Apart from his fabulous all-round skills, Warwick Armstrong will forever be remembered for his outstanding record as Australia’s captain during the early 20th century. His Wisden obituary profiled an illustrious career.
While a great all-round player, Warwick Armstrong remains in one’s memory chiefly for his unequalled triumph in leading Australia to victory in eight consecutive Tests with England. After the First World War, our cricket took a long time to settle down. During this period the England touring team, led by JWHT Douglas, lost all five matches, and the following summer Armstrong commanded Australia, who won the first three Tests and drew the other two.
In that superb manner, Armstrong terminated a remarkable career. Of colossal build at 42, Armstrong then weighed about 22 st and bore himself in a way likely to cause offence, but he invariably carried his desires over all opposition and sometimes with good reason.
Born on May 22, 1879, Armstrong rose to prominence in the season of 1901/02, when he did well for Victoria before playing in the Tests of which AC MacLaren’s team won the first and lost the other four. Armstrong headed the Australian Test averages, thanks to being not out four times. His bowling then was hardly wanted, but, coming to England under Joe Darling, he took 81 wickets at 17.50 runs each, besides scoring 1,087 runs, average 26.
He surpassed these efforts on his second trip to England, making 2,002 runs, average 48.82, and taking 130 wickets at 17.60 apiece, being top of both averages. These figures constitute a record, no other visitor to England having scored 2,000 runs and taken 100 wickets in a season. His 303 not out at Bath was the highest innings hit on the tour, and his 248 not out contributed largely to victory by an innings and 189 runs over the Gentlemen at Lord’s.
If not quite so successful in 1909 he scored 1,480 runs, average 46.39, and claimed 126 wickets at 16.23, being second in each table and by far the most effective bowler. He was absent from the Australian team that came over for the Triangular Tournament in 1912, but when he captained the 1921 side with such marked success he ranked third in batting and top of the bowling. With 1,405 runs, average 43.90, and 106 wickets, average 14.56, he for the third time accomplished the cricketer’s double, so equalling the record for any Australian in England established by George Giffen 25 years before.
In four tours in England, he helped Australia win the Test rubber three times, the exception being in 1905, when FS Jackson won the toss in each of the five matches.
He was fortunate to lead a very powerful combination, with JM Gregory and EA McDonald, the fast bowlers, too much for England’s impoverished batting, while Macartney and Bardsley headed an exceptional array of batting talent, eight men having aggregates ranging from 2,335 to 1,032, with averages from 58 to 30. The only defeats suffered by that 1921 team were at Eastbourne and Scarborough when the serious part of the tour was over. Armstrong led Australia to victory at Nottingham, Lord’s and Leeds before rain ruined the Manchester match, and England recovered something of her lost prestige at The Oval.
On that occasion, Warwick Armstrong acted in an extraordinary manner by way of emphasising his opinion that all Test matches should be played to a finish irrespective of time. When a draw was certain he rested his regular bowlers, went into the long field himself, an unknown position for him, and actually picked up and read a fully extended newspaper that was blown from the crowd.
Clearly he was then indifferent to what happened; but he was very much alert a few weeks before at Old Trafford, where the England captain erred over a declaration. Rain prevented play on Saturday, and so the match became an affair of two days. With England’s score over 300 for four wickets the Hon. LH Tennyson, at ten minutes to six, went on to the field and called the players in. Ernest Tyldesley and PGH Fender, the batsmen, left the field, but Armstrong demurred and sat on the turf near the stumps where he had been bowling. After a wait, the Australians and umpires went to the pavilion, and Armstrong pointed out that the law, amended in 1914, showed that a closure in the circumstances of a lost first day could not be made later than an hour and forty minutes before the time for drawing stumps.
It was amazing that no England official or player in the pavilion knew enough to prevent such a lamentable blunder; that the captain should be corrected by his Australian rival was a humiliating incident. The umpires, also at fault, of course, were so muddled that when, after 20 minutes delay, play was resumed, Armstrong himself was allowed to commit an error by bowling the next over – two in succession.
Armstrong established a record by playing in 42 Test matches against England – one more than Clem Hill. In these games, he scored 2,172 runs, average 35.03, and took 74 wickets at an average cost of 30.91. He made four Test centuries against England – all in Australia – and in ten Tests with South Africa, he twice reached three figures. Altogether 46 centuries stand to his name in first-class cricket.
With MA Noble, Armstrong put on 428 at Hove against Sussex in 1902 – still an Australian record for the sixth wicket. In Sheffield Shield matches, Armstrong scored 4,993 runs, average 49.93, and took 177 wickets at 24.16 runs apiece. At Melbourne in November 1920 he made two centuries for Victoria against South Australia – 157 not out and 245. In November 1912, in the corresponding match, also at Melbourne, he scored 250, his highest innings in these tournaments.
Very tall and slim when first coming to England, Armstrong was of quite different build 19 years later, and his massive frame made him a dominating personality as captain, quite apart from his ability with bat and ball. If appearing ungainly at the wicket because of bent knees, almost inevitable in the case of such a big man, Armstrong was a splendid stroke player, with the drive and cut most in evidence, and his defence was untiring. Bowling slows, usually round the wicket from a great height, he did not turn the ball a lot, but his leg theory was so pronounced that on occasions he sent down over after over wide of the leg stump without being punished, because he dropped the ball with what really was deceptive flight and usually very little break.
Against a field cleverly placed for catches, batsmen refrained from taking risks. In fact, Armstrong was adept at keeping down runs in emergency. John Tyldesley, at the Oval in 1905, countered this, stepping back a yard and cutting the alleged leg-breaks where no fieldsman stood.
Like many cricketers, after retiring from active participation in the game, Armstrong wrote for the press, and his caustic Test criticisms created ill-feeling of a kind which should not be associated with cricket.
Armstrong, Warwick Windridge, died on July 13, 1947, aged 68