The Victory TestsMartin Chandler |
Walter Hammond, a complex personality, was the finest English batsman of his time and, arguably, of all time. He began his career in the early 1920’s at Gloucestershire. Hammond was a professional in the days when that status, effectively, barred him from leading either his county or his country.
By the late 1930’s England needed a new captain and a position was found for Hammond on the board of directors of a local company in Gloucestershire. Hammond’s was a role that would doubtless now be described as “business development” and there were no restrictions on his ability to play cricket as an amateur, and he was appointed England captain for the 1938 Ashes series. The series was drawn 1-1 and, despite reservations expressed by some, Hammond’s captaincy was generally considered to be astute and effective.
By 1945 Hammond was 42. He was affected from time to time by lumbago but was still a fine batsman when fully fit, as his form for Gloucestershire in 1946 amply demonstrated. As a man he had always been quiet and reserved and had few close friends in the game. Before the war many of his teammates, at county and Test level, had grown up with him while he was a professional and he was therefore able to mix with them well enough. Even in his professional days however he had seldom bothered with the younger players and this tendency, after the war, became more marked. By that time he was the old campaigner, and an increasingly isolated figure, most of those friends he had had in the dressing room having retired.
The passage of time notwithstanding Hammond was still the obvious candidate for the England captaincy for the series of five matches against the Australian Services XI that were arranged for the summer of 1945. It seems he had little say, and perhaps little interest, in matters of selection. In the third match of the series the selectors showed the sort of boldness that England selectors very rarely show by selecting two 18 year old batsmen, John Dewes and Luke White, who together with Donald Carr, were generally considered to be the three outstanding schoolboy batsmen of 1944. In the event in a rather baffling decision Carr too played in the “Test” when the experienced Derbyshire fast medium bowler and hard hitting lower order batsman George Pope withdrew in order to play in a league match. Carr had bowled slow left arm orthodox at schoolboy level with some success but was no sort of like for like replacement for Pope.
History records that none of the youngsters was a conspicuous success and the experiment was not repeated. Mark Rowe gives a flavour of the times, and Hammond the man, in his new book The Victory Tests and he and his publisher have kindly agreed to us reproducing this extract from the book:-
Another truth for a captain is that once you have your team, that’s yours and no other. Ideally, you lead by example; but there’s more to captaincy, as even teenagers starting in the game who have experience of captaincy, like Carr, soon grasp. For an absolute start, you ought to know your players, although Hammond may simply not have recognised Carr.
A lifetime on, Carr could no more than anyone else articulate the strongest emotion that anyone can ever go through, in sport or anywhere else: the nervousness of crossing the threshold and taking your place somewhere for the first time. It’s no good telling yourself that you are there on merit, because someone has decided that you ought to be there; or, that others are in the same boat as you, and everyone was in the same boat once. Whether it’s a workplace, or the first day at school, until you belong, you feel deeply unsure.
Carr, in recollection, did not hold anything against Hammond: “I became good friends with him later on, but that was the first time I had come across him. He was very pleasant, but fairly surprised to see me, I think.”
It was not mere good manners to welcome a new boy; it made sporting sense. The sooner a newcomer felt at home, the more he could concentrate on doing well. That was not how a cricket dressing room or many other English workplaces ran in 1945, as another recollection of Carr’s suggested.
On the Saturday night, after the first day’s play, we were all invited to the White City to watch the dog racing. And I had never been to dog racing before in my life, nor had the other two youngsters. There was a big table laid at the White City for the two teams especially and one or two directors or something of the White City were there as well and chatting to Walter Hammond. And I remember we had ? melon I think was on the menu, which was a rather posh meal set-up, and one of the things to eat I had never seen before; I had only been at school during the war and the food was very basic. Anyway we were enjoying our special occasion and all felt rather important and the racing started. Wally was talking to one or two of these directors of the place, who were giving him tips. The first race came along and he shouted, “White!” And Luke White: “Yes, captain, yes sir?” “Will you put five shillings on dog number three?” And Luke didn’t know where it was or anything; he went and got the money on for the captain. And went back and gave him the slip. And anyway the dog didn’t win.
Then the next race came along. “Dewes! Get me seven pounds on dog number” – whatever it was. And John Dewes toddled off and found the right place to put it on and took it back to Wally and anyway that one lost as well. Next race: “Carr! Will you” …I am not sure how much money it was, really, about a fiver, I think, on dog number whatever, and this animal came in. so he shouted at me again, go and collect my winnings! Ten shillings or something; and I took them to him and he gave me sixpence; I kept that sixpence for a long time! My winnings from the great WR Hammond. That was a good memory.
As a starter, to explain the melon: Carr was completely accurate in his memory of how remarkable a sight it was on an English dining table in 1945. Throughout the war, imports had to cross the oceans by ship and miss the U-boats. Guns came before tropical fruit. The German submarines had surrendered, but, if anything, rationing became even more severe in the first years after the war.
Carr’s story also brings out how the England cricketers were a star attraction in 1945. Any leading venue such as the White City race track in west London would welcome Walter Hammond, for the sake of publicity or for the sheer thrill of treating one of the most famous men in the country.
Besides Hammond’s abrupt manner, it is hard not to dwell on the reason he made the three junior members of his team run his errands. If Hammond had wanted to stay at the table, surely a stadium employee could have placed the bets? It does look as if Hammond wanted to put the youths in their place, and let them, and everyone else around the table, know it. It was Hammond asserting himself – it may have been his rebellion, of sorts, against the formalities that he above all as England captain had to observe.
The Victory series was drawn 2-2. Hammond led England against India in 1946 and then captained the side that went to Australia for the first post war series in 1946-47. Hammond’s distance from his players increased, his health deteriorated, his form deserted him and his captaincy came in for much criticism. He retired at the end of the tour. He eventually emigrated to South Africa but it seems happiness and financial security largely eluded him. Hammond died in 1965 at the age of 62.
John Dewes went up to Cambridge in 1948 and played for Middlesex as an amateur. He enjoyed considerable success for both with the bat in the three full seasons he was able to play between 1948 and 1950. He played in five Tests for England, including two in Australia in 1950/51, but with no real success. After graduating he continued to play some First Class cricket until 1957.
Donald Carr went up to Oxford in 1948 and played regularly for the University. He also played for Derbyshire until 1962, as an amateur captaining them in the latter eight seasons. He was a batsman just short of Test class, although he did tour India with a largely second string MCC side in 1951/52. Carr helped England save the first Test with a battling 76 and skippered the side in the second Test in Nigel Howard’s absence. Those were the only two Test caps he won.
Luke White or, more correctly, The Honourable Luke White, played just six First Class matches. In 1970 he succeeded to the family title and became the 5th Baron Annally. He died at the age of 63 in 1990.
The Victory Tests, is published by SportsBooks and the UK cover price is a penny shy of eighteen pounds. You can read CW’s review of it here. The book is available, as the old cliche goes, at all good bookshops.