Ask The Spider #98

At the Sydney Cricket Ground, how many teams have won Tests by winning the toss and fielding?

In 98 Tests at the SCG (where the toss-winning captain has elected to field 20 times), this has happened on a mere 5 occasions, all of which saw the triumphant captain leading the home side: the first was in 1951/52 against West Indies; the second 1975/76 against the same opposition; the third in 1979/80 against England; the fourth in 1983/84 against Pakistan; and the fifth in 1985/86 against New Zealand.

And, on that matter, how many times anywhere in Australia has the visiting team won the toss, fielded and gone on to win the match?

This has happened a mere 6 times, 4 of which came between 1984/85 and 1986/87, midway through the darkest hour of Australian cricket. The first instance came way back in 1911/12 when England stuck them in at the MCG and triumphed by an innings and 225, but it did not happen again for 70 years, until 1981/82 when West Indies won the toss, fielded and came out triumphant by five wickets at Adelaide Oval. The next four instances (West Indies at The ‘Gabba in 1984/85, New Zealand at ‘Gabba and WACA in 1985/86 and England at MCG in 1986/87) came during the aforementioned period. By-and-large, Australia have been difficult to beat at home and you have tended to have a marginally better chance if you bat first upon winning the toss.

What is the longest time that’s elapsed without the elevation to Test status of a new team?

It’s difficult to say that, because some teams were never “elevated” to Test status as such – their first games were recognised retrospectively only. As things currently stand, teams’ first officially recognised Tests came thus:

Australia and England: 1876/77
South Africa: 1888/89
West Indies: 1928
New Zealand: 1929/30
India: 1932
Pakistan: 1952/53
Sri Lanka: 1981/82
Zimbabwe: 1992/93
Bangladesh: 2000/01

So the lengthiest period between two Test-playing sides’ maiden Tests is South Africa and West Indies, but perhaps in reality the lengthiest time is India to Sri Lanka (in that Pakistan was not a new elevation to Test status as such, merely a new political entity carved out of old “All India” which thus gained its own team), which took almost 50 years.

Last week you mentioned the first Test after WW1, and I noticed that England’s top three batsmen in that match were all called Jack! Is this a unique occurrence?

Well, strictly speaking they weren’t actually all called Jack – in fact none of them were. “Jack” Russell presumably earned the nickname from the same place that the more recent “Jack” Russell did, that being the dog – he was christened Charles Albert George. The legendary “Jack” Hobbs was actually John Berry Hobbs, while “Young Jack” Hearne was John William Hearne. I must admit I have not perused every single scorecard in Test history, but I have never yet come across an instance of all of one, two and three batsmen in a Test innings sharing the same formermost name. If any readers know of any, it’d be very interesting to hear them!

England’s recent record in Ashes Tests at the ‘Gabba, WACA and Adelaide Oval must be absolutely awful because I can’t remember the last time they won at either ground, but what is it?

Well if we say “recent” as since the 1974/75 series (and excluding the 1978/79 series gives a truer picture, as that was played against Australia A), England’s record at those three grounds is dismal indeed – they have played 24 Ashes Tests there (they also played once in 1979/80 in the ad-hoc, Kerry Packer-devised series where there was no Ashes at stake) and their record is won 2, drawn 5, lost 17. One of the couple of victories came at Adelaide in 1994/95 in one of the great against-the-odds triumphs – they were playing with the only eleven fit players they had left in the country. The other came in the game mentioned above at The ‘Gabba in 1986/87.

And in contrast it doesn’t seem too bad at the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds?

England certainly haven’t enjoyed a brilliant time at either ground in the same timeframe with the same exclusions, but they’ve certainly done far less badly. Aside from 1978/79 they’ve played 17 Ashes Tests there since 1974/75, winning 5, drawing 4 and losing 8. A variety of explanations can be suggested for this: MCG and SCG Tests are traditionally the festive-season ones where England supporters are most likely to be travelling in large numbers; they have, especially recently, tended to come towards the end of the series where Australia have often already triumphed, and Australia have often suffered from dead-rubber syndrome; conditions at the MCG especially have tended to resemble those at many English grounds more than elsewhere in Australia; and, simply, coincidence – there have generally been more Tests at the ‘Gs than elsewhere, so Australia have had more chance to lose there.

How long was Frank Woolley’s First-Class career in days – that is, not merely matches played but how many days did it span?

Woolley made his First-Class debut on the 7th of June 1906; his last appearance came on the 7th of September 1938. This amounts to 11781 days on which Woolley could accurately have stated “I am an active First-Class cricketer”.

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