Captains Outrageous?

Published: 1972
Pages: 244
Author: Whitington, RS (Dick)
Publisher: Hutchinson
Rating: 4 stars

Captains Outrageous?

In the summer of 1970-71, cricket writer and former first class cricketer, Richard Smallpiece Whitington (RSW), set out from Phillip Island in Victoria in a ‘bomb’ Peugeot sedan to watch the Ashes. England, led by Ray Illingworth, were to play in the first ever six Test series. The reason the series was to be six Tests, was to accommodate the first ever Test match to be played in Perth WA.

Traditionally Sydney and Melbourne had two Tests every other home series, so to keep the status quo the WACA Test was added to the traditional five match series. In the end the scheduled third Test to be played at the MCG was a wash out and so a seventh Test was added.

The lost of the third Test resulted in the first ever ODI, although at the time it was referred to as a ‘knock out match’. A crowd of 46,000 saw Australia win comfortably. The enthusiasm of the fans for the shorter form of the game saw RSW suggest that the first innings of Tests should be limited to a set number of overs and the second innings played to a finish. It was hoped this method would reduce the proliferation of bore draws that was prevalent in cricket, and especially Ashes cricket, at the time.

The boring nature of Ashes cricket is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The title Captains Outrageous refers to the tactics of the two captains throughout the series; Illingworth and Bill Lawry whose main goal is to ensure they can’t lose before even considering going for the win. RSW, makes several accusations against the negative tactics of ‘go slow’ by the captains and players on both sides. He starts his criticism of the leaders from the first pages of the book and is so concerned by the tactics employed, that he worries whether Test cricket would reach its 100 year anniversary in 1977.

The negative tactics were given tacit approval by those in charge of cricket in both countries with the series played under the old LBW rule in which a batsman could not be out if the ball pitched outside either the off or leg stump. As well the MCC had refused to sanction the Law common in Australia at the time of restricting the amount of fieldsman on the onside. This would see the captains pack the legside field and bowl outside the stumps if batsman ever dared to attack.

RSW was particularly scathing on both the scoring and over rates produced during the series. The over rates when compared with modern efforts are like comparing dialup internet with broadband. Present day fans can only imagine being treated to the amount of balls bowled during the series. For example, on the first day of the second Test Australia bowled 81 eight ball overs (108 six ball overs), with England amassing 2-257 – a scoring rate of 2.38 per over, so perhaps RSW had a point on the scoring rates at least. Despite RSW describing the fifth and six Tests as nonsense – two more draws – the crowds were fairly healthy throughout the summer with 678,486 fans attending the series.

This was a controversial contest with Lawry being sacked before the last Test and finding out about his dismissal via the radio. His removal was not a surprise with Keith Miller calling for his sacking as early as the second Test in the series. RSW was critical of Lawry’s field placement as well as his use of his spinners, however he praised his courage in facing the bouncers (referred to as bumpers throughout the book) of John Snow without a helmet. RSW, hints that the majority of the Australian batsman were not always behind the line of the ball. Snow was to hit tailender Terry Jenner in the back of the head in the last match. This resulted in Snow being accosted by a spectator and Illingworth leading his team from the field. The Englishman only returned after the umpires threatened to award the match to the home team.

In that controversial seventh and final Test, Ian Chappell, Lawry’s replacement, showed he would be his own man. He inserted the opposition on winning the toss and received praise from RSW for his field placements and deployment of his spinners. Alas Australia lost the Test by 62 runs and with it the Ashes by two Tests to nil.

RSW thought it would have been a miscarriage of justice if Australia won the last Test and retained the Ashes as he believed England were clearly the better team, with Snow the outstanding bowler, Geoff Boycott the best batsman (with RSW comparing his style to that of Jack Hobbs) and Alan Knott the best wicket keeper. RSW rated the England man as almost the equal of Don Tallon. High praise for Knott, as Don Bradman, and many others, always maintained Tallon was the best wicket keeper to play the game.

Although they lost the series the Australians were building the team that would dominate cricket in the next few years with Rod Marsh, Greg Chappell and Dennis Lillee making their debuts during the summer, although at the time there were still questions over their ability. Marsh was quickly given the nickname of ‘old iron gloves’ for his poor work behind the stumps and Dennis Lillee felt the need to ask Keith Miller for Ray Lindwall’s address, saying “he might just be able to teach me to bowl”. Greg Chappell at the time was viewed as more of an all-rounder than a batsman, despite scoring a century in his first Test.

The actual coverage of the series by RSW is different to say the least. At two of the Tests he leaves on the morning of the last day and we hear little more of the match except the result. At least you know he was at the matches he does report on. The style of RSW can best be described as conversational, although modern cricket writer Max Bonnell describes his style as ‘grating’.

RSW, seems to have an opinion on everything and is happy to express them. His opening line in the book for instance concerns his disapproval of the cancellation of the Springbok tours to England in 1970, and the upcoming one to Australia in 1971-72. RSW states in his book that he has a tendency to digress and although he knows the person he considers to be perhaps his number one fan – Sir Robert Menzies – enjoys it, he needed to remember he is ‘only one of my readers’. The digressions can see RSW go from discussing cricket into a diatribe on the poor behaviour of Australian children compared to their South African counterparts (he lived in South Africa for seven years until 1963).

Whether opinionated, conversational or grating, RSW is never boring and Captains Outrageous? is one of the most entertaining tour books yet written.


If I am correct, this book was dedicated to my grandfather Hurtle Binks Willsmore.
I recall Dick chatting with willsmore for days, before the book was published.
It would be really cool to obtain a copy.

Comment by Neville Thomas Withall | 12:57pm BST 29 August 2022

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