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Wisden on the Ashes
the early part of the war, including some matches at Lord’s against the Australian forces, who included the great and inimitable Keith Miller. But after serving in Italy and France I arrived back at The Oval for the beginning of the 1946 season having not played at all for two years. After only ten games I made my England debut against India at Lord’s. It was a dream start as I took 11 wickets in each of my first two Tests, and ended the season being selected for the winter tour of Australia.
I was one of only four men under the age of 30 on that tour, which we ended up losing 3–0. But other than the result, the whole thing was an amazing experience. We travelled there on Ministry of War transport – the Stirling Castletroop ship. The voyage was particularly memorable because the passengers were made up of 17 England cricketers and some 600 war brides! But our trip home was even more special, because we returned by flying boat, stopping off at numerous exotic places such as Singapore (where we stayed at the famous Raffles Hotel) and Cairo (where we landed on the Nile).
At the end of that 1946–47 series I began a remarkable run of four Ashes Tests in which I dismissed Bradman six times. In the Fourth Test I managed to bowl him for nought, which I followed up by dismissing him again in the second innings of the last Test, and then again in both innings of the first two Tests in the 1948 series (including another duck). Although we rarely spoke to each other on those tours (he didn’t socialise much in his playing days), we became very close friends later, and Eric and I visited Don and his wife Jessie in Adelaide on countless occasions during the next five decades.
In 1953 we had a very strong team which famously won back the Ashes 19 years after losing them. I took 39 wickets in the five-match series, and looking back I think my career high point was at Trent Bridge in the First Test when I had match figures of 14 for 99. My last England tour as a player was to Australia in 1954–55. Unfortunately I got shingles on the way out, which laid me low for the entire tour. I played in the First Test, but was below my best and it proved to be my last in the Ashes. So it was from various pavilions that I watched Frank Tyson terrorise the Aussies while we retained the Ashes. I played my last Test for England the following summer, and I finally retired from first-class cricket at end of the 1960 season; Eric followed me into retirement a year later.
In 1961 I watched the whole of the Ashes series while writing for the Daily Mail. I particularly remember watching Fred Trueman’s 11 wickets at Headingley, which included a spell of five for none. That series was the start of many years of watching Ashes Tests. I was assistant manager to the Duke of Norfolk on the 1962–63 tour, and was a selector right up to 1985. I was manager of the 1974–75 tour when the Australians unleashed Jeff Thomson, who terrorised our team much as Tyson had done theirs 20 years earlier. Thomson had a wonderful action, and I think he may even have been a touch quicker than Frank.
During my long stint as a selector I was chairman for eight series against Australia, as well as two one-off matches, one of which was the Centenary Test at Melbourne in March 1977. Not only was that a marvellous game (with the result almost unbelievably being the same as in the first-ever Test which it was celebrating), but it was probably the most enjoyable match I ever attended as a spectator. This was because every former Ashes player from both countries was invited as the Australian Board’s guest, and it was wonderful to meet up with so many old friends. Little did we know that behind the scenes Kerry Packer was recruiting players for his breakaway “cricket circus”.
Our captain in the Centenary Test, Tony Greig, turned out to be Packer’s right-hand
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man, so the following summer we appointed Mike Brearley as captain for the 1977 Ashes, which we won 3–0. That series was notable for the return of Geoff Boycott from selfimposed exile, and the debut of a young all-rounder named Ian Botham. By 1981 Botham had become a giant of Test cricket and was England captain. But after a poor start to that summer’s Ashes series, we replaced him as captain and reappointed Brearley. He seemed to inspire Botham, whose performances in the next three Tests made his legend and retained the Ashes. I never thought I would again see such euphoria about cricket as there was that summer – but I was wrong. I was present at The Oval in 2005 when England won back the Ashes after a thrilling series, and it was great to see cricket celebrated across the country.
My Ashes experiences have led to lifelong friendships with numerous Australians as well as England team-mates. I have already mentioned my close friendship with Bradman, but I also treasure my friendships with many other Aussies as well. Indeed I was thrilled when four of them (Arthur Morris, Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and Ken Archer) flew over to England in July 2008 to attend my 90th birthday party. It was a long way for them to come, but I hope they enjoyed meeting up and sharing memories as much as I did.
As I said at the beginning, the Ashes have been a major part of my life, but I think they have been a special part of many of other lives too, not just those privileged to have taken part but also the millions who have been entertained. Cricket is fortunate to have an international contest which is the envy of all sports. The history of the Ashes is the most eventful sporting story of all, and there can be no better way to read about it than through the original words of Wisdenwhich make up this splendid anthology.
Woking, December 2008
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