In the history of test cricket only few cricketers have been able to captivate the imagination of cricket enthusiasts with their cricketing skills. Here I am thinking about cricketers who could fill the stadiums with their magical cricketing skills. Cricketers whose performances would be talked about for a long time to come.
In Stan McCabe we can think of a player who with his batting prowess enchanted the cricket fans. His knocks are even now talked about by cricket enthusiasts!
McCabe made his first class debut for New South Wales in 1928/29. He didn’t had the best of starts to his first class career as he got dropped once the senior players came back to the side from international duty. He had his breakthrough season in 1929/30 when he scored 844 runs at 56.27 though he couldn't score a century.
He was selected to tour England in 1930 under the captaincy of Bill Woodfull mainly because he could also bowl brisk medium pace. It was a inexperienced side that toured England yet they were able to defeat a strong England side which had legendary names like Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Leyland, Tate, Duleepshinji, Lawrood and co. mainly thanks to Bradman's heroics. McCabe though in his first series didn't do well as he made just one fifty and picked a few key wickets and he even thought of giving up the game as he found English conditions tough to handle but for a timely advise by his teammate, Clarrie Grimmett of asking McCabe to play with a full face of the bat which helped him to perform a touch better as the tour progressed.
He again had moderate success against the touring Caribbean team and the South African side in 31/32 and 32/33 respectively. It has to be said that with the likes of Griffith, Francis and Constantine in the side the Caribbean line up did not had a bad attack and even the South African side had the likes of Bell and the left arm medium pacer, Quinn who was rated highly by none other than Bradman himself. The Australian side was too strong as they crushed both the West Indies and the South African side but McCabe found runs hard to come by. So there were question marks over McCabe's ability to succeed at the highest level.
The next season though changed it all as McCabe had his breakthrough series against England. The series played in 1932/33 in Australia is famously known as the bodyline series for Jardine's tactic of employing maximum fielders on the leg side which allowed the bowlers to bowl down the leg side and that made runs scoring risky and difficult as any batsman had to get runs through a packed leg side field. It was mainly done to curb the run machine, Bradman from scoring runs.
The series started with England thumping Australia at Sydney by 10 wickets by using Bodyline tactics. The match though would be remembered more for McCabe's stunning knock of 187. Larwood and Voce were employing the deadly bodyline tactic but McCabe met fire with fire and scored 187. He was said to be a courageous hooker and puller but everyone who saw that knock were said to be astonished by the fact that how he could safely pull and hook the likes of Larwood and co. and one has to think of the fact that they were employing the dangerous Bodyline tactics. His courageous batting made England’s hard nosed captain Jardