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……
Complete quote: “A draw would have been something of an anti-climax and praise in which the Australians were unstinted is due to Hammond and his men for never wasting a second.”
By: The Cricketer.
We have already seen how cricket had refused to bow down to the atrocities of the Second World War. Test cricket was halted, as was domestic cricket in all major countries apart from India, but as Mussolini fell and then Hitler, cricket clawed its way back.
There were casualties, none greater than Hedley Verity, but there were survivors too, many of them. And cricket had to return – assuming it was gone in the first place.
The Oval had been commissioned as a prisoner-of-war camp during The War, but cricket had continued at Lord’s. As Secretary at Lord’s during the period, Plum Warner was instrumental in keeping cricket alive during this period. He helped organise matches, some to raise funds, often to help boost public morale by means of the greatest sport invented.
Germany surrendered its armed forces on May 9, 1945. Shortly after VE Day, Australian Prime Minister John Curtin, who had already won hearts with his speech at Lord’s last year, pushed for the resumption of international cricket. This, when Japan was still at war with the Allies.
There was pressure on Warner, too, from Winston Churchill, no less. The War was as good as over, so why not use cricket to boost the morale of the public?
And who better for the resumption of cricket than England and Australia?
The Australian team was a unit of members of the Royal Australian Air Force and the Australian Imperial Force who were in Europe at that point. RAAF Squadron Leader Stan Sismey was appointed Commanding Officer of the unit.
Sismey used to keep wickets for New South Wales before he was summoned to The War. He was co-pilot of a Consolidated Catalina that was gunned down in the Mediterranean Sea in 1942. The plane sank and the crew stayed on the sea for eight hours in the sea before they were rescued. Sismey, his body punctured all over by shrapnel, stayed unconscious for eight hours – yet miraculously survived.
Sismey played the matches, but on field the Australians were led by Lindsay Hassett, the only one in the squad with Test cricket experience at that point. A fantastic batsman, Hassett would later succeed Don Bradman as Australian Test captain.
There was also a St Kilda footballer called Keith Miller, a man who also batted for Victoria but rarely bowled till then. He would emerge as one of the greatest all-rounders in history. Among other things, this series is remembered as Miller’s arrival.
The team also included, at various points depending on health and discharge date, Dick Whitington, Cec Pepper, Keith Carmody (of “Carmody Field” fame), Jack Pettiford, Dick Whitington, and Bob Cristofani, all First-Class cricketers and/or umpires at some point.
They played five “Tests” against an English side consisting of Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, Bill Edrich, Les Ames, Cyril Washbrook, Dick Pollard, Doug Wright, Walter Robins, Alf Gover, Laurie Fishlock, and George Pope.
These matches – three at Lord’s and one at each of Bramall Lane and Old Trafford – were never given Test status despite MCC’s requests. While some argue that Australia did not have a full-strength team, the relevance of the series in the history of humanity probably merited Test status.
Arunabha Sengupta has already done a magnificent job of chronicling the series in detail on these pages. We shall merely touch upon the highlights.
Curtin could not attend the “Tests” due to poor health. He breathed his last on July 5, even before Japan’s surrender, but he alive when the series commenced.
Just before the series, however, he wrote to MCC President Stanley Christopherson: “I cannot forbear my warmest good wishes to English cricket in the coming season, and particularly to all those gracious people who will assemble at Lord’s, where tradition so richly nourishes and perpetuates our great game.”
Christopherson replied: “M. C. C. hope always to maintain the great traditions of a game which means so much to both England and Australia … We warmly reciprocate your wish that never again will the matches be interrupted.”
The first “Test” began at Lord’s on May 19. The crowd queued up for the match from the night before. They included soldiers of the Allied forces, several of them in uniforms. The gates opened at ten – and had to be closed by eleven, for there was no space to accommodate any more.
England were bowled out for 267. The only fifties came from not Hutton or Hammond but Jack Robertson and Ames. Miller then scored 105 in 186 balls as the Australians secured a lead of 188 at stumps on the second day, which also marked the end of The War in the Netherlands.
But the most poignant moment at Lord’s that day did not involve Miller, though he was at the crease when former South Australian seamer Graham Williams joined him. Williams was shot and taken as a prisoner during the Libyan War. At the camp, where he lost 31 kilos, he worked intensely with blind prisoners.
But despite his frail health, Williams returned to open bowling for Australian Services. He was so weak that he had to be administered glucose-water from time to time. But he refused to stop bowling.
And here, as he walked out, he was cheered to the wicket by a packed Lord’s.
When England batted next day, Robertson top-scored again, this time with 84. Edrich and Robins had things under control at 218/4. But Hammond, never the most popular of characters, ordered them to go for the shots – for the sole purpose of the matches was to raise the spirits.
England collapsed just in time for Australia to go for a chase. And even while fielding, even when he could have slowed things down to prevent a defeat, Hammond refused to slow things down. We have reproduced an excerpt from The Cricketer above.
They had to chase only 107. They won by six wickets with two balls to spare. Lord’s had cheered on for three days, voicing support for both sides. And they were rewarded in the best possible way.
And then they moved on to Bramall Lane, that breeding-house of Yorkshire cricket where they scoffed at every boundary scored in the first session of a match – for they never played cricket for fun in that county. The grimness of Yorkshire cricket of the era was matched only by the smoke exhaled by the chimneys of the many factories at Sheffield.
