obtained a job as a carpenter with Alf Stephens, a businessman, mayor and president of Bowral Cricket Club. George became involved in cricket and played for Bowral as well as being assistant secretary, treasurer and selector, and secretary of the district association.

Young Don became interested in the game and spent hours hitting a golf ball against a galvanised iron water tank with a cricket stump, honing his hand–eye coordination. Before he was old enough to play he was appointed scorer for Bowral, which wholly involved him in the progress of matches. At twelve he attended the annual general meeting of the club and a year later visited Sydney Cricket Ground with his father for the first Test of the 1920–21 Ashes. After leaving school in 1923 he entered a local real estate firm. Learning real estate became his priority and he put aside all cricket games for almost two years. He was not yet seventeen but maintained fitness with tennis and continued his cricket administration interests.

Don returned to the game in the summer of 1925–26 and within two years was playing Test cricket. The Test career of a future legend had begun but it didn’t totally consume his life as he later chose stockbroking as his profession; when not playing cricket it enabled him to disappear into the private world of stocks and shares. After he finished playing he continued his profession but stayed involved in cricket administration.

Bradman’s Test career begins

Bradman set the cricketing world on fire with his first few Tests and came out of the controversial Bodyline series as the best performing batsman. He played a major role in regaining the Ashes in England in 1934 after Bodyline had been banned. Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett spun Australia to a 238-run win in the first Test at Nottingham. England evened the score at Lord’s through an innings win made possible by slow-medium bowler Hedley Verity’s hauls of 7–61 and 8–43. England was again on top at Old Trafford but Australia escaped with a draw thanks to 137 from Stan McCabe. England set a formidable total of 9–627 featuring Maurie Leyland’s 153 and ‘Patsy’ Hendren’s 132 while O’Reilly took 7–189. The Leeds Test was drawn but not before Bradman scored 304. After an inept English batting effort of 200 against O’Reilly and Grimmett, Australia was in trouble at 3–39 at the end of day one but by the end of the second it was 4–494 with Bradman and Bill Ponsford (181) featuring in a 388 fourth-wicket stand. Bradman reached his triple century on the third day but minutes later was bowled after hitting two sixes and 43 fours. England reached 6–229 but rain was their saviour. The Headingley partnership proved a rehearsal for the Oval when the pair’s 451 saw Australia to a 562-run win and Ashes victory. Ponsford scored 266 and Bradman 244 in Australia’s 701. England replied with 321 and following on could only muster 145, Grimmett taking 5–64.

The Australian series in 1936–37 was a cliffhanger and attendance records were broken as people clamoured to see new captain Bradman. It was an inauspicious start as England won the first Test in Brisbane by 322. England’s bowlers Bill Voce and Gubby Allen proved difficult on an unpleasant pitch in Australia’s dismal second innings of 58.

Bad weather rendered Bradman’s second Test as captain even more unpropitious than the first. Wally Hammond’s 231 not out put England in the box seat at 6–426 but rain intervened and Voce bounced the ball wickedly. He took 4–10 as Australia was dismissed for 80 and Bradman was out for his second successive duck. Following on, Australia fought hard but could not prevent England’s innings and success.

Bradman’s captaincy saw rain work in Australia’s favour in Melbourne. At 6–130 on the first day it looked as though the series would be lost but McCabe helped take the score to 9–200 when Bradman declared after rain delayed the start on the second day. England struggled to 9–76 as O’Reilly and medium pacer Morris Sievers (5–21) made the ball leap. At 5–97 the game could have gone either way but Bradman and Fingleton figured in a 346-run stand. Fingleton scored 136 while Bradman made a chanceless 270, hitting 22 fours and 110 singles. Needing 689, England scored 323. The match was watched by 350,534 over six days.

Australia evened the ledger in Adelaide with a 148-run win. England bowled and fielded well to dismiss Australia for 288 and then took the lead, amassing 330. Bradman turned the tables and saved the series with 212, batting through the fourth day. He hit fourteen fours and 99 singles in a wonderful display of concentration as Australia made 433 and England faced a target of 392. The visitors were 3–148 on the sixth morning but Chuck Fleetwood-Smith spun one in from the off to bowl Hammond and the remainder fell steadily as the Victorian teased his way to ten in the match. In the Melbourne decider Bradman won the toss and demonstrated his infallibility with a faultless 169 in Australia’s 604. McCabe made 112, his 249-run stand with Bradman in only 163 minutes. England’s task was made more difficult by rain that deadened the pitch and made it spiteful as it dried. The visitors made 239 in their first innings and then 165 for Australia to win by an innings and 200.

The 1938 English series marked the debuts of Len Hutton, 22, and Denis Compton, twenty, for England. It was closely fought and finished level. The home side was never going to lose the Nottingham Test after amassing 8–658. Bradman made 51 in Australia’s first effort of 411 but it was McCabe who kept them in the match with 232, including 127 with the tailenders. Australia survived the eight hours of their second innings with little trouble, finishing 6–427 and Bradman’s 144 not out was his thirteenth Ashes century.

