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……
The modern cricketers supposedly have an extremely busy calendar. They are rested ever so often, because the toils of travel and match-days end up carrying them to the brink of exhaustion.
That is one of the many myths that surround the game. The pages of history, however, tell us that the cricketers of yore, especially in England, were far more overworked, while the world still awaited the modern methods of transport.
The third Victory Test over, let us take a look at what the Australian Servicemen were up to in the two-week hiatus before the fourth ‘Test’ match.
The third ‘Test’ at Lord’s had been played from 14th to 17th July, 1945, with the 15th being the day of rest.
Well, ‘day of rest’ in theory. The Servicemen travelled to Gravesend, taking on a side that included Gubby Allen for a one-innings match over a long, long Sunday. Ross Stanford and Lindsay Hassett hit the 70s while Cec Pepper picked up five wickets to enable an Australian victory by 83 runs.
The next day, they were back at Lord’s to commence their first innings.
On completion of the ‘Test’, the team went on to Brighton. And from there, the RAAF men headed north along A5 towards Coventry, along a road that had remained pretty much the same since the days of the Roman chariots.
The motor coach broke down on the way, and the RAAF men arrived late, after the hour of scheduled start the following day. And they lost the toss too. The local team batted as the Australians took the field without lunch.
It was not an odd team. The Coventry XI had been reinforced by the Kent and England batsman Arthur Fagg, who stroked his way to a serene 100. The Coventry side finished on 215 for 5 after the first day, and eventually declared at 273 for7. Then there was a quartet of bowlers, all county professionals. Charlie Grove of Warwickshire, Lofty Herman of Hampshire, Thomas Armstrong of Derbyshire and future England leg-spinner Roly Jenkins of Worcestershire. The Australians struggled to 202. It was not an easy two-day encounter.
Having ended the match, the squad set off for Sheffield. The very next day, they met Yorkshire for another long day’s cricket at Bramall Lane. The strongest Australian side was fielded, which included Pepper from the AIF.
The very next day the RAAF were playing the Durham side in Sunderland, with Ross Stanford getting a hundred and Keith Miller 75.
The following day, they had moved further up north, inside Scotland, and were engaged in a tussle at Philiphaugh just outside Selkirk.
The Scottish team had a few English Test cricketers, such as Hopper Levett and Austin Matthews. Les Ames and Walter Robins had been invited but did not manage to make it to the game. Colonel JGW Davies, the man who had bowled Bradman for a duck as a University student, led the side.
After two days of cricket, the airmen made their way to Greenock. The coach broke down again, and the 4000 strong crowd at Glen Park did not see any action till 3:30 pm. The Australians compensated the crowd by playing till dusk.
This was followed by a match at Hamilton Crescent at Glasgow the very next day on a rather fiery pitch. The RAAF men played this game. At the same time, at Chalkwell Park, Westcliff-on-Sea, the AIF squared off with the Metropolitan Police.
In another couple of days, their Scotland sojourn was over and Hassett was hitting 189 out of 267 against the Royal Navy and Royal Marines at the United Services Officers’ Recreation Ground, Portsmouth.
As Ross Stanford later remembered: “We played all over England, even Scotland. We did a tour, played 9 days’ cricket in nine days and travelled 900 miles. The RAAF Welfare Officer organized us and that really frightened us. Of course, the bus driver got lost once, and we went through the town of Hamilton three times. We arrived late at Greencock and Keith Carmody agreed to go on playing until eight o’clock that night.”
Yes, that was the sort of schedule that the cricketers of the supposed slow-paced days of the 1940s had to endure. And most of them played every match, being rested only on rare occasions.