Umpiring in the 1958–59 Ashes series

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The England team were very unhappy with the umpiring of the 1958–59 Ashes series , in particular the questionable actions of some bowlers in the Australian team . The televising of Test cricket was in its infancy and the notion of Test umpires using slow-motion replays or other modern techniques was considered absurd. Instead the umpires had to make judgements based on what they saw in a split-second, and honest mistakes were accepted as part and parcel of the game. However, touring teams sometimes felt that there was a natural bias towards the home team which led to some acrimony. Keith Miller thought "Mel McInnes, Colin Hoy and Ron Wright were our leading umpires in the 1954-55 M.C.C. tour of Australia, and I have no hesitation in saying that McInnes gave the finest exhibition of umpiring in a Test series that I have experienced". [1] The England team thought well of him too, but in 1958-59 he lost the confidence of the England players and himself, appeared hesitant and gave some surprising decisions. [2] In the Fourth Test he hesitated to give Ken Mackay out even after the batsman walked after snicking a catch off Brian Statham. [3] Later Colin McDonald should have been run out when Fred Trueman flattened the stumps after his runner Jim Burke ran round the back of McInnes. McInnes gave him out, but then changed his mind and gave him not out as he had not seen whether Burke had made the run or not. On his next ball McDonald sportingly pulled his bat out of the way of the stumps to give Trueman "the easiest Test wicket I have ever taken". [3] Trueman was affected again when he batted, given out caught by Wally Grout off Richie Benaud when he had dropped his bat and missed the ball. [4] The England team became dispirited by the umpiring mistakes and, believing the officials to be against them, lost heart. [5] As Fred Trueman wrote


...the Australian umpires demonstrated as much impartiality as a religious zealot. We just couldn't get favourable decisions and they no-balled England bowlers left, right and of the umpires consistently no-balled me...It was annoying, especially as this umpire seemed to allow Gordon Rorke to bowl with both his feet over the front line!...I suffered, as did others, from appalling umpiring decisions when batting...It was unbelievable." [6]


There was much comment in the Press box as to the legitimacy of this delivery but Meckiff certainly generated a considerable amount of pace. It is always difficult to assess exactly whether a bowler is throwing and it is something of which one must be sure before being too dogmatic. Once a bowler is condemned for throwing his career is finished and it is a great step to take by any umpire, especially so in a Test match...he certainly looks very much like a thrower. The umpires, however, are satisfied that he is all right and they are the judges.

Alec Bedser [7]

In cricket to throw the ball when bowling is illegal and results in a no-ball, but until 1960 it was undefined and it took a strong minded umpire confident of the backing of the authorities to call a bowler for this offence. [8] To accuse a bowler of throwing was to call in question his sportsmanship, in effect to call him a cheat, and could result in libel charges by the offended bowler. A bowler who threw the ball increased his pace, from slow to medium or medium to fast, and the whip of the wrist altered the line of the ball, variations that could easily dismiss a batsman. [9] When applied to short-pitched deliveries the speed and inconsistent bounce of a "chucker" could be very dangerous, as demonstrated by the feared West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith. Another difficulty for the umpires was that although the upright straight arm was the ideal many bowlers had a slightly bent bowling arm without throwing the ball, and of course leg spinners used a strong wrist action, so it was not easy to sort out the innocent from the guilty. Sir Donald Bradman said "It is the most complex question I have known in cricket, because it is not a matter of fact, but a matter of opinion and interpretation. It is so involved that two men of equal good will and sincerity could take opposite views". [10]


...and as for photographic evidence! They produced this of Lindwall once, which showed clearly that his back foot was either over the line or in the air before the ball was delivered, but on the eve of the 1948 tour of England and a pending dispute about Lindwall, in particular, somebody let the story out that Tate and Larwood were also shown once in a film to be over the line before the ball was delivered. As O'Reilly vehemently argues, it is humanly impossible for a ball to be delivered legitimately with the back foot still on the ground and behind the line, and so everybody forgot about that one.

Jack Fingleton [11]

Trying to recall who was responsible for the front-foot law is a tax on the memory. Some will say it was Gordon Rorke. Others would want the privilege shared by Fred Trueman and Frank Tyson and a couple of South Australian pace bowlers, Peter Trethewey and Alan Hitchcox. I am more inclined to lean towards Con Simons and Pat Crawford.

