10 March, 2014

1938 Orontes


Bradman won the deck tennis tournament, naturally. And the bridge tournament. His extraordinary competitiveness and ruthlessness – what English fast bowler Ken Farnes labelled his ‘ugly determination’[1] – allied to his fast footwork and extraordinary eye, saw him dominate at sea as he dominated on the cricket field.

The torrid weather of the Red Sea and Suez Canal slowly moderated as the Orontes made its way through the Indian Ocean. The big P&O liner was making its return voyage to Australia from England, in October 1938, carrying Australia’s sixteen Ashes cricket tourists[2].

As the 1938 Ashes tour ended, British Prime Minister Chamberlain had been embroiled in tense talks with Germany’s Chancellor Hitler in Munich over the Sudetenland. The Australian Test cricket team was obliged to rush to board the ship rather than taking the planned leisurely continental route through Paris to Toulon. There was discussion of taking the long route around the Cape of Good Hope, away from the Mediterranean ‘danger zone’. Tension was palpable throughout Europe.

The declaration by Chamberlain of ‘peace for our time’ on his return from Berlin on the 30th of September abruptly relieved the fever pitch of war. The ship sailed through Aden and Colombo, then across the Indian Ocean to Perth’s port of Fremantle, where it docked at the end of October. The team transited with a lunch in Perth – no Western Australians were even close to Test selection – before sailing the short leg to Adelaide. A civic reception and lunch with the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) in Adelaide took place a few days later, before the touring party broke up to return to their home States.

Success of the 1938 Team

The team had returned home with the Ashes, having levelled the series of five Tests at one-all, and retaining the urn captured by Bradman’s men in 1936/37. After drawn Test matches at Trent Bridge and Lords, the match at Manchester was abandoned owing to rain, and Australia won at Leeds in the fourth Test, to clinch the series. However, they lost the fifth Test at The Oval by an enormous margin, as new man Len Hutton scored the world record Test innings of 364, and England amassed the extraordinary Test score of 903, and won by a record innings and 579 runs.

Australia won all of their county matches (though the match with Yorkshire was a close-run thing), and otherwise lost only the Scarborough festival match for the entire tour, but the loss at The Oval somewhat soured the outcome. This rankled with Bradman and the Australians throughout the long years before the resumption of Australia-England Tests – eight years into the future, in 1946.

Denis Compton

Denis Compton

There had been what Wisden 1939 labelled a ‘marked revival in English cricket’, as several young players came to the fore, notably opening batsman Len Hutton, all-rounder Bill Edrich and the suave and stylish Denis Compton. Bradman himself commented that Hutton was ‘a fine defensive player’, Edrich a ‘much batter batsman than his Test scores indicated’, Compton a ‘brilliant stroke maker’, and leg-spinner Doug Wright ‘at times was erratic … [but] spins the ball more than any other bowler I know for his speed’.[3]

There was disappointment in some of the individual performances for Australia, the poor weather in mid-summer, and the disappointing run of injuries suffered by the team. The Australian batting appeared sound, with the gigantic advantage of the prolific and consistent Don Bradman. However, batting great Stan McCabe – apart from his masterpiece innings of 232 at Trent Bridge – was generally disappointing, and the prolific Tasmanian batsman Jack Badcock had thoroughly dominated the counties but failed entirely in the Tests. Bill Brown and Lindsay Hassett did well, but new man Sid Barnes played only half the tour after a shipboard injury, and senior batsman Artie Chipperfield was ill almost throughout the tour. [*BOX*]

The Australian bowling was too reliant upon the (broad) shoulders of the great leg-break bowler Bill O’Reilly, who enjoyed only spotty support in the Tests from his fellow bowlers – Waite and Ward toiled without much success, and fast man McCormick was injured, with his confidence shattered by no-call calls when trying to bowl too fast. The wayward genius Chuck Fleetwood-Smith’s mind was, as ever, elsewhere[4], though at times he was brilliant. His awful return of 1/298 in the Oval Test stands as the worst Test bowling performance of all.[5]

