Friday, August 18, 2006

Ashes Countdown 97

As mentioned in my previous Ashes Countdown posting (#98) the disastrous tour of Australia by England which resulted in a 5-0 drubbing for the visitors was the first test series played after the World War I. England failed to reach the pre-war standards as they hardly played any competitive cricket during the war whereas Australia continued playing their domestic cricket competions. If that was one factor, age may have been another.

England had just three cricketers in their touring squad who were in their twenties (Abe Waddington 27, PG Fender 28 & JW Hearne 29). Three members were in their 40s (Wilfred Rhodes 43, ER Wilson 41 & H Strudwick 40) and along with many other players including their captain Johnny Douglas who were so old that they would have retired or at least would have been contemplating on retirement in today’s test cricket. Australia took advantage of England’s lethargic fielding aided with poor catching to score massively. England tried all 16 members of their touring party in an effort to alter the result but all in vain.

One might have expected just a couple of cricketers from the pre-war era in this Series considering the 9 year gap since the previous Ashes in 1911/12. But only 9 cricketers from each side made their test debuts in the whole series. Australia played only 3 players from the pre-war times (Armstrong, Kelleway & Bardsley) in all 5 tests whereas England fielded 4 (Douglas, Woolley, Hobbs & Rhodes) in every test of the series.

Wilfred Rhodes who is considered as “the greatest all rounder ever to have born” could make just 238 runs and claim just 4 wickets in all the 5 tests he played. Frank Woolley another great all rounder though scored a reasonable 285 runs could take just 9 wickets. The Master batsman Jack Hobbs did deliver the goods that was expected of him by aggregating 505 runs and their captain JWHT (Johnny Won’t Hit Today) Douglas did make an impressive 354 runs proving his detractors wrong. But other star cricketers failed to live up to the expectations especially their bowlers.

For Australia players from pre-war era performed as per their reputation. Armstrong scored 464 runs with 3 centuries, (10 & 4) and took 9 wickets. Kelleway made 330 runs and took 15 wickets. Bardsley made 311 runs.

If England relied on experience, Australia on their new talent. Arthur Mailey, CG McCartney, Herbie Collins, Jack Ryder, JM Gregory , JM Taylor, CE Pellew, have all made their test debut in the first test and contributed towards the clean sweep by Australia. Mailey with 36 wickets and Herbie Collins with 557 run topped the bowling and batting charts whereas Jack Gregory with 442 runs and 23 wickets put up a great all round show.

When both teams travelled together in the same ship on England's return trip to contest for the 1921 Ashes, Australia had just 3 new faces in their touring party: Stork Hendry, Edgar Mayne & Tommy Andrews who did not play in 1920/21 Ashes in Australia. It would have been just two had Charles Kelleway did not make himself unavailable at the last minute and was replaced by Stork Hendry.

Getting on to their home turf and conditions they are accustomed to, England thought they would regain the Ashes with ease especially having the luxury of picking up any in-form player they wanted to unlike in 1920/21 Ashes where their selection was limited to just 16. Also with the county cricket coming back into the limelight all the English fans were anticipating a similar margin of victory in the 1921 Ashes for England.

But then... in spite of trying a record number of 30 players in the 5 test series, England continued its misery by getting thrashed by Australia again in the first 3 tests by margins of 10 wickets, 8 wickets & 219 runs and failed to regain the Ashes. Lord Tennyson replaced Johnny Douglas as the captain of the troubling English side in the 3rd test but that did not stop them from losing the match and thereby Ashes. English Cricketing authorities took some solace in the fact that they could at least salvage some prestige by drawing the 4th test at Old Trafford and 5th at The Oval under Tennyson’s captaincy there by avoiding another clean sweep by Australia.

Ashes Countdown Factoid 97:

In a test series where one side wins by 5-0 margin you might think they must be fielding the same eleven in all tests. But Australia played 14 players in 1920/21 Ashes . That record of playing same eleven in every test of an Ashes series is still being held by Alfred Shaw led English touring team of 1884/85 which won the Ashes by 3-2 margin. Only two other teams have played the same eleven in every test of a 5 test series in the history of cricket. South Africa against England in 1905/06 and West Indies against Australia in 1990/91.

The 30 players that England tried in the subsequent 1921 Ashes which they lost by 3-0 margin still remains as a record for most number of players getting capped in any test series. England did come very close to beating their own record in 1989 Ashes when England led by David Gower tried 29 players against Alan Border’s Aussies in a 6 test series which they lost by a margin of 4-0.

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