Ted McDonald © Getty Images
Ted McDonald © Getty Images

Ted McDonald’s blow had a serious impact on December 24, 1921 on Austin Punch. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the predicament of a poor batsman.

Warwick Armstrong’s men were through with trampling over the poor Englishmen after The Great War. England were far from settled as a nation at that point, still licking their wounds left open. Australia came down hard upon them, clean-sweeping the home series 5-0 and winning 3-0 in England — all in the span of less than a year.

Arthur Mailey took the most wickets for the Australians during this phase (48) with his leg-breaks. Jack Gregory (42) and Ted McDonald (33) shared 75. The others, between them, shared 42 that fell to the bowlers.

In the Headingley Test McDonald found the edge of Andy Ducat. As the ball flew to Gregory at slip, the fielders noticed that a piece of the bat had knocked a bail off.

John Evans, brave enough to have escaped two Prisoner-of-War camps, was so nervous of facing Gregory and McDonald at Lord’s that his knees knocked as he walked out.

Stories are aplenty. The hype back home was tremendous. When Victoria and New South Wales met at the end of the year for a Sheffield Shield match at MCG, over 63,000 turned out to watch the cricket over four days, the gate receipts reading £2,859. It was a Gregory vs McDonald duel, you see.

McDonald lived up to his reputation, with 5 for 65 and 3 for 76 for Victoria. Gregory, too, had 4 for 71 for NSW in the first innings. Tommy Andrews scored a first-innings hundred and Hammy Love and Herbie Collins in the second, but lack of support let NSW down. In fact, Love and Collins added 205 out of a team total of 280. Roy Park (whose brief Test career is rather famous) scored 122 and 53 in a 7-wicket win for Victoria.

Our incident took place on Day One. NSW batted and McDonald bowled ‘Mudgee’ Craney soon. At the other end, Austin Punch cut Arthur Liddicut to McDonald — and the catch was spilled.

It was not good news for poor punch. Perhaps to make up for the lapse, McDonald bowled a snorter. “A ball from McDonald jumped up and struck Punch on the head,” reported The Sun. “He retired with a cut over the eye.”

Sunday Times (Perth) had a slightly different version: “Punch tried to pull a short one from McDonald, and retired to regain his vision.”

Mailey, sitting in the pavilion at that point, himself recollected the incident in rich details in The Brisbane Courier: “[McDonald] hit the peak of one of our batsmen’s caps, and knocked it back to front. The shock was so great that he, too, sagged at the knees, and had to be assisted into the dressing-room.”

Dr Rowley Pope immediately asked Punch to lie down. He applied cold-water bandages on the wound. This went on for five minutes before Dr Pope asked Punch how he felt.

“Who’s bowling?” asked Punch.

“Ted McDonald.”

“Well, doc, I don’t feel too well.”

So the good doctor continued. Ten minutes later he asked the same question. “Ted McDonald” was the honest response. And Punch insisted he didn’t feel well.

Sure enough, McDonald was taken off after a while. Dr Pope passed on the information to Punch, asking yet again how the batsman felt.

“Much better now, doctor: I think I’ll resume my innings when a wicket falls,” came the response.

So Punch, unbeaten on 8, walked out to join Andrews at 73 for 4. Sunday Times (Sydney) mentioned that at that stage Punch “was the only batsman up to this stage to have 4’s to his credit (he had two).” Indeed, it was a different era, with no superbat and the MCG being a larger ground.

To be fair Punch did well, reaching 23 and staying away from McDonald. Then they came face-to-face. Here is how Mailey described what followed: “[McDonald] skittled the poor fellow second ball — the first one was not straight.”

It was a yorker, as Sunday Times (Perth) informed.

There is a little postscript. Punch’s wicket led to a tumultuous applause as Gregory arrived to the crease. McDonald welcomed him with a grin, which Gregory duly returned. Then McDonald clean bowled Gregory second ball.

Note: The story was narrated by Mailey. He mentioned neither the season nor the batsman (he calls him Mr Blank). However, only once had McDonald played at Melbourne in a Sheffield Shield match where a batsman retired, came back, and was bowled by him for a duck.

Brief scores:

New South Wales 254 (Tommy Andrews 115; Ted McDonald 5 for 65) and 280 (Hammy Love 102, Herbie Collins 111; Ted McDonald 3 for 76, Albert Hartkopf 5 for 86) lost to Victoria 302 (Roy Park 122, Vernon Ransford 53; Jack Gregory 4 for 71, Austin Punch 3 for 37) and 233 for 4 (Jack Ryder 85, Roy Park 53) by 6 wickets.