Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 10

Cricket  (1888) 
Chapter 10



(By A. G. Steel.)

Not until Monday, May 27, 1878, did the English public take any interest in Australian cricket. Prior to this date four English teams had visited Australia, but their doings, though recorded in the press, did not interest the cricket community at home. The Australian players met with in the Colonies were no doubt learning from the English teams they had seen and played against, but the idea that they were up to the standard of English first-class cricket seemed absurd; and to a certain extent this estimate was justified by the records of the English visitors. In 1862 H. H. Stephenson, Surrey player and huntsman, took out twelve professional players to the Colonies under the auspices of Messrs. Spiers and Pond. They played twelve matches against eighteens and twenty-twos, won six, lost two, and drew four. In 1864, two years later, George Parr took out a team, which played sixteen matches against twenty-twos and was not beaten at all. In 1873 Mr. W. G. Grace visited the antipodes at the request of the Melbourne Cricket Club; his eleven played fifteen matches, all against odds, won ten, lost three, and drew two. In 1876 James Lillywhite followed, and it was during this tour that the Australians first won a match on equal terms. Lillywhite's team played Australia on March 15, 16 and 17, 1877, with the result that Australia won by 45 runs. This match was noteworthy for another reason. C. Bannerman made 165 for Australia, and was the first amongst Australian batsmen to score a hundred against English bowlers. Now, though English cricketers had been beaten on even terms as recently as 1877, the fact seemed to have been lost sight of at home in 1878, and when the first Australian eleven that ever visited England arrived early in the latter year, it never occurred to anyone that it could have any chance of actually stonning the citadel of English cricket with success. On May 27, 1878, English cricket and its lovers received a serious shock, as on that day, in the extraordinarily short space of four and a half hours, a very fair team of the M.C.C. were beaten by nine wickets. The famous English club was certainly well represented, seeing that W. G. Grace, A. W. Ridley, A. J. Webbe, A. N. Hornby, Shaw, and Morley did battle for it. Gregory's team, as the Australians were called, had a very successful season, beating, in addition to M.C.C, Yorkshire, Surrey, Middlesex, Leicestershire, Sussex, Gloucestershire, and a bad eleven of the 'Players,' and being beaten by Nottingham, the Gentlemen of England, Yorkshire, and Cambridge, the latter the most decisive defeat of all.

The British public were surprised at these results, especially as it had expected so little from the visitors. Many of the lower classes were so ignorant of Australia itself, to say nothing of the cricket capabilities of its inhabitants, that they fully expected to find the members of Gregory's team black as the Aborigines. We remember the late Rev. Arthur Ward 'putting his foot into it' on this subject before some of the Australians. One day in the pavilion at Lord's, the writer, who had been chosen to represent the Gentlemen of England against the visitors in a forthcoming match, was sitting beside Spofforth watching a game, in which neither was taking part. Mr. Ward coming up, accosted the writer, 'Well, Mr. Steel, so I hear you are going to play against the niggers on Monday?' His face was a picture when Spofforth was introduced to him as the 'demon nigger bowler.' Gregory's team, in the writer's opinion, contained four really good bowlers: Spofforth, Boyle, Allan, and Garrett, and two fair changes in Midwinter and Horan, but as batsmen they were poor when compared with England's best.

Charles Bannerman was a most dashing player, his off-driving being magnificent, and Horan and Murdoch were fairish batsmen. Murdoch then was very different to the Murdoch of 1882 and 1884; but the rest were rough, untutored, and more like country cricketers than correct players. Had this team come to England in a dry instead of a wet season, it would probably have had a very different record at the end of its visit. Spofforth, Boyle and Garrett were most deadly to the best batsmen on the soft, caked wickets they so often had to assist them; and the Australian batsmen, with the rough crossbat style which distinguished the majority, were just as likely to knock up fifteen to twenty runs on a bad wicket as on a good one. Nothing brings good and bad batsmen so close together as bad wet seasons. When Cambridge University met them the match was played on a hard true wicket, the Australian bowling was thoroughly collared, and none of the eleven, except Murdoch, C. Bannerman, and perhaps Horan, showed any signs of being able to play correct cricket on a hard ground.