The critics too, were uneasy about Australia’s performance. Former Test great Charlie Macartney, a passionate and insightful observer of the game for Sydney newspapers, commented that the combination was weakened by its over-reliance upon Bradman and O’Reilly, and lacked a fast bowler. [6] Arthur Mailey, a former leg-spinning Test bowler and cartoonist, with an irreverent but thoughtful take on the game also highlighted the lack of fielding and bowling support for O’Reilly, the weakness of a number of the supporting cast members, and the lack of a sound fast bowler.[7] Former wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield noted the lack of a foil for O’Reilly, saying ‘most of the young Australian cricketers were disappointing. … We must find about five key men in readiness for the next Tests. If we cannot find five, we must at least have a fast bowler, a slow bowler, an opening batsman, and a wicket-keeper’.[8]

The financial returns of the tour were strong, but were £6,000-7,000 down on expectations, owing to the rainy weather of 1938. The Ashes tours every two seasons were the biggest money spinners for the MCC and the Australian Board of Control, and the gold trickled down to all of the State and local cricket associations in Australia. Many of the States ran deficits in the non-tour seasons, with the expected bonanza of the Ashes years needed to restore their strength. Perhaps surprising to the Australians, the financial position of many of the English counties also depended ‘almost entirely on visits of the Australian cricketers.’[9]

Fault Lines

Wisden 1939 noted that ‘the happy spirit pervading the team was very evident’, but there were subterranean fault lines in the team, that increasingly came to light over the domestic (1938/39) season that was about to commence.

As captain, Bradman was at the centre of the team in every sense. His batting performance on tour had been, as ever, prolific, consistent and fast. He had scored 2,429 runs at an average of 115.66 on tour, with thirteen centuries, including three double centuries. Other than his (bowling) injury in the fifth test, that saw him unable to bat in the massive defeat, he played through the tour. The responsibility of leadership appeared not to impede his batting. His captaincy was astute, and the team was disciplined and effective throughout the tour. Yet, he was a loner, who did not invest in bonding or socialising with his team, and was felt by many of the men he led, to be self-absorbed and too active in climbing the ladder of success.

The other leadership resources of the team were outstanding. It had two State captains in Stan McCabe (NSW) and Bill Brown (Queensland), future Victorian captain Ben Barnett, future State and Test captain Lindsay Hassett, and the outstanding cricketing minds of Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton. But Bradman was little inclined to take their counsel – his views on the captaincy were paternalistic and highly directive, and he had little tolerance for strong personalities on his team, and could be vindictive when crossed. While he was full of heartfelt praise for the outstanding skills of O’Reilly and McCabe, as a selector he had surrounded himself with players who would do his bidding. In this team, three South Australians – wicketkeeper Charlie Walker, all-rounder Merv Waite and leg-spinner Frank Ward – were all highly competent first-class players, but seem to have owed their place in the team to their State captain. They played at the expense of more talented players such as Queensland’s masterly wicketkeeper Don Tallon, or the marvellous but aging leg-spinning genius Clarrie Grimmett, whose omission for the tour broke big Bill O’Reilly’s heart.

There was also a sectarian divide in the team. The divide between Roman Catholics and Protestants was deep in the thirties and forties in Australia. The Irish-English axis in many ways defined politics and social life of first half of the century – the Irish were seen as rebellious, anti-Establishment, collectivist, often left-leaning and even radical, in contrast to the more stolid, traditional values of the Establishment. The great debates of 1916-1918 on conscription during the Great War were a major outbreak of a continuing subterranean conflict in Australian life. Don Bradman, former Test wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield, and former batting great Bill Ponsford, on the other hand were publicly acknowledged as Masons, embodying the conservative, ‘British’ reflexes that they shared with much of the cricketing establishment.

Jack Fingleton

Jack Fingleton

The Australian teams of this time were particularly rich in outspoken Irish Catholic talent – Bill O’Reilly, Fleetwood-Smith, Jack Fingleton, Stan McCabe and former Test man Len Darling – four of whom had been secretly ‘carpeted’ by the Australian Cricket Board in a murky meeting during the 1936/37 Test series, apparently for their lack of support for their new captain, Don Bradman[10]. The Fingleton-Bradman conflict, in particular was vitriolic and long-lived – Fingleton’s family were passionate socialists, his brother Wally was a Catholic priest, and Jack was a talented journalist who duelled publicly with Bradman long after both of their playing careers had ended.

