|When the selectors picked a non wicket-keeper for the job!
Edwin James Kenneth Burn (1862 - 1956) was described as a self-coached right-hand batsman who played for Tasmania, captaining them for 20 years, and headed their batting averages 11 times. Burn scored 42 centuries, two of them exceeding 350, yet he is remembered more as the player in the centre of the worst selection blunder in the history of Australian cricket. Something our selectors can quote to salve their conscience!
The 1890 Australian team for England was picked with the legendary J. M. Blackham as the No. 1 wicket-keeper for the tour. However, there was disagreement over who the No 2 keeper for the tour should be. In those days, with communication, not what it is today, and Burn being across the Tasman Sea, the selectors picked Burn as Blackhams deputy!
A contemporary report describes the incident as follows: "A message was sent to Hobart inviting him to join the side. At two days notice Burn decided to accept and went to Adelaide on a ship which crossed the path carrying the Australian side, presenting himself on the wharf with the words "Here I am - but I have never kept wickets in my life."
In desperation the Australians tried their best to persuade Burn to try the gloves on. He refused flatly. Not even during the light-hearted shipboard games. He had a poor tour playing in only six of the 21 first-class games, and played in two Tests scoring 41 runs in four outings. At Lords, he snapped the bat handle while taking guard. Given a new bat he was bowled first ball!
Of course, today, Australian selectors are more circumspect in selecting wicket-keepers for their Test teams!
Closer to modern times, and a bouquet to selectors. It was the Ashes series in the summer of 1956. Ian Jahnson, the off-spinner led Australia while England was captained by that magnificent batsman Peter May.
The first Test was drawn, a complete days play having been lost due to rain, but the Australians won the second at Lords by 185 runs and now led the series 1-0. Desperate measures were now called for and the selectors had to pull something out of the hat to reverse the trend. One of the selectors was 41-year-old Cyril Washbrook, the former opening partner of Len Hutton and his co-selectors plumped for him! Mind you, Washbrook had not played Test cricket since the 1950-51 tour of Australia. Talk of selectors picking their own!
So the Third Test began, at Leeds, a venue where England had not yet beaten the old enemy. May won the toss and elected to bat. The Australian opening bowlers, Lindwall and Archer, began against England openers, the late and much-lamented Colin Cowdrey who passed away just the other day, and Peter Richardson. Archer it was who made immediate dents into the England batting by not only removing the opening pair but also the No. 3 Alan Oakman. England total stood at a miserable 17/3 when Washbook went in to join skipper May.
Washbrook and May put together a partnership of 187 runs in 287 minutes which swung the game round enabling England finally to win by an innings and 42 runs. The first time England beat Australia at Headingley. Washbrook was unfortunate to miss a well-deserved century when adjudged lbw at 98 to Benaud while May scored a brilliant 101. Round one to the selectors.
Perhaps encouraged by the happenings of the first Test, the emboldened Selectors now decided to recall the Rev. David Sheppard to bolster the batting. Sheppard, due to his clerical duties, had played only four innings for his county Sussex that season. In the case of the Reverend, he had to go in after the openers Richardson (104) and Cowdrey (80) had put on 174 for the first wicket. Yet, it is not the easiest thing in the world to face an Australian Test attack batting at No. 3. Yet, Sheppard obliged his backers by top-scoring with a scintillating century (113), and helped England to total 459 runs, and helped win the Test by yet another innings margin - innings and 170 runs! Just as in the previous game, skipper May (43) was associated with the recalled player and was in partnership for 93 invaluable runs. Of course, Sheppards innings was overshadowed by Jim Laker capturing that remarkable 19/90 in what is now known as "Lackers match. Now it was round 2 to the Selectors.
The England Selectors were still not finished. The series now stood 2-1 in favour of England and if the Australians won the fifth Test the rubber would be squared. Though having won both the previous Tests by an innings the Selectors seemed not too happy with the batting or it may have been the safety-first policy which made the Selectors recall Denis Compton into the side. After all a draw would enable England to win the series. Compton who had not played Test cricket since 1955 - against the touring South Africans - and was after knee surgery when his knee-cap had been removed was not obviously in top form, or so most thought.
For the third time running May won the toss and elected to bat. England were not too happily placed at 3/66 when Compton went to join skipper May - and face up to his old adversaries Lindwall and Miller! Face they did, putting up a fantastic partnership of 156 runs with Compton (94) top-scoring and skipper May, as always, unbeaten on 83. One can gauge how relentless the Australian attack was when one recalls that England having been 3/222 folded up for 247. In other words 7 wickets falling for a mere 25 runs. With rain again interrupting a days play the match ended in a draw and England ran out winners in the series. A series when England selectors were proved right on all three of their gambles. It was a case of game, set and match to the Selectors!
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