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Lord Sheffield’s XI in Australia, 1891-92 © Getty Images
Back, from left: Bob Carpenter (umpire), William Attewell, George Lohmann, Maurice Read, George Bean, John Sharpe, Bob Thoms (umpire)
Front, from left: Johnny Briggs, Gregor McGregor, WG Grace, Bobby Peel, Andrew Stoddart, Bobby Abel.

According to Rick Smith and Ron Williams in their book WG Down Under, the cricket-loving public of Australia had much to thank Harry Boyle for 1891-92. The financial disaster of the 1887-88 tour, when there were two separate English teams touring Australia simultaneously, was still very much at the back of the minds of the powers that be in Australian cricket. The future of English tours to Australian shores seemed to be bleak from a purely financial viewpoint.

The members of the Australian team that had toured England in 1890 had opted for Boyle as the Tour Manager. Indeed, it was Boyle who had acted as the chief selector of the touring party as well. While in England, Boyle had begun to explore the possibility of a resumption of English tours to Australia, and had first raised the issue with the authorities of Melbourne CC. It was quite apparent that there needed to be powerful incentives, both financial and cricketing, to make the venture possible. Fortunately, Henry North Holroyd, the 3rdEarl of Sheffield, a wealthy and well known patron of cricket, agreed to sponsor the proposed tour, thus sparing the Australian hosts the prospects of an embarrassing monetary loss.

The next step was to look for and to persuade a cricketer of sufficient stature and gravitas to undertake the onerous responsibility of captaining the side. The Earl proved to be an able ally in this respect and he was successful in roping in WG Grace, now in his 44th year, as the star attraction and captain of the side. In consultation with WG, The Earl also arranged for the four principal bowlers of the 1887-88 tour — George Lohmann, Johnny Briggs, Bobby Peel, and William Attewell to be selected for the tour, thus providing the tourists with the requisite firepower.

This was to be Grace’s first tour to Australia after his ‘honeymoon tour’ of 1873-74, the third tour of Australia by an English team. As is well known, Grace had not then been a popular tourist, evoking the ire of the locals with his boorish behaviour and his over-fondness for monetary gains despite his claims of being an ‘amateur’ cricketer. The 1891-92 tour would be a testing exercise in diplomacy as well as being a clash of arms between the traditional cricket rivals. Well, it is reported that the good Doctor was looked after very well on the tour, being paid a sum of 3,000 guineas in ‘expenses’, in addition to first-class fare for himself, his wife, and his two children to accompany him throughout Australia. The eight professional cricketers were paid much less for the services, and did not enjoy the luxury of first class travel or accommodation on the tour.

Boyle must have been gifted with a persuasive tongue in addition to an astute business acumen, as the Melbourne CC had not only fallen in with the idea of the tour, but had deployed Frank Illingworth, erstwhile Secretary of the East Melbourne Club, to act as the local agent on behalf of the tourists in general and of The Earl in particular in arranging the finer details of the fixtures in Australia. Illingworth undertook his given task with diligence till December1890, when the more experienced hand, Major Ben Wardill, Secretary of Melbourne CC, took over charge of the local arrangements.

The 13-member touring squad comprised five amateurs and eight experienced professionals. The group boarded the P & O steamer Arcadia from Albert Docks, London, on October 2. The route lay through Brindisi, Malta (they reached on October 9, and played a drawn game against VIII of Malta), the Suez Canal (a week later), and erstwhile Ceylon, where they played a drawn game against XXII of Ceylon.

They arrived at Adelaide at noon of November 9. That left them 10 days for the party to overcome their ‘sea legs’ and to have some practice before the first engagement of the tour.This was to be the 9th Test-playing overseas tour by an English team, and they played 8 First-Class games on the tour in all, including 3 Tests.

Meanwhile, the season got underway at Adelaide with a game between hosts South Australia (SA) and Victoria. This game has gone down in history by the eponymous title of “Giffen’s Match”, and is the subject of a book by Bernard Whimpress. It was principally because of the heroic feats of the skipper that the hosts won the game by an innings and 164 runs.

