Saturday, February 23, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 8 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (8. Wally Hammond)

Almost through his Test career, Bradman’s great English rival was Walter Hammond. Wyatt in one of his letters to me wrote, “Hammond I put down as the greatest player on the off-side.” In Bradman’s debut series in 1928-29, Hammond struck a record 905 runs in the five Tests at an average of 113.12. When the two teams met again in 1930, Bradman not only logged up 974 runs, a mark never to be beaten, averaging 139.14, but also hit up the highest Test score of 334 at Leeds.

Hammond then took away the Test record with his unbeaten 336 against New Zealand at Auckland just after the Bodyline series in 1932-33. New Zealand were a very weak side then and many did not give much credence to this record, rating only the Ashes clashes as the real contests. So when Len Hutton took the record at the Oval in 1938, some were still under the impression that he had surpassed Bradman’s Test best. This illusion came into sharper focus as Bradman was the first to congratulate Hutton on achieving the feat. Nevertheless, Hammond had the highest score in Tests, and went on to become the leading rungetter at that level with 7249 runs at an average of 58.45 until Colin Cowdrey and Gary Sobers set new marks in the 1970s.

Hammond, though, could never emulate Bradman’s prolific rungetting - nobody could - a fact he was quick to acknowledge. Hammond has often been described as a majestic batsman. He would, however, be tied down by the great leg-spinners Bill O’Reilly and Clarrie Grimmett, particularly on the leg-stump. E.W. Swanton also observed his difficulty against fast bowling, pointing to his lacklustre show against the West Indies. In fact Manny Martindale, Learie Constantine’s fearsome new-ball partner, split open his chin at Old Trafford in 1933.  Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas was similarly brilliant on the off-side in another era, one of the finest drivers off the back foot and very stylish. He also had his problems against genuine fast bowling, but revelled in English conditions. What can never be disputed is the fact that Hammond was England’s mainstay for the best part of a decade.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

Friday, February 15, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 7 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (7. Bill Ponsford)

Such was the batting legacy that Bradman inherited. While he was busy making the grade, Bill Ponsford was fast becoming Australia’s answer to W.G. Grace in his penchant for tall scores in first-class cricket. Playing some defining innings for Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Ponsford hit up a record 429 against Tasmania in 1922-23, overhauling Lancastrian Archie MacLaren’s 424 versus Somerset at Taunton in 1895, the only quadruple hundred of the 19th century. MacLaren had in turn surpassed Grace’s record of 344 for MCC against Kent at Canterbury in 1876.

Ponsford then reeled off 352 - 334 in a day - against New South Wales in 1926-27, and 437 and 336 versus Queensland and South Australia respectively the following season. Ponsford was the only player to score two quadruple centuries until Brian Lara scored 501 not out for Warwickshire in 1994, and 400 not out in the Antigua Test against England in 2004.

Bradman served notice with his undefeated 340 for New South Wales in 1928-29, having already scored a century on first-class debut the previous season. Then in 1929-30, Bradman broke Ponsford’s record with his 452 not out against Queensland at Sydney.

Having scored hundreds in his first two Tests in 1924-25 against England, Ponsford later combined with Bradman in two record partnerships in consecutive Tests - 388 for the fourth wicket at Leeds, and 451 for the second wicket at The Oval in 1934. It was a summer in which Ponsford had a Bradmanesque average of 94.83, having scored 569 runs in 4 Tests. Bradman aggregated 758 runs in 5 Tests at an average of 94.75.

One has then, not surprisingly, come across several references to Bob Wyatt’s famous remark describing Ponsford as “A very great player indeed.” This was during the Lord’s Centenary match in 1980 when Ponsford walked across the former players’ enclosure. Len Hutton recalled the incident, as did Alec Bedser, and both wondered how great, then, was Bradman.

