Outside The Tent

Published: 2023
Pages: 196
Author: Musk, Stephen
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 4 stars

The splendidly titled Outside The Tent is the third book in the ACS’s Cricket Tours Series. The previous two have each concentrated on a single tour, firstly the South American tour to England in 1932, and secondly the first official visit of an MCC side to the sub-continent, back in the days before India became a Test playing nation, in 1926/27.

Stephen Musk’s contribution demonstrates that the scope of the series is intended to be a wide one, as this deals with a theme rather than a particular tour, there being chapters on nine tours that did happen, and another two on ones that did not. In addition there is a lengthy digression into biographical territory.

Essentially the book’s subject matter is the relatively few tours that have been undertaken by what amount to sides representing Australia, but outside the jurisdiction of the Australian Cricket Board, an organization which, at times, comes in for a fair amount of deserved criticism over the course of the 196 pages that make up Outside The Tent.

The eventful story of how the Board came into being and the schism that that caused is beyond Musk’s remit other than in the succinct prologue with which he opens his account. After that there are successive chapters on visits to the USA in 1912, 1913 and 1932, to Ceylon in 1913/14, New Zealand in 1913/14, Malaya and Singapore in 1927 and India in 1935/36. There are also chapters on proposed trips to North America in 1914 and India in 1953/54 before, from a more modern era, the rebel tours to South Africa of 1985/86 and 86/87 also feature.

Some of the trips have been the subject of books in the past, most notably that to India in 1935/36, but also Bradman’s honeymoon trip to the USA in 1932, the visit to Malaya and Singapore in 1927 and the rebel tours of the 1980s. In addition a sumptuously produced book on the 1913 trip to North America, during which Charlie Macartney* played a starring role, is due very soon indeed.

So further reading is available for those, and I suspect there will be a goodly number who find that Musk’s well researched and entertainingly written overview of events sparks a thirst for more information. Musk concentrates on how and why the trips were organized, by whom and, inevitably, the hurdles that the Board sought to put in the paths of those seeking to organize them. As a result their actions often come across as petty, pedantic and unnecessary.

Which leads on to the digression. Even for established Test players making a living out of playing cricket was not straightforward for Australians, yet for many the obvious solution of travelling to England in the southern hemisphere winter to play in the Leagues was a career move that cut off the possibility of playing for their country again.

In the circumstances Musk includes in Outside The Tent a series of profiles of men who gave up their international careers in order to make a living in England. He begins with the most famous of all, the scourge of England’s batting in 1921, Ted McDonald. Perhaps more interesting however are the clutch of top class spinners from the immediate post war years, Jack Walsh, Vic Jackson, George Tribe, Bruce Dooland, Cec Pepper and Colin McCool. Of particular value is Musk’s theory, well argued, that had those men been available to the Australian selectors in 1953, 1954/55 and 1956 the Ashes would have remained with Australia right through from 1934 until Ray Illingworth’s team wrested them back nearly forty years later.

All in all I much enjoyed Outside The Tent. It covers a series of interesting subjects in any event, but it is particularly refreshing to read the views of a man who is prepared to call out administrators when they behave badly. Having vented his spleen in the direction of Australia Musk even manages a sideswipe at the MCC in a short appendix at the end of the book that looks at their treatment of the privately organised International Cavaliers side which, in the late 1960s, paved the way for the old John Player League.

*Macartney appeared in 53 matches on the tour. Admittedly only five were First Class, but with 2,411 at 45.49 he was the leading batsman in terms of both average and runs scored and, with 187 wickets at just 3.88 he led the bowling averages as well, even if he did fall slightly short of Jack Crawford’s haul of 214.

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Martin Chandler