Bradman held his silence on the issue for many years, until the mid-nineties, after Fingleton and O’Reilly had died. He bitterly attacked Jack Fingleton in interviews with Charles Williams (Lord Williams of Elvel) for his book.[11] He noted that during his ‘early years’ as captain, he saw ‘disloyalty based purely on jealously and religion’ of which Fingleton was the ‘ring-leader’.

Another rift exposed on the team’s arrival was the bitterness of the great Bert Oldfield, Australia’s elegant and effective wicketkeeper through the golden era of the twenties and thirties. He was not selected for the 1938 tour, though he continued to play Sheffield Shield and local grade cricket, but instead travelled to England to report on the game for the ABC and English newspapers.

A deeply conservative and eloquent man, Bert was a lay preacher, and became a major influence on the administration of the game in wartime in Australia through his role in the Army. His views on the tourists were generally well-considered and balanced, but his adverse views on the performance of his successor as Test wicketkeeper, Ben Barnett of Victoria, were seen by most to be transparently unfair. He noted the position of wicket-keeper was ‘uncertain’ and ‘neither Barnett nor Walker came up to expectations behind the stumps’.[12] The letters columns of the newspapers erupted in dismay, and the letters editor of Melbourne’s Argus was obliged to close correspondence on the topic after a week. Bradman felt compelled to defend Barnett in his address on return to Australia, and the Victorian Cricket Association led by the redoubtable churchman Canon Hughes, also came to their man’s defence. Oldfield, after first ‘doubling down’ on his comments, felt compelled by the furore to defend himself. Amidst the controversy, now aged in his early forties, he bowed to the inevitable, and retired from first-class cricket at the beginning of November, though he intended to play on in grade cricket for the Gordon club in Sydney’s north. Ben Barnett, an effective wicketkeeper – though never the artist behind the stumps that Oldfield was – let his batting do the talking. He scored 128 in 132 minutes ‘in splendid style’ on his resumption in local grade cricket for Hawthorn-East Melbourne against St Kilda in mid-Nov 1938, in a large second-wicket stand with a glacial Keith Sarovich (97).

The Test Line-Up

The Australian team that contested the 1938 Ashes had a formidable batting line-up, batting down to its wicketkeeper at number seven, though it lacked a high-quality all-rounder. In bowling, it usually carried only a single fast bowler, used sparingly, opening the bowling in harness with a medium-pacer, before moving to a two- or sometimes three-pronged spin attack.

In typical batting order, the Test team lined up as follows:

Opening batsman Jack Fingleton (30 years of age) hailed from NSW’s Waverley club. A relatively slow scorer with a short back lift, he was patient and courageous – he scored 83 against England’s bodyline attack in four hours in 1932/33 after a century in the NSW match. He could also be prolific, as when he scored three successive Test centuries against South Africa in 1935/36. Early in his career, he was a brilliant cover field, but later evolved into close-wicket catcher in the famous O’Reilly ‘leg-trap’. He was an excellent interpreter of the game in print – he worked for the Sydney Sun and Sydney Morning Herald from 1928 to 1942, and was a correspondent for English, Indian and South African newspapers. From a cricketing family, his father was a tram driver who became a Member of the NSW Assembly, and a founder of the Australian Workers’ Union. His returns on the tour were modest, though he topped one thousand runs for the tour towards its end. Wisden 1939 noted he began well against the counties with three centuries, but lost his form, and was inclined to ‘flatter ordinary bowlers’ with his defensiveness.

Bill Brown

Bill Brown

Graceful right-hand opening batsman Bill Brown (26), born in Queensland’s Darling Downs, grew up in Sydney and played for NSW, but moved to Queensland in 1936, where he played for the Western Suburbs club, and led the Queensland team. With a small, rather intense face, with close-set eyes, and curly hair, he was a cool and graceful batsman, with great pace while running between the wickets. He was fully capable of fast scoring, but was often inclined to dawdle; taking runs from deflections, such as his favoured leg glance, rather than forcing the pace. He was nonetheless a prolific scorer at Test and Shield level with an excellent average. His 1938 tour was outstanding at all levels – he was second to Bradman in both tour average and aggregate with 1,854 runs @ 57.93 with five centuries, including two double centuries – he scored 206x at Lord’s batting through the innings, and 265 not out v Derbyshire.

