Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Day the Captain Punched the Chairman of Selectors

Many players in the past decade or so would have loved to punch Trevor Hohns on the nose. Gutless bastards that they are, they never took the chance when it presented itself. Clem Hill was not so reticient about showing his true feelings, and the selection meeting for the 4th test in 1912 resulted in a all-out brawl between the Australian captain and the chairman of selectors.

The chairman of selectors was one Peter McAlister, a former player who had played 8 tests without success. He was seen by the players as a stooge of the Australian Board of Control, which was trying to gain overall control of the game. The early tours of England were conducted by the players, with the players sharing the profits (or wearing the losses) associated with the tour. The Board wanted that money, and a significant power struggle was taking place.

McAlister was not well-liked by the other players. As a reward for his loyalty, the Board had appointed him as the chairman of selectors whilst still a player. McAlister had put the other players off-side, just a smidgeon, by using his power as chairman to choose himself as the vice-captain of the 1909 touring party. He acted as a spy for the Board on the tour, and by the end, the other players simply refused to talk to him. The role of the manager was a critical one - he acted as the tour accountant. The players were concerned (and justifiably so as things turned out) that their payment would be significantly reduced if the Board gained control over the manager.

In the leadup to the selection meeting, Hill - McAlister relationship had been worsening. Both were selectors of the team (Hill having that right as the captain). McAlister had been making a series of very public criticisms of Hill as both a player and captain. It is believed that this was part of a campaign by the board to discredit Hill. Just before the meeting, McAlister sent Hill a famous telegram suggesting that he should drop himself from the team.

Once the meeting started, a slanging match between Hill and McAlister constantly interrupted proceedings. It culminated with McAlister telling Hill that he was the worst Australian captain in living memory. Hill jumped up from his chair and said "You've been asking for a punch all night, and I'll give you one." And he did.

The fight, which evidently was comfortably won by Hill, went an estimated 20 minutes. At one point, the other selectors had to intervene to prevent Hill throwing McAlister from the third storey window. The other selectors eventually managed to separate the two, and got Hill out of the room. As Hill was escorted out, McAlister yelled "Come back and fight, you coward." The Monty Python team, with several cricket fanatics in there, may well have used this line as the inspiration for one of the most famous film scenes in history. Hill returned to his hotel, the meeting continued and Hill was retained as both player and captain.

The media were informed of the events, and plastered it all over the newspapers. The public came out strongly in favour of Hill, but McAlister and the Board got their revenge. They pushed through (by weight of numbers) the right to choose the manager for the upcoming 1912 tour of England. As a result of this imposition, six leading players (Hill, Armstrong, Trumper, Cotter, Carter and Ransford) refused to tour. A forty one year old Syd Gregory was asked to step in as captain, but the weakened Australian side didn't perform well in the triangular series against England and South Africa.

How things have changed.


Ottayan said...

Good work.

I have a query.

Was Bradman liked as a person by his contemporaries?

Hope you can throw some light in your subsequent posts?

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