Notes by the Editor, 1975

Home alone

Just as these final pages were going to press the news came that England had lost the Ashes. Australia, clearly the superior combination, made almost a complete sweep by going three up in four contests with two still to be played, though from many quarters came criticism of the manner of some of their bowling in achieving this end. Never in the ninety-eight years of Test cricket have batsmen been so grievously bruised and battered by ferocious, hostile short-pitched balls as were those led conscientiously by Michael Denness until, owing to his own lack of form with the bat, he handed over the captaincy to John Edrich in the fourth match at Sydney.

Unlucky Denness
Nothing went right for Denness from the start of the tour. An abdominal condition which laid him low in hospital as soon as he arrived in Australia deprived him of valuable net practice and caused him to miss some early matches. Then with Edrich getting a badly bruised hand and Dennis Amiss and David Lloyd broken fingers, the team became so short of batsmen that Colin Cowdrey flew from England and, at the age of 42, was ushered into the Second Test at Perth within four days of his 36-hour flight.

This was a commendable effort by Cowdrey, who it was reported looked as good as anybody while scoring 22 and 41 in that Perth match, and one could understand the desire of the selectors to have a batsman of such quality in their side to try to combat the menace of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee, but it was an impossible mission. Twenty years earlier Cowdrey's technique stood him in good stead against Lindwall and Miller. Now in his forties, he could not be expected to give a repeat performance, willingly though he tried. Inevitably the eyesight was less acute, the reflexes that much slower and, by all accounts, Thomson and Lillee were that much faster. Moreover, back in 1954-55 bouncers were almost non-existent with Tyson and Statham present there for England.

Was Boycott Missed?
Frankly, I cannot believe that the presence of Geoff Boycott would have made any difference to England's fortunes. He is not at his best fending off the bouncer or in avoiding it. After being chosen among the sixteen for the tour he withdrew some weeks later explaining that he had still not got over the pressures and tensions of International cricket and that he was not confident of being able to stand up to the rigours of a long Australian tour. He felt that it was in the best interests of the team that he should withdraw. There were no signs that he would have been in the right frame of mind to try to answer Thomson and Lillee.

Indeed, Boycott by his deeds and words has all England wondering whether he will ever be a force again in Test cricket. There is no doubt that on his day he is still England's best opening partner for Amiss, but recent history suggests that his best days are all too infrequent. Having declined to tour India and Pakistan in 1972-73 for reasons of health, he returned to the scene with success in the summer of 1973 until the West Indies barrage of Boyce and Holder developed. He recovered his composure to play four valuable Test innings in the Caribbean the following winter, notably 99 and 112 at Port-of-Spain to help England share the rubber. Then after scores of 10 and 6 in the first Test of 1974 against India he asked not to be considered for selection.

Boycott Benefit
Boycott, at 34, is not a young man with the years on his side in which to adjust. England's needs are immediate. It is high time the Yorkshire captain came to terms with himself and if the huge benefit of £20,639 which he reaped during 1974 helps to do that, then cricket generally might have cause to thank those schoolboys up and down the country who contributed their pence and those people inside the country who, still cherishing the memory of watching Herbert Sutcliffe, Percy Holmes, Maurice Leyland, Hedley Verity and Bill Bowes play their hearts out for the side, gave their pounds.

© John Wisden & Co