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Charles Kelleway: A genuine all-rounder who played for Australia on either side of the First World War

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Charles Kelleway. Photo Courtesy: Major Drapkin A and E Test cricketers

Charles Kelleway, born April 25, 1886, was a dour batsman and a more than useful medium pacer who played 26 Tests for Australia. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the life and career of the man who was once called ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ by Wisden.

The Rock of Gibraltar

January 1921, Adelaide. The third day of the third Test match ended with the Englishmen on top for the first time in the series. Having batted their way to a 93 run lead, mainly through the efforts of Jack Russell, they had now dismissed three Australians for 71 runs. Harry Howell and Ciss Parkin were looking dangerous.

And then Johnny Douglas and his men ran into the stonewalling willow of Charles Kelleway.

Throughout the fourth day the New South Welshman presented the full face of the bat, a picture of absolute restraint, grit and composure. At the other end, the huge form of captain Warwick Armstrong slowly grew in confidence. The ground was pierced by thrilling strokes by the big man. And all the while Kelleway batted on. The pair added 194 in 206 minutes, before Armstrong departed for an attractive 121. Johnny Taylor struck the ball sweetly for 38, and then Nip Pellew came in to carve the bowling into submission. By the end of the day, Australia were sitting pretty on 364 for five, Kelleway still there on 115.

By the time he was dismissed on the following day for a seven hour vigil of 147, the Englishmen had been batted out of the game. Wisden announced: “A display that earned him the nickname of ‘Rock of Gibraltar’. This display of solid defence in an uphill struggle for his country ranks with the 90 in five and three-quarter hours by William Scotton, who saved England from collapse at the Oval in 1884; the supremacy of M. A. [Monty] Noble during eight hours and a half for Australia at Manchester in 1899 when he scored 60 not out and 89 in the follow-on, his patience being so controlled that during one spell of three-quarters of an hour he did not get a run; H. L. [Herbie] Collins proved equally imperturbable at Old Trafford in 1921 when 40 runs was his reward for four hours fifty minutes at the wicket. These three were saving efforts that proved effective; Kelleway paved the way for victory by 119 runs on the sixth day.”

We must pause here to note that batting constituted only half the job performed by Kelleway. He was a genuine all-rounder who could bat in the top order with all the features of a correct, solid theoretician, and could also run in to send down swerving deliveries on a probing length at a pace well above medium.

The South Africans mastered

Born in Lismore, New South Wales, Kelleway graduated from the high profile Sydney leagues to the realms of First-Class cricket as a bowling all-rounder. In fact, in his initial couple of seasons following his debut in late 1907, he did little of note with the bat. He did occasionally impress with the ball, though, picking up six wickets against Queensland in the southern summer of 1908-09.

It was in early 1910 that Kelleway was promoted to No 6 and responded with a back to the wall 108 against South Australia at Sydney. He followed it up with half centuries against The Rest of Australia and Victoria. This earned him a place in the Australian side to tour New Zealand. He was not called upon to do much on the tour against the weak local sides, but managed a fifty against Aucklandand picked up a few useful wickets.

When the South Africans under Percy Sherwin visited in 1910-11, Kelleway was the star performer when the visitors took on New South Wales. He captured five for 60 and two for 42, and hit 37 in the first innings. Finally, he came in at the fall of the fifth wicket in the fourth innings with still some distance to go and held his nerve to carry his state home with an unbeaten 19. This performance ensured a call up to the Test side.

He did not have much to do in the Sydney Test on his debut. He batted at No 8, after Warren Bardsley and Clem Hill had hit the visiting battery of googly bowlers into submission. It was 453 for six when Kelleway got a chance to bat and remained unbeaten on 14. It was a similar story when Australia bowled. Tibby Cotter and Bill Whitty did most of the work and the debutant was not really required to do much. In the second innings, he was given a longer bowl and picked up two wickets.

In the following match at Melbourne, Kelleway played an important knock in the second innings, holding the lower order together before being last out for 48. However, with the ball he ran into the great Aubrey Faulkner batting at his best in the first innings, and as a result was at the wrong end of some serious stick. With Cotter and Whitty dismissing the Springboks for 80 in the second innings Kelleway was not required to bowl, but picked up three impressive catches in the slips.

Kelleway’s full potential was realised in the third Test at Adelaide, when Hill astutely sent the young man to open the innings with Charlie Macartney, in place of the regular openers Bardsley and Trumper. Macartney failed, but Kelleway put his head down and compiled 47, adding 94 with Vernon Ransford. In the second innings he came in at No 4 and hit 65. The versatile all-round capabilities of the young man were increasingly apparent. He hit a patient 59 in the next Test and was again sent in to open in the second innings. He failed as he opened again in the final Test, but by then his value in the side was established.

Kelleway started strongly when England visited in 1911-12. Opening the batting once again, he scored 70 in the second innings of the first Test at Sydney as Australia won by 146 runs. He also captured three for 46 in the first innings. Thereafter, however, Frank Foster and Sydney Barnes routed the hosts in the remaining four Tests. Kelleway continued to go out at the top of the order, performing the rare feat of opening both the batting and bowling in the fourth Test at Melbourne. However, his runs dried up and the bowling proved without sting. He lost his place in the side during the final Test match of the series.

