“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” wrote LP Hartley in 1953.
Cricket hasn’t fundamentally changed since over-arm bowling was legalised in 1864. However countless traditions have been sacrificed in the name of progress. They won’t return, for better or worse.
Which quirky practice will disappear next? Which long-abandoned one should be resurrected?
Ten never-to-be-repeated events are listed below, in reverse chronological order. Part 2 will name another ten. If well-received, a Part 3 is ready to go as well.
The SCG, 1978-79
This was the last Ashes match in which an over comprised eight deliveries. For the subsequent season Australia reverted to the six-ball over that it had last used in 1932-33. New Zealand and Pakistan did the same. England had used six-ball overs since 1902.
The change followed cricket’s reunification post-World Series Cricket. Shorter overs maximised the value of media rights, by creating more advertising opportunities for commercial broadcasters.
Many bowlers and captains preferred longer overs for the additional pressure they could place on batsmen. Eight-ball ones also enhanced over rates, by reducing the number of changes of ends.
Four balls constituted an over until 1888, and then five balls in England until 1899. That being the case, it’s surprising that Channel Nine never lobbied for a return to 19th century laws.
Now the England and Wales Cricket Board has gone the other way. In its new The Hundred competition each innings’ over comprises ten deliveries.
The Oval, 1968
This was the last Ashes match whose result was directly influenced by the home crowd. England was seeking to level the series and set the visitors 352 for victory. By the luncheon interval of the game’s last day, it had reduced Australia to 5-86.
A torrential 30-minute storm then swept the ground. It left the outfield ankle-deep in water, and appeared to have dashed England’s hopes. Cricket Country’s Arunabha Sengupta described superbly what happened next.
“The England team had just started to back their bags when the captain made his way to the middle, trousers pulled high over his boots. He started by urging the Oval ground staff to do something about it. And he quickly realised that just those hands would not do. The captain turned to the spectators for help, appealing on the loudspeaker.
“And the crowd swarmed in, with personal blankets, handkerchiefs and parts of their clothing. At 2:15pm, they started their mopping operations under the astute guidance of the groundsman Ted Warn. Gradually water drained away. Patches of green became larger and larger and linked up. And by 4:45 pm, the miracle had been achieved.”
Australian wicketkeeper Barry Jarman wrote that “We never believed play would resume. The crowds should have got a medal for winning the game. They put their blankets on the ground, soaked up the water, dug holes with their knitting needles or whatever was available to get rid of the water”.
When the match finally recommenced only 75 minutes’ playing time remained. The conditions were custom-made for Derek ‘Deadly’ Underwood.
He took 7-50, including Australia’s final wicket just six minutes before stumps. An iconic photograph of that moment shows John Inverarity ringed by 11 appealing Englishmen with umpire Charlie Elliott raising his finger, and only Underwood not within touching distance.
If a spectator stepped onto the playing surface nowadays, the outcome would be far different. They would be banned from the ground for life, and fined $5000 plus GST for trespassing.
The SCG, 1965-66
This was the last Ashes match in which a dual international played. Brian Booth debuted in England in 1961, and led the side at the Gabba during his final series. In 29 matches he scored 1773 runs at 42.21 with five centuries. He had previously been a member of Australia’s first ever Olympic hockey team, which finished fifth in Melbourne in 1956.
Johnny Taylor and Otto Nothling were also dual internationals. Taylor played 20 times for Australia between 1920-21 and 1926, having represented the Wallabies in two rugby Tests in 1922. Nothling played once in 1928-29, and also gained 19 rugby caps between 1921 and 1924.
Many English cricketers also represented their country in a second code. Of them, RE Foster, captained England in both cricket and football, while another captain Andrew Stoddart represented it in rugby.
As recently as the 1980s, a talented cricketer could achieve representative honours in another sport. Internationals Keith Miller, Max Walker, Sam Loxton and Simon O’Donnell also played in the Victorian Football League. Since then the demands of a professional sporting career have made such a feat impossible.
Australia tour to England, 1964
This was the last Ashes tour in which the team travelled by sea, and continued its tour well after the Test series’ completion. Previous tours had often scheduled matches during stopovers in Ceylon, India or North America. Additional games could be as lucrative as Tests.
This team played twice in Tasmania and once in Perth, then sailed to Colombo where it played one match. It then flew to London via Bombay. Following the last Test it played games against Essex, Kent and Sussex, as well as the Netherlands and three invitational 11s. Overall the side played every club, and Glamorgan, Sussex and Yorkshire each a second time.
The number of unimportant matches is surprising, given what was still to come. After a fortnight’s holiday in Europe, the team flew from Rome to the sub-continent where it played India three times and Pakistan once. Overall it was away from Australia from 9 April until 31 October, a period of almost seven months.
The preceding tour of 1961 was the last to travel entirely by sea. The following one in 1968 was the first to travel to and from England entirely by air. Until the 1945-46 tour to New Zealand, no team had ever travelled by air.
