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Monday, January 15, 2007

Ashes series 1920-21 revisited: gentlemen unable to prevent Australian clean sweep

While the memory of Australia's clean sweep of the Ashes remains fresh, here's a reminder of the only previous occasion when that's happened.

The 1922 Wisden Almanack reported on the trials and tribulations of the team which "as finally chosen" consisted of

  • Mr. J. W. H. T. Douglas ( Essex), captain.
  • Mr. P. G. H. Fender ( Surrey).
  • Mr. E. R. Wilson ( Yorkshire).
  • J. B. Hobbs( Surrey).
  • H. Strudwick ( Surrey).
  • J. W. Hitch ( Surrey).
  • J. W. Hearne ( Middlesex).
  • E. Hendren ( Middlesex).
  • F. E. Woolley (Kent).
  • H. Makepeace ( Lancashire).
  • C. H. Parkin ( Lancashire).
  • W. Rhodes ( Yorkshire).
  • A. Dolphin ( Yorkshire).
  • A. Waddington ( Yorkshire).
  • H. Howell ( Warwickshire) and
  • A. C. Russell ( Essex).
Note the first three names with the title "Mr". They were the amateurs, aka gentlemen, who played without payment (though not necessarily without reimbursement of their "expenses"). They considered themselves a cut or two above the professionals, aka players, who made up the rest of the team.

Note also this comment, which apart from providing a reasonably accurate appraisal of the team's playing strengths, also reflected the social divisions within it, and especially the convention that only amateurs were fit and proper captains:

Mr. R. H. Spooner was asked to be captain, but after accepting the post he was obliged, for domestic reasons, to give it up. Hitch, travelling by a later boat than the others, filled the last place when Mr. Jupp found that he could not leave England. The general feeling in the country when the team left home was one of full confidence in the batting - quite justified by the form shown in 1920 - but grave doubt as to the bowling on Australian wickets. It was clear, moreover, that the side would be short of first-rate outfields. On this point the M.C.C. were at fault, but otherwise, except that Holmes should certainly have been picked in preference to Makepeace, they chose wisely from the players available.

The first choice captain not able to make the trip, doubts about the bowling and fielding, and criticism of the team selection. Does this sound familiar?

Check out the results of the Tests and you'll see that while some things, like the amateur - professional distinction at the top level, have changed, others, like underperforming England teams in Australia, remain the same.
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