The Penguin History of Australian Cricket

The Penguin History of Australian Cricket by Chris Harte


ISBN
9780670072873
Published
Released
15 / 07 / 2009
Binding
Paperback
Pages
880

Australian cricket is different. The club with which I played cricket at grade level in Sydney, Central Cumberland, originally the Parramatta club but sometimes known as Cumberland and now again as Parramatta, was a focal point of cricket in the early days of the Colony and I grew up with a love of the written word of cricket history.

Like any other Australian youngster living in a country area, I watched matches between adjoining towns and played on antbed or polished concrete pitches then, when moving to Sydney, I played 'Test' matches on dirt pitches in a paddock and on concrete pitches, some­times with a type of matting over them, in an open park. Rarely though did I play on turf, and this has always been one of the big differences between Australian cricket and English cricket. That need not come as a shock but it should be borne in mind when reading anything connected with the game which has been part of Australian culture for a little less than two hundred years.

The emphasis was on rough facilities and cricket played in the early days in a harsh outback. From those areas come some of the greatest cricketers ever to appear at International level, cricketers who followed on from the standards set by W L. Murdoch's team in 1882.

It was not a matter of living in the past because I have long held the belief that, as we approach the twenty-first century, the players are every bit as good or better than those who went before them. It is very important though, that occurrences prior to this modern era should be correctly recorded and this should be done in a fashion which the reader will find fulfilling. It is essential in modern times, with the emphasis on television and videotape libraries of history, that the written word should not be discarded.

It was time for the history of Australian cricket to be updated and for further research to be done on matters which for many years have been lacking in some detail.

A wise choice has been made in asking Chris Harte to do the job because few pay more attention to detail or have the ability to find new aspects of a subject where, at first glance, the facts might appear to have been exhausted.

There are many these days who are more interested in matters other than history, but I have always been fascinated by the history of cricket. The story of that first Australian victory in England in 1882 made nerve-tingling reading for me as a youngster, and it hasn't changed these days when again I browse through the Bell's Life account of that wonderful tour. For an Australian team to have pulled off the stunning victory assumes pride of place with me in the whole of Australian cricket history.

The prime requirement of a book of this kind is accuracy and Chris Harte is accurate. Another requirement is to probe and he does that well, so well that some of his research has produced new information about various aspects of Australian cricket. No game contains more good or ill fortune than cricket and Mr Harte has had the good fortune to find this new material and we are all in his debt.

The saga of Bill McElhone and Ernie Bean is one which has been mentioned in early histories but not in the fascinating detail shown here, and any modem history must include the arrival of World Series Cricket and the changed structure of the game in Australia. Australian cricket has gone through some turbulent times over the period from 1803 to 1993 and Chris Harte has caught my attention by chronicling matters of which previously I had no knowledge.

From what is written in the following pages, it seems we should await with great anticipation the details of the finale of World Series Cricket and how the agreement between the Australian Cricket Board and World Series Cricket was signed. That will be no more intriguing than the indication that there were reasons Sir Donald Bradman decided not to renominate for his administrative position in cricket in the aftermath of the final agreement.

The 'Gabba Test of 1963, where lan Meckiff was no-balled, was the last time I captained Australia. It also appears now to have been a match which followed on discussions about lan at an Australian Board of Control meeting prior to the Test against South Mrica. This is interesting enough but, even more so, is that fact that, astonishingly, a legal opinion was obtained.

I knew about Sir Donald Bradman addressing the Australian players prior to the Tied Test in Brisbane because I was there, and I was also at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when 90,800 spectators paid £18,000 at the turnstiles. I'd forgotten until reminded in these pages what innovative methods they used to protect the cash!

There is no doubt about the turbulent nature of the early days when interstate matches were played and rivalry was intense. It may surprise that such rivalry could exist in a young country, but I suppose there is comparison possible with the feeling between Yorkshire and Lancashire and similar happenings in other countries.

The New South Wales-Victoria matches in which I played in the period from 1948 to 1964 were, on many occasions, tougher than Test cricket.

This is probably because the first mainland intercolonial match in Australia was between these two States and the accounts of the game lend weight to the suggestion that, from 1856, rivalry between Victoria and NSW has sometimes been as intense as the rivalry between Australia and England for the Ashes.

Some books tracing the history of a sport or other aspects of life can vary between being interesting and dry as the dust which adorns their jackets. This History of Australian Cricket is factual and lively in style, and I am delighted to have the privilege of offering an Introduction to a book which will assume a very important part of the total history of the game.


RICHIE BENAUD
1993
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