Having just finished a brief look at England men’s test cricket through the ages I now turn England’s oldest adversaries in international cricket, Australia. I start with the best players of 1877-1914 inclusive.
THE XI IN BATTING ORDER
- Warren Bardsley (left handed opening batter). Until Don Bradman came along and blew all such records out of the water he had scored more FC centuries than any other Australian batter and more than half of those centuries were scored on tours of England (compare and contrast a left hander of much more recent vintage in David Warner). At the Oval in 1909 he became the first ever to score a century in each innings of a test match.
- Victor Trumper (right handed opening batter). One of cricket’s immortals. In the wet summer of 1902 he scored 2,570 FC runs for the tour including 11 centuries. In the Old Trafford test of that series, where an Australian win by three runs ensured that they kept the Ashes he reached a century before lunch on day one.
- *Billy Murdoch (right handed batter, captain). In 1880 at The Oval he won a sovereign from WG Grace by scoring 153* in Australia’s second innings to top the bearded Doctor’s 152 on the opening day of the match. Four years later at the same ground he scored test cricket’s first ever double century, 211.
- Clem Hill (left handed batter). Until Hobbs overhauled his tally he held the record for test career runs. He amassed eight test tons in total, including the only century of the only test ever played at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 1902. He also had a unique sequence of near misses in the 1901-2 series, making 99, 98 and 97 in successive knocks.
- Charlie Macartney (right handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner). He had only just begun his rise to the top before WWI, but did enough, including taking his one and only match haul of ten wickets, to claim his spot in the XI.
- George Giffen (right handed batter, off spinner). Australia’s first great all rounder. In the 1894-5 Ashes he scored 475 runs and claimed 34 wickets.
- +Jack Blackham (wicket keeper, right handed batter). The ‘Prince of Wicket Keepers’, and enough of a batter to have been the first keeper to score two fifties in the same test match. He played in each of the first 17 test matches ever contested, before missing one due a dispute over pay, and then returning and playing on until the 1894-5 Ashes.
- Hugh Trumble (off spinner, right handed batter). Good enough in his secondary department to have done the season’s double on the 1899 tour of England and to have been Australia’s highest individual scorer at The Oval in 1902. He took 141 test wickets all against England, including doing the hat trick twice in his career. His 141 wickets against England remained a record for almost eight decades after his retirement, until Dennis Lillee overtook him at Headingley in 1981.
- Fred ‘Demon’ Spofforth (right arm medium-fast). A master of changes of pace, he took the first ever test hat trick, and it was his bowling that won the 1882 match at The Oval that led to the creation of the Ashes.
- Charlie ‘Terror’ Turner (right arm medium fast). He succeeded Spofforth as leader of Australia’s attack, and reached the milestone of 100 test wickets in just 17 matches.
- Ernest Jones (right arm fast). Australia’s first authentic test match quick bowler. He once sent a ball through WG Grace’s beard. Like the later Harold Larwood of England he was a miner before establishing himself as a cricketer.
This side has a powerful top five, an all rounder at six, a keeper who could bat and four formidable front bowlers. The bowling is also very powerful, though it lacks either a left arm seam option or a leg spin option.
Charles Bannerman missed out on an opening slot partly because of being right handed – Trumper had to be picked and I felt that left handed Warren Bardsley was a better foil for him than Bannerman. Two other specialist batters who could not be accommodated were Joe Darling and Syd Gregory, the latter playing more test matches than anyone else whose entire career happened before WWI.
I could have got around the leg spin problem by naming Warwick Armstrong as the all rounder, but I felt that Giffen’s case was unanswerable. Monty Noble was the other candidate for the all rounder’s role and would have been a natural for the captaincy had I gone for him. Frank Tarrant never played test cricket, otherwise he would have been a shoo-in (England toyed with the idea of picking him based on his years at Middlesex but felt that such a move would cause problems with the Aussies, who don’t appear to have ever considered picking him).
There were two other keepers of the era of something approaching comparable stature to Blackham, Jim Kelly and Hanson Carter.
The nearest any left arm bowler who actually played for Australia came to claiming a place were Jack Ferris, Turner’s regular new ball partner, and Jack Saunders, but neither quite did enough.
Frank Laver and Albert ‘Tibby’ Cotter were right arm seam/ pace bowlers who came close.
Australia only had one specialist leg spinner of note before WWI, Herbert Hordern, and his career was brief.
My usual sign off…