R: Low points in Test cricket


The 1897 controversy

Under arm bowling; sandpaper on the ball, match-fixing, chucking. Cricket has had its low points in recent times.

But cricket controversy goes back much further than that, particularly involving Australia.

Two McLeod brothers – Bob and Charlie – played cricket for Victoria and Australia and it was Charlie who gained most prominence, albeit in controversial circumstances.

According to cricket historian Abhishek Mukherjee, “Charles Edward McLeod was one of the best all-rounders of the Golden Age of Cricket. A Victorian turn-of-the-century all-rounder, McLeod was a more than adept medium-paced bowler who had picked up 335 wickets at 24.25; he was also a dependable batsman who had scored 3,321 runs at 21.28.

This record earned him a Test call-up.

If you thought the under-arm bowling incident in New Zealand was a bit ordinary, then what happened to Charlie was at least equally as controversial.

Charlie (below)  was deaf, but he still managed to play 16 Tests for Australia.

The controversy involving him happened in his second Test appearance, and the first of the 1897 series against England, played at the SCG on 16 December.

England batted first and were bowled out for 551 on the second afternoon. McLeod and Ernie Jones each took three wickets. John Kelly became the first wicket-keeper to have not conceded a single bye in an innings of over 500 runs (not sure that’s ever been repeated).

At 5 for 82, McLeod joined Hugh Trumble at the wicket.

Wickets fell quickly, leaving McLeod stranded on 50 with Australia bowled out for 237 and asked to follow-on.

McLeod was promoted to number three. He and Joe Darling added 89 before stumps; Darling was on 80 and McLeod 20, Australia finishing the day 126 for 1, but still 188 runs short of England’s total.

Early next morning. Australia added nine more runs with McLeod contributing six of them when the dramatic incident came.

Abhishek Mukherjee takes up the story:

“Richardson bowled a full-toss to McLeod; the Victorian missed the line completely and the ball hit the stumps. The Englishmen were jubilant at having broken the partnership, but Charles Bannerman, umpiring in the match, had already called out “no-ball” rather loudly.

“Unfortunately, McLeod’s handicap (he was deaf, remember) prevented him from hearing the decision; he walked out of the crease on his way to the pavilion. The ball had rolled to Bill Storer behind the stumps; Storer threw down the stumps with McLeod out of the crease. Jim Philips, standing at square-leg, had no option but to rule McLeod run out.

“McLeod was confused at first before getting to terms with exactly what had happened. Once he realised that the Englishmen had been cruel enough to take advantage of his handicap he appealed to Bannerman as a last resort; Bannerman, however, refused to intervene.

“McLeod returned to the pavilion amidst a lot of hooting and jeering from the crowd; the afternoon was spent in discussion on whether the run out was a legitimate one given that McLeod had not exactly attempted a run. Storer, on the other hand, ‘regretted at having acted as he did, and said he did so under orders’.”

Match summary: England 551 (Archie MacLaren (England Captain) 109, Tom Hayward 72, Bill Storer 43, George Hirst 62, KS Ranjitsinhji 175; Charlie McLeod 3 for 80, Ernie Jones 3 for 130) and 96 for 1 (Archie MacLaren 50 not out) beat Australia 237 (Syd Gregory 46, Hugh Trumble 70, Charlie McLeod 50*; Jack Hearne 5 for 42, Tom Richardson 3 for 71) and 408 (Joe Darling 101, Clem Hill 96, James Kelly 46*; Jack Hearne 4 for 99) by 9 wickets.

To say Charlie McLeod was unhappy is probably an understatement. Livid might be a better word.

In the second Test at MCG he opened the innings and scored 112, becoming the first Australian to score an Ashes century on the MCG. In the third Test at Adelaide he scored 31 and picked up 5 for 65; in the fourth at the MCG he got 2 for 11 and 64*; and in the fifth at SCG he scored 64. Australia won all four Tests after the runout incident.

McLeod, a right-handed batsman and medium-pace bowler, finished the series with 352 runs at 58.67 and 10 wickets at 23.60 from 5 Tests. His career after that tapered. In the other 12 Tests he played he managed only 221 runs at 12.28 and 23 wickets at 47.35.

He scored a total of 573 Test runs (av 23.87) and 3321 first-class runs (av 21.28). He took 33 Test wickets (at 40.15) and 335 first-class wickets (at 24.25).

Charlie was born on 24 October 1869 at Sandridge. He died at Armadale, Victoria, on 26 November 1918.

Charlie’s brother Robert William McLeod (Bob, below) played in six Tests 1892-93. On debut, he took five wickets in the first innings against England in Melbourne. He batted left-handed and bowled right-handed.

Bob scored 146 test runs and 1,701 in first class cricket. He took 12 Test wickets (av 31.83) and 141 first-class wickets (av 22.72).

In his MCG Test debut of 1–6 January 1892, Bob batting at number eight made 14 and 31 and took 5/53 and 1/39, helping Australia to win by 54 runs.

After retiring as a player, Bob McLeod continued involvement in cricket as a selector, team manager, committeeman and delegate to the Victorian Cricket Association. In 1907 he replaced H. C. A. Harrison as the Melbourne Cricket Club representative on the Victorian Football League. He died on 15 June 1907 in South Melbourne, Victoria.

Both McLeods played schoolboy cricket for Scotch College in Melbourne (Bob was captain of the first X11 in 1884 and Charlie captain 1886–88). Two other brothers played for Scotch and Bob’s grandsons, great-grandsons and great-great-grandsons also have played for Scotch College.

Author’s note: I have not been able to establish any direct relationship, but you never know!

Chris McLeod