July 24, 1926. After England captain Arthur Carr put Australia in to bat at Headingley, Maurice Tate dismissed Warren Bardsley with the very first ball; and then transpired a phase of play that remained a lifelong nightmare for the captain. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the day when Macartney was dropped by Carr off the fourth ball he faced and raced to a hundred before lunch.
Dash and charisma
Arthur Carr was an amateur with an attitude. Aggressive as a captain, free-scoring as a batsman, he revelled in being one of the boys in the Nottinghamshire team full of professionals. His habits of hard drinking and convivial merrymaking allowed him to fraternise with his talented band of players — stepping with élan across the gentlemen-player divide.
Indeed, it was Carr who had perfected the formula of keeping Harold Larwood and Bill Voce running in fast and furious, propelled on tumblers overflowing with beer. And it was he who pioneered the use of the two fast men to terrorise the opponents with balls that parted their hair at the speed of lightning.
Carr had charisma, and his magnetic personality attracted fanfare and controversy, right from his early youth. At school in Sherborne, his classmate Alec Waugh — brother of novelist Evelyn — had fallen madly in love with him. In his autobiographical novel, The Loom of Youth, Alec Waugh sketched the protagonist Lovelace Major very much in Carr’s image: “Haughty, self-conscious, with sleepy looking but watchful eyes, he towered over his contemporaries by the splendour of his athletic achievements and the strength of his all-mastering personality.”
When he was appointed the captain of England for the 1926 Ashes, The Cricketer claimed that the decision “seems to have unanimous approval. His reputation as a leader ranks deservedly high.” And thus, the after the sedate and sober Arthur Gilligan, a dramatically different man was given the reins of the cricketing fortunes of England.
For all the force of his personality, Carr suffered from the pressures of the supreme responsibility.
During the first Test at Nottingham, only 50 minutes of play was possible before rain came pouring down. After a while the ground, according to Gilligan, looked like Lake Windermere.
And at Lord’s, on a placid batting wicket, Carr did not get a hit as Jack Hobbs and Patsy Hendren amassed hundreds. When he closed the England innings, looking for some quick Australian wickets, he was criticised for allowing the visitors some excellent batting practice. Charlie Macartney made merry, scoring an unbeaten 133 — precursor of the things to come.
Carr felt the heat. He even told the selectors that he did not think he was worth his place in the side. It was the chief selector Plum Warner who reassured him in a soothing letter, “You are the best captain we have had for ages and you are worth a hundred runs an innings. We all have the greatest confidence in you for anything. Don’t worry for a minute. I beg you, please. A captain like you is worth many, many runs. Love from yours affectionately, Plum.” If we proceed to look at the final Test of the series, we will realise that this was one of the most duplicitous, phony message ever.
The fateful decision
On the eve of the Headingley Test, a heavy thunderstorm broke over Leeds. The selectors, Gilligan, Warner, Percy Perrin and Wilfred Rhodes, expected a sticky wicket. The Gloucestershire left-armer Charlie Parker was summoned to join the team.
The groundsman had decided that the prepared wicket was ruined and had rolled out a new one. On the morning, the sun broke through and Carr went out to inspect the pitch with Warner, Gilligan and Hobbs. The captain was slightly annoyed. The man who knew the wicket like the back of his hand, Wilfred Rhodes, was at Northampton, bowling his left-arm spin for Yorkshire.
Carr pressed his thumb on the pitch and found it soft. The sun was blazing by now. He expected devilish tricks from the ball as the wicket dried. There was a long conference and a discussion with the groundsman. It was decided that if Carr won the toss, he would send Australia in.
Hobbs later admitted that he had given the decision full approval. However, Warner in his accounts of the Test match smoothly washed his hands of the decision. He even tried to defend Carr’s decision, while steadfastly pointing out that it was entirely the captain’s call.
Apart from that, there was another bizarre choice. Having concentrated their tactics based on a sticky wicket, the selectors now suddenly left Parker outand opted for the Leicestershire all-rounder George Geary. This made a mockery of Carr’s decision to insert the visitors.
And with customary slipperiness, Warner remarked, “He had exactly the side he wished.” Carr denied this later saying, “I was constantly being advised to do this and that.” Again, it was left to Hobbs to hint at the truth, “We thought that George Geary, with his running-away ball, would be as dangerous as a left-hander. Also Geary was a better bat and a very fine slip fielder.” Hobbs was perhaps swayed by his own experiences. He did not like fast-medium away movement, while seldom had problems against Parker. But, at least he was honest.
However, Warner’s denial had no effect on Parker. He knew exactly who had masterminded his omission. Having rushed from Gloucestershire to Leeds overnight, he was shattered to find himself out of the side. According to Hendren, “Real tears came to his face — big, strong, cheery fellow as he is — when the decision was made known to him.” Some years later, Parker came across Warner outside the lift at the Grand Hotel in Bristol. He grabbed the older man by his lapels and called him a ‘bastard’ before letting him go. Parker was the third-highest wicket taker in the history of First-Class cricket and never made it to the Test side.
From the Australian side, Charlie Macartney had a strike at the practice nets and then went to inspect the wicket. It looked a batsman’s strip to him. Warren Bardsley, standing in for the indisposed Herbie Collins, came back from the toss and said that they were batting. Macartney was delighted: “Well, I’m glad you won the toss.” Bardsley replied, “I didn’t — I have been sent in.”
