The Ashes in Print – Part 3

The Ashes in Print - Part 3

In the third part of our Ashes round-up I’m going to feature eleven books from my own collection which cover the years from the resumption of cricket after World War Two to the end of the 1970s, when Test cricket was facing an uncertain future in the wake of the emergence of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. Annexed to these is a round-up from Martin giving details of books which cover the series that I haven’t.

England probably wasn’t quite ready to tour Australia in 1946-47, but the boards of both countries were keen for a prompt resumption of the Ashes, which incidentally had been held by Australia since 1934. In particular the visitors had no fast bowlers to speak of, and since the war had relied on 1930s performers such as Voce, Bowes and Gover, all of whom were clearly past their prime. A high-class bowler in the Tate mould was found in Alec Bedser, and he was to perform heroics in the next few years without threatening to put anyone in hospital. Cricket Controversy by Clif Cary is an account of the first postwar Ashes series, dominated of course by Australia. It’s an interesting book in that it has no match reports; it’s all overview. But it’s thorough and readable and – for the time – well illustrated. Some scorecards or averages wouldn’t have gone amiss though.

For 1948 and the visit of ‘the Invincibles’ I turn to a famous name. John Arlott wrote ‘Gone to the Cricket’ an account of the 1947 series against South Africa, and Gone to the Test Match, about the following year’s Ashes. In 1952 the two books were combined under the title ‘Two Summers at the Tests’ – I have it in a Pavilion Library reprint from 1986 which features an interesting foreword from the author. An eventful series featured Hutton being dropped for the first – and I think only – time in his career, a record breaking last day run chase at Headingley and of course, at the Oval, perhaps the most famous duck in Test history. Arlott covers them all with meticulous attention to detail, even if the prose doesn’t always leap from the page. He was of course only in his early thirties at the time, and perhaps his work hadn’t acquired the gravitas of later years.

From there I skip forward to 1953, and the return of the Ashes in coronation Year. Over to Rex Alston was written by the BBC commentator, one of the original members of the Test Match Special team. This was attritional cricket; the sides went to the final Test at the Oval with the series deadlocked at 0-0. But along the way there had been a famous rearguard action by Bailey and Watson, which denied Australia what had seemed certain victory at Lord’s. As Alston put it, “England achieved as gallant and meritorious a draw as the long records of Test history can show.” The exciting passages of play in this series were few and far between, but they are brought to life here.

On to 1954-55, and the series dominated by England’s Frank Tyson, at that time probably the world’s fastest bowler. The Fight for the Ashes (I seem to have seen that title before) by AG ‘Johnny’ Moyes, is a thorough account of the retention of the urn under Hutton in what proved to be his final Test series. Not only do we have full reports and scorecards for each match, we are even told of the takings for minor ‘up-country’ games.

In England Down Under John Kay managed to write an absorbing book about a series which was deadly tedious at times (in the second innings at Brisbane, England batted 119 eight-ball overs for 198). Peter May’s squad was reckoned to be the strongest ever sent to Australia, but repeated batting failures – they never reached 300 in a Test – saw them beaten 4-0. The controversy about the actions of several bowlers is dealt with head-on and with common sense.

Ray Lindwall had retired, thankfully for England batsmen, by 1961 and instead travelled to England to report on the series and write The Challenging Tests. The Ashes were retained by Australia by winning 2-1, the second of those successes coming in a thrilling match at Old Trafford. Lindwall calls it “the best Test match I have ever seen – outside that tied game between Australia and the West Indies at Brisbane.” It was the occasion when England, chasing 256, were comfortably placed at 150 for 1, only to collapse to Benaud going round the wicket.

The Ashes stayed in Australia in 1963 after the return series was drawn 1-1 – the first of three such results in the decade. Australia ’63 by Alan Ross is a book more absorbing than much of the cricket must have been. He writes in a quirky style, not unlike Alan Gibson (who never reported on an Ashes tour to my knowledge, being more content ensconced in the bar at Taunton or Bristol), and tells us as much about the city, and his travels in Australia, as he does about the cricket itself. In particular he seems to have lingered for some time in America on the trip home. Again this looked a strong England team on paper, but “only three of (Dexter’s) side could be said to have come off in the accepted sense – Trueman, Titmus and Barrington.” And the first of those would not come again, except as a welcome guest.