Don Bradman (30) was captain of South Australia and the Kensington club in Adelaide, recruited to SA in the late nineteen-twenties from NSW. He originally hailed from the towns of Cootamundra and Bowral in the leafy Southern Highlands of NSW. After a debut in Text cricket in Australia in 1928/29, his prodigious scoring and desire to score had immediately lifted him to the highest echelons of cricket stardom. His unquenchable drive for runs on the England tours in 1930 and 1934, and against the MCC tourists in 1932/33 – when bodyline was devised primarily to curb his seemingly unstoppable scoring – continued in 1936/37, when he was seemingly inevitably raised to the Australian captaincy. He began the 1938 tour with a double century against Worcester, and scored a century in each of the three Tests in which he batted, though he missed the ignominy of the Oval Test when he rolled an ankle while bowling on the third day.

Stan McCabe (28) was NSW captain, and led the Mosman club in Sydney grade cricket. A modest man and quietly spoken, he played cricket for the love and enjoyment of it rather than for results. Originally from Grenfell in western NSW, he moved to Sydney in 1929. He was a fine right-hand batsman, who could bowl competent medium-pace, and toured England in 1930 as an up-and-coming all-rounder. By 1934, he was a prolific scorer at the highest level, though he lacked the determination and stamina to make the really large scores. He outscored Bradman on the 1934 tour with over two thousand runs, including his highest first-class score of 240 against Surrey at The Oval. A rapid scorer, he hit the ball extremely hard, despite his rather portly appearance and slightly cherubic face, with a rapidly receding hairline. Short of stature, his footwork was quick, and his arms and wrists were strong. His driving was excellent, and he especially relished pace bowling, and could hook beautifully, as he showed in his famous score of 187 in four hours for Australia against the full fury of the bodyline attack of 1932/33 in Sydney.

Tiny right-hand batsman Lindsay Hassett (25) played for Victoria’s South Melbourne club, and came from a family of outstanding sportsmen from the industrial city of Geelong outside Melbourne. His footwork was dazzling, and he had a remarkable ability, despite his stature, to get over the short or rising ball. He was also a brilliant outfielder. Jack Fingleton in Sydney’s Sun on Sun 28 Jan 1940 nominated him as ‘Australia’s best all-round sportsman’ – in cricket, football, golf and tennis. In his later years, he continued his sporting interests becoming an accomplished golfer, fisherman and a grade squash player. In character he was a mischievous and good-natured man, fond of a joke and a drink, sociable but poised, and, according to Jack Fingleton ‘the essence of modesty’. He was a fine Australian Rules footballer, like teammates Barnett and Waite, winning the VAFA best and fairest medal in 1935 and 1936. On the 1938 tour, he scored a creditable 1,589 runs @ 54.79 including five centuries with an innings of 220 not out (in 5/705 declared) v Cambridge University.

Clayvel ‘Jack’ Badcock (24) had a heavy-browed dark complexion, and a short, heavy-set stature with enormous forearms, and an infectiously cheerful disposition, which made him popular. Denzil Batchelor memorably described him as ‘a sawn-off shotgun of a man, with a forearm like a Wiltshire ham’. He had an impregnable defence, but was devastating square of the wicket with hooks and cuts, and had an unquenchable thirst for runs. He was a worthy competitor to Bill Ponsford and Don Bradman as scorer of gargantuan innings – he scored 274 for Tasmania against Victoria in 1933/34, and 325 for South Australia against Victoria the following year. Originally from northern Tasmania, he had scored 21 local centuries between the ages of twelve and fifteen, then nineteen centuries and over 5,000 runs in State and first-grade cricket before his twentieth birthday. He moved to South Australia in 1935 as part of the South Australian Cricket Association’s interstate recruitment drive that also brought Bradman and Frank Ward to the State, and there scored prolifically for the Adelaide club. On tour, he scored heavily against the counties, but was awful in the Tests – some cited the softer pitches, while Charlie Macartney faulted his cramped footwork – though neither seems entirely convincing given his consistent success in the same conditions against the counties. In all, he compiled 1,604 runs @ 45.82 with four centuries.