The first thing that went through ‘The Governor General’ Macartney’s mind was Carr had pre-arranged his plans: “He hoped that that if his bowlers could dismiss us fairly cheaply, the wicket would not be much damaged, and that we would again have the third innings, by which time the wicket would begin to show signs of wear. Very good planning, too, from what I knew of the Leeds wicket in past years. However, the result was not according to plan. The decision was a bad error of judgement.”
The costliest of misses
It did not look so at first. With the very first ball of the match bowled by Maurice Tate, Bardsley attempted a leg-glance. The ball came off the back of the bat and was beautifully caught low down at slip by Herbert Sutcliffe.
Macartney was in as early as the second ball and cut the first delivery for two. And off the fifth ball of the over, Tate induced him to snick towards the third slip. The captain himself stood there, and it came to him somewhat wide but at a very catchable height near the waist. Hobbs and Macartney both later wrote it was a difficult chance, but they were being generous. Warner called it a nasty one, but he is not exactly the most authentic source of information. Carr, a brilliant close in fielder, easily got both his hands to it and clasped it hard, and out it popped again. Macartney had been missed — the most ill-advised of reprieves.
What would have happened if Carr had taken the catch? “He would probably have been called a Napoleon of cricket,” Warner wrote later. He omitted to add that he himself would have again smoothly slipped into the role of the Machiavellian advisor who had decided to put Australia in.
What followed was tragic from Carr’s point of view. The clouds converged on the ground again, the wicket did not dry and turn vicious, and Macartney smashed the England attack all over Headingley. He pulverised all the bowlers with the exception of Tate. And even Tate confessed, “I didn’t know where to bowl at him, he was irresistible.”
His timing was perfection itself, and he essayed every sort of stroke, with attacking shots irrespective of length. The runs just flowed as he drove, cut and pulled his way to 51 out of 64 and then 100 in 80 minutes out of 131.
He became the second man after Victor Trumper to hit a century before lunch and even that noblest of batsmen had seldom played in the manner Macartney did that day. And each thundering stroke piled on misery for Carr.
“I think I spent the most dreadful luncheon interval in all my experience of cricket. Every blessed thing had gone wrong for me … to add to my miseries, PF Warner sat at the table a few places away with a face like nothing on earth.” Later on, for many a year, Carr would see Warner’s ‘face like nothing on earth’ in his nightmares.
Eventually, Macartney was caught by Hendren off George Macaulay for 151. The score by then was 235. He had batted for 172 minutes and hit 21 boundaries. When he left, the whole ground stood up and applauded, and most rousing a cheer it was with over 30,000 people assembled now that the news of his sparkling batting had spread across Leeds during the lunch interval. ‘He deserved every cheer, for his was one of the great innings in the history of the game.’
At the other end, Bill Woodfull had remained standing solid, steadfast and like a wall on which all the weapons that England hurled were reduced to impotence. He batted on to score 141, and Arthur Richardson, the off-spinning all-rounder, hit exactly 100. By the end of the first day Australia were 363 for three. Although the last few wickets fell quickly in contrast, 494 was a huge total for a team sent in to make first use of the wicket.
Clarrie Grimmett and Arthur Mailey, with their miser and millionaire brands of leg-spin, reduced England to 182 for eight. Carr was leg-before-wicket to Macartney, his nemesis of this particular match, having scored just 13.
However, Macaulay and Geary combined for a stubborn ninth-wicket partnership of 108. The former, having scored a brave and strokeful 76, was struck on the hand by Jack Gregory and proceeded to hit a long hop back to Grimmett. England’s innings folded for 294.
Exactly 200 behind, England followed on and managed to play out time without too many concerns, Hobbs and Sutcliffe adding 156 — another of their many grand collaborations. The match ended in a draw, but Carr would be roasted over slow fire by innumerable critics.
But that in itself was not the end of sufferings for the England captain. At Old Trafford, he spent a day amidst rain, with only 10 balls bowled during Saturday. And on Sunday, he had dinner with Sir Home Gordon, cricket aficionado and former Guards officer. The following morning, he woke up unable to speak, and sent forth a message to the ground that he was ill.
Carr claimed he had tonsillitis. Home Gordon insisted that he had eaten something that disagreed with him. There was another rumour that he had been affected by fibrositis.
However, the conflicting accounts together pointed to a more chronic ailment of Carr — that of inebriation. According to Duncan Hamilton, “Carr had tipped back too much alcohol and woken up with a monumental hangover.”
Jack Hobbs led the team on to the field, the first professional to captain England during a Test match at home. The fourth Test also ended in a draw.
With the series tied 0-0, the teams proceeded to The Oval for the final Test match. A fully recovered Carr set out to attend the Test selectors’ meeting. And he walked into a room bristling with tension.
Carr was told by Warner that neither his health nor his form was good enough to keep him in the England team. Although he himself found the whole business distasteful, Warner continued, for the sake of England, the captain should step down.
Carr left the room in a huff, leaving Warner to issue a public statement claiming that the captain himself had ‘generously offered to resign because of his tonsillitis’ and the selectors had accepted the decision with the ‘greatest possible regret’.
The 25-year-old Percy Chapman was appointed the captain in the deciding Test at The Oval.
Australia 494 (Bill Woodfull 141, Charlie Macartney 151, Arthur Richardson 100, Jack Ryder 42; Maurice Tate 4 for 99) drew with England 294 (Jack Hobbs 49, George Macaulay 76; Clarrie Grimmett 5 for 88) and 254 for 3 (Jack Hobbs 88, Herbert Sutcliffe 94, Percy Chapman 42)
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)