Gregory's team, however, had a wonderfully stimulating effect on English cricket. Their record taught us that the Australians could produce men to beat most of the counties, and who might, after a year or two of experience, play a very good game with a picked team of England.

In 1880 W. L. Murdoch brought over a Colonial team to England. The close of the season showed that in the eleven-a-side matches, Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, and a good eleven of the Players of England had been beaten, while only two matches had been lost: Nottingham succeeded in winning by one wicket, and England by five wickets. This latter match was the first in which a picked team of England did battle against the Australians, and the excitement was intense. It was most interesting, and will be ever memorable for the splendid innings of W. G. Grace and W. L. Murdoch, who made 152 and 153 respectively, the latter being not out. England's first innings was 420, Australia's 149; the latter followed on, and when the last man, W. H. Moule, came in there were still wanting 32 runs to save the innings defeat. Moule played a stubborn game with his captain, and put on 88 for the last wicket. How England lost five wickets on a goodish wicket in getting 57 runs will never be forgotten. The writer had taken off his cricket clothes at the end of the Australians' second innings, thinking all would soon be over; but cricket is a strange game, and he soon had to put them on again. The result of the first pitched battle between England and Australia, though a win of five wickets for the former, was a marvellous performance on the part of the Australians; indeed, seeing how far they were left behind on the first innings, it was one of the best things ever done at cricket to get so near the victors at the finish, especially as the wicket on the last innings was not to be found fault with. It should also be mentioned in fairness to the Australians that their best bowler, Spofforth, was prevented by an accident from taking part in this match.

The next team that visited England was in 1882, and was again under the captaincy of W. L. Murdoch. On this occasion G. Giffen, S. P. Jones, and H. H. Massie were introduced to the British public for the first time. As this eleven succeeded in defeating England, and was perhaps the best that ever represented the Colonies, we record the names:—A. C. Bannerman, J. M. Blackham, G. J. Bonnor, H. F. Boyle, P. S. McDonnell, W. L. Murdoch, G. E. Palmer, F. R. Spofforth, T. W. Garrett, T. Horan, and the three new players above mentioned. The result at the end of the season was: Matches played, 38: won, 23; lost, 4; drawn, 11; Nottingham beaten once, Lancashire once, Yorkshire three times, the Gentlemen of England once, and Oxford University once. The four defeats were by Cambridge University, the Players of England, Cambridge Past and Present, and the North of England. This team played the second pitched battle between Australia and England on Monday, August 28, and after the close finish and creditable display made in 1880 against England by worse players, the match created the most intense excitement. The Australians went first to the wickets, which were very sticky, and were all disposed of for 63. England topped this by 38. Prior to the beginning of Australia's second innings, a heavy shower deluged the ground Going in on the wet cutting-through wicket, Massie hit the incapacitated bowlers all over the field, and when the first wicket fell for 66 had scored 55 out of that number. With the exception of Murdoch and Bannerman, nobody else troubled the English bowlers, and the ground rapidly drying and caking, the whole side were disposed of for 122. The Englishmen wanted 85 to win, and when the score was at 51 for one wicket, it seemed as if the game were over. Spofforth, however, was bowling splendidly, and the wicket had become most difficult. He was bowling over medium pace, coming back many inches, and often getting up to an uncomfortable height The English batsmen could do nothing with him, and after the keenest excitement, the game ended in a well-won victory for the Australians by 7 runs. Though this defeat was a great blow to the English representatives, there were none who grudged Australia her success, which was obtained by sound and sterling cricket. This is the only occasion on which Australians have ever defeated England. We think there is no doubt that the 1882 team was better than the one that visited us in 1884. In 1882 they had as bowlers, Boyle, Spofforth, Palmer, Garrett, and Giffen; in 1884 they had Spofforth, Palmer, Boyle, Giffen, and Midwinter, but they had lost Garrett. The '82 team contained two excellent batsmen in Horan and Massie, whose absence was not sufficiently compensated for by Scott and Midwinter. Murdoch, Horan, Giffen, Blackham, were all likely to make runs, while Massie, Bonnor, and McDonnell often succeeded on the vorst wicket in making mincemeat of any bowling.