Charles Kelleway amassed 1,422 runs in 26 Tests at 37.42. Photo Courtesy: : National Library of Australia
Charles Kelleway amassed 1,422 runs in 26 Tests at 37.42 for Australia. He also took 52 wickets at 32.36. Photo Courtesy: National Library of Australia

Triumph in Triangular Test Tournament

But he made his way back to the national team when the Big Six incident raised its ugly head. With Victor Trumper, Clem Hill, Warwick Armstrong, Cotter, Hanson Carter and Vernon Ransford refusing to tour England for the experimental Triangular Test Tournament in 1912, Kelleway became one of the mainstays of the Australian side.

And he started off magnificently, opening the innings at Manchester against South Africa and hitting 114, adding 202 with Bardsley. When South Africa followed on, Kelleway took the new ball and captured five for 37 to skittle them out for 95. It remains one of the outstanding all-round performances of all time.

He followed it up with 61 against England and 102 against South Africa, both at Lord’s. Kelleway ended the tournament with 360 runs at 60.00 and six wickets at 23.66. On his way back to Australia, he played a few games in the United States, appearing in both the First Class encounters against the Gentlemen of Philadelphia.

The War Games

That was the end of international cricket for the time  being. The First World War intervened and in January 1915, Prime Minister Billy Hughes made a stirring address to the sportsmen of Australia: “As you have played the game in the past, so we ask you to play the greater game now. You are wanted in the trenches now far more than you were ever wanted in the football and cricket fields.”

Not all the stars responded. Armstrong, for example, was exempted because of his age and size. However, Kelleway was one of the leading sportsmen to hear to the call and became a Captain in the Army.

Two months after armistice, order number 1539 of the AIF set up a Sports Control Board to occupy the thousands of personnel waiting in England. The response was overwhelming. As many as 12 net sessions had to be arranged at Lord’s to select a squad.

Captain Kelleway was the skipper of the Australian Imperial Forces cricket team. Playing under him were Jack Gregory, Nip Pellew, Johnny Taylor and Herbie Collins. Besides, in a dingy London flat, Collins discovered the New South Wales wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield and persuaded him to play.

However, after an incident of poor behaviour and symptoms of unrest in the players, Field Marshall Birdwood, former commander of the Australian Corps, sacked Kelleway as skipper and replaced him with Collins. This meant seven men of higher rank, including Kelleway, played under the lance corporal Collins, but the poker faced man led with quiet intensity and sparked off trust in all.

Post War Success

With the resumption of normal cricket, Kelleway demonstrated that he was still one of the very best in the land. At Sydney, against South Australia, he notched up his highest First-Class innings of 168, adding 397 with Warren Bardsley. When the visitors followed on 611 runs behind, a deluge turned the ground into a swamp. The South Australians asked for the match to be abandoned, concedingthe result in favour of New South Wales. This was the first time that a Sheffield Shield match was left unfinished.

When Test cricket restarted, Kelleway returned as one of the main members of the Australian side under Armstrong. Johnny Douglas’s Englishmen was routed 5-0 in 1920-21. Kelleway scored 330 runs at 47.14 and captured 15 wickets at 21.00 – the bowling average turning out to be the best for either side. After the landmark 147 at Adelaide mentioned earlier, he finished the series with bowling figures of 20-6-27-4 and 14-3-29-2 at Sydney.

Poor health and rather strained relationship with the management prevented him from touring England again. But, when Arthur Gilligan’s side visited Australia in 1924-25, Kelleway remained a useful performer with both bat and ball. No longer coming high up in the batting order, he nevertheless managed crucial runs in demanding situations. At Sydney in the final Test, he scored 73 from No 8 and finished the series with figures of 7-1-16-2.

The next summer, at the age of 39, he enjoyed his best domestic season with the bat, scoring 582 runs at 97.00.

Final fling

Health was however taking its toll. He missed a couple of seasons and returned in 1928-29. An unbeaten 93 against the visiting Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), including a 68 run association with the young Don Bradman, got him selected in the first Test at Brisbane.

Kelleway opened the bowling against Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe and was sent on a leather hunt by Patsy Hendren. Following this, he batted at No 5, two positions above a 20-year-old debutant called Don Bradman. He scored eight before losing his off-stump to Harold Larwood. He fell ill after that and took no further part in the match.

That was the last time Kelleway played for Australia. He turned out in only two more First-Class matches before calling it a day after the season.

In his 26 Tests, Kelleway scored 1422 runs at 37.42 with three hundreds, and captured 52 wickets at 32.36 with a solitary five-wicket haul. In all First-Class cricket, he compiled 6389 runs at 35.10 from 132 matches with 15 hundreds, and took 339 wickets at 26.33. Along with George Giffen and Monty Noble, he has gone down as one of the few genuine all-rounders produced by Australia before the advent of Keith Miller.

Troubled with ill-health all his life, Kelleway passed away in Lindfield, Sydney in November 1944 at the relatively young age of 58.

(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://twitter.com/senantix)

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