Blonde Victorian Ben Barnett (30) was vice-captain of Victoria and captain of his Hawthorn-East Melbourne club, and was an accomplished batsman and a highly competent wicketkeeper, though not the artist that Oldfield had been. He was renowned as one of the few able to keep to the erratic bowling of Fleetwood-Smith. Slim and of medium height, he was outgoing – actor, photographer and lecturer – and an accomplished amateur footballer, representing the strong Old Scotch team and Victoria in Australian Rules as a running rover. His wicket-keeping form on tour was good, and he batted capably when given the opportunity.

Merv Waite (27) was a South Australian fast-medium bowling all-rounder whose batting and bowling did not quite stand up at the Test level, but was outstanding in local cricket. He still holds the Adelaide grade record individual score of 339 (of his team’s 492) for West Torrens against Port Adelaide in the timeless district final of 1935/36. At the time of the tour, he was playing for the Glenelg club on the seaside in Adelaide. He was also a champion Australian Rules centre half-forward in the SANFL. He took over fifty wickets on the tour, but made little impression – Wisden 1939 noted acidly that ‘The sight of McCabe and Waite beginning Australia’s attack in a Test match was almost ludicrous’.

Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly (32) was a tall and rangy man, who looked even bigger than his 6’ 2” height. He played for the St George team in southern Sydney, though he originally hailed from the country district of Wingello in the south of NSW. He was a leg-spin bowler with the aggressive attitude of a fearsome fast bowler – the scowl for a good ball missed and the glare of disapproval at a scoring shot. Wisden 1939 commented “Although it is difficult to be certain on the point, O’Reilly appeared to be rather faster than on his previous visit, practically up to medium pace. Possibly his approach to the wicket with arms flying in windmill fashion, coupled with quickness to bring his arm over at the moment of releasing the ball, deceived the onlooker as well as the batsman with little experience of playing him.” He topped the tour bowling with 104 wickets @ 16.59, taking a wicket every forty balls throughout the tour.

Ernie McCormick

Ernie McCormick

Brylcreemed fast bowler Ernie McCormick (32), though his fast bowling could be extremely hostile when he got lift off the pitch, was a joker and raconteur, and worked as a jeweller. Tall and slim, with long arms, he lacked stamina, and suffered from back problems. He played for the inner city Richmond club in Melbourne. Probably a little past his prime as a quick by 1938, he had been hyped by Bradman at a welcoming speech at the National Sporting Club as the ‘fastest Australian bowler ever sent to England’ – which was demonstrably false. Wisden 1939 cuttingly noted ‘one was inclined to the opinion that McCormick was the most overrated bowler ever to come here’. With his efforts to bowl as fast as possible, he extended his run to thirty yards, lost his rhythm and repeatedly overstepped the mark on the opening match of the tour at Worcester. He was called for no-balls on overstepping the crease a devastating nineteen times in his first three overs in Winchester, eight times in the first over, and 35 times in all in the match. Though he bowled well in the Lord’s Test, this effectively ended his fast-bowling career – he bowled little in 1938/39 with injury, then was injured in an explosion while serving in the RAAF.

Leslie (Les or ‘Chuck’) Fleetwood-Smith (30) originally hailed from Stawell in Victoria’s west, and played for the patrician Melbourne Cricket Club team. He was that rarest of bowlers, the left-arm wrist-spinner – purveyor of ‘Chinamen’ – who could be alternately devastating or a cream-puff depending on his rather wayward inclination. At his best, he was a genius of the genre – his drift away and sharp spin back to dismiss England’s Wally Hammond in Adelaide in the 1936/37 series helped to tilt that extraordinary series back to Australia, and that ball was described by O’Reilly as the best delivery he had ever seen in a Test. Chuck took 88 wickets on the tour, and managed a strike rate of a wicket every 38 balls. His seven wickets in the Headingley Test were central in securing Australia’s series win.