Ponsford would indeed be rated very high for his monumental first-class scores, his record Test partnerships with Bradman and brilliant series in 1934. But he had his problems with pace, surprising for an opening batsman. As Hartland noted: “Ponsford possessed a similarly insatiable appetite for big scores, once recording 2183 runs in thirteen consecutive first-class innings at an average of 167, but also a weakness against the fastest bowling, ruthlessly exploited by Larwood.” That would go against Ponsford being rated alongside the true greats despite Wyatt’s generous off-the-cuff remark. Indeed, Ponsford floundered in the Bodyline series, though he did score a brave 85 in the infamous Adelaide Test after Woodfull and Oldfield had been hit.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

Friday, February 8, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 6 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (6. Charles Macartney)

The diminutive Charles Macartney was a slow left-arm bowler before he developed into an awesome strokeplayer. Jack Fingleton explained that Macartney was known as ‘Governor General’ because of the “manner in which he lorded the cricket field, entering it like one about to inspect the ranks, throwing challenges and exuding domination, dismissing bowlers from the crease as an official G.G. would dismiss footmen from his presence when their duty was done.”

In his first tour of England in 1909, Macartney bagged eleven wickets for 85, including seven for 58 in the first innings at Leeds, a venue he came to revel in, as did Bradman later, helping Australia win the Test. When he returned to England in 1912 for the Triangular Test tournament, with South Africa as the third side, his batting prowess had already come to the fore. He rattled up six first-class hundreds, including a double century against Essex.

After the War Macartney came into his own as a batsman. Neville Cardus observed, “He was less courtly in his stroke-play than Trumper, whose masterful innings had a certain effortless charm. Macartney, perfect of technique, none the less used his bat with an unmistakable pugnacity. Sir Donald Bradman annihilated all bowlers as though he was just performing the day’s work with a deadly efficiency. Macartney slaughtered bowling quite rapaciously. If he was obliged to bat through a maiden over he looked annoyed with himself at the end of it; and he would gnaw his glove. His forearms were formidably strong, his chin was aggressive and his eyes perpetually alive. They looked you in the face; they looked the best bowlers in the world in the face. Macartney employed a defensive stroke as a last resort. Nothing could daunt him. Before the start of a Lord’s Test match he came down to breakfast in a London hotel, looking through the window at the June sunshine and said:- ‘Lovely day, Cripes, I feel sorry for any poor cove who’s got to bowl at me today’.”

It was at Sydney that Macartney made his highest Test score of 170 against England in 1920-21, when a young boy named Don Bradman was an avid spectator. Soon thereafter in the English summer of 1921, his 115 helped Warwick Armstrong’s famous side win the Leeds Test. But his most enthralling, and highest, innings came against Nottinghamshire during that tour when he crashed 345 in less than four hours with 47 fours and 4 sixes. It was the highest score for any Australian batsman touring England, and the maximum runs scored in a day anywhere until Brian Lara scored 390 on his way to a record-shattering 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham at Birmingham in 1994.

When Macartney visted Leeds again during his fourth tour of England in 1926, he scored another memorable century. Ken Piesse described that brilliant innings: “Although the wicket was damp from the heavy overnight rain, the sun had not come out, saving the Australians from the dreaded ‘sticky’. Without the sunshine, (Arthur) Carr’s bowlers were not able to make the ball jump or twist, making batting a not-so-difficult duty.” Nevertheless, Maurice Tate had Warren Bardsley, captain in the absence of Herbie Collins, caught by Herbert Sutcliffe with the scoreboard still blank. Macartney walked in, and being the kind of player he was, tended to offer an early chance. And so it turned out. When he was on 2, Macartney flashed at Maurice Tate’s out-swinger, but Carr dropped him at third slip.

From then on there was no stopping Macartney. He wrote in his book My Cricketing Days: “I made up my mind to attack and kept on attacking. I felt like it and as a result I went for everything.” He reached his century before lunch, emulating the singular feat of Trumper, which was replicated by Bradman! At the interval Macartney was on 112, his partner Bill Woodfull 40, and Australia had 153 on the board. Macartney ultimately holed out to deep mid-off for 151, having cracked 21 boundaries in just 172 minutes. His second-wicket stand of 235 with Woodfull was a record.

