Helping to strengthen the ties, 1949

Cricket and the British Commonwealth

Right Hon Herbert V Evatt, Deputy Prime Minister o

Since the re-establishment of Test cricket after World War II, a most heartening fact has been its very firm hold on all peoples throughout the British Commonwealth and Empire.

So far as England and Australia are concerned, the pattern taken has closely resembled the course of events after World War I. The performances in England in 1919 of the famous Australian Imperial Force team, captained by H. L. Collins, were to some extent matched by those of the Australian Services Eleven of 1945. So far as Collins's team is concerned, it is impossible to overrate its beneficial effect on the standard of cricket of Australia. The batting tenacity and skilful leadership of Collins himself, the all-round genius of J. M. Gregory as fast bowler, punishing batsman and slip fielder, the discovery of W. A. Oldfield as wicket-keeper, the brilliant batting and fielding of J. M. Taylor and C. E. Pellew--these are but examples of the welcome reinforcement of Australia's first-class cricket as a by-product of the concentration in Europe and England in 1918 and 1919 of hundreds of thousands of Australian soldiers.

As a result of the post-war A.I.F. sports organisation, not only cricket but all Australian sporting standards were improved, showing perhaps how military organisation, if sympathetic to the claims of a great and noble game, helps itself as well as the game.

After the success of 1919, the formation of the Australian Services Eleven at the end of World War II was inevitable, and this team also proved to be of value to Australian cricket, though not, of course, to the same extent as in 1919. This was because, after the tremendous Japanese attacks directed southward against Australia in 1942, the primary war effort of our country was necessarily concentrated in the Pacific. However, to the very last moment of German resistance in Europe, there was a very powerful and numerous Australian air personnel in the R.A.A.F. and the R.A.F. all based in England; and these were the main sources of the Services Eleven.

As Wisden has pointed out, I felt it my duty in 1945 to urge on the M.C.C. the desirability of immediate recommencement of Test cricket with an England tour of Australia in 1946-47. Naturally, there was some hesitation about this. However, I believe the tour did a great deal for cricket throughout the British Commonwealth. Owing to intense devotion to the war effort, all our peoples had been deprived for many years of the highest form of cricket. As it happened, they eagerly attended as soon as the great games were on again.

What has happened since 1945? A real renaissance of cricket throughout the British Commonwealth. On the very same day we read of Homeric contests between the West Indies and India and strenuously fought Tests once again between England and South Africa.

Fortune Fluctuates

I think we should always bear in mind that success in these great encounters ebbs and flows like a tide. A combination of circumstances, some adventitious, operated against England both in Australia in 1946-47 and in England in 1948. Australia was most fortunate that Bradman was able, not only to effect a recovery from serious illness, but to show a great deal of his superb pre-war form. The rapid approach of Arthur Morris to the classical standard of Warren Bardsley and the almost flawless batsmanship of Barnes gave Australia, for the first time for many years, something like the guarantee of a good start. Simultaneously, the fast bowling of Lindwall and the discovery of W. Johnston helped greatly towards Australia's success.

In spite of the bare figures and the results, I am convinced that the difference between the Elevens of Australia and England was not considerable. I don't suppose that any country could wish for a greater quartet of Test batsmen than Hutton, Washbrook, Compton and Edrich. Fortune always counts for much in these contests, and the ill-luck of Bedser and Douglas Wright often reminded me of the similar ill-luck of Maurice Tate when he bowled so superbly in Australia in 1924-25 with Arthur Gilligan's team.

In the long run, these things always even up. Who would dare to say that, in five years' time, the cricket supremacy within the British Commonwealth will not have passed to the West Indies? What a boon that would be, even if only to drive home the lesson that in cricket it is not an affair only of Lord's or The Oval or of Sydney or Melbourne.

Solace in Wartime

Looking back over a vista of forty years of Test cricket, one is deeply impressed with the fact that cricket has no equal in its sustained contribution not only to the dignified leisure but to the happiness of our countrymen. In the blackest months of the last war, memories of the great Tests and the great cricketers who participated in them were often a solace, always holding out a sure and certain hope for the future. Sometimes, if one could venture to steal a half-hour, the old battles of the cricket Tests could be viewed again through the cool judgement of Wisden or in the very considerable literature the game has produced.

As I have said, Wisden abundantly proves that success comes to-day and goes to-morrow. For instance, in 1907-8 in Australia and in 1909 in England, M. A. Noble's Australian Eleven met with great success. Three years later, both in Australia and in England, the England Eleven dominated the two series.

Let us pause for a moment and ask what were the chief features of those important cricket years. It was a time of far less hurry and bustle than now. Of course, there was no broadcasting and the Press reports of the day were much fuller and much more factual. For example, J. C. Davis ( Not Out) of the Sydney weekly, Referee, often devoted as many as sixteen or twenty columns to the description of the great cricket matches. The technique of strokes was often described in detail and Davis was never content to tell his readers that certain cover drives were majestic or glorious. Nor was Davis, though a great student of the game, exceptional in his approach. Unhappily the tempo of the modern world, even the limitations of newsprint, and many other factors make this old approach difficult to recapture now.