Also in the touring party were batsmen Sidney Barnes and Arthur Chipperfield, back-up wicketkeeper Charlie Walker, bowling all-rounder Ted White and leg-spinner Frank Ward.

Sidney ‘Bagga’ Barnes (21) was a young right-handed batting prodigy from Sydney’s Petersham club. A dapper dresser, he was confident, flighty and a relentless self-promoter. He was dubbed a ‘Bond Street dude’ by Arthur Mailey[13]. His birth year was nominated at various times between 1916 and 1919, perhaps indicative of his mercurial personality and changeable notions of truth. He was a surprise selection for the tour after only eight first-class games and 664 Shield runs, and was the youngest of the team. He missed the first half of the tour when he broke his wrist aboard ship, but acquitted himself well in the second part of the season, and was clearly a talent for the future.

Arthur ‘Artie’ Chipperfield (33) was the oldest player on the tour. He was an exceptional slip fieldsman – many felt his surprise selection for the 1934 tour was based as much on his catching as his right-hand batting, though his remarkable 152 for NSW Northern Districts against the MCC tourists in 1932/33 had brought him to prominence. Originally from the New South Wales central coast, north of Sydney, he played for Northern Districts club, though his selection for the 1938 tour was based on fairly tenuous form in the period before departure. He was injured while fielding a Wally Hammond drive early in the tour, then suffered appendicitis which curtailed his opportunities on tour, in which he played only eight matches in all.

Curly-haired South Australian wicketkeeper Charlie Walker (29) played for the Prospect club in Adelaide. A brilliant stumper though not as good with the quicks, he could bat well enough to open for his State at times. He was modest and self-effacing, and a popular personality. He was a surprise selection for the tour ahead of the in-form Don Tallon of Queensland. Unfortunately he broke his finger in the match against Oxford University, and played only nine matches on the tour.

Tall and gawky Ted ‘Swanny’ White (25) was the tallest man on the team at a touch over 6’ 2”, with a slightly mournful face and distinctive protruding ears. His father Alfred had played Sheffield Shield cricket early in the century, and he and Ted were the first father and son to score centuries for NSW. He was a slow-medium left-arm bowler and a sound but rather defensive bat for the North Sydney club. He had few opportunities on the tour, and was said to have bowled too quickly, losing the advantage of his considerable height.

Frank Ward (32) played for Bradman’s Kensington club in South Australia, as a leg-break bowler. He had the misfortune of being a very good bowler in an era of greats – he competed for selection with Arthur Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett in his early days, and Grimmett, Bill O’Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith in his Test days. He moved from Sydney to Brisbane to Melbourne in search of a place before being recruited to Adelaide at Bradman’s suggestion in 1935. He was a fairly weak batsman, and only an adequate fieldsman. Some were contemptuous of his bowling, and felt he owed his selection to Bradman’s tutelage, but Ward’s strike rate on the 1938 tour was excellent, and Oldfield felt he flighted the ball with great skill. He took 92 wickets on the tour @ 19.27, but only played in one Test at Nottingham, where he went wicketless. With suspicious eyes, his appearance was careless, with matted hair, and shoes and clothes in disrepair.

New Technology

The English summer of 1938 was also notable for two technological innovations that made the game available to a wider audience faster and more accurately than ever before. Televised cricket made its debut with the second Test of 1938, during which around four hours’ play per day was broadcast to a few thousand sets in London. This was repeated for the final (Oval) Test, to a positive critical response. Coverage continued in 1939 with the visit of the West Indies to England, and resumed only in 1946 when India toured after the war.[14] More importantly, by 1938, short wave reception to Australia had improved significantly and short-wave commentary was re-broadcast on the ABC to audiences across Australia. The ‘synthetic’ broadcasts of the mid-thirties – in which cabled messages with the results of the over were used to reconstruct play, along with recorded sound effects – were now a stop-gap in case of an interruption, though those were not uncommon.[15] The all-night broadcasts were extremely popular – the provincial city of Wollongong noted a doubling of electric power consumption during the Tests[16], and radio retailers sold and rented many new radio sets. Visiting friends to listen to the broadcast became a major fad, and dealers reported that many sets lent out ‘on approval’ to listeners were returned after the Tests.