I have something of a gap where the late ’60s is concerned so on we go to 1972, and a somewhat older (and even wiser) John Arlott. The Ashes 1972 tells the story of Massie and Lillee, the emergence of Greig and the farewell of D’Oliveira. It was a fascinating, see-saw series in which neither side reached 400. England’s bowling heroes were Underwood, whose 16 wickets came in two matches once the ineffective Gifford had made way, and Snow, of whom Arlott writes “reached his technical and temperamental peak in the series of 1972.” Along with Illingworth and the aforementioned Australian pair the Sussex paceman has a chapter to himself. Massie, of course, was the ultimate shooting star.

I will tread gingerly over the wreckage of 1974-75 – I’ve read Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ book on that tour, but it was borrowed from the Oval library some two years ago – and advance to the Jubilee Year of 1977. Australia had won the Centenary Test at Melbourne in March of that year but they arrived in some disarray as news broke of a breakaway series involving many of the world’s top players, including 13 of the 17-man tour party. England won the series 3-0 thanks in no small part to the return, in prolific form, of Boycott and the first appearance (and immediate impact) of Botham. It was my first Ashes – all I could remember of 1975 was the streaker and “George Davis is innocent” – and I could hardly have come in at a better time. I have two books from that year – The Return of the Ashes by Mike Brearley, and The Ashes ’77 by David Frith and Greg Chappell. Brearley’s book is a slim A4 sized effort, but it is packed with illustrations and the opening chapter is an interesting look at his childhood and early career. Many of the photographs are superbly captioned, with technical detail that many a top coach would have been impressed with. Frith and Chappell write separate chapters in their book, a more straightforward account of the series which Chappell believed at the time would be his last.

When England toured Australia in 1978-79 the home side were reduced by Packer absentees to little better than an ‘A’ team, captained by Graeme Yallop. England were not at full strength either – the Kent trio of Knott, Underwood and Woolmer would presumably have toured if available – but clearly the hosts were at a great disadvantage. The Ashes ’79 is, I think, the first Ashes book I ever owned – it was almost new when I got it. Frith takes us through the whole sorry story – from an Australian point of view – but reminds us of an outside world by paying a visit to a World Series match, and also marking the deaths during the series of Eddie Paynter and Jim Burke. He concludes with a quote from Douglas Jardine, somewhat fittingly:

The hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into history’s golden urn.

…… and for the other series between 1950 and 1979

Australia 4 England 1
There is a choice of eleven books by Denis Compton, Bruce Harris, John Kay, Johnnie Moyes, Tiger O’Reilly, RC Robertson-Glasgow, EW Swanton, Rex Warner, Keith Miller/RS Whitington, EM Wellings and, the one CW recommends, Brown and Company by Jack Fingleton.

England 2 Australia 1
There is a choice of eight books by Rex Alston, Norman Cutler, Arthur Gilligan, Bruce Harris, Arthur Morris, Peter West, EW Swanton and, the one CW recommends, Cape Summer and The Australians in England by Alan Ross, which also deals with England’s 1956/57 tour to South Africa.

England 0 Australia 1
There is a choice of four books by Denis Compton, John Clarke, Denzil Batchelor and, the one CW recommends, Simpson’s Australians by EM Wellings

Australia 1 England 1
There is a choice of just two books Quest for the Ashes by Slasher Mackay and With England in Australia 1965-66 by John Clarke

England 1 Australia 1
There is just one book – Bobby Simpson’s The Australians in England 1968

Australia 0 England 2
Despite Ray Illingworth reclaiming the Ashes for England on Australian soil for the first time since Douglas Jardine just one book was published – Captains Outrageous by RS Whitington

Australia 4 England 1
Two books this time Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ Assault on the Ashes and Frank Tyson’s Test of Nerves

England 0 Australia 1
Just one book for this four match series, A Summer of Cricket by Tony Lewis which also dealt with the other major cricketing event of that summer, the first ever World Cup.

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