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 experiment with youth had been ephemeral. By the time the fourth Test started at Lord’s, John Dewes, Donald Carr and Luke White had all been replaced by seasoned hands.
38-year-old Laurie Fishlock was included to open the innings alongside Len Hutton, while Cyril Washbrook was used in the middle order.
George Pope, 34, was brought back. A cricket-loving butcher from Derbyshire paid the league expenses for Pope so that he would not lose out on by playing for England.
And left-arm spinner William Roberts, the Lancashire-man a few days away from his 31st birthday, was played as the extra bowler that England had missed so dearly in the previous ‘Test’.
From the focus on the teenaged trio to three thirty-plus pros. The England selection committee was warming up to their twisting and turning ways that would continue for the next few years.
The Australians made two changes. Keith Carmody, not in the best of form, stood down and was replaced by Ross Stanford. According to Keith Miller and Dick Whitington, Carmody was having the same problems in concentration that was prevalent among so many Prisoners of War. However, the Miller-Whitington duo could match Neville Cardus word for word when it came to creating romantic fiction in the guise of cricketing prose. Hence, not too much credence should be attached to the claims.
Albert Cheetham, the opening bowler, was going back to Australia for his discharge. His place was taken by 26-year-old flying officer Jack Pettiford, a leg-spinning all-rounder (there were so many produced by Australia during the War years) who would be making his First-Class debut.
The first day saw thousands of spectators thronging into Lord’s. Several thousand also had to be kept out. The seats were all occupied, and by the time the match started, there were 12 rows of men seated on the ground.
In the MCC President Box sat a very special guest. General Bernard Montgomery, perhaps the greatest War hero of the Second World War, who had famously pledged to hit Rommel for six out of Africa. As his car entered through the Members’ Gate, the public recognised him. Rousing cheers were heard as the pavilion rose to welcome him.
On the field a different battle plan was being implemented. Pope, the wily veteran, bowled in-dippers with Hutton, Doug Wright and Jack Pollard placed in the three short legs. Skipper Wally Hammond stood in the slip and Bill Edrich was at gully. Pope’s first spell read 7-3-5-0 as Whitington and Workman tried to play themselves in. From the other end, it was Pollard who struck, trapping Workman leg before wicket.
With Stan Sismey, sent in at No 3 to repeat his heroics of the previous ‘Test’, all at sea against Pope’s in-swingers, the score stood at 35 for 1 when a storm, almost a tropical squall complete with thunder and lightning, stopped play. The elements did manage to make some dents and conjure up terrifying memories. From the bomb-damaged ceiling of the press box, some plaster fell because of the disturbances. And as the groundsmen tried to cover the wicket, they were held up by the rows of spectators sitting on the turf.
After resumption, the batsmen proceeded slowly. The onus was on blunting the attack, making the platform secure for the likes of Lindsay Hassett and Keith Miller. Australia stood 65 for 1 at the lunch break.
Pope’s leg trap sprang into action after the interval, Whitington falling to a catch by Hutton.
Hassett came in and essayed several strokes over the leg-side ring. And then he late-cut Pope for a detectable boundary. But after an attractive 20, he tried to leg glance a ball that Pope swung in late. It flew off the inside edge, high past the keeper, towards the right of short fine leg. Doug Wright, stationed there, shot out his arm and reached for it and the ball stuck.
108 for 3 after 42.5 overs. Sismey had played his role, but was being beaten continuously by Wright’s leg breaks and was at no ease against the others. The vast crowd was rather bored with the cautious display of the Australians.
It was time for Miller to stride out.
He was almost out immediately. Pope’s inswinger took his edge, rapped his pads and took the varnish off the leg-stump. If he had not edged it, he would have been leg-before, if he had not been struck on the pads he would have played on. The ball, however, went for four.
Riding his luck, Miller started by stealing singles. Hammond was wary of his rich array of strokes, and set fields to keep runs down. Miller exploited it by running hard. Australia went into tea at 175 for 3. Miller had almost caught up with Sismey.
At 202 for 3, after batting for 215 minutes, Sismey got his half-century. The bowlers beat him consistently. The spectators engaged in slow clapping. An Australian voice even demanded, “Why don’t you play cricket?”
But Sismey was not to be hurried. It was only when Pollard made a ball kick up and it struck the Australian wicketkeeper on the right hand that he grudgingly retired hurt. The score against his name was 59.
Stanford, the war-hero, came in and looked completely lost. The faster bowlers had him fishing, seldom managing to strike the ball. Miller astutely kept him away from the bowling. Half an hour of a nightmarish innings brought him 2. Pope finally beat his bat and his pads to bowl him.
262 for 4, and Sismey was back. Pollard made another one kick up and this time Sismey tamely fended to Fishlock. He had not added to his score.
It was indeed a struggle for the other batsmen. But Miller was playing a perfectly comfortable innings. By the time stumps were drawn, the Australians were poised on a rather slow 273 for 5, and their tardy approach had brought forth plenty of criticism. Indeed, papers lauded the crowd for not misbehaving in spite of the crawl they had seen all day.
However, almost unobserved, playing sedate rather than characteristically flashy cricket, Miller had ended the day on 107. He had shown another facet of his immense genius.
The Australian Services, 2-1 up in the series, did bear the brunt of criticism for slow, safety-first approach. But they had waded through a demanding day and were in a relatively comfortable position. Much of that had to do with the young Miller who was once again showing glimpses of the champion he would become.