The Gabba, 1950-51
This was the only Ashes match in which each captain declared his team’s innings closed to take advantage of an unplayable pitch. Rain and sunshine combined to turn this match into a tactical duel.
The Australian team was led by the experienced Lindsay Hassett, in the first Ashes match of the post-Bradman era. It contained nine Invincibles and a mystery spinner. The English one lacked its pre-WWII strength but included the capable Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Godfrey Evans and Alec Bedser.
The home side batted first and was dismissed at the end of the first day’s play for a modest 228. Torrential storms meant that no play at all was possible on the match’s second day. The following day was a rest day, and again it rained.
On the third day, play resumed eventually after yet more rain. On a ‘sticky dog’ Brown declared his side’s innings at 7-68 even though doing so meant conceding a first-innings lead of 160 runs. His objective was to bowl again to Australia while the pitch was still almost impossible to bat on.
The strategy worked. The home side lost three wickets before it scored a run, and after just one hour Hassett closed its innings at 7-32. By modern standards the victory target of 193 was incredibly low. However the tactic allowed one hour of bowling on a still unplayable pitch before stumps would be drawn. During that period England limped to 6-30.
In just two sessions of play, 20 wickets had fallen for 130 runs. The Wisden Almanack wrote that “Medium-paced bowling of good length presented a well-nigh insoluble problem. Sometimes the ball reared head high, at other times it kept horribly low. Both captains placed nearly all their fieldsmen in a circle a few yards from the bat, and 12 of the wickets resulted from catches close to the wicket.”
The next morning England was dismissed for 122 to lose by 70 runs. Hutton’s 62 not out in 90 minutes, while ill and batting at number eight, is considered one of the finest wet-pitch innings ever played. He faced an outstanding attack of Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Keith Miller and Jack Iverson. The contrast with his record score of 364 at the Oval in 1938, on a featherbed pitch against a weak attack, could not have been more extreme.
A modern player will never develop the skills to play in such conditions, because they will never be required. All he will have ever known are captains, umpires, administrators and broadcasters who consider anything but a bone-dry pitch to be unfit for cricket.
The MCG, 1936-37
This was the last Ashes match in which a captain reversed his team’s batting order. When Don Bradman did so his side had lost the preceding two games, and was in danger of surrendering the Ashes only three matches into his first series as leader.
On New Year’s Day, Australia elected to bat first and ended a rain-affected day at 6-181. The next day, more rain meant that the innings could not resume until after lunch. When it became clear that conditions had now become bowler-friendly, Bradman declared at 9-200.
England then copped the worst of a wet pitch. Wisden wrote that “the ball often reared up almost straight and at other times kept low.” Maurie Sievers took 5-21 and was never selected again, his bowling considered not penetrative enough given the conditions.
Towards the end of England’s reply, Bradman subtly used defensive bowling and field placings to hoodwink Gubby Allen into delaying his closure. He eventually declared at 9-76 with a 124-run deficit, to force the home side to bat on it as well.
It was the first instance of both captains declaring their respective teams’ first innings. By that point 12 wickets had fallen for 95 runs in the reduced day’s play, and the time was not far away for stumps with a rest day and fine weather to follow.
Bradman then commenced his team’s second innings with its three specialist wrist-spin bowlers. In the side’s first innings they had batted at nine, ten and eleven. Cricinfo describes the situation:
“Fleetwood-Smith, facing his first innings against England, was aghast at his promotion. “Why me?” he asked upon receiving the news. “Well, the point is this,” reasoned the Don. “You can’t get out unless you hit the ball. Now you can’t hit the ball on a good wicket, so you’ve got no chance of hitting it out there”.”
Bill O’Reilly made a first-ball duck, but Fleetwood-Smith and Frank Ward survived until stumps. After the rest day, play resumed and the pitch gradually improved. The home team reached 5-97, at which point Bradman at number seven joined forces with Jack Fingleton. The pair batted carefully to see Australia to 5-194 by the end of play. The day attracted a then-record 87,798 spectators.
The match’s fourth day swung the series firmly Australia’s way. Bradman and Fingleton extended their sixth-wicket partnership to 346 runs. After Fingleton fell for 136, Stan McCabe entered at number eight to compound England’s misery. By stumps the home side’s score was 6-500. It had added 306 runs for the loss of just one wicket, for an unbeatable overall lead of 624 runs.
The next morning Bradman continued on to a final score of 270. Being a timeless Test there would be no honourable draw for England. It chased 689, and scored a creditable 323.
Australia went on to win the last two matches as well, for a series victory by a 3-2 margin. It would retain the Ashes until 1953.
No modern captain will ever find himself in a position where he needs to consider opening an innings with tail enders, and holding back top-order batsmen until pitch conditions have improved.
Exhibition Ground, 1928-29
This was the only Ashes match to take place at this ground. It also was Brisbane’s inaugural Test.
A powerful England team won the match by 675 runs. It scored 521 then dismissed the hosts for just 122 to obtain a 399-run first-innings lead. Not enforcing the follow-on, it added a further 8(dec)-342 to set Australia 742 for victory. Caught on a rain-affected pitch, with two of its batsmen absent due to injury or illness, the home side could make only 66.
