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WW2 brought an abrupt end to test cricket as it did with most other internationally contested sports. The last test tour of England was in 1938 which ended in a drawn series and Australia retaining the Ashes. The next tour by England was scheduled for 1940/41 but was curtailed due to the war.

Before the end of 1945 the public, particularly in England, were anxious for cricket to resume and a series of four matches was arranged between England and an Australian composite side drawn from service personnel based in the UK. This was known as The Australian Services team and was captained by Lindsay Hassett. The games were known as The Victory Tests but they did not have Ashes Test status. Two games were won by each side and the fifth listed for Manchester was abandoned.

England’s war in Europe ended in May, 1945 but Australia continued to fight Japan up until August, 1945 and then its forces overseas had to be repatriated. 1945 was an impossible target for Australia and the attention swung to 1946/47. I was 12 years old at the time and a dedicated fan of the game. I had played a little of it at school on concrete pitches but had never seen a turf wicket in my life. Like all schoolboys of the era I was well and truly indoctrinated into the glories of Bradman, Ponsford & McCabe and the evil Poms with their bodyline tactics executed by Larwood, Voce and Jardine.

 

In 1946 the general expectation throughout Australia was “Are the Poms coming?” Eventually that was confirmed and the next question was “Will Bradman play?” Again the answer was “YES!”

In those days all touring cricket teams travelled by ship. A journey of about 3 weeks. Perth was not included in the tour and the five matches were spread between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne & Adelaide. To keep things even two tests were played alternately in Sydney and Melbourne. The first was always in Brisbane.

The English team was led by Wally Hammond, an old man at the time and he looked it. He had toured Australia with Jardine’s team in the Bodyline series of 1932/33. Also in the team was Bill Voce, the partner-in-crime of Harold Larwood who together were the instruments of execution of the bodyline tactic.

 

Other notable members who had pre-war service in the England test team were Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Dennis Compton, Bill Edrich and Joe Hardstaff.  The team was not short of talent but it lacked a group of penetrating bowlers. Voce was well over the hill and made little or no impact. New blood in the English team included Norman Yardley, Alec Bedser and, the prince of wicket-keepers, Godfrey Evans.

On the other hand, Australia was not endowed with a large pool of top pre-war players. Of the 1938 team that toured England, only Bradman, Barnes, Hassett and Brown were available for selection. Australia had a fairly large pool new talent who had been part of the Services team that played in the 1945 Victory Tests

New names appeared of players who had done well in Sheffield Shield matches. Added to the old four there were Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Ian Johnson, Colin McCool, Don Tallon (wicket-keeper) and Big Bill Johnston.

In the Brisbane test, Lindwall and Miller acquitted themselves brilliantly as a warning to the Poms of what was yet to come. The combination of the two Queenslanders, Colin McCool (spinner) and Don Tallon set a pattern for each test of either stumped Tallon, bowled McCool or caught Tallon, bowled McCool. The bowling talent of Australia stunned everybody. At the same time the batsmen were dominant at every game with large scores being accumulated with apparent ease.

In those days there was no TV. People were glued to their wireless sets at home and at work. The only visual experience was to either go to a match or see extracts at the movies in the preliminary newsreels. There was nothing else.

My recollection of the tour was the third test at the MCG. I went every day, sat in a seat on the fence and hung on every ball. I aimed to set myself up at a spot just where Twiggy Dunne kicked the equalising goal some years later in the VFL drawn grand final between Collingwood and North Melbourne. I took a cut lunch and a thermos so I never had to leave my seat; not even for a toilet break.

Archive footage - thought to be from the 3rd test 1947 

Bradman won the toss and batted. The days were sunny and hot but it was so exciting that I never noticed it much. I was keenly interested in watching Syd Barnes who opened the batting with Arthur Morris. Syd was a controversial character who had caused a bit of a furore by fielding, not at silly mid-on but at VERY silly mid-on. He was so close that the Englishmen accused him of actually standing on the pitch. The papers were full of the controversy and when it came time for Australia to bowl he took up his position and stamped his foot firmly on the pitch, much to the delight of the crowd.

