Australia may have surrendered the Ashes in 1926, but two of the touring team were named as Wisden Cricketers of the Year. Sublime wicketkeeper Bert Oldfield was one.
William Albert Oldfield, probably the best wicketkeeper in the world at the present day, was born at Sydney on September 9, 1897. He learned his cricket at the Cleveland Street School, Sydney, where, as captain of the eleven, he was a bowler and batsman. Immediately on leaving school, however, he started keeping wicket in city and suburban cricket on the Domain at Sydney.
Before joining the Gordon Club, with which he is now associated, he became a member of the Glebe, and in two matches kept wicket to Cotter, the famous fast bowler. Enlisting for the war, he finished with cricket until 1919 when he was seen as one of the Australian Imperial Forces Team in this country.
There were two AIF teams, and it was with the second and comparatively unknown combination that he first played. In a match at Oxford, he acquitted himself so well that he was immediately asked to assist the senior eleven, and – his position established – he has never looked back. When he came here in 1921 under Warwick Armstrong’s captaincy he had to take second place to Carter, but he appeared in the last Test match of that tour. During the war he was a corporal in the 15th Field Ambulance 15th Brigade, serving in 1915 in Egypt and later on in France and England until the Armistice. Buried by a shell, he was wounded at Polygon Wood.
A modest and unassuming cricketer, with a delightful personality, Oldfield has often said that he owes a lot of his success to the sound advice given him by Herbert Collins, Kelleway, and the late Frank Iredale.
Anybody seeing him for the first time could not fail to be struck by his skill. As in his private life, so he is behind the stumps – undemonstrative and neat. He takes the ball in an easy style, without any approach to exaggerated pose. Indeed, there was nothing better in the cricket shown by Collins’s team in this country than the work of Oldfield behind the stumps.
Over and above his good wicketkeeping, he is a useful batsman at a pinch. Oldfield did not play in any Sheffield Shield matches in the season following his return to Australia from the war, but in the Australian summer of 1920/21, he took part in the first three Test Matches against the MCC team under JWHT Douglas. During the last tour of the MCC in Australia Oldfield’s wicketkeeping was brilliant throughout and for the five Test matches he had a batting average of over 41.
Bert Oldfield played on for Australia until 1937, appearing in 54 Tests, in which he made 78 catches and 52 stumpings.