Richie Benaud, 1980 [12]

In modern cricket the bowler is no-balled if he bowls without some part of the front foot (either grounded or raised) behind the popping crease and if his back foot is not wholly inside the return crease. In the 1950s the front foot rule had not been written, so the requirement was that one foot be behind the bowling crease. The 1958-59 series was a catalyst towards the change as fast bowlers tended to drag the toe of their rear foot over the bowling crease in order to decrease the distance between them and the batsmen when they released the ball. If they timed it well the delivery was made when the toe was still behind the crease, but sometimes they would drag it over the line and they would be no-balled. The dust raised by the dragging foot and the distance between the bowling hand and the dragging foot of some six or seven feet made it difficult for umpires to make the correct decision. As you can see on this old cine film of Ray Lindwall dragging his foot over the bowling crease. See Film on YouTube. It should have been called as a no-ball as his rear foot was past the crease when he delivered the ball, easy to see in a slow motion replay, but difficult for the umpire and impossible for the bowler.



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1958–59 Ashes series

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The 1954–55 Ashes series between Australia and England consisted of five Test cricket matches, each of six days duration with five hours play each day and eight ball overs. It formed part of the MCC tour of Australia in 1954–55 and the English team in matches outside the Tests were styled Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). England were captained by Len Hutton, the first professional cricketer to lead an MCC tour of Australia. The Australian team under Ian Johnson were confident of victory but, despite losing the first Test by an innings, England won the series 3–1 and retained the Ashes.

The 1958-59 Australians defeated the touring England team 4-0 in the 1958–59 Ashes series. They were seen by the English press as having little chance of winning the series against the powerful England touring team. They had only one recognised great player, Neil Harvey and had lost the fast bowling combination of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller and the other veterans of Don Bradman's Invincible 1948 team. There were, however, signs of recovery to those who would see them and E.W. Swanton believed that on their home ground Australia would be a shade better than England. The best indication of the forthcoming series was the M.C.C. and Australian tours of South Africa in 1956-57 and 1957-58. South Africa had a strong team in the 1950s, stunning the cricketing world by drawing 2-2 in Australia in 1953-54, losing 3-2 in the closely fought 1955 series in England and fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with Peter May's England in 1956-57. In 1957-58 Ian Craig led a team labelled as the weakest to leave Australia to a 3-0 victory over the Springboks with Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Wally Grout, Ken Mackay, Colin McDonald, Jim Burke and Lindsay Kline all in fine form. Norm O'Neill was not taken on tour, but struck innings of 175 in three hours and 233 in four hours in successive games against Victoria and was regarded as the "New Bradman".

The 1954–55 Australians lost 3–1 to the touring England team in the 1954–55 Ashes series. The Australian teams of the 1940s and early 1950s were strong even after the retirement of Don Bradman as many of his great 1948 side remained. Australia had lost only one series since 1932–33, when they lost he Ashes to Len Hutton in the exceptionally close fought 1953 Ashes series, but had played no Test cricket since. They had thrashed John Goddard's West Indian team 4–1 in 1951–52 after his triumphant 3–1 win in England, but had surprisingly been held to a 2–2 series draw against Jack Cheetham's South Africans in 1952–53. The general opinion in Australia was that they would win the return series, especially after the great victory in the First Test. "Although Australian batting was unsound by the old standards the presence of more all-rounders gave them the slightly better chance" wrote E.W. Swanton "all-rounders are said to hold the key to Test matches. Australia had four or five to England's one..."

1962–63 Ashes series

The 1962–63 Ashes series consisted of five cricket Test matches, each of five days with six hours play each day and eight ball overs, a change as before 1960–61 Australian Test matches had been played over six days. It formed part of the MCC tour of Australia in 1962–63 and the matches outside the Tests were played in the name of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The MCC was determined to "brighten up" cricket, but the series was drawn 1–1 and Australia retained the Ashes. The MCC chose Ted Dexter to captain an England team managed by Bernard Marmaduke Fitzalan-Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk. The Duke's presence generated considerable press interest, as did the model Mrs Dexter and the Reverend David Sheppard—the future Bishop of Liverpool—who preached in cathedrals across Australia.

The 1962-63 Australians drew 1-1 with the touring England team in the 1962-63 Ashes series. Australia had beaten England 4-0 in 1958-59 and 2-1 in 1961 and it was thought unlikely that the tourists would beat Australia on their home ground. Richie Benaud was a keen advocate of "go ahead" cricket and his attacking tactics and brilliant captaincy had won Australia five series in a row with what were seen as average teams. Ironically, now he had a better team he drew his first series and his negative play in the last two Tests tarnished his reputation, though he did retain the Ashes. This was the last Test series of Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and Ken Mackay and Benaud himself played for only one more season. There was a feeling that this was an end of an era and commentators wondered where the new batsmen and bowlers would come from. Fears about the Australian batting proved short-lived as Bobby Simpson and Bill Lawry formed one of Australia's great opening partnerships and were supported by Peter Burge, Brian Booth, Norm O'Neill and Barry Shepherd. But they would soon be short of a decent bowling attack, which would rest on the broad shoulders of the 21-year-old fast-bowler Graham McKenzie until the emergence of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker in the 1970s.

