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Wisden on the Ashes
and Australia at Melbourne in 1877, not that it was advertised as such. Wisdentook a while to recognise that these games were more important than Gentlemen v Players, or Eton v Harrow, but almost from the start the almanack included detailed accounts of what eventually became known as Test matches. And that is what we have collected together here: all the Wisdenmatch reports from Test matches between England and Australia – edited versions of all 316 of them from 1876 –77 to 2006–07 – together with extracts from the tour reviews, relevant Editor’s Notes, Cricketer of the Year essays and other Ashes-related articles. For the sake of completeness we have featured all the Tests, including the dozen or so in which the Ashes were not at stake.
There might just be some surprises along the way. I didn’t know before starting this collection that another spoof obituary appeared in the press two days before the famous “Ashes” notice in the Sporting Timesin 1882. And I hadn’t realised that the credit for resurrecting the legend of the Ashes, which had been almost forgotten after the original brouhaha in 1882–83, was down to Pelham Warner, a man more commonly associated these days with his rather hapless performance as England’s co-manager in the Bodyline series. There’s also the Ashes Test in which they got through 15 substandard balls in the first two innings, the one where Australia declared at 32 for 7 (and won), two matches England won after following on, the series when Australia came back from 2–0 down to win 3–2, and arguably the most famous Editor’s Note of all – when Sydney Pardon observed that England’s selection for the 1909 Oval Test “touched the confines of lunacy”.
The other aspect that leaps out from the pages is a cavalcade of cricket’s greatest names. W. G. Grace pops up early on (“a capital innings from Dr Grace” was a leitmotif of early Wisdens), then the limelight shifts to Victor Trumper, to S. F. Barnes, to Warwick Armstrong, to Walter Hammond. . . and then to Don Bradman.
Bradman’s achievements still boggle the mind more than 60 years after he retired. No one has ever reeled off big scores so consistently, or dominated to the same extent. It’s arguable that no one has dominated any sport in the way The Don did cricket: his Test batting average of a boundary short of 100 is more than 50% better than anyone else’s (60.97 is the next-best for a complete career of a decent number of innings). Those who say that Bradman had it easy because of friendly wickets, helpful laws and unscientific field-placings overlook the fact that the other fine batsmen of Bradman’s time slot into what we still consider the benchmarks of a pretty good Test batsman (an average of more than 40) or a great one (more than 50). Hammond, England’s preeminent batsman of Bradman’s era, averaged 58.45, and Jack Hobbs 56.94. Bill Ponsford, the Australian who made two first-class 400s, averaged 48.22 in Tests.
Only Bradman, too, has had a whole strategy invented just to curb him. Bodyline – the practice of stacking the leg-side field with catchers and then bouncing the ball fast at the batsman’s body and head – restricted Bradman to an average of “only” 56.57, and England won the Ashes easily (4–1), so it might be said to have worked, although the fuss it caused meant it was a victory achieved at considerable cost. Wisden’s coverage of the controversy shows up the time-lag in communications in the 1930s, compared to our instant satellite gratification. These days everyone would have seen for themselves exactly what the tactics were, and had them explained by a chorus line of former Test players. But in 1933 Wisden’s editor Stewart Caine was still sure “that English bowlers, to dispose of their opponents, would of themselves pursue such methods or that Jardine would acquiesce in such a course is inconceivable”. He did, however, admit that the matches had to be “described largely from cabled reports and hearsay
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