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……
James Workman had been all at sea. The big gloves had been uncomfortable. Byes had leaked, making England’s task easier.
Stan Sismey’s injury far from healing, even on the third morning of the fourth ‘Test’. Keith Carmody, a regular keeper, sat rather helplessly in the dressing room, having opted out so that Ross Stanford could play in the match.
As Stanford remembers: “It was the most enjoyable cricket I ever played in my life, because it was played in a great spirit. There was no antagonism between the players and at times we tried to help one another.”
Perhaps he was stretching it a bit. Against the backdrop of War, it would take real antagonism to make cricket look anything but enjoyable. The fact remains that even in this series, sometimes teams adopted a safety-first approach, and sometimes hostile fast bowling was on offer.
But, on this third morning, something did occur that finds a place in the annals of sportsmanship. And it is attributed to the one great cricketer not often talked about in the hallways of ideal cricketing spirit.
Wally Hammond, the captain of England, was known to be moody, a loner, and often came across as quite a bitter character. But today, ahead of the match, he poked his head into the Australian Services dressing room and sought out Lindsay Hassett.
“There is only one thing preventing you from using Carmody behind the wicket,” Hammond said to his rival skipper, “And that is my permission. You have it.”
A pleasantly surprised Hassett smiled while responding. “Well, I didn’t know that Wally, thanks very much.”
And so out went Carmody in his pads and gloves.
In 1905, Joe Darling, the Australian captain, had allowed AO Jones to deputise for an injured Dick Lilley at The Oval. 40 years down the line Hammond returned the favour.
It was one of the most generous and sporting gestures in the series. It underlines my constant assertion that Hammond the cricketer, the sporting giant, can be separated from Hammond the man who, due to arsenic poisoning or otherwise, remained a bad-tempered soul all his life. The innings on the final morning, after he resumed at 38, also provides further evidence.
After his act of magnanimity, Hammond proceeded to play his best innings of the series. The drives flowed brilliantly, turning the clock back many a year, to the glorious pre-War days, when the echoes of those majestic strokes could empty bars and cause a stampede.
At the other end, Washbrook was not finding it easy. He even edged Reggie Ellis, but at slip Cec Pepper failed to hold on. Hassett’s fields were defensive. The first hour brought forth 52.
Hammond seemed to have the century for taking. But after some gorgeous drives, he planted his foot down the wicket and his bat went through the full arc. Only, Ellis had pitched short. The ball flew off the edge towards gully. Standing there was a visibly relieved Workman, free from the big gloves. He dived forward and scooped it up with his hands touching the grass. Questions remained on whether the catch was clean. But Hammond walked. For 83.
The stand of 157 between Hammond and Washbrook had been the highest in the series so far. 330 for 4, still 58 in the arrears.
Bill Edrich decided to push the score along. Keith Miller returned and struck him on the body as Carmody and the slips stood way, way behind.
Edrich and Washbrook overtook the Australian total. The England side had batted an hour and a quarter less to get the runs. Quicker runs were added. And at 435, Washbrook edged Graham Williams to the substitute keeper and Carmody held the catch. The Lancashire man was out for 112.
Hammond called his men in at 468 for 7. The lead was 80. And then he set his opening bowlers, George Pope and Jack Pollard, at the Australian batsmen with plenty of close catchers around the bat.
There was time enough to try and force a result. Workman was caught off Pope in the third over. Dick Whitington struggled to 7 before he was leg before off the same bowler. Hassett tried to dig in, but Pollard sent his stumps on a saunter with the score on 54.
Miller entered and was struck on the pads by Pollard first ball, resulting in an appeal which split the London air. But he survived. Yet another No 3 tried out by Australia, John Pettiford, threw his bat about for almost an hour to get 39. Doug Wright spun one past his blade to bowl him, but by then Miller had settled.
Australians had just wiped the deficit when Pettiford left. 80 for 4. 80 minutes of play left. If England managed to pick up the remaining wickets quickly, they could still win. Hammond placed eight fielders around the bat.
But Miller and Stanford hung on. 60 were added at slow pace, but time was played out. At 6:30, the teams decided to come off. It would be the only draw of the five ‘Tests’.
It led to criticism. Bob Crisp pointed out that Australia set the tempo seeking a draw, trying to hold on to the 2-1 lead in the series. Stanley Nelson, writing for The People, argued that apart from Hammond the ‘Tests’ lacked enough personalities to make them glamorous. He added in no uncertain terms that he was not impressed by Miller’s ‘schoolboy mannerism of throwing his hair back all the time’. The Sunday after the ‘Test’ Nelson went on to deplore the ‘Test’ as a travesty of cricket.
However, Hammond himself was far more balanced in his ghosted piece. In his Yorkshire Evening News column, he wrote: “In the circumstances, Australia rightly took their time to make the runs. They were on top when the match began and by winning the toss they were in a position to dictate the policy. We had to find the answer to that policy and the answer to that was not to throw the game away, but to attempt to save it.”
Perhaps the real reason for the tardy approach of the Australians was that they were tiring. There were too much travel, too many dinners and too many speeches. Most had to sit through the long bits of oratory. Hassett himself, repeating himself over and over again in multiple speeches, was on the verge of fatigue.
But there was still one more ‘Test’ to be played. And there would be more side games in between.
The players had their hands full.