During the 1925-26 Sheffield Shield cricket competition in Australia, New South Wales won both their matches against Victoria by an innings, and scoring over 700 runs in an innings in both matches. The Victorian revenge the following season was brutally decisive, albeit shortlived.
New South Wales arrived in Melbourne in December 1926 for the first meeting of the teams in the season. The game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) started just before Christmas, took Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, and then continued to a finish. The NSW team was relatively inexperienced, with only four players having played on the MCG before. Of the nine NSW players who had been part of the Australian team that toured England earlier in 1926, only Tommy Andrews and Arthur Mailey were available. Despite this, the team were confident, as in their previous match against South Australia in Adelaide, they had won after scoring 6-446 in the fourth innings, which set a record for the highest fourth innings total in Australian first-class cricket history. They were led by Alan Kippax, an elegant, stylish batsman who had controversially been omitted from the 1926 tour of England. In 1925-26 Kippax had scored 271 against Victoria at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and in the first two Shield games of the 1926-27 season he had already scored three centuries. Another member of the side was the talented youngster Archie Jackson, who had just turned 17, but already the scorer of a Shield century.
Victoria was at full strength, and were an imposing form. Opening batsman Bill Ponsford had scored 214 against South Australia earlier in December, while Hunter “Stork” Hendry had also scored 177 in the same match. Both players then scored centuries against Queensland. The other opening batsman, Bill Woodfull, had topped the batting averages during the English tour in 1926.
On the 24th of December. Kippax won the toss, decided to bat on a perfect wicket, and would have been disappointed with a score of 221. Several players made starts – Norbert Phillips 52, Tommy Andrews 42 and Jim Hogg 40*, but none of them could convert their start into a century. The best of the Victorian bowlers was fast-medium bowler Arthur Liddicutt, who finished with the figures of 4-50 from 21 overs.
Victoria’s reply began on the 27th of December, and any idea New South Wales had that their hosts might be affected by too much Christmas cheer quickly disappeared. Woodfull and Ponsford scored quickly – the NSW total of 221 was overtaken in just under two and a half hours, with the 100 runs between 150 and 250 taking just 41 minutes. Both batsman survived chances, and took the chance to attack the NSW bowling unmercifully. As some of the NSW players wondered if they would ever take a wicket, Woodfull was out for 133, with he and Ponsford having created a new 1st-wicket Shield partnership record of 375.
Hendry came out to replace Woodfull, had a life early in his innings, and then slaughtered the NSW bowling. At the end of day, Victoria were an incredible 1-574, with Ponsford 334* and Hendry 86*. NSW leg spinner Arthur Mailey had taken most of the punishment, with figures of 0-148 off 28 overs.
Hendry raced to his hundred early on Day 3, before becoming Mailey’s first wicket. Ponsford was strangely subdued , and scored only 18 runs in 40 minutes, beforer playing a delivery from Gordon Morgan onto his stumps. Then amazingly there were two failures – “Hammy” Love and Stuart King being dismissed for 6 and 7 respectively. Victoria had “collapsed” from 3-614 to 5-657. After this brief lull, the onslaught was started again by Jack Ryder, who had come to the wicket after Hendry was dismissed. Scoring at 75 runs an hour, Ryder found an ally in Bert Hartkopf, a leg-spinning all-rounder who had scored 80 in his only Test Match, against England on the same ground two seasons previously. Hartkopf was dismissed for 61, with the total 6-834. Liddicutt joined Ryder, who at this stage was on his way to a double century. When the 900 was reached, Ryder was 195. He reached his 200 and then went berserk, smashing the bowling to all parts of the MCG. Ryder was swinging so consistently, that it looked like he would get out at any moment. Yet his dismissal seemed unlikely, with his hitting being so pure, finding gaps in the field, and the tiredness of the NSW fielders making it easy for him to score runs. Liddicutt was bowled for 36, with the score now 7-915. A few minutes later the record innings total for the Shield competition – 918 by NSW against South Australia at Sydney in 1900-01 – was passed, but Victoria continued on. Victorian wicketkeeper Jack Ellis had the honour of bringing up the 1,000th run, and celebrated by doing a little jig and shouting “Long Live Victoria!”.
