In contrast to the ridiculously short tours sandwiched between the various T20 tournaments of the current day, the tours of the yesteryears were typically long, spanning over months, and involving a lot of side matches, all of which were taken seriously by both the visiting sides and the hosts. When Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner’s England toured Australia in 1903-04, their tour spanned four months (plus a two-way journey by water) and involved a lot of non-Tests as well.
They had already given Victoria a solid thrashing in their first encounter; they were supposed to play a second match, though. Harry Trott won the toss and elected to bat, and their opening batsman Percy McAlister made merry on a flat track. The strong MCC attack could not stop him from scoring 139. Once he fell, though, Wilfred Rhodes ran through the Victoria line-up – he took six for 62 – and from a comfortable 281 for four Victoria collapsed to 299 on the third morning after a rain-washed second day.
MCC had a poor start, and began losing wickets at regular intervals. The Victoria seamers made early inroads and Warner (49) played aggressively, Tom Hayward (77) was the only one who made anything of substance, and MCC were bowled out for 248 at stumps on day three, 51 runs in arrears.
About 600 people came to the ground on the fourth morning to watch their home side capitalise on the lead. The match was, after all, timeless, and they had a definite chance of pulling off an upset. Warner gave the new ball to Rhodes, his most successful bowler in the first innings.
McAlister, the hero of the first innings, was stumped off the third ball of Rhodes’ first over for a duck. The next ball was a short one; Warwick Armstrong tried to pull it, found the top edge, and Bert Strudwick took his second victim in as many balls. In walked Trott; Rhodes bowled one that took Trott’s edge first ball and went to Bernard Bosanquet (the inventor of the googly) at second slip. Bosanquet dropped the catch – depriving Rhodes of his hat-trick.
Ted Arnold opened bowling from the other end, and Charlie McLeod hit his first ball straight back at him. Vernon Ransford, the new batsman, hit the next ball to Rhodes at point. The spectators sat back in disbelief, unable to fathom what was going on; Victoria had just lost four wickets without a run on the board!
Frank Laver managed to evade the hat-trick. Trott soon took a single off Rhodes, and then another off Arnold. Meanwhile, Laver scooped one over third man rather unconventionally, and took a single. That made him only the second person in the innings to avoid a duck.
Meanwhile, Trott cut Arnold for a couple, and the unthinkable happened – Victoria reached five for four, which meant that the runs were more than the wickets. This was probably unacceptable for Rhodes, who yorked Laver immediately. At this stage Rhodes’ figures read 3.2-2-1-3. Charles Baker, the next batsman, edged one in the same over, but Strudwick miffed the chance.
It was then that Trott and Baker decided to settle down and develop a partnership. Trott snicked one off Arnold – it went through the slips – and he managed a brace. Meanwhile, Baker had meandered to three, when he, possibly overwhelmed by this achievement, stepped out against Arnold and got stumped. The partnership had yielded an incredible seven – and the duo had managed to lift the dismal five for five to a healthy-looking 12 for six.
William Scott was the next man in. He scored a crucial run. And then, after the addition of another run, the catastrophe Victoria had been dreading finally happened – Trott hit one from Rhodes straight to Arnold at point. He had played a captain’s innings, and it was a shame that he failed to reach double figures.
Barlow Carkeek holed out to Bosanquet at cover points, giving Arnold another wicket. And then, Herbert Fry scampered for a bye, and Scott, realising that enough was enough, stepped out against Arnold for a massive slog, and Strudwick missed the stumping.
Rhodes had Fry caught at second slip by Bosanquet in his next over. Jack Saunders did not bat due to illness, and Victoria had recovered from a hopeless four for 0 to a meaty 15 all out, leaving Scott stranded. This was the lowest First-Class score on Australian soil. The innings had lasted for 45 minutes; Trott (9), Baker (3), Scott (1 not out) and Laver (1) were the only ones to score, and Rhodes (6.1-3-6-5) and Arnold (6-2-8-4) had managed to decimate Victoria in no time. Trott put up the argument that Saunders did not bat, but he would probably not have been able to make a difference with his career batting average of 4.76.
Chasing 67, Warner was dropped on one by Fry at mid-on. He played daringly, and soon passed the 15 scored by Victoria. He fell for 16, caught by Trott off Fry, and Johnny Tyldesley joined Hayward. Tyldesley was dropped by McAlister at second slip, but managed to settle down. Then, after a steady partnership, Scott managed to run Hayward (26) out with an accurate throw. Tyldesley drove Laver for a four, and MCC pulled off the match by eight wickets. The match was over by 3.30 PM, and that was that. Trott’s heroic nine, accounting for 60% of the team total, had gone in vain.
Brief scores: Victoria 299 (Percy McAlister 139, Wilfred Rhodes 6 for 62) and 15 (Wilfred Rhodes 5 for 6, Ted Arnold 4 for 8) lost to MCC 248 (Tom Hayward 77, Pelham Warner 49) and 68 for 2 by 8 wickets.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)
First Published: February 9, 2013, 1:15 pm