After the home team had taken first strike, skipper Giffen walked out at 5 for 1 and forged a 167-run stand with JJ Lyons (104). The fourth-wicket stand with Harry Blinman (32) yielded 96, and in walked Walter, the skipper’s brother, with the team score on 280 for 4. The brothers scored freely all around the wicket until Walter had to retire hurt with his own score on 65 and the total reading 441 for 4, ending the 161-run association. The skipper was finally dismissed for a commanding 271 (a record individual score for South Australia until Don Bradman surpassed itwith his 357 against Victoria in 1935-36) and the innings ended at a colossal 562 well into the third day. Jim Phillips captured 6 for 156.

Victoria openers Frank Walters (50) and Alcon Bowman (52) added 74. The visitors were forced to bow to the brilliance of Giffen’s bowling arm; in a superlative display of virtuosity, the home skipper captured 9 for 96. The innings ended at 235. Following on, Victoria were dismissed for 163. Giffen captured 7 for 70, bowling unchanged throughout the innings to mow the opposition down. This gave Giffen a match haul of 16 for 166.

It may not be out of place here to make a brief review of Giffen’s performances against Victoria over his career. He played 29 matches for South Australia against Victoria. He scored 2,417 at 51.42 including 6 centuries and 9 fifties. He also claimed 224 wickets at 19.75. He had 9 wickets in an innings thrice and 8 wickets in an innings four more times. Against In all he took 26 five-wicket hauls, 10 ten-wicket hauls and 31 catches.

 The English visitors, known as Lord Sheffield’s XI, began their Australian campaign at Adelaide with a game against SA. Surprising as it may seem, particularly in view of the fact that he had been playing First-Class cricket since 1865, WG Grace was playing his very first First-Class match on Australian soil as this match commenced.

WG put the hosts in so as to give his bowlers an early opportunity to acclimatise themselves to the conditions. The hosts were dismissed for 163, Attewell taking 5 for 47. The visitors replied with 323 with good hands from Briggs (91), Andrew Stoddart (78) and Maurice Read (60). Giffen (who else?) took 7 for 152.

The hosts then folded up for 98. Attewell (6 for 34) again had the most impact for the Englishmen. The tourists had the satisfaction of winning their first match of the tour by an innings and 62 runs in front of about 16,300 curious onlookers.

The scene shifted to Melbourne for the next match of the season, between Victoria and the touring Englishmen. Skipper-wicketkeeper Jack Blackham won the toss and batted, but the team was dismissed for 78. John Sharpe (6 for 40) and Attewell (4 for 26) took all the wickets. When the visitors batted, skipper WG led the way, carrying his bat for 159, his only century on the entire tour, in his very first innings in Australia. The first-wicket stand with Bobby Abel (29) realised 91 runs. Thereafter, wickets fell at regular intervals and the innings finished at 284. Only Jack Barrett (4 for 51) had any real impact on the batsmen.

Facing a daunting first-innings deficit of 211 runs, Victoria ended their second innings at 104, and there was an interesting twist to the bowling figures, with both Attewell and Lohmann having identical figures of 5 for 41 for the Englishmen.

Having won their first two games of the tour, the Englishmen may have been forgiven for a feeling of well-being at the early part of the tour. The feel-good factor was further enhanced when they also won their next game, against New South Wales (NSW), at Sydney.

 The experienced professional bowlers of the English team made short work of the hosts, Briggs (5 for 10) and Lohmann (4 for 44) bowling them out for 74. For NSW, however, Charlie Turner was in fine bowling form and picked up 6 for 45 to restrict the tourists to 94.

In a low-scoring game, however, the first-innings deficit of 20 proved to be a handicap to the hosts, who were then dismissed for 172. Only skipper Harry Moses (51) made any significant contribution. Attewell (6 for 49) proved to be the bane of the NSW batsmen in this innings. The Englishmen then scored the required runs for the loss of 6 wickets to win their third consecutive game. As usual, however, Turner had his say, even in defeat, capturing 5 for 77.

It was Boxing Day of 1891, and, as had become quite customary by now, the first of the games between Victoria and NSW began at Melbourne. Moses opted for first strike for NSW. After a first-wicket stand of 65 between Alec Bannerman (23) and Harry Donnan (54), the home bowlers kept chipping away at the wickets. Bob McLeod (4 for 54), Hugh Trumble (2 for 63), and Jim Phillips (2 for 38) restricted NSW to 218.