However, we have broadcasting, and certainly the ball by ball descriptions offer a new chance of infusing into the description of cricket an increasing knowledge of technique and possibly a serenity of the kind so evident in able broadcasters like Arthur Gilligan and Alan McGilvray.

Best Batsmen

In the Tests between 1907 and 1912, Victor Trumper was gradually yielding place as world batsman to J. B. Hobbs. We now know that Trumper's health was failing fast and he was not destined to live out a normal career as a cricketer. To some extent, his early death strengthened the Trumper tradition. Who can forget the famous Punch cartoon where the small boy playing in a London back street and supplying the crude material announces the two teams to seven or eight of his comrades, You all be England and I'll be Victor Trumpet! There was not only a public glory but a private charm about Trumper which deeply affected all who knew him and all who saw that graceful figure on the field.

In some ways, Hobbs was a contrast. Yet he became almost equally popular on Australian grounds. His fielding at cover-point has never been surpassed, and from the first his skill on the on-side marked him out for the greatest honours as batsman. Yet in 1907-8, on his first tour of Australia, he had a struggle to gain a place in the England Test team, as George Gunn, visiting Australia for health reasons and included because of the illness of A. O. Jones, had an immediate success, especially against the fast bowling of Albert Cotter, himself destined to be killed in action in the battle for the liberation of Palestine.

It is not possible to give a full account of the cricket history of those great days. They left a permanent impression which has not been lessened but re-emphasised by the great sacrifices of the people of the British Commonwealth in two long and dreadful world wars.

The drama of cricket has never ceased to attract and charm. For the play is never finished: the stumps are never drawn.

In Australia, the brilliance of Trumper was succeeded by the equal brilliance of MacArtney, and the brilliance of MacArtney by the equal brilliance of Bradman. Yet MacArtney's main successes in Test cricket were gained in England, and his early first-class cricket was marked rather by steadiness and slowness than by brilliance in batting, providing a complete contrast to the audacity of his maturer years. Curiously enough, it was much the same with Bradman, some of whose early innings in first-class cricket were extremely defensive in character.

The very mention of these few names tends to raise comparisons and inevitable controversies. During his amazing cricket career, Bradman was subjected to criticism because of his penchant for heavy scoring. It was a most extraordinary criticism because, as I think I have demonstrated previously in the pages of Wisden, the result, in almost every case, was of decisive importance to the success of his side.

Of course, concentration on a few outstanding individuals is unfair to distinguished colleagues. From the Australian point of view, the contributions of Woodfull, Ponsford, McCabe and Kippax were always of very great significance.

Where Australia Excels

If I were asked to sum up some of the main differences between the England and the Australian sides since Armstrong had his extraordinary run of Test successes in 1920 and 1921, I would say that Australian batting has succeeded because of its greater exploitation of all the on-side strokes. There are some exceptions to the rule, but, undoubtedly, MacArtney and J. M. Taylor opened the way towards an on-side mastery in which Ponsford, McCabe, Kippax, Barnes and, of course, Bradman have all excelled. I believe that, with a few notable exceptions, the England Test batsmen have not shown the same mastery on the leg side.

In bowling, since the fast bowling of J. M. Gregory and McDonald in 1930, Australia's outstanding performers have been Grimmett and O'Reilly, and in combination, especially on English wickets, they could be devastating. On the other hand, I don't believe there has ever been better bowling in the history of cricket than that of Tate in Australia in 1924-25 and 1928-29 and that of Larwood both in 1928-29 and 1932-33. When they were backed up by slow bowlers like J. C. White and Hedley Verity, who adapted their length to Australian conditions, they always provided solid advantages to their side in driving towards victory.

These are impressions only, but I would like to add a word about the importance of fielding. In American baseball it is the duty of the scorer to record errors against the defaulting fieldsmen. Some day perhaps this will be done in cricket. Certainly, in connection with Test cricket, fielding, and particularly catching, has had an enormous result both on games and series. I have no means of detailed checking, but my firm belief is that, over the last forty years, the catching of England has been better than that of Australia, at any rate in the crucial positions of slip where most chances are given. On the other hand, the out-fielding and throwing of the Australians has probably been superior, our climatic advantages being considerable.

Support the Umpire

One word more. Perhaps it is inevitable in the modern age, but far too much is sometimes made of so-called cricket incidents. Especially is it dangerous for writers to become dogmatic about decisions of umpiring. Even in the reserved pages of Wisden something of this approach was recently discernible. The umpire has a thankless task, extremely fatiguing, and every Test umpire should be in the best of health and strength. If he shows inefficiency, he should be dropped, but, when he is chosen, his decision should be accepted with good grace.

The love of cricket and of cricket history will never die. It remains a perpetual source of deep enjoyment, of good fellowship and of sincere comradeship. It helps to strengthen the ties which bind all the peoples of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

© John Wisden & Co