We look back at the 1954/55 Ashes se­ries

Frank was hit on head by bouncer and it proved turn­ing point of se­ries ...

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Paul Ed­wards con­tin­ues his look into the Ashes ar­chive with an era that Eng­land dom­i­nated. But it took an in­cred­i­ble dis­play of raw pace from a rel­a­tive novice to swing the se­ries away from the Aussies who had won the first Test in 1954/5

Who’s the fastest bowler you’ve faced?” It is the tired ques­tion asked of ev­ery Test bats­man do­ing a Q&A at a cricket din­ner. But be­hind the whiskery en­quiry lies a valid and per­sis­tent fascination.

We can mea­sure most ath­letes’ per­for­mances yet an ac­cu­rate speed gun was de­vel­oped too late for Michael Hold­ing and Jeff Thom­son.We have to make what we can from our mem­o­ries and from ev­i­dence such as Hold­ing’s fa­mous over to Ge­off Boy­cott or Thom­son’s tech­ni­colour de­struc­tion of Eng­land’s bat­ting in the Seven­ties.

And what to say about fast bowlers we can only watch on grainy news­reel footage? A few balls have to suf­fice for Harold Lar­wood, al­though they are suf­fi­cient to sug­gest the rich flavour of the Body­line tour. All the same, some crick­eters still felt their prow­ess was di­min­ished by mere mono­chrome. “It’s funny how black-and­white film makes you look slower,” ob­served Fred True­man.

The per­sonal im­pres­sions of par­tic­i­pants are often all that re­main to us but they can be re­mark­ably re­veal­ing. Take this, for ex­am­ple, from the Aus­tralian all-rounder, Ron Archer, on his dis­missal in the first in­nings of the Syd­ney Test in De­cem­ber 1954: “It wasn’t an edge. The ball was so fast that the force of it turned the bat in my hand. I can re­mem­ber be­ing able to watch the ball fly­ing to Hut­ton at slip; he was so far back it was like be­ing caught in the out­field.”

The bowler who ac­counted for Archer was Frank Tyson, a 24-year-old English Lit­er­a­ture stu­dent at Durham Uni­ver­sity. But it was not Tyson’s habit of quot­ing Wordsworth that caused the Aus­tralians most con­cern on that tour; it was his abil­ity to bowl a cricket ball faster than any­one else on earth.

“Be­fore or since?” you ask. Well, in 1976 when Sir Don­ald Brad­man had wit­nessed the first flow­er­ing of Hold­ing and Andy Roberts, he said Tyson’s bowl­ing in Eng­land’s three vic­to­ries of that Ashes se­ries was the quick­est he had seen; and Brad­man had faced Lar­wood in his fear­some pomp. Richie Be­naud, who played all five Tests in 1954-5 and was to see more live in­ter­na­tional cricket than any­one else, con­curred with the Don.

“Tyson’s best pace was noth­ing short of star­tling to bats­men and spec­ta­tors alike,” said JM Kil­burn. “He rep­re­sented an ele­men­tal force ob­scur­ing the de­tails of his tech­nique and the high­est trib­ute he re­ceived was the gasp of in­credulity fre­quently emit­ted by the crowd as the ball passed from his hand to the dis­tant wick­et­keeper.”

Tyson him­self wrote: “To bowl quick is to revel in the glad an­i­mal ac­tion; to thrill in phys­i­cal prow­ess and to en­joy a cer­tain sneak­ing feel­ing of su­pe­ri­or­ity over the other mor­tals who play the game. No bats­man likes quick bowl­ing, and this knowl­edge gives one a sense of om­nipo­tence.”

But per­haps we should obey the ICC’s cur­rent fash­ion and add some con­text to all this cul­tured machismo. Then we might see why Tyson’s 28 wick­ets in that se­ries – 25 of them taken in the mid­dle three Tests – were so feted, and how their gen­e­sis can be traced to an old coach’s ad­vice and an un­wise bouncer.

For most of the Fifties there was lit­tle doubt as to which was the best Test team in the world. In the eight years fol­low­ing their Ashes de­feat in 1950-1 Eng­land con­tested 14 se­ries, win­ning ten of them and los­ing none. At the heart of this dom­i­nance were three suc­ces­sive Ashes tri­umphs and the most prized vic­tory of all was the 3-1 vic­tory in Aus­tralia in 1954-5. It was an era of supremacy, al­though the teams led by Len Hut­ton and Peter May were nei­ther com­pla­cent about their su­pe­ri­or­ity nor did they ever re­gard it as ef­fort­less.

Hut­ton, in par­tic­u­lar, knew how dif­fi­cult it was to win in Aus­tralia. Ap­pointed in 1952 as Eng­land’s first pro­fes­sional cap­tain since the early, un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive mis­sion­ary tours in the pre­vi­ous cen­tury, Hut­ton had played ten Tests Down Un­der since the war and had lost seven of them. That be­came eight de­feats on De­cem­ber 1 1954 af­ter he had in­vited Aus­tralia to bat at Bris­bane – the Hus­sain Gam­bit – and seen Ian John­son’s bats­men pile up 601-8 de­clared, Neil Har­vey mak­ing 162 and Arthur Morris 153. Eng­land lost by an in­nings and 154 runs. Tyson’s fig­ures were 29-1-160-1.

The Aus­tralians, though, were aware of Tyson’s raw pace. He had dis­missed Colin McDon­ald and Graeme Hole in his first over of the sea­son when Northamp­ton­shire hosted the tourists in 1953. The home Press may have been in­trigued by Hut­ton’s fa­mous com­ment at the be­gin­ning of the 1954-5 tour that “we’ve got a chap called Tyson. But you won’t have ’eard of ’im, ’cos ’e’s ‘ardly ever played” but John­son’s ex­pe­ri­enced crick­eters were un­likely to have been gulled.