 

My interest in his batting was that he was the ultimate master of the late cut. A ball passing on the off was never let go to the keeper. Syd just laid back and virtually plucked the ball from the wicket-keepers gloves and despatched it to the boundary. Regrettably his career was cut short after the team returned from the 1948 English tour. He regularly fell foul of the Board of Control and I think they lost patience with him.

Sydney Cricket Ground Test Cricket, rain floods oval, Sid Barnes and Don Bradman batting, Barnes reaches his Test Century, Boundaries. English Spinner Douglas Wright bowls, Don Bradman batting, Milestone.

Syd was out fairly soon in that game and as his name was removed from the scoreboard the new name appeared “BRADMAN”. An eerie hush fell over the MCG.Then, as the great man appeared at the player’s gate an an almighty roar enveloped the ground. I had never seen him before in the flesh but the reality was exactly as I had recalled it from watching newsreels of him. Small of stature, head held high, bat under the left armpit while he was putting his gloves on then a determined stride to the wicket. None of the shadow boxing at unseen bowlers that we see today. He arrived at the wicket, acknowledged the crowd and waited for the cheering to subside. Then he took block to face the first ball. He hit a single and even that was a stand-out against the habits of the other batsmen. Most batsmen ran between wickets. Bradman scampered. Everything he did was par-excellance and he went on to make a creditable score of 79.

Other memorable recollections were centuries scored by both Colin McCool and Ray Lindwall. Both were bowlers and neither was rated as an “all-rounder” yet by concentration, and perhaps less than the best bowling, they both made test centuries.

The most outstanding recollection though did not involve the Australian team. On the Saturday and Sunday of the game my mother and her sister, Auntie Yvonne, came to the cricket with me. We sat in my usual spot on the fence. Dennis Compton was fielding at deep fine leg just in front of where we were sitting. Dennis Compton was the epitome of the suave handsome English gentleman. He was always immaculately turned out. Never a hair out of place and while all the other players wore “whites”, Dennis wore “creams”. Immaculate trousers with never a grass stain and creased to perfection. There were at least one million Australian women seriously in love with Dennis Compton, including my Auntie Yvonne.

On one occasion as he took up his position on the fine leg boundary a bloke in the crowd yelled to him ”Woodyalikeabeer Dennis?” Dennis turned to the bloke, smiled and liked his lips. Next thing my Auntie Yvonne leaned over the fence and offered Dennis a banana which he gratefully accepted with a “Ta Loov”.

That caused my auntie to have the greatest delight she ever had in her life. She never stopped talking about her experience with “My Dennis” for years later.

Another stand-out memory was the accuracy of Lindsay Hassett returning the ball to the keeper. Hassett fielded at long-on on the boundary. Whenever he was required to throw the ball back, usually after a four, his throws were so accurate that many times Don Tallon did not move one foot either forward, backward or sideways. He just held his gloves over the stumps and waited for the ball to drop in. On some occasions Tallon waited for the crowd to wake up to just how good Hassett’s returns were until they gave him some applause.

The Englishmen were a bit of a disappointment but I did admire how Bill Edrich kept plugging away. Bill was a small man but a fast bowler. He tried valiantly but his efforts paled against the onslaught meted out by Lindwall and Miller to the English batsmen. Len Hutton, the world record holder at the time for the most runs scored in a test innings, did not excite me.

 

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In the end the match was a draw but the series was won comfortably by Australia. The 1946/47 team was the framework of the Invincibles that Bradman took to England in 1948. The 46/47 series unearthed a large pool of talent in Australia which provided more new names for the 1948 tour. It has been said in some quarters that the reason for Australia’s dominance was the fact that the war years in Britain with wide spread rationing of food kept the English people under-nourished. On the other hand Australia was never short of food despite domestic rationing of some foodstuffs.

Whether this was a factor I do not know but I do know that when the 1948 tour was undertaken Bradman issued an edict that the Australians had to survive on the same diet as the English team. Rationing in England had not ended in 1948.

 

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