But for once Yorkshire warmed to bright cricket – but then, who didn’t when Hammond played what he rated as one of his best innings?
Hammond scored exactly 100 out of a team total of 286. Then Pope (5 for 58) bowled out the Australians for 147. This time the tourists had to chase 320 on the last day. They started well, with Whitington and James Workman adding 108 for the opening wicket, but once they fell, Pollard (5/76) took them out one by one to bowl England to a 41-run win. Roughly about that time, the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco.
The third “Test” began at Lord’s on July 14, the day Italy declared war on Japan. Curtin had passed away in between.
Once again England batted first. Hutton finally came good with a 104 befitting his stature before Miller sent his stump cartwheeling. By now Miller had taken over as a new-ball bowler as Williams was bowling less and less.
Miller took 3/44 and Cristofani 4/43 in a total of 254. Then Pollard (6/75) got them a 60-run lead even as Hassett scored 68.
A target of 225 looked difficult after Pollard got Whitington with the second ball of the innings. But Sismey (54) held the fort before Miller finished the match with an unbeaten 71. The Australians won by 4 wickets.
The fourth Test started on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. The Australians batted first for the first time. This time Miller scored 118 out of 388 as Pope and Pollard took four wickets apiece.
In response, Washbrook scored a hundred and Hammond and Fishlock got fifties, and England declared with an 80-run lead. The match ended in a draw. About 93,000 people watched the match, a record for a three-day match at Lord’s. In all the series attracted around 367,000.
One event deserves a mention. Sismey was hit on the chin while keeping wickets in the England first innings. Workman took over the big gloves and there were 53 extras by stumps.
Before the next day Hammond visited the Australian dressing-room and found Hassett: “Do you know, Lindsay, if you asked me, I could let Keith Carmody [the 12th man] keep wickets.”
Hassett was perhaps taken aback by Hammond’s uncharacteristic magnanimity. Or perhaps that famous deadpan humour peeped through: “Oh, thanks Wally, I didn’t know that. But I’m asking you, will you let Keith keep wickets?”
Hammond nodded, so Carmody kept wickets for the rest of the innings. He caught Washbrook, and there were only four more extras.
The Old Trafford “Test” started five days after Hirohito announced the Surrender of Japan, thus effectively bringing World War II to an end.
The Australians batted here as well. Once again Miller top-scored, this time with 77 not out in an innings of 173. England responded with 243 against Cristofani (5/55).
Eddie Phillipson (6/58), the Lancashire seamer, then reduced the Australians to 105/8. Cristofani, the NSW leg-spinner, had bowled with great heart in the second half of the series. He now responded with a 120-ball 110.
England chased the required 141 for the loss of four wickets to level the series.
The Servicemen played five more matches on the tour before embarking upon their homeward journey. In all, they played 21 matches, of which six – the five “Tests” and the Scarborough Festival match – were given First-Class status.
At Scarborough, the Australians won by an innings. The stage was set up by Pepper (168) before the hosts crumbled against South Australian left-arm spinner Reg Ellis (5 for 43 and 5 for 24).
En route home, the Australian Services played nine matches in India and one in Ceylon.
One match at Calcutta deserves mention. Denis Compton, with 101, helped East Zone chase down 281. During his innings, a group of rioters – these were turbulent times in India, remember – strode on to the ground and approached the centre: “Mr Compton, you very good player but you must stop.” For years, the quote would remain a staple for Miller whenever Compton would bat against him.
Compton immediately pointed towards Hassett as the man in charge of things. Hassett, as unruffled as any cricketer in history, addressed the leader: “You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you, old boy?”
The match resumed.
Three matches were against all-India sides. Carmody and Pettiford scored hundreds in the first of these, at Bombay. The Indians followed on 192 behind and were reduced to 239/8 before Gul Mohammad and Amir Elahi pushed them to the safety of 304. There was not enough time left for the chase.
At Calcutta the Indians did better to score 386, but Whitington and Pettiford got hundreds as the tourists finished 86 ahead. The match fizzled out to a draw, but not before Vijay Merchant treated the crowd to an unbeaten 155.
The decider was played at Madras. This time Hassett scored 143, but Shute Banerjee (4/86) and Chandu Sarwate (4/94) triggered a collapse, and from 284/5 the Australians were bowled out for 339.
Then Lala Amarnath got 113 and Rusi Modi 203. India finished 212 ahead. Carmody and Whitington added 133 before the first wicket fell, but once again they collapsed to 275 against Banerjee (4 for 81) and Sarwate (4 for 114).
The Indian XI won by six wickets to clinch the series. Ceylon, however, lost by an innings inside two days after Miller scored 132 and Ellis took 5 for 25 and 4 for 46.
But it was still not over for the exhausted servicemen. On return, they had to play all six Australian states as part of perhaps the most gruelling tour in the history of the sport. One must remember that they had not returned home after The War.
They drew the first two matches, but by this time they were probably too exhausted and lost by an innings to Victoria and NSW. They then set Queensland 190 in an hour and a half. Queensland finished on 186/5. And they had Tasmania nine down when stumps were called.
Only then were they allowed to rest, after they were – to quote Hassett – “absolutely fed up with cricket”.
Test cricket resumed next Antipodean summer.