Roy Park’s entire Test batting career got over in a blink on December 31, 1920, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the tale of a man, his wife, and her knitting.
Dr Roy Lindsay Park had been one of the champions of Victoria Football League in his early 20, coming second among scorers in 1913 with 53 goals. He had recently won a match for Footscray against North Melbourne Football Club with a goal less than 10 seconds before close.
But this was Test cricket. It was about representing your nation. He had earlier been named in Warwick Armstrong’s team for the home Ashes of 1914-15 that had to be called off because of World War I. Now that the War had been over his eyes were rested on the much-coveted Test spot.
Park was always a supporter of Armstrong and often accompanied his Victorian captain off the field. They formed a rather singular spectacle with their contrasting frames (Gideon Haigh called them “planet and satellite” in his The Big Ship: Warwick Armstrong and the Making of Modern Cricket). The Big Ship and the Little Doc almost never failed to draw attention in public in the company of each other.
He had batted brilliantly the previous season, finishing with 648 runs at 72.00. The tally had included two hundreds including a career-best of 228 against South Australia at the MCG; he had also finished the season with a fourth-innings 104 that had helped Victoria beat South Australia at Adelaide.
In his first innings of the next season he drowned South Australia with another 152 at Adelaide. Elsewhere, at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Armstrong’s team had steamrolled over Johnny Douglas’ England. The 377-run defeat was humiliating as well as psychologically crushing.
The teams were supposed to meet at the MCG — Park’s home ground — where the next Test was to start on New Year’s Eve. In his last match, Park scored 111 at the same ground against a New South Wales attack that boasted of three members from the national team: Jack Gregory, Charles Kelleway, and Arthur Mailey. He was selected, more so due to Charlie Macartney’s injury. The knitting
Armstrong won the toss and decided to bat and the openers — Herbie Collins and Warren Bardsley — batted serenely, adding 116 runs in 103 minutes. They dominated Harry Howell and Douglas, Ciss Parkin and Jack Hearne, Frank Woolley and Wilfred Rhodes; runs came easily, and a wicket seemed distant.
Then, against the run of play, Howell had Collins caught by Hearne. The New South Welshman had scored a 115-ball 64 with six fours. Along with Bardsley he had set the stage for Park to capitalise on.
Park walked out. The crowd applauded in acknowledgement. This was the moment the 28-year old doctor had waited for: he had been selected before, only for the tour to be cancelled due to War. He had to wait six years for this. This was the moment. He had to do big this time.
Mrs Park was out there, of course, among the spectators, knitting her way to glory. It used to be a common practice on cricket grounds till smart-phones had taken over. As Dr Park took guard, Howell was already back to his mark. The Warwickshire tearaway was determined to prove his worth on debut.
Park was ready in his stance. Howell steamed in. Just when Howell was about to deliver the ball, Mrs Park dropped her knitting. As she bent to pick it up the ball of wool, Howell ran through Dr Park’s defence and clean bowled him. By the time Mrs Park had recovered to her posture her husband was already walking back to the pavilion.
Hundreds from ‘Nip’ Pellew and Jack Gregory meant that Australia reached 499 after being 282 for seven. Jack Hobbs held fort for England, scoring 122, but Gregory bowled them out for 251 with figures of seven for 69. Armstrong decided to influence the follow-on. An anxious Park desperately wanted England to score those 248 runs so that he could get another chance (though he had bowled a single over in the first over, conceding nine runs).
They didn’t. Armstrong’s first spell dented England. With Collins also chipping in, England were reduced to 70 for five, and were bowled out for 157, losing by an innings and 91 runs. Mrs Park had missed her husband’s entire Test career because she had dropped her knitting. What followed?
- Australia completed the first 5-0 whitewash in the history of Test cricket.
- Park never played another Test, despite consistent contributions with the bat. He played till 1924-25, scoring 2,514 runs from 36 matches at a respectable 39.28 with nine hundreds.
- Park retired after falling out with the Victorian authorities. He pursued a successful medical career afterwards.
- Years after the Test, Park had admitted to having not slept the night before; he had supervised a rather difficult birth.
- His unrequited dream was, however, fulfilled by his son-in-law Ian Johnson, who played 45 Tests for Australia, leading them in 17. Brief scores:
Australia 499 (Nip Pellew 116, Jack Gregory 100, Johnny Taylor 68, Herbie Collins 64, Warren Bardsley 51; Harry Howell 3 for 142) beat England 251 (Jack Hobbs 122, Patsy Hendren 67; Jack Gregory 7 for 69) and 157 (Frank Woolley 50; Warwick Armstrong 4 for 26) by an innings and 91 runs.
(Abhishek Mukherjeeis a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)