The prob­lem at Bris­bane was that Tyson’s 30-yard run-up did noth­ing for his rhythm while quickly ex­haust­ing him in the Aus­tralian cli­mate. The so­lu­tion was sug­gested by Alf Gover, at whose fa­mous in­door school Tyson had trained. Gover told Hut­ton two days into the Bris­bane Test that his fast bowler should re­turn to the shorter run-up he had ini­tially used in Eng­land but that he should main­tain his for­ward mo­men­tum in the de­liv­ery stride.

Tyson tried out his old run-up in the game against Vic­to­ria. He took 6-68, bowl­ing five bats­men, split­ting McDon­ald’s thumb and hit­ting Neil Har­vey on the pad so fe­ro­ciously that the bats­man had to re­move it to re­store feel­ing. It was as if Eng­land had sud­denly found the way to re­move a pin from a grenade.

Tyson took 4-45 in the first in­nings of the next Test but Aus­tralia gained a 74-run lead. Peter May’s first Ashes cen­tury and his 116-run part­ner­ship for the fourth wicket with Colin Cow­drey then gave Eng­land some hope of set­ting their hosts a de­mand­ing tar­get. How­ever, the tourists’ chances of vic­tory seemed slight when Tyson, who had pre­vi­ously bowled two bounc­ers at Ray Lind­wall, was knocked un­con­scious by an­other bumper, the great Aus­tralian fast bowler graph­i­cally re­mind­ing him that the fast bowlers’ un­writ­ten code of con­duct could not be flouted with such im­punity. It was prob­a­bly the turn­ing point of the se­ries, al­though not in the way Tyson’s col­leagues feared. Let us al­low Hut­ton to take up the story.

“We watched hor­ri­fied as he went down like felled tim­ber and lay in­ert and still. There was a hush around the ground, and it took some time to get him onto his feet to the dress­ing room, where he was stretched out on the mas­sage ta­ble, sur­rounded by medics and anx­ious team­mates. When he came out of the con­cussed state I swear there was a new light in his eyes as if a spark had been kin­dled deep inside him. I am not given to fan­ci­ful imag­i­na­tion, and the fact is that when he re­sumed

I can re­mem­ber the ball fly­ing to Hut­ton at slip; he was so far back it was like be­ing caught in the out­field - Ron Archer

bowl­ing the next day he was a yard, maybe a yard and a half faster than be­fore.” In the mod­ern era of wise med­i­cal pro­to­cols Tyson may have been pre­vented from bowl­ing for weeks. On De­cem­ber 21, 1954, he had a hos­pi­tal check-up, re­sumed dis­missed bat­ting the Les same Favell af­ter­noon as Aus­tralia and later be­gan their pur­suit of 223. The next morn­ing Tyson bowled Jim Burke through the gate, yorked Hole and, a lit­tle to his own sur­prise, caught a skier at square leg to re­move Be­naud. In the af­ter­noon ses­sion he bowled down­wind for 90 min­utes, tak­ing three fur­ther wick­ets, in­clud­ing that of last man Bill John­ston, to fin­ish with 6-85 in the in­nings and 10-130 in the match. Eng­land won by 38 runs but the ten­sion as Har­vey and John­ston added 39 for the last wicket tested the prose of the jour­nal­ists. “Har­vey played like a ge­nius,” said John Wood­cock, ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion. “Women grew hys­ter­i­cal, and the spec­ta­tor in front of your correspondent mis­took his dark glasses for his pipe.” Yet if Tyson’s ten wick­ets grabbed the head­lines over Christ­mas 1954, Eng­land’s new hero re­mained anx­ious that suf­fi­cient credit should be paid to his new-ball part­ner, Brian “Ge­orge” Statham, a fast bowler whose Test ca­reer seems to have been spent bowl­ing into the wind. “There would have been no vic­tory without Ge­orge,” wrote Tyson, “He was in­de­fati­ga­ble.”

Statham was a fast bowler in his own right and one who moved the ball off the seam rather more than Tyson. He took 18 wick­ets in the 1954-5 Ashes se­ries and was as ac­cu­rate as his part­ner was fast. When Tyson took nine wick­ets in Eng­land’s 128run vic­tory in the third Test at Mel­bourne, the whip­pet-thin, whip­pet-fit Statham chipped in with an­other seven as Eng­land took a grip on the se­ries. Notic­ing Statham sit­ting in the bar of a ho­tel one evening, Brad­man said to Hut­ton: “I do hope that man gets the credit he de­serves.” Yet per­haps it is Arthur Morris’s com­par­i­son of the fast-medium bowl­ing of Trevor Bai­ley to that of Eng­land’s

new-ball bowlers that gives one a true sense of Tyson’s pace. The shrewd Morris said the dif­fer­ence be­tween fac­ing Tyson at one end and Statham at the other was the same as the dif­fer­ence be­tween fac­ing Statham and Bai­ley.

Frank Tyson rarely re­cov­ered the rhythm of his great sum­mer. The re­main­der of his ca­reer was blighted by a heel in­jury and he only played nine fur­ther Tests af­ter he re­turned from the New Zealand leg of the 1954-5 tour. In 1960, like Lar­wood a decade pre­vi­ously, he em­i­grated to Aus­tralia and even­tu­ally be­came a re­spected coach, wel­comed and hon­oured in the coun­try whose crick­eters he had once hum­bled.

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