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……
Unusually for an England side of that era, three teenagers were tried out in the third Victory Test.
The captain, Wally Hammond, already on the way to becoming a giant in the game even as these men were being born … and later, as England went in with John Dewes, Donald Carr and Luke White in the side, he wrote in his column: “Although I am a firm believer in giving opportunities to younger players, three teenagers weakened the side.”
The three had been the top schoolboy cricketers of 1944 and the nation was crying out for young talent, unscathed by the War. But the appeals to get the young hopefuls of 1939, Norman Oldfield and John Parker, did not come to fruition.
Australia too made a change. Out went the injured left-arm spinner Fred Price and in his place came in leg-spinning New South Wales all-rounder Bob Cristofani.
It was an overcast London as the series returned to Lord’s and in spite of the weather, the ground was filled to capacity as Hammond and Lindsay Hassett walked out to toss.
The covers were removed to give the two captains a peek of the wicket underneath, and were hastily put back as the skies grew threatening. Hammond won the toss and rain came down.
But by midday sun had broken through. Hot and humid enough to make Hassett peel off his sweater, the conditions saw Graham Williams running to Len Hutton in with plenty of sawdust to help things along. And Albert Cheetham started proceedings from the other end to Cyril Washbrook, even as in the press box Robertson-Glasgow wondered why Keith Miller was not being given the new ball.
Washbrook hooked a couple of boundaries, and then tried to cut a rising ball from Williams. Stan Sismey held the catch. 11 for 1 and the first teenager was in.
Dewes shaped well. Hutton was there at the other end, the best possible mentor to have when one starts off in international cricket. He turned Williams to fine leg for two, off-drove Cheetham to the boundary. Not elegant, but effective. Hutton grinned away from the other end.
The first spells of spinners Cec Pepper and Reg Ellis were seen through. And then Miller came on just before lunch. The balls rose sharply into the ribs of Dewes. Wearing a thigh pad and a towel under his trousers, the lad battled hard. Hutton was also forced to duck a couple of times. Lunch was taken at 50 for 1. Hutton 25, Dewes 16.
After the break, Hassett started with Miller. Dewes was in trouble. The balls were fast and swung away just outside off. A couple of swishes saw the ball beat the outside edge and thud into Sismey’s gloves. Hutton walked down the pitch and had a quiet word with Dewes.
And then he was caught in two minds. Whether to play or leave it. It was an inswinger and he was late on the stroke. The off-stump went flying. Dewes bowled Miller 27. 76 for 2.
The innings won plenty of appreciation. He had been correct, without showing nerves, said most of the reports.
Miller now charged into Hammond. The ball hit the great man on the pads, twice. Twice the air was split by loud appeals. Twice the umpire remained unmoved. Then Hammond pushed tentatively, past the bowler, and set off. Miller turned on his follow-through, sprinted after the ball, and sent in the return even as he twisted his torso after pick up. It knocked the stumps askew, and the ageing Hammond was just about able to make his ground.
Pepper stuck to his task from the other end. Bowling mostly quick through the air and straight. Hammond was not taking chances. He laboured to 13 in three-quarters of an hour, and then Pepper made one turn. Hammond reached out, missed it, and Sismey had the bails off in a flash.
107 for 3. White came in. Hassett had four men around the bat, playing on the nerves of England’s second teenager in the line-up.
Tentative, nervous, White barely survived for 45 minutes. But Hutton nursed him along masterfully. Sometimes the youngster got to the striker’s end because Hutton had mistakenly run three.
For Hutton, there was one silly mid-off and a short mid-on. That was how Cristofani bowled to him. Miller stood at silly mid-off. He had made Hutton duck under his bumpers. Now, Cristofani floated one up and Hutton drove. Twice. And twice Miller ducked. “Quicker than any U-boat crash-dived in the Atlantic,” wrote James Freeman in his War-enriched prose for Daily Mail. A half-volley brought forth a drive that just missed Miller’s ear.
Hutton, who had thus far had a lukewarm series, cut late and sure, drove crisply through the covers and dispatched anything loose on the leg side to the boundary. He was moving steadily towards his hundred. At the other end, White was settling down.
Hutton 98, White 11, 162 for 3. Moments to go for tea. And the greenness of White came to the fore. Stepping out, he attempted an agricultural swipe at Cristofani. Sismey was at it again, the ball in his gloves, the bails were taken off. Hutton went into tea at 99, with Bill Edrich keeping him company.
The first ball after the break saw Hutton push one and reach his hundred. In the following over, Miller sent down another ‘fizzer’. The great Hutton, batting on 104, lost his off-stump. 169 for 5.
It was overcast and rather dark when Donald Carr, the last of the teen brigade, came to the wicket. In the scorecard, he was described as ‘from Repton School’. Miller wished him luck as he passed the all-rounder on his way to the wicket. And then he bowled him the first ball, which he never saw. It thudded into Sismey’s gloves.
Miller ran in again. According to Carr, he just went forward, not really seeing the ball, and left the rest to luck. It hit the middle of the bat and raced past mid-off for four.
The cat and mouse game lasted eight balls. Then the middle stump was hit off the edge.
175 for 6 from 162 for 3. Billy Griffith joined Bill Edrich and the pair put on 66. Of course, they were helped by the new ball. Williams ran in again, replacing Miller. Edrich hit him into the pavilion.
The end, though, came fast. After reaching the respectability of 241 for 6, the innings folded for 13 more runs. Cristofani, varying his pace and sending in the occasional fast one, sent back three more to end with 4 for 43. He was the least bowled and the most successful. But it was Miller’s 3 for 44 off 18 overs that had been the major revelation. After this innings, Hassett did not really suffer from the internal debate of whether to consider him a batsman or a bowler. He was good enough to do both the jobs with considerable aplomb. In the second innings, he would be handed the new ball.
Indeed, when Chester Wilmot interviewed him that evening, Hassett confided: “After we had got Wally so cheaply, I felt we would be all right.”
Hutton had produced a glittering gem, but even he had found Miller disconcertingly fast.
But the wicket was quite challenging. And the score of 254 was not a bad one. It had been another eventful day.
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