Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
Quote: “Nine Tests provide a surfeit of cricket.”
By: Daily Telegraph, 1912.
The eventful life of Abe Bailey deserves several volumes of books. However, for our story, it should suffice to know only a few aspects. First, he was a diamond tycoon rich enough to emerge as one of the richest men in the world; secondly, he was as keen on cricket as anyone of the era (he even played 3 First-Class matches and took 11 wickets at 18 apiece); and thirdly, he was a visionary.
One of the chief sponsors of South African cricket, Bailey was as thrilled as anyone when South Africa beat England 4-1 in 1905-06 to establish themselves in the world of cricket as a challenger to the Big Two. Three seasons ago, when the Australians were hesitant to tour South Africa on financial grounds, Bailey had assured the tourists a minimum of £2,000 for an 18-day tour – an incredible amount in the era.
Shortly afterwards, Bailey wrote to MCC Secretary Francis Eden Lacey, suggesting the formation of an “Imperial Cricket Board”. Subsequent discussions followed, and representatives of the three boards met at Lord’s on June 15, 1909.
The Imperial Cricket Conference was formed. The body still retains their initials, though they would change the name to International Cricket Conference (in 1965) and International Cricket Council (in 1989).
On July 20 the same year, ICC announced their first FTP, covering two cycles – 1909 to 1913 and 1913 to 1917. Every team was scheduled to tour every team once in every four-year period (similar to how The Ashes functions now); there would a year without a tour every four years (1910, 1914); and there would be two Triangular Tournaments – in 1912 and 1916.
Unfortunately, the second cycle of the FTP never took place as the world opted for bloodshed ahead of sport.
The terms and conditions of the Triangular Tournament, a most singular idea suggested by Bailey, was announced in July 1911. Some salient features include:
- The tournament would span nine three-day Tests, with each side playing every other side twice.
- Umpires for every Test would be selected by the participating teams.
- For every Test, every participating board would get half the gate money.
- Tickets would be priced at a shilling.
And so on.
The three Tests between England and Australia were also deemed to be part of an Ashes.
However, as discussed elsewhere on these pages, six key members of the Australian side – captain Clem Hill, vice-captain Warwick Armstrong, Victor Trumper, Hanson Carter, Vernon Ransford, and ‘Tibby’ Cotter – opted out of the tour after a major fallout with the board. George Crouch, appointed tour manager by the board, did not spend the summer on good terms with several members of the squad and wrote a scathing report on return.
South Africa, on the other hand, arrived without captain Percy Sherwell and Bert Vogler. Vogler was a major practitioner of their main strength – the googly. Not that it would have mattered, for there was no matting wicket to assist their style of bowling. Wrist-spin was not suited for the pitches on that tour, especially in that abominable weather.
England themselves appointed CB Fry as captain. Fry had not toured Australia the previous winter. He also had his extraordinary ways. During the long summer, for example, he met the selectors only once.
The summer of 1912, you see, was the wettest since 1766, the weather reaching its nadir in August. Two of the three Anglo-Australian Tests – the marquee events of the summer – were hit badly by rain. The Lord’s Test did not reach a third innings on a pitch England captain CB Fry criticised as “pure mud”, while only 13 overs were bowled in the second innings at Old Trafford.
With England having won three Tests and Australia two, it was decided that the last Test, at The Oval, would be a timeless one. To quote Wisden, “as no decision had been made prior to the tournament on how the winner would be decided, it was agreed that the final match would be played to a finish even if it takes a week.” A tie-breaking Test was also announced in the case of an Australian win.
England were bowled out for 245 in the first innings amidst the rain. The Test seemed to be in the balance with Australia on 90 for 2. Then Syd Barnes (5 for 30) and Frank Woolley (5 for 29) triggered a collapse that saw Australia lose their last 8 wickets for 21 on a pitch “better suited to water polo”. Fry then scoring 79 out of England’s 175 as Gerry Hazlitt took 7 for 25.
England needed just a draw to retain The Ashes, but they had to win the Test to win the tournament. They ended up winning it as Australia were bowled out for 65 in 22.4 overs on a sticky wicket, Woolley taking 5 for 20 and Harry Dean 4 for 19.
South Africa did extremely poorly. They lost five of their six matches, two by an innings, two by 10 wickets, and one by 174 runs. They looked good in the other Test, scoring 329 and bowling out Australia for 219 at Trent Bridge, but no more play was possible.
The tournament opener, between Australia and South Africa at Old Trafford, remains a quizmaster’s favourite. Jimmy Matthews took a hat-trick in each innings of the Test. Poor Tommy Ward, Matthews’s third victim in each innings, remains the only batsman to have registered a king’s pair on Test debut.
Interestingly, those remained Matthews’s only wickets in the Test. He never played Test cricket after the tournament. Ward, on the other hand, kept wickets in 23 Tests.
There was another first in the second Australia-South Africa Test, at Lord’s, where King George V became the first reigning monarch to watch Test cricket.
But let us return to the tournament, an idea way ahead of its times that failed spectacularly. The weather played a role, of course, but the neutral Tests did not generate much revenue.
The organisers tried their best, coinciding the Australia-South Africa Test at Old Trafford with Whit Monday and the one at Trent Bridge with the August Bank Holiday, but nothing worked. The Tests were played between one depleted and one underperforming team, none of which was the home side.
Daily Telegraph summed things up aptly: “Nine Tests provide a surfeit of cricket … Contests between Australia and South Africa are not a great attraction to the British public.”
The tournament yielded £12,463 4s. 2d. After the expenses were paid for, the Australians received £2,986, the South Africans £1,878 10s., and the MCC £4,465 16s. 2d (the England Tests obviously generated more revenue). The tourists earned less than had on some previous tours.
“The Fates fought against the Triangular Tournament. Such a combination of adverse conditions could hardly have been imagined … We had one of the most appalling summers ever known, even in England … The result is that the experiment is not likely to be repeated for many years to come – perhaps not in this generation,” predicted Sydney Pardon in his Wisden editorial while being sympathetic to Bailey.
No other multi-nation tournament was attempted till the 1973 Women’s World Cup. The two other Test tournaments – the Asian Test Championships at the turn of the 21st century – were not major successes either.