The match was Don Bradman’s debut. He scored just 18 and one and was dropped for the next game. When he next played there, against the West Indies in 1930-31, he redeemed himself with an innings of 223. The match was also Bert Ironmonger’s first, in his home town and at the age of 46.
The ground fell out of favour after hosting a Test with the West Indies two years later, and a number of Sheffield Shield games. Financial returns for the Queensland Cricket Association were poor, partly as a result of ground members gaining automatic free entry.
It is now better known as the Brisbane Showground, and hosts the Royal Queensland Show or Ekka each August. The Gabba has served as Brisbane’s home of cricket since 1931-32.
The Oval, 1909
This was the only match in which a player bowled practice deliveries beside the pitch for an excessive period. The bowler was Australia’s win-at-all-costs future captain Warwick Armstrong. The batsman was the legendary English left-hander Frank Woolley, waiting to receive his very first ball in Test cricket.
“Believe it or not, but before Woolley squared up to play his first ball, 19 minutes had elapsed. This unofficial interval was brought about almost entirely by Armstrong bowling several trial balls from the pavilion end, somewhat sketchy attempts being made to stop them at the other… the ball in consequence trickling down to the Vauxhall end screen, there to be fielded by urchins and handed over reverently to the bobby on duty, for him to risk his dignity and his helmet to fling back so that we might get on with the match which these ‘Colonial chaps’ had come so many thousands of miles to play and who did not… appear, after all, to be consumed with fervour to finish,” wrote EHD Sewell.
Woolley himself recalled the incident as “I remember that, owing chiefly to the bowling of trial balls, over a quarter hour elapsed between the fall of Rhodes’ wicket… and the bowling of the first ball to me. It was rather a trying time for me, especially as it was my first Test innings… After the long wait it is perhaps not surprising that ‘Tibs’ Cotter bowled me for eight.”
Gideon Haigh wrote that Armstrong took “the quest for psychological advantage over a newcomer to an unexampled extreme. It was 40 years before Stephen Potter’s classic essay in sporting whimsy, The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, found a name for ‘the art of winning without actually cheating’.”
At the time, the laws of cricket allowed trial balls at the beginning of a bowling spell. Crucially, they did not specify a maximum number. Understandably, the law in question was amended shortly afterwards.
Modern broadcasters would no doubt enjoy the opportunities for additional advertising that such a practice would enable. However spectators would be unlikely to see it the same way.
Adelaide Oval, 1901-02
This was the only match in which a batsman was dismissed by a catch on a velodrome. Compounding his misfortune, his score was 98 at the time.
The series was evenly poised at 1-1, when its third Test commenced. England scored 388 after electing to bat first, and when the home side replied Victor Trumper and local hero Clem Hill added 137 runs.
The match’s second day ended with Australia at 2-172, and Hill undefeated on 83. After the rest day Hill and Reg Duff extended their team’s total to 197, with Hill reaching 98 in less than three hours.
At that point he played a shot that today would be recorded as six, and would take his score to 104. Instead the visitors’ Johnny Tyldesley caught the ball while standing on the ground’s bicycle track, and Hill was out. Tyldesley tried to recall him, but he declined as the captains had agreed that the outside fence, not the inside of the track, would mark the boundary line.
In the match’s second innings Hill made 97 in less than three hours before unluckily playing on, to help Australia reach its victory target of 315. In the preceding match he had scored 98, making this three consecutive 90s.
His 49-match career included five scores between 96 and 99, an undefeated 91, and another score of 191. Not even Michael Slater or Steve Waugh can match that record.
Cycling was a major spectator sport until its popularity lapsed. Tracks were subsequently removed from the Adelaide Oval in 1910, and the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1920.
The Oval, 1884
This was the only match in which a player both bowled lobs and kept wicket. The man in question was Alfred Lyttelton, one of England’s finest all-round athletes of the 19th century.
With Australia’s score 6-532, in desperation home captain Lord Harris threw the ball to Lyttelton. He removed his wicketkeeping gloves and from nine four-ball overs took 4-8 to end the innings. Having earlier bowled three overs of medium pace, his final figures were 4-19.
Making the circumstances even more remarkable, he took his wickets with underarm lobs, while still wearing his pads. For each intervening over bowled from the other end, he re-donned his gloves and resumed his place behind the stumps.
He was the first wicketkeeper to take a wicket, and in fact to bowl, in a Test match. Unsurprisingly, his figures are still the best by an 11th bowler in an innings.
However he was not the last such bowler in Test cricket. George Simpson-Hayward delivered fast off breaks under arm and with a leg-break action. He played in all five of England’s matches on matting in South Africa in 1909-10. In them he took 23 wickets at an average of 18.26. In a first-class career spanning 20 years, he played 200 matches and took 503 wickets.
Part 2 of this series will list another ten never-to-be-repeated events.