McLeod (87) and Phillips (85) then carried Victoria to 290. The outstanding bowling performance was from Sydney Callaway with his 6 for 85. Having gained a 72-run lead, Victoria then dismissed NSW for 143, Moses scoring 37. By coincidence, the winning target for Victoria turned out to be 72, and they got there with the loss of 4 wickets. It is reported that total attendance for the match over the 4 days of play was about 27,000, and the gate money raised had amounted to £1,070, a fairly large sum for the times.

New Year’s Day of 1892 saw the beginning of the first Test between Australia and England at Melbourne. One interesting aspect of the match was the nomination of the umpires for the game. The scorecard shows the names of Thomas Flynn, who is shown as having officiated in 22 First-Class matches in his career (including 4 Tests) but is not shown to have actually played any First-Class games. The other man in the white coat was Phillips, still an active First-Class player, and who had exhibited his admirable all-roundskills in the previous match.

Blackham opted to bat first, and Australia were bowled out for 240 on the second morning. Only Bannerman (45) and William Bruce (57) had done anything reportable with the bat. For England, the bowling honours were with Sharpe (6 for 84) and Peel (3 for 54).

WG (50) and Abel (32) then launched the English reply in resolute fashion with an opening partnership of 84 that ended when Abel was dismissed. WG fell one run later, and it soon became 85 for 3 when Stoddart was dismissed for a duck. England, however, recovered somewhat to take the total on to 264. Giffen, Turner, and McLeod captured 3, 2 and 5 wickets respectively. Debutant McLeod deserves special mention in this context, having disposed of Abel, Grace, and Stoddart in the space of 2 overs.

Perhaps with the 24-run deficit at the back of his mind, Bannerman, stonewaller incarnate, then proceeded to bat out 230 minutes for this 41, hitting only 1 boundary in the process (he was only adding to the legend of his stoicism at the crease, having batted for 195 minutes for his first-innings 45). Indeed, Charles Davis, the Melbourne-based cricket statistician, estimates that Bannerman had faced about 275 deliveries before hitting his only boundary. The first-wicket stand with Lyons (51) produced 66. Given his phenomenal all-round skills, Giffen was inexplicably subdued with the bat, scoring only 1 (he had scored 2 in the first innings). The second innings total reached 236.

England began the last innings of the match with 213 runs to win the Test. There was optimism in the air in the tourists’ camp when WG (25) and Stoddart (35) raised a first-wicket stand of 60. Both openers, however, fell at the score of 60. George Bean (3) left at 71, Read (11) at 75, and Peel (6) and Lohmann (0) both at 93. Disaster loomed for England as the seventh wicket, of Briggs (4), fell at 98, and the seemingly attainable target receded further and further.

Day 4 ended with England on 104 for 7 with Abel on 16 and wicketkeeper Gregor MacGregor on 3. The visitors began the fifth day needing a further 109 runs to win but could only add another 54, mainly was due to the resilience of MacGregor (16) and Attewell (24). Turner (5 for 51) and Harry Trott (3 for 52) were principally responsible for the England second innings crumbling for 158. Australia won the Test by 54 runs to go 1-0 up in the 3-Test series.

Two days after the conclusion of the first Test NSW were taking on SA at Sydney, and Giffen was weaving another aliquot of wizardry into the story of his remarkable career. Day One ended with the home team dismissed for 215 Giffen bowled unchanged from one end, taking 7 for 122.

SA lost Affie Jarvis with 10 on the board, but Lyons (145) and Giffen (120) then combined in a second-wicket stand of 234 before Lyons was dismissed. Then rain intervened, allowing only 40 runs on Day Three and no play on Day Four. The fifth day saw the innings end on 330. Turner (4 for 132) and Callaway (6 for 95) took all the wickets.

With the psychological burden of a 115-run deficit, NSW were dismissed for a mere 62. Alfred Jarvis (brother of wicketkeeper Affie) and Giffen bowled unchanged through the innings, taking 5 for 33 and 5 for 28 respectively, to bring SA victory by an innings and 53 runs.

Sydney was the venue for the second NSW vs Victoria. Tom Garrett won the toss, and NSW batted first and scored 193. Turner top-scored with 66 and Jack Worrall took 4 for 21. The healthy first-innings total of 370 by Victoria was built around a sound 112 from Frank Walters and a solid 82 by Ambrose Tarrant (nephew of the peripatetic Frank). Turner (5 for 146) and Harry Donnan (3 for 60) took most wickets.

