The Strangers Who Came Home

Published: 2015
Pages: 292
Author: Lazenby, John
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Rating: 4 stars

This book covers the trials and tribulations of the first Australian tour (yes, I know there was an Aboriginal tour in 1868) to England, USA and New Zealand, they had intended to tour India too, in 1878. We learn that had a Melbourne group been more daring the first tour would have taken place in 1875, and perhaps this book would have covered that enterprise.

Cricket books covering tours of yesteryear can be a bore. The main problem can be the lack of interesting sources, with no eyewitness accounts and most controversies already discovered. What you are left with is simply a recounting of the matches. You can almost see the author; a Wisden at hand and the book padded out with reprinted scorecards.

The Strangers Who Came Home should become the standard format for tour books; impeccable and thorough research, intelligent opinion and enjoyable narrative.

The above contributes to most quality cricket book reads. Author John Lazenby’s point of difference is the ability to transport the reader back to 1878. He partly achieves this by sprinkling significant contemporary events throughout and also explaining the difficulties faced in the period, such as poor communications and travel difficulties. The Aussies seemingly survived on four hours sleep between each match, and that often on the train to their next game.

The venture really was speculative with some of the county secretaries originally balking at fixtures as the Australian team were an unknown quantity, so unknown that many expected them to be Aboriginal. One lady asked wicket keeper Jack Blackham to deliver a parcel for her to Adelaide. When informed that Blackham lived in Melbourne, she kindly offered to pay his cab fare.

The mystery of the Australians and their quality as a cricket team were dispelled early in the tour after they defeated a strong MCC team at Lords. This victory had the county secretaries lining up to play the tourists and ensured the success of the tour.

Lazenby makes a persuasive argument as to why this match against the MCC was not worthy of Test status despite claims, mainly by Australian writers, that it be upgraded to the first Test played in England.

Despite the lack of a Test and the build up to such a historic match, Lazenby has no trouble maintaining interest in the tour. The Australian team come across as a little mercenary with the trip definitely a money making venture. This element of the tour started the argument which was to rage on for another 30 years, as to whether Australian teams had the right to amateur status. This meant significant privileges in 1878, such as eating in the dining room rather than lining up with the public and professional cricketers at the food tents.

There are plenty of travails relating to the trip, with the same 11 players involved in almost every match. So often did the same 11 have to front up, the reader will even start to feel enervated. Originally there were 13 tourists, before the team decided to leave Tom Kendall in Australia due to his fondness for alcohol and then Billy Midwinter was ‘kidnapped’ by W.G. Grace in England.

If you want to know the Midwinter story plus the robbery of the Australian dressing room, plus countless other tales then you should pick up a copy of this fine book. Highly recommended.

To take the opportunity of winning a copy of the book click here



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