Jack Gregory (left) and Ted McDonald. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Jack Gregory (left) and Ted McDonald. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

May 30, 1921. A war-hit England were further bombarded by the thunderbolts of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald as Australia won within a couple of days at Trent Bridge. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at a forgettable two days of English cricket.

The 5-0 defeat Down Under in 1920-21 still rankled. In the English grounds, Australian skipper Warwick Armstrong’s huge bulk loomed in front of the Englishmen, reminded them of the debacle and providing menacing warning of things to come.

Yet there were optimistic voices. FJ Sellicks of Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News thought Armstrong would find, “his task appreciably more difficult here than it was in Australia.” According to many, England would benefit from familiar surfaces, supportive audience and wider selection choice.

However, English cricket had been done in by the Great War. More than sixty First-Class cricketers had perished, and many more younger men who might have played down the line. The county teams still leaned heavily on aged pre-War cricketers, with no new generation to replace them. A generation absent, mostly dead.

The tone was set with stark symbolism from the first ball of the tour. Jack Gregory came bounding in against Leicestershire. Facing him stood the 36-year-old Harry Whitehead. The veteran batsman had played almost 380 games, and but for the War would have been happily retired and watching the action from the stands.

Now, the Australian fast bowler pitched one short of good length and it reared up. Whitehead struggled to get out of the way. The ball took the edge of his bat and lobbed up behind the wicket, soon accepted by wicketkeeper Sammy Carter. It was the harbinger of how the tour would pan out. As was the subsequent eight-wicket haul of Ted McDonald. By the end of the day Leicestershire had been bundled for 136 and Australia had raced to 234 for 1.

Two-day knockout

Things did not really change too much by the time Johnny Douglas led the England team to face the visitors in the first Test at Nottingham. The match was practically decided as early as the seventh over, by which time Donald Knight, Ernest Tyldesley and Patsy Hendren had been blasted away by Jack Gregory.

Knight flashed his bat at a wide ball on the off-side and the slips split the heavens in jubilant appeal as Carter held on. Tyldesley brought his bat down hard and desperate at a frighteningly fast delivery, and it rolled off his willow to hit the leg-stump. And after Hendren managed to survive three balls of vicious pace, his off-stump was pegged back by one that nipped in from outside off.

And then Armstrong himself came on for three overs — the only time anyone but Gregory and McDonald bowled in the innings. There was none of the defensive leg theory of his earlier tours, but positive flighted leg-breaks. Off his eleventh ball, Johnny Douglas played a loose stroke to his opposite number, hitting a wide delivery into the air for mid-off to hold the easiest of catches. According to Neville Cardus, “The stroke must have been the ghastliest ever made in Test cricket by a responsible batsman.”

Having plucked the heart out of England’s batting, Armstrong handed the ball back to his opening bowlers. Gregory tore in with his kangaroo like bounds. McDonald ran in with silken action and supernatural energy, at continuous high speed, a glass of water and a few puffs at a cigarette enough to keep him going through a session.

Having resisted the attack with admirable courage, Percy Holmes retreated towards square leg to be bowled by McDonald. An irate Harry Foster, one of the selectors of the England team, turned to veteran cricket writer Home Gordon and said, “So long as I have influence, Home, that man bats not in another Test for England.” Holmes indeed did not play until the South African tour of 1927-28.

Another selector, Somerset captain John Daniell, a former rugby international, was more damning in his evaluation of the batting display, “If you look at the hind leg of a syphilitic chicken, you will see a better cricketer.”

The Zeppelins and the U-Boats had failed to break the spirit of the Englishmen. Now Gregory and McDonald did. Later Frank Woolley considered McDonald faster than Larwood ever was.

Gregory finished with 6 for 58, having bowled unchanged for 19 overs. McDonald got 3 for 42 from 15. England lasted just 37 overs and could scratch their way to 112 runs.

If the wicket had looked full of demons when England had batted, it transformed itself into a batsman’s paradise when Harry Howell and Johnny Douglas took the new ball against the tourists. Warren Bardsley played with poise and elegance. At the other end wickets fell more due to casual strokeplay by the Australians than due to merit of the bowlers. Tich Richmond mixed his googlies, Howell generated some pace but did not manage bounce. But otherwise it was a friendly enough attack. The Australians ended the day comfortably at 167 for 6.

After Sunday’s rest there was rain as Monday dawned, prompting Douglas to put on Frank Woolley and Wilfred Rhodes as soon as play resumed.  Carter was quick to dispatch the many hittable balls into the country. By the time Woolley’s left-arm spin had hastened the end of the innings, Australia led by 120.

England had erased 23 of the deficit when Holmes was caught at short mid-on off McDonald. There was some resistance as Tyldesley and Knight showed plenty of pluck and perseverance in surviving the next forty minutes. And then tragedy struck.

Tyldesley received a fastish long hop from Gregory and swung at it. In his eagerness for a few easy runs, he missed and the ball hit him on his face before dropping onto the stumps. The unfortunate batsman was helped off the ground, although subsequently the injury did not prove serious. The crowd barracked Gregory for every short ball that he bowled after this. But, the injured batsman’s elder brother, former Test batsman Johnny Tyldesley, was not impressed by his sibling’s efforts. “When you hook get on the off-side of the ball,” was his only remark, delivered in a chiding tone.

At the fall of the wicket, Patsy Hendren walked into bat. The eternal joker, he started by patting the turf halfway down the pitch.

And soon Knight was run out when looking set for a big score — the fault lying largely with Hendren. Of the remaining batsmen, only Woolley showed some enterprise. McDonald took five and in the end Australia needed just 28. With Herbie Collins nursing an injured thumb, Charlie Macartney went in with Bardsley and hit the winning runs within 20 minutes in just over six overs.

The hosts had been steamrolled within two days. Much of the tour would continue in the same vein.

Brief scores:

England 112 (Jack Gregory 6 for 58) and 147 (Ted McDonald 5 for 32) lost to Australia 232 (Warren Bardsley 66) and 30 for no loss by 10 wickets.

(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)