The 177-run deficit turned out to be a rather heavy burden to bear for NSW. They lost Bannerman and Garrett without a runs on the board. NSW were eventually bowled out for 162, losing by an innings. McLeod (4 for 46) and Trumble (3 for 42) wrapped things up for Victoria. All was now set for the second Test.

For some unknown reason, Australia decided to persist with Moses, despite the fact that he was still carrying an injury from the previous Test, thus denying the deserving Gregory a crack at the visitors. Blackham won the toss and sent his openers in to face the left-arm spin of Briggs and the right-arm fast-medium bowling of Sharpe.

Wickets fell at regular intervals as Lyons top scored with 41 in a first-innings total of 144. Lohmann was absolutely magnificent, breathing fire and capturing 8 for 58 (his second-best effort at Sydney after his master-class of 8 for 35 against England in 1886-87). These remain the two best individual bowling performances ever at Sydney till date.

Abel then carried his bat for a commanding 132 (in 314 minutes with 11 fours). He became the third batsman to carry his bat through a completed Test innings after Bernard Tancred (26* out of 47 against England at Cape Town in 1888-89, and Dr Jack Barrett (67* out of 176 against England at Lord’s in 1890). The Almanac report for the match mentions that Abel’s innings had “lasted five hours and twenty-five minutes, and comprised eleven 4’s, ten 3’s, sixteen 2’s and twenty-six singles.”

Abel’s innings formed the bedrock for the ultimate total of 307. Giffen took 4 for 88 while Turner, McLeod, and Trott captured 2 wickets each.

Australia were 1 when they lost Trott, but their next wicket fell at 175, after 165 minutes of resolute batting, when Lyons (134 in 165 minutes, 16 fours, 1 six) was dismissed. Giffen (49) fell at 254, Bruce (72) followed at 347. Bannerman and his broad bat departed at 364, having reduced the Englishmen almost to tears of frustration. The scorecard says that Bannerman had scored 91 in 448 minutes of defensive play that would have been the envy of a latter day Trevor Bailey, or of Chris Tavare. The knock was a masterpiece of self-denial and contained only 3 fours. It is reported that out of the 204 deliveries he faced from Attewell, he had scored only from 5 of them. The total mounted to 391. Moses had aggravated his leg injury (from the previous Test) and was unable to bat in the innings. Briggs (4 for 69) carried the bowling as England toiled well into the fourth day to dismiss the hosts. Briggs then completed the third ever hat-trick in Test history by dismissing Walter Giffen, Blackham, and Callaway with his last 3 deliveries of the innings.

The Almanac report speaks of unsettled weather on the fourth day and its adverse effect on the playing surface. By the time play ended prematurely, England had lost 3 wickets, those of Grace (5), Abel (1), and Bean (4), and went in at 11 for 3, facing a winning target of 229.

Australasian had reported at the time that, at the fall of Grace’s wicket, “The air was thick with hats, and rent with shouting. Such a scene has never been witnessed on the ground before, as followed the downfall of the English captain.” There is no denying that WG, as great a cricketer as he undoubtedly was, was never a popular man with the parochial Australian crowds.

After the regulation rolling out, the wicket was found to have eased out on the fifth morning. The Australians missed the bowling expertise of McLeod, who had to return to Melbourne consequent upon the unfortunate demise of his brother at the relatively young age of 35. Stoddart stood out among the ruins of the England second innings with 69 (in 137 minutes of defiance, with 5 fours and a six). His efforts, however, could prevent the Australian bowlers from dismissing the visitors for a second-innings total of 156. In the absence of McLeod, Turner (4 for 46) and Giffen (6 for 72) ensured that Australia won the Test by 72 runs, and with the victory, the rubber, amidst unmitigated enthusiasm and satisfaction from the spectators.

The Englishmen remained behind at Sydney to take on NSW, and recovered their sagging spirits somewhat by winning the game by 7 wickets. Batting first, the visitors ran up a total of 414, with centuries by Read (106) and Lohmann (102). Callaway picked up 4 for 92. The NSW first-innings total of 244 fell well short of any competitive merit, only Turner (66) hitting a fifty. Following on, they scored 210, the Englishmen going on to win by 7 wickets.