Timeless Matches

The loss of the Manchester Test to rain, and the number of unfinished matches in recent Ashes contests, gave impetus during the 1938 season to a move from the fixed four-day format to a five-day or even ‘timeless’ format. The Oval Test was scheduled to be timeless, and played to a finish, and the gargantuan England total in the first innings suggested the match might go on for weeks – however the ignominious Australian capitulation, lacking the injured Bradman and Fingleton, brought the game to a close on the fourth day. The events of 1938/39 in South Africa – with the final Test abandoned after nine-days’ play so that the MCC players could catch their ship – brought opinion back around during the 1939 season to a fixed duration for matches.

The ‘doping’ of the Oval pitch, to prepare a flat batting pitch, though little remarked upon publicly at the time was also a topic of discussion in Australia and England in 1939. The Advisory County Cricket Committee resolved in 1939 to ask ‘the County committees to prepare wickets which did not unduly favour the batsmen’, and the Surrey committee, in charge of The Oval, resolved to prepare fast pitches for the future.[17]

Aspiring Bradman

Another poignant, but notable, cricket debut took place in England in 1938. Prince Tomislav ‘Tommy’ Karađorđević of Yugoslavia – a great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, and second son of King Alexander I, for whom King George V stood as godfather – made his cricket debut aged ten at the Sandroyd School in Surrey. Second in line to the throne, the Anglophile Tommy ‘confessed to one ambition, and that is to be a second Don Bradman.’

His elder brother Peter acceded to the throne in April 1941. With British support, he was an opponent to the planned accession of Yugoslavia to the Axis, and precipitated the German invasion that shattered his country in a maelstrom of guerrilla warfare until the emergence of Tito’s Communist regime in 1945. Tommy (1928-2000) lived on in exile in England as a gentleman apple farmer in Sussex until the early 1990s. For a decade before his death in 2000, he briefly returned to rump Yugoslavia and entered the politics of Serbia as a reborn democrat, but with little effect.


[1] Ken Farnes, Tours and Tests p 151

[2] The team administration consisted of a total of two further men – manager Bill Jeanes, and scorer and baggage man ‘Fergie’ Ferguson. This presents a stark contrast to the coaches, assistants, doctors, dieticians, masseurs, and psychologists who follow modern teams on their travels.

[3] Advertiser Wed 26 Oct 1938

[4] Perhaps his attention was largely with the ladies of England. Famously prolific as a ‘pants man’, there were some persistent rumours during the 1938 tour of a dalliance with a duchess.

[5] Unless you include Pakistani fast-medium Khan Mohammed’s 0/259 at Kingston against the West Indies in 1957/58

[6]  Sydney Morning Herald Wed 5 Oct 1938

[7] Argus Wed 26 Oct 1938

[8] Argus Wed 12 Oct 1938 and Mon 17 Oct 1938

[9] Sydney Morning Herald Mon 29 May 1939 [dateline London 27 May 1939] quoting a report in The Economist

[10] Well covered by Greg Growden in his biographies of Jack Fingleton and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith This topic is also well-ventilated in Jack McHarg’s two excellent biographies of Bill O’Reilly and Stan McCabe.

[11] Charles Williams, Bradman: An Australian Hero Little, Brown Book Group Limited (1996) – chapters 7 and 8

[12] Argus Wed 12 Oct 1938

[13] Argus Wed 26 Oct 1938

[14] Chris Broad with Daniel Waddell, … and Welcome to the Highlights – 61 Years of BBC TV Cricket (London: BBC Worldwide, 1999) pp 15ff

[15] Many believe the 1938 Tests were entirely ‘synthetic’ – a misunderstanding apparently stemming from the newsreel explanation of the synthetic technique that was shown that year. Refer ABC Sports Factor program 28 Jun 2002, with transcript at http://fulltext.ausport.gov.au/fulltext/2002/sportsf/s590482.asp

[16] Illawarra Mercury Fri 1 Jul 1938

[17] Mercury Wed 26 Apr 1939 (dateline London 24 Apr)