Batsmen were on top in the drawn second Test when skipper Hammond scored 240 in England’s 494 and Bill Brown 206 not out in Australia’s 422. After the Old Trafford Test was washed out Australia edged ahead by taking the Leeds Test by five wickets with Bradman and ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly starring. Bradman’s 103 in Australia’s first innings of 242 was astounding. In the gloom and on a moist pitch he manoeuvred the strike and dealt with varied bowling. Australia suffered early setbacks in its victory bid and reached 5–107 before rain came.

England drew the series and achieved its biggest ever Test win, by an innings and 579 runs at the Oval, although Bradman was injured. The result was virtually predetermined after Hammond won the toss and batted on an over-prepared pitch. Hutton and Leyland (187) figured in a 382-run opening stand, then Hammond joined Hutton for another 135. After a couple of cheap wickets, Joe Hardstaff (169 not out) and Hutton put on 215 before the opener was dismissed for 364 after a 797-minute innings. After declaring at 7–903 at tea on the third day, Australia crumbled against the pace of Bill Bowes to make 201 and second time 123.

Biggest loss, biggest win

The first Test after World War II produced Australia’s biggest win over England. In Brisbane in 1946 Bradman began where he left off, scoring 187 and Lindsay Hassett 128 in Australia’s 645. In their debuts fast bowler Keith Miller made 79 and leg spinner Colin McCool 95. Miller had already made a big name for himself with bat and ball in the unofficial ‘Victory Tests’ in England. By the time England came to the crease on the third day the light had deteriorated and rain interfered. The visitors had a fearful day on a spiteful pitch after almost two inches of rain and Miller proved difficult to play. Bill Edrich made 16 in 105 minutes but then came a bigger storm, accompanied by hail and strong winds during which the Gabba was submerged. Play miraculously resumed on the fifth day and England was dismissed for 141, Miller taking 6–70. England could only muster 172 in the follow-on as medium-pacer Ernie Toshack took 6–82 and Australia won by an innings and 332 runs.

The off-spin of Ian Johnson and leggies of McCool spelt England’s downfall in Sydney. Johnson took 6–42 as England was dismissed for 255. Australia then racked up 8–659 with Sid Barnes and Bradman both scoring 234. The captain had now taken part in record second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth wicket stands. On the sixth day Edrich battled for 119 but it proved too much for England with McCool taking 5–109 and Australia winning by an innings.

The next two Tests were drawn with batsmen on top. In Melbourne McCool made 104 not out, Arthur Morris 155, Ray Lindwall 100 and Bradman 79 and 49, while Cyril Washbrook made 112 and Edrich 89 for England. I n Adelaide, Compton made 147 and 103 not out while for Australia Morris made 122 and 124 not out, Miller 141 not out, and Bradman 56 not out. Australia made it 3–0 with a five-wicket win in Sydney. Hutton hit 122 as England made 280 and Ray Lindwall took 7–63. Australia replied with 253 and McCool took 5–44 as England was humbled for 186 in its second innings.

Australia invincible

The Australian team that toured England in 1948 led by Bradman was termed ‘The Invincibles’ after it returned unbeaten. It was a fitting way for Bradman to end his playing career although a final innings duck cost him a Test average of 100.

The series began in Trent Bridge with an eight-wicket win to Australia. Bradman led the way with 138 backed up by Hassett’s 137 in 509. England showed courage in its second innings against Miller to score 441. Compton played a gallant innings of 184 battling bad light, rain interruptions and short-pitched bowling. He had to play himself in nine times but found good support from Hutton.

The margin to Australia at Lord’s was 409. Morris got them away to a good start with 105 in 350. England’s innings was breached by a fiery Lindwall who took 5–70 and they trailed by 135. Australia set up a big lead with 7–460 in which Barnes scored 141 and Bradman 89. After rain, England’s pursuit of 596 was never likely and they succumbed for 186. The Manchester weather brought a draw in the third Test. Australia retained the Ashes in a high-scoring Leeds match. Washbrook (143) and Edrich (111) were top scorers in England’s 496. Australia almost matched them as Neil Harvey, nineteen, in his first Ashes Test, scored 112 in 458. England then declared at 8–365 and Australia needed 404 in 344 minutes, which looked an impossible task. Morris (182) and Bradman (173 not out) hit 301 for the second wicket in 217 minutes to set up a seven-wicket win.

At the Oval Australia hammered home their superiority to make it 4–0 in Bradman’s final test. Batting first on a sodden pitch England was destroyed by Lindwall (6–20) and made 52. Australia established a big lead, scoring 389 which featured 196 from Morris and a second ball duck for Bradman in his final innings. England replied with 188.

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