The Marylebone Cricket Club tour of Australia in 1958-59 under the captaincy of Peter May was its twelfth since it took official control of overseas tours in 1903-1904. The touring team played as England in the 1958–59 Ashes series against Australia, but as the MCC in all other games. In all there were 20 matches; 5 Test matches, 12 other First Class matches and 3 minor matches. It was billed as the strongest MCC team ever to tour Australia and dominated the early matches, and its heavy defeat in the Test series was seen as one of the great upsets in cricket.

1946–47 Ashes series

The 1946–47 Ashes series consisted of five cricket Test matches, each of six days with five hours play each day and eight ball overs. Unlike pre-war Tests in Australia, matches were not timeless and played to a finish. It formed part of the MCC tour of Australia in 1946–47 and England played its matches outside the Tests in the name of the Marylebone Cricket Club. The England team was led by the veteran Wally Hammond and his vice-captain Norman Yardley with the strong batting line up of Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Bill Edrich, Denis Compton and Joe Hardstaff, but a weak bowling attack that relied on pre-war bowlers like the 37-year-old Bill Voce of Bodyline fame and the mercurial leg-spinner Doug Wright. The two successes of the tour were the newly capped Alec Bedser, who would carry the England bowling attack until 1955, and Godfrey Evans who would be England's first choice wicketkeeper until 1959. England had drawn the Victory Tests 2–2 in 1945 and were thought to be equal in strength, but Hammond lost 3–0 to Don Bradman's Australian team which had only two other pre-war players – Lindsay Hassett and Sid Barnes, who had played 5 Tests between them – and was packed with fresh talent in the shape of Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Colin McCool, Ernie Toshack and Don Tallon. There were several controversial umpiring decisions which assumed greater significance as they favoured Australia and in particular Don Bradman.

The England team were unhappy with the umpiring in the 1946–47 Ashes series, in particular when Don Bradman was not given out when caught by Jack Ikin for 28 in the First Test and 22 in the Second. Test cricket was not filmed except for highlights and the notion of Test umpires using slow-motion replays or other modern techniques would have been considered absurd. Instead the umpires had to make judgements based on what they saw in a split-second, and honest mistakes were accepted as part and parcel of the game. However, touring teams sometimes felt that there was a natural bias towards the home team which led to some acrimony if important decisions always went against them. The Australian Ray Robinson wrote in The Cricketer:

Usually debatable decisions work out fairly evenly over a Test rubber, but weight of evidence suggests that the umpires were mistaken in giving Bradman not out caught for 28 in the First Test, Edrich out leg-before-wicket for 89 in the Third Test, and Washbrook out caught behind the wicket for 39 in the Fourth Test. These decisions came at such points in England's bids to gain an advantage that they could almost be termed turning-points of the three games.


  1. Keith Miller, Cricket Crossfire, Oldbourne Publishing, 1956
  2. p115, Swanton, 1977
  3. 1 2 p74, Freddi.
  4. p221-222, Trueman
  5. 1 2 p96, Willis and Murphy
  6. p219-222, Trueman
  7. p65, Bedser
  8. p668-669, Swanton, 1986
  9. p131, Brown.
  10. p669, Swanton, 1986
  11. p158, Brown and Company, Collins, 1951
  12. p54-55, Ian Chappell, Austin Robertson and Paul Rigby, Chappelli Has the Last Laugh, Lansdowne Press, 1980
  13. 1 2 3 p68, Freddi.
  14. p79, Swanton, 1977
  15. p147, Bedser
  16. p112, Swanton, 1977
  17. p80, Willis and Murphy
  18. 1 2 p75, Arnold.
  19. p74, Whimpress
  20. p473–478, Coleman.
  21. p297, Swanton, 1986
  22. 1 2 p437, Frith
  23. p131, Brown
  24. p221, Trueman
  25. p59, Frank Tyson, The Cricketer Who Laughed, Stanley Paul, 1982
  26. pp76-77, Miller
  27. Tyson, p166
  28. p668-669, Swanton, 1986.
  29. p147, Freddi
  30. p204-205, Swanton, 1986
  31. p122, Brown.
  32. p218, Trueman.
  33. p219, Trueman.
  34. p288, Arnold
  35. p40, Kelly and Lemmon
  36. p87-89, Willis and Murphy
  37. p221, Trueman.
  38. p76, Miller
  39. Tyson, p211
  40. 1 2 Tyson, p85


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