The touring bandwagon moved back to Melbourne to take on Victoria, and raised their spirits further by winning the game by 9 wickets. Grace put Victoria in and dismissed them for 137, only Bruce (54) hitting a fifty. Lohmann and Peel took 4 wickets each. The Englishmen did not do much better, with a first-innings total of 184, and a top score of 44 from Grace. Worrall took 5 for 34. Victoria then proceeded to succumb to an abysmal 100, only Bruce sparing the blushes with 50. Attewell (4 for 34) and Briggs (5 for 33) wrapped up the innings. The Englishmen won the game by 9 wickets without much difficulty.

The final match of the season was the third Test at Adelaide. England recovered some of their prestige with a comprehensive win by an innings and 230 runs, their largest Test victory until then. Grace decided on first strike. Stoddart (134 in 230 minutes, 15 fours, 2 sixes) and Peel (83 in 150 minutes, 8 fours) then went on to play the two defining innings for England. The Almanac reports that Stoddart’s innings was not free from blemishes: he had offered three (rather difficult) chances. England were bowled out for 499 on the third morning. The Australian bowlers — Giffen (2 for 154 from 51.1 overs), McLeod (2 for 78), Turner (3 for 111) — all had to toil for their wickets.

Australians were then bowled out for 100 in the 1st innings. Briggs (6 for 49) and Lohmann (3 for 46) bowled unchanged in the innings. Following on, they were bowled out again, this time for 169. Briggs (6 for 87) and Attewell (3 for 69) led the triumphant resurgence for England.

Even so, there was a degree of pathos in the eventful career of Dr WG Grace (said to be a better cricketer than Doctor) as he became the first English captain to surrender the Ashes urn at the conclusion of the series, with a scoreline of 2-1 to Australia.

Briggs, with 12 for 136 in this game, achieved his second-best match analysis after his almost miraculous 15 for 28 against South Africa at Cape Town in 1888-89. In modern parlance, he would surely have been a serious contender for the Man of the Match award, with Stoddart also in the running. The tour having come to an end, it was time to take stock of the performance of the team overall. The tourists had every reason to feel satisfied with their efforts in this antipodean Colony, as the following chart shows:

M W L D
Tests 3 1 2
Other First-Class matches 5 5 0 0
Second-Class matches 21 6 0 15
Total 29 12 2 15

An incident worth a mention took place on the tour, in a Second-Class match against Bowral in December, where 12 tourists took on a 24-man side. There was nothing spectacular about the match per se: despite the odds, Briggs took 24 for 87 in the match and the tourists won comfortably. “A poor lot,” wrote the almanac of the hosts.

One Richard Whatman played in the match for Bowral, and scored 1 and 0. Richard and his brother George, two of nine siblings, both passionate violinists, represented Bowral CC at different points of time. One of the other siblings, Emily, married one George Bradman. Their son Donald turned out to be the most famous one of that surname.

Indeed, Bradman’s uncle had once taken field against Grace.

Mark Baldwin, in his book The Ashes’ Strangest Moments, makes the following observation: “The England team’s share of the gate receipts, meanwhile, came to more than £14,000, yet without Lord Sheffield’s benefaction, the tour would have brought a loss on the English side. It was estimated to have cost £16,000 to stage, including all wages and expenses, leaving Lord Sheffield to honour his promise to cover any losses out of his own pocket.”

Despite the fact that he had incurred a personal loss of about £2,000, The Earl of Sheffield epitomised his philanthropic spirit by making a donation of 150 guineas towards the overall development of Australian cricket. This amount was later to be utilised for the fashioning of a shield for which the colonies (later, states) would compete for the National First-Class title, but that is another story. The cricket-loving Earl had intended to bring another English team out to Australia in 1892-93 for a series of 3 Tests, but the plan did not materialise for a number of reasons.

The team left Port Adelaide on the March 30 on the Valetta. Ten days later, on April 3, the vessel left King George’s Sound on the south coast of Western Australia for the 10-day trip to Colombo. Then the tourists were home-bound via Aden, Suez, Malta, Brindisi, and Gibraltar, to dock at Plymouth on May 9, having spent 220 days away from England.

Horan’s summation was, perhaps, a very fitting comment on the tour: “It is now the concurrent testimony of all that the visit has caused a cricket revival which has surpassed even the most sanguine anticipations of those who viewed the tour favourably when it was first proposed.”