In 1884 W. L. Murdoch again brought over an Australian team to England, and played thirty-two matches, winning eight and losing seven. This time it was decided by the English authorities not to allow the fame of English cricket to depend on the result of one match only, but on the best of three, and accordingly three matches were arranged to be played between England and Australia, one at Manchester, the second at Lord's, and the third at the Oval. The first, at Manchester, was seriously interfered with by the weather. Rain prevented any play on the first day. England began to bat on a sodden wicket and made 95, and Murdoch's team responded with 182. England had now a difficult task to prevent being beaten, but at the end of the match were 92 runs on, and one wicket to fall. This was doubtless a draw in favour of the Australians, but still a hundred runs on a bad wicket against the flower of English bowling take a lot of getting, and it must be remembered that a month before the Australian team were all disposed of for 60 on a sticky wicket by Peate and Emmett. The second match was at Lord's, and was the only one of the three that was finished. England won easily by an innings and 5 runs. The Australians never appear to have relished Lord's; the pace of the ground always seems to have beaten them. The third match at the Oval was a memorable one. The Australians won the toss, went in on a perfect wicket, and made the terrific score of 551: McDonnell 103, Murdoch 211, Scott 102. This was a truly great performance, and it was remarkable that every member of the English team tried his hand with the ball, by far the most successful having been the Honourable A. Lyttelton with the analysis of four wickets for 19 runs. England made 346 first innings, in which was a magnificent display from W. W. Read of 117. In the second innings England made 85 for two wickets, and thus required 120 runs on a true wicket with seven good batsmen to save the single innings defeat.

The next and last team that visited England was in 1886, H. J. H. Scott being the captain. This is memorable as the first Australian team in England that did not contain W. L Murdoch. Several unknown men now made their appearance, W. Bruce, E. Evans, J. McIlwraith, and J. W. Trumble, but this was undoubtedly the least successful of all the Australian elevens. Their season's record showed: Matches played, 38; won, 9; lost, 7; drawn, 22. Here again, as in 1884, England v. Australia was to be played at Manchester, Lord's, and the Oval; but it is unnecessary to give an account of these three matches. It will suffice to say that at Manchester England won by four wickets, at Lord's by an innings and 106 runs, and at the Oval by an innings and 217 runs. It will thus be seen that eight matches have now been played between England and Australia. England has won five, Australia has won one, and two have been drawn. We hardly think, in face of these facts, anyone can say that the Australians have succeeded in establishing their superiority over English cricketers.

An opportunity has lately been offered of comparing the individual performances, both in bowling and batting, of the leading English and Australian cricketers, in the carefully compiled statistics contained in a recent work entitled 'England v. Australia,' by Messrs. Brummfitt and Kirby. We there find that, in all the matches played since 1878 between the Australians and the various English teams, both in this country and in Australia, of the eleven batsmen who have the best averages the first four are Englishmen, followed by two Australians, then come three Englishmen, then one Australian, with an Englishman in the last place. The averages are as follows:—

Batsmen Number
of innings
not out
W. G. Grace 57 3 1,955 36·2
A. G. Steel 53 4 1,637 33·4
A. Shrewsbury 85 13 2,221 30·8
W. W. Read 46 2 1,338 30·4
W. L. Murdoch 187 21 4,574 27·5
W. Barnes 76 5 1,832 25·8
C. T. Studd 28 2 663 25·5
R. G. Barlow 93 13 1,987 24·8
H. H. Massie 85 5 1,906 23·8
Lord Harris 30 1 688 23·7

It may be of interest here to give a short extract from this book:—

It may be urged, with some show of reason, that it is not fair to draw a comparison between the English and Australian averages because the Australians have played so many more innings than the English. It might be replied that most of the leading Englishmen have played quite sufficiently often to have their capabilities fairly tested; but in order to put the Englishmen through as severe a test as the Australians, the pages of 'Lillywhite' have been consulted, and accepting the accuracy of the figures there given, a calculation has been made of the averages obtained by the eleven leading English batsmen on page 280 in all the first class matches played in England, since the advent of the first Australian team. The result arrived at is as follows:—

In the Australian
In the English first-
class matches
Average Completed
W. G. Grace 54 36·20 315 34·70
A. G. Steel 49 33·40 167 29·43
A. Shrewsbury 72 30·80 224 29·45
W. W. Read 44 30·40 254 35·60
W. Barnes 71 25·80 318 25·03
C. T. Studd 26 25·50 132 31·08
R. G. Barlow 80 24·80 302 20·70
Lord Harris 29 23·70 190 30·20
E. F. S. Tylecote 22 23·45 77 22·20
J. M. Read 57 23·00 238 25·10
G. Ulyett 91 22·20 408 27·20

Although in these two tables there is such a great disparity in the number of innings played, the general standard of averages remains much the same. In some individual cases it is lower, in others higher, and on the whole there is a slight increase. The general accuracy of the averages obtained by the English batsmen against Australians is thus fully confirmed, and to any unprejudiced person the superiority of the Englishmen is apparent.

With regard to the merits of the English and Australian bowlers, we think there are few English cricketers who would deny that Spofforth is the best bowler ever seen on English grounds, at any rate in modern times, and yet these statistics show that he is not at the head of the average list.

The following is the list of the first eleven bowlers:—

Overs Runs Wickets Average
Attewell 855 762 64 11
Shaw 1,319 1,136 88 12
Emmett 1,213 1,535 117 13
Spofforth 5,866 9,551 715 13
Boyle 3,316 4,624 329 14
Peate 1,789 2,305 163 14
Morley 736 863 58 14
Barnes 1,494 1,843 122 15
Palmer 5,713 8,748 548 15
Barrett 475 824 51 16
Garrett 3,993 5,657 345 16

The English averages against English batsmen during the same period are very nearly the same as the above. The best all-round cricketer the Australians have brought to this country in our opinion is G. Giffen. He was a thoroughly sound and hard-hitting batsman; his bowling was at times most deadly even to the very highest class of batsmen. He had a big sure pair of hands, was a good field and fine, thrower. It would be a difficult task to find any man (the English champion excepted) either in Australia or at home who has done in the last six years better all-round service to his side.

It will seem strange to all English cricketers that Spofforth should be surpassed by three English bowlers. His power of pace, command over the ball, loose shoulders, long arms and fingers, made him far and away the best bowler of the day. How is it, then, that he does not come out at the top of the averages? There are two reasons. First: because of bad captaincy—that is to say, he used to be kept on far too long when not taking wickets; and, secondly, because he never bowled to keep down the runs. His object was to get men out, and he tried every artifice with this in view, quite irrespective of how many runs were being scored off him. This was one thing, apart from his skill, which raised him head and shoulders above maiden-over bowling English professionals. Spofforth bowled five thousand eight hundred and sixty-six overs for seven hundred and fifteen wickets; he consequently got a wicket once every eight overs (roughly speaking). Attewell got a wicket once every thirteen overs; Shaw once every fourteen overs; and Emmett once every ten overs. Spofforth was consequently, on the figures themselves, a far more deadly bowler than Shaw, Attewell, or Emmett.

In addition to Spofforth, the Australians have had a wonderfully good lot of bowlers: Palmer, Garrett, Boyle, Allan, Evans, Giffen, all being most admirable. It appears extraordinary at first sight that a country whose whole population does not exceed that of London should in the course of a few years have been able to develop such exceptional talent. We believe, however, that Australia will always possess excellent bowlers, for the following reason. In Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, the chief nurseries of Australian cricket, the grounds are so excellent, and usually so hard and fast, that no bowler can possibly expect the slightest amount of success unless he possesses some peculiarity of style or action, pace or power, over the ball. These, or some of them, the young Australian assiduously cultivates. In England the conditions are different, as, by reason of our variable climate, naturally weak bowling often becomes most effective. Young Australian bowlers have also ample opportunity for gaining experience and developing their skill, as there is in the colonies a very great dearth of the professional element. Members of the same club have to rely for their batting practice on the bowling of one another, and their bowlers come to acquire some of the peculiarities abovementioned that will strike terror into the hearts of their opponents in the next tie of the cup contests. These cup contests in Australia are an excellent institution, as professionalism is barred. They produce the greatest interest and excitement, and each club does its utmost to secure the much-coveted distinction of being premier club for the season. The Australian climate is a great aid to bowling and fielding. Its warmth and mildness prevent the rheumatic affections that so often attack the arms and shoulders of our players, and the Australians consequently retain their suppleness of limb and activity of youth longer than their English cousins. Nothing illustrates this better than the prevalence of good throwing amongst Australian fieldsmen. The every-day sight on our own grounds of a man who has thrown his arm out and can do nothing but jerk is almost unknown in Australia; even Colonials who have passed their cricket prime and have reached the age of thirty-eight or forty can still throw with much the same dash as of old. In our county teams we find a woeful deficiency in this essential to good fielding; the cold and damp of our northern climate having penetrated into the bones and created a chronic and incurable stiffness.

Unfortunately we hear that at the present time cricket in the big towns of Australia is not so popular as it was a few years back, and that the best matches do not attract more than a sprinkling of spectators. This is greatly to be regretted. A sudden change must certainly have come over the Australian cricket-loving public of six or seven years ago. In 1882, when the writer was out with the Hon. Ivo Bligh's team, the beautiful grounds of Sydney and Melbourne were simply crammed at every match. The excitement over the representative matches was intense; in many cases public holidays were given, shops were shut, and the whole place went mad about cricket for about three days. The writer—in common with everyone who has had the good fortune to visit the Colonies with a team—has very pleasing recollections of his trip. The people are generous and hospitable to a degree.

One occasionally hears a really good cricket story in Australia. The following was vouched for as a fact by several leading members of Australian cricket, and was told me as illustrative of the skill and dash of some great fieldsman whom I have never had the good fortune to meet. This man was standing
Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton) p351.jpg


coverpoint one day—his usual place in the field. He was marvellously quick, sometimes indeed his returns were so smart that none could tell whether he had used his right or left arm. He was, however, apt at times to be sleepy and inattentive to the game. On one occasion he was in this state, and just as the bowler started to bowl he noticed his sleepy coverpoint standing looking on the ground with his back to the wickets. 'Hulloa, there, wake up!' shouted he. Quick as lightning turned the coverpoint, and seeing something dark dashing past him made a dart, and caught, not the ball as he had thought, but a swallow. Talk of Royle or Briggs after that!

It is indeed deplorable that cricket in Australia has diminished in popularity, but we have not to go far to find the reasons for it. In the first place, we believe it is owing to the fact of international cricket having been overdone in the last few years, and secondly to the dull slow sticky style of play that has become so common in first-class cricket both here and in the colonies. We trust that this summer will be the last time we shall have the Australians over with us for certainly the next five years. Their first few teams encouraged and gave a fillip to English cricket, and our return visits were of equal service to them. But the thing has been too much laboured, and we in England are now weary of these continued invasions, not because the Australian players are unpopular with us at home, but because we want some rest and time to turn our attention to domestic cricket affairs. After the present season an Australian team will not be really welcomed by our English players, till the Spofforths, Palmers, Graces, and Shrewsburys are no longer on the war-path, and a new generation of cricketers has arisen to engage in the friendly rivalry of the Lion and Kangaroo.