Ashes whitewash: Kyneton boy paved the way

Australian cricket fans are still rejoicing only the third 5-0 Ashes whitewash of England in history. Bendigo history enthusiast PETER MacIVER reveals it was a famous Kyneton boy who masterminded the very first one back in 1920-21...

Warwick Windridge Armstrong – from Kyneton to Ashes legend.

We are all familiar with the careers of Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke, two captains who have completed 5-0 whitewashes of England, but what of the first to do so, Warwick Armstrong?

Any Bendigonian driving to or from Melbourne on the Calder Highway passes over the Warwick Armstrong Bridges named for the Kyneton boy and Australian cricket captain who masterminded the first 5-0 Ashes defeat of England in 1920-21.

Warwick Windridge Armstrong was born on May 22, 1879 at Kyneton to John and Mary Armstrong. 

John was a clerk and later became a solicitor. Both were Tasmanian born.

Warwick Armstrong was educated at Cumloden College, in St Kilda, and the University College at Armadale. 

His ability as a cricketer first attracted attention when he played as a member of a combined schools team against East Melbourne, and, after having played senior cricket with South Melbourne and Melbourne, he was selected to represent Victoria in 1899. 

He represented Victoria between 1899 and 1922, scoring 6615 runs at an average of 51.7 and taking 244 wickets at 22.68 runs each. 

For many years he was also captain of the Victorian team.

Armstrong first played for Australia in the Melbourne test against England in 1901. 

In all Armstrong played for Australia 50 times, 42 of these matches being against England. 

From 1909 Armstrong was captain of the Australian team with a break in 1912 because of what became known as the “Big Six” incident. This was a dispute between the Cricket Board of Control and the players over who should choose the manager of the team for the upcoming tour of England. 

Due to the board imposing a manager on the team, Armstrong and five of the other top players chose to make themselves unavailable for the tour.

Following the 1912 tour, international cricket was put on hold due to World War 1.

Armstrong chose not to enlist during the war unlike many of his cricketing colleagues, but was involved in fundraising for the war effort.

International cricket resumed in 1920-21 and a public, hungry for distraction following the horrors of war enjoyed a 5-0 destruction of the English touring team by Australia who were led by 40-year-old Armstrong. 

The following northern summer Armstrong left at the head of the Australian touring team and determined to lose weight so as to be fit for the ensuing Ashes series, he spent time shovelling coal with the stokers each day. This did not seem to work as he arrived in England heavier than when he left.

The 1921 tour of England was Armstrong’s last and Australia won the series 3-0.

One famous incident in this series was at old Trafford where Armstrong informed the English captain that in declaring England's innings, closed 20 minutes before the close of play, he had infringed the laws governing Tests. 

Armstrong's point proved to be correct, but when the Australians returned to the field the crowd 'barracked' them. 

Armstrong sat on the pitch and held up the match until the disturbance had subsided.

His obituary in The Sydney Herald recorded this, “He was, however, an astute and resolute captain. 

''He toured England with four Australian teams-in 1902, 1905, 1909, and 1921-and would have gone also with the 1912 team but for the dispute between the "Big Six" and the Board of Control. 

''He played in 42 Tests against England. Only one player, S. E. Gregory, with 52, took part in more Tests.

''Armstrong was one of only five Australian batsmen who scored more than 2000 runs in these Tests. 

''He played in more innings for Victoria (142) than any other batsman.

''He headed both the batting and bowling averages on the 1905 tour of England.

''He made four centuries in Tests against England and two in Tests against South Africa.

''His complete figures for Tests against England were:

''Batting: 42 matches, 71 innings. 9 not out, 158 highest score, 2172 runs. 35.03 average.

''Bowling: 74 wickets, 2288 runs, 30.91 average.

''He was one of six Australians who completed the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets on a tour of England, and only he and the late George Giffen performed the feat three times. 

''He was a hard driving batsman with great defence, an artful slow medium right-handed bowler, whose 'straight break' gained him many wickets when he had lost the power lo spin, and a sound fieldsman.”

Warwick Armstrong was a massive man, standing 6-foot, 3-inches and in 1921 at least, weighing 22 stone. 

Because of this enormous size he gained the nickname 'The Big Ship'. 

He was a fine all round athlete, playing Australian Rules football for South Melbourne.

Following the end of his international cricket career in 1921, Armstrong left his long standing job with the Melbourne Cricket Club and became the Australian representative for a Glasgowegian whiskey distiller, Peter Dawson Ltd. In 1927, he played his final game for Melbourne and retired from cricket completely. 

In the 1930s he and his family moved to Sydney settling at Darling Point, with Warwick taking up the position of general manager in Australasia for James Buchanan & Co. whiskey distillers. 

Warwick Armstrong died at his home on July 13, 1947, survived by his son Warwick George Armstrong.

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