Ryder had hit Andrews for 4,6,4,6 in successive deliveries, and in trying to reach his 300 with another six, was caught by Kippax at mid-on for 295 (8-1043) . Frank Morton was run out without scoring (9-1046), but Ellis and Don Blackie continued on, before Ellis was run out, to finally end the Victorian innings at the end of the day for 1,107.
All of the NSW bowlers had copped a hiding, with the “best” bowling figures belonging to Mailey, who finished with 4-362 off 64 overs, and not surprisingly a maiden over amongst those 64 overs. There were only 5 maidens bowled in the entire innings. Mailey was known for his sense of humour, and he showed it after the innings, claiming that it was a pity that the innings had ended, as he was just finding his length. He also said that a chap in the grandstand with a brown derby hat had dropped several sitters as well!
As well as the gargantuan size of the Victorian score, the other amazing feature was how quickly the runs were scored. The innings took just 633 mins, so Victoria were averaging close to 100 runs an hour. Despite being belted to every corner of the MCG, New South Wales kept up an extraordinary over rate, averaging 95 overs a day. This was back in the days of 8-ball overs instead of the current 6-ball overs, so there were less breaks between overs, but it is still an impressive performance.
The next day NSW batted again, needing to score a mere 886 to make Victoria bat again. The pounding they had taken in the field had knocked the stuffing out of them, and they only just improved on their first innings total, scoring 230 and losing by an incredible innings and 656 runs. As they left Melbourne on the train to travel back to Sydney, they had no idea that the tables would be turned so dramatically in a month’s time.
For the return match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in late January 1927, Victoria were without Love, Hartkopf, Woodfull, Ponsford and Ryder, who had scored 847 of that massive total. NSW welcomed back three of their Australian players, Charlie Macartney, Bert Oldfield and Johnny Taylor.
Whereas NSW has struggled in Melbourne after winning the toss, here they took command and at end of the first day’s play were 8-424. Kippax had made a glorious and stylish 187*, while Jackson had scored only 42, but scored them with such style and grace that commentators were already comparing him to the legendary Victor Trumper.
Play started late the next day, and NSW made 469. Victoria were 2-15 when play ended early due to rain. Back in the 1920’s, pitches were not covered overnight, and thus rain was allowed to fall on them, which affected the way that the ball bounced off the pitch. Such a pitch is referred to as a “sticky wicket”, with the term entering the English language as a metaphor for someone who is in trouble, or in a difficult situation.
The people who were in trouble were the Victorian batsman, who lost 6 wickets for the addition of just 4 runs, leaving the scoreboard at an amazing 8-19, before being dismissed for just 35 runs. Ray McNamee, who had been belted all over the MCG in December and finished with the unflattering figures of 0-124, ran through the Victorian batting line-up, finishing with the incredible figures of 7-21 off just 8.4 overs. Charlie Macartney took the other 3 wickets, conceding only 10 runs off just 9 overs. The wicket was better, but not perfect, when Victoria followed on. They scored 181, and NSW had won by an innings and 253 runs – an astonishing reversal of the humiliation in Melbourne. Victoria’s 35 wasn’t their lowest score against NSW, but it stood in dazzling relief immediately after following the massive 1,107.
The contrast, even one so extreme, in many ways typifies cricket, especially back in the days before pitches were covered. If the pitch stayed hard and true, then the rungetters were remorseless, the boundary fieldsmen busy, the bowlers weary. But things could change swiftly, and occasionally the game was only as predictable as the next day’s weather forecast.
The following books were used as sources for this blog post:
“A Century of Summers – 100 Years of Sheffield Shield Cricket” – Geoff Armstrong, Ironbark Press, Randwick, NSW 1992
“First-Class Cricket in Australia – Volume 1 1850-1851 to 1941-42”, Ray Webster, Glen Waverly NSW 1991