That was his last Test series, in which he scored 3 hundreds, the others being 133 not out at Lord’s and 109 at Manchester. He passed on the baton to a lad named Donald George Bradman, who was to make his appearance in the very next rubber that Australia played. In 35 Tests Macartney aggregated 2131 runs at an average of 41.78. Peter Hartland noted, “For Macartney dominating the bowler was just as important as making a big score, and he loved to whip straight balls through the leg side. In many ways he was the nearest of old-timers to Vivian Richards.”

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 5 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (5. Frank Woolley)

Equally, several people might question why Frank Woolley, with his modest Test record, is spoken of so glowingly. It is perhaps for the same reason as Trumper, for their abundant natural ability and uninhibited strokeplay. They were obviously different. For one, Woolley was a left-hander, He would hit long and straight, while Trumper was more wristy. Later generations who never saw Woolley play get a fair idea of the type of batsman he was from the fact that the golden boy of English cricket of the 1980s, David Gower, is often compared to him for the lazy elegance and nonchalance that characterised their play. So often has it been observed that the abundantly gifted do not achieve the same degree of results as the less endowed, for they do not have to strive as hard at their game, and invariably squander some of the bounty they are blessed with. So it would seem was the case with Woolley, as with Gower. They would exasperate as much as they would delight.

Nonetheless, it must not be forgotten that Woolley remains the second-highest rungetter in first-class cricket after Hobbs, with 58,969 runs at an average of 40.75, having cracked 145 hundreds with a best of 305 not out. Add to this the 2068 wickets at 19.85 apiece and his all-time record of 1018 catches, the only non-wicketkeeper to clutch 1000, and you have truly one of the finest left-handed allrounders that ever graced a cricket field, pun unintended. In all his 28 first-class seasons - interrupted by the First World War - Woolley never failed to reach 1000 runs. Only Grace achieved it as often, but not every time.

The versatile Woolley equalled the then record for six catches in a Test against Australia at Sydney in 1911-12. After the War he stood up manfully to the pace assault of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald at Lord’s, hitting back with knocks of 95 and 93 even as his colleagues floundered against Warwick Armstrong’s victorious team of 1921.

Having achieved the double of 2000 runs and 100 wickets in the 1914 season, Woolley repeated the feat over three consecutive seasons from 1921 to 1923. No one else has ever done it so often.

Two of Woolley’s finest knocks in first-class cricket, both for Kent, were 215 against Somerset at Gravesend in 1925 when he clouted 8 sixes, and 229 in three hours versus Surrey at The Oval in 1935 when a straight hit landed in a garden on Harleyford Road. Woolley’s first-class record is remarkably similar to W.G. Grace’s, though it must be conceded that the good doctor played on far worse pitches, particularly in the early part of his career. In 64 Tests Woolley scored 3283 runs at an average of 36.07 and took 83 wickets at 33.91 apiece.

The reasons why Woolley was spoken of in such glowing terms can be found in Raymond Robertson-Glasgow’s words: “Frank Woolley was easy to watch, difficult to bowl to and impossible to write about. When you bowled to him, there weren’t enough fielders, when you wrote about him there weren’t enough words.” Indeed, and mere figures are not enough to unravel the delightful package that was Frank Woolley, a lovely gift wrapped in plain brown paper.

Peter Hartland concluded: “Frank Woolley is still the standard by which elegant left-handers are judged. Many words have been written about the effortless beauty of his play, the long reach and full swing sent the ball skimming to, or over, the boundary. Fast bowlers frequently posted a long-off. Perhaps there was something too loose about his batting - more so even than the man from a later generation most often compared with him, David Gower.” It might also be added that Woolley, it seems, had the mindset of an allrounder, rather than a pure batsman, and that is the context in which he should be viewed.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email