In this series, Arunabha Sengupta relates the tale of the Victory Tests played between England and the Australian Services as a celebration of the end of World War II……
After playing what The Times called “one of the best days’ play seen in this country for many years”, the two teams hardly took time off on Sunday. Wally Hammond spent the rest day captaining an eleven at Roundhay Park in Leeds, in a charity match attended by tens of thousands. His team included famous old English county cricketers, Tom Goddard and George Gunn. In the spirit of the contests, decorated Australian war-hero Ross Stanford was included in the side as well.
On Monday, resuming at 23 without loss, the Australians found themselves in a bit of a strife. This was because the pitch at Bramall Lane did not have full-length covers. Only the ends were protected. With the moisture having its say, England had two men from far up north who knew exactly how to exploit such conditions. With balls that moved in and did so late.
George Pope and Dick Pollard were almost unplayable. Especially the former, with a cordon of three men on the leg side.
James Workman pushed Pope into the hands of Pollard at silly mid-on. Dick Whitington, having just survived a caught and bowled chance, turned one late in-swinger round the corner and it was held near the toes by Doug Wright at short fine leg. Captain Lindsay Hasset saw his woodwork disturbed and Australia were 44 for 3.
Keith Miller and Keith Carmody, great buddies and charismatic men, added 36. And then Miller played Pope to John Robertson at short leg and tried to scamper a single for reasons unknown. He realised his mistake, but by then he was too far down the wicket to do anything about it.
80 for 4, and now after 25 overs Hammond made his first change. Wright came on with his wrist spinners from the Brewery End. At the other end, Bill Edrich ran in with the pavilion behind him. Cec Pepper, joining Carmody at the wicket, began cautiously. And then he hooked Pope for four and two. Clouds gathered as the score went past 100.
Carmody, showing great poise, moved to 42, with some generosity from Billy Griffith who did not gather a stumping chance. And then he touched one from Wright. The 43-year-old Hammond flung himself forward from a short slip position to hold the catch.
Pepper too got a snick off Wright and again Hammond, having a superb match, held him at slip. And Stan Sismey, just like Workman, pushed Pope to Pollard at silly mid-on. An over later, Fred Price fell to the same combination.
132 for 8. Five more to save the ignominy of the follow-on. Pope, scenting kill, overstepped in his zeal. Soon afterwards, Albert Cheetham lobbed one towards Robertson but it fell short. Amidst great excitement, Cheetham drove the next one from Pope. It flew off the edge to the fine boundary. The follow-on was somehow averted.
But Cheetham did not last much longer. Pope bowled him neck and crop, and then Edrich hurled in a return that found Reg Ellis short of ground. It was not long after lunch and Australian Servicemen were all out for 147.
In the dressing room, shared by the players of both teams, Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook put on their pads. And as they were about to go out, Hutton was seen combing his hair.
And Keith Miller grinned. “That’s right, Len. If you can’t be a batsman at least try to look like one.”
Miller, a compulsive hair comber himself, was one to talk! But, Hutton’s response was characteristic. An inscrutable toothy smile, without a word in retort.
Yes, Hutton had made just 33 in three innings in the Victory ‘Tests’ till then. The fastest bowler of the Australians taunting the best batsman of England, quite normal in the scheme of things. Not much in that. But this was Miller … the man who professed cricket was fun after the pressures of war. And these were the Victory ‘Tests’.
As the Englishmen batted, Miller was put on as first change after Graham Williams and Cheetham had been unsuccessful. And he ran in full tilt and bounced the batsmen.
It was terrifying pace. Washbrook was stuck on the foot and shoulder. Then the ball flew off the wicket as Hutton faced him. It struck the great batsman on the very forearm that had been shortened by an injury sustained during war-time training. The ball rolled to fine leg and Hutton jogged a gingerly single. Miller, retrieving the return from Carmody, did not attempt to go for the stumps, but rather rubbed Hutton’s painful arm.
All in good spirit, perhaps. But the crowd, seeing a Yorkshireman hurt, yelled, “Go off, Larwood.”
Miller accounted for Washbrook, with the total on 56. And then Robertson, who had looked so good so far in the series, was trapped leg before. Hammond, fresh from the great first innings century, was greeted with a hostile spell.
The storm was weathered. At tea, England were 76 for 2, 215 in the lead.
But after the break, wickets fell in a hurry to the slow bowlers. Hutton, playing his best innings of the tour so far, missed one from Ellis at 46. Errol Holmes failed again, snicking one from Pepper. Hammond, Pope and Edrich followed one another, within the space of two runs. 122 for 7. They were 261 ahead, but the innings was approaching an accelerated end.
Griffith and Pollard, though, threw their bats around. The spinners were hit for some handy runs. Hasset called on Price, the least used of his spinners, somewhat late in the day. And he had Pollard edging, Roberts caught superbly by a running Carmody at long on, and Griffith stumped.
Price finished with 3 for 18 from 28 balls. England all out for 190. At the stroke of stumps.
The second day at Bramall Lane had seen 20 wickets fall for 314 runs. The Australians had to get 330 to win on the third and final day, or, more realistically, bat the day out to ensure a draw.
As at Lord’s during the first Test, the atmosphere remained fraught with cricketing tension, doused in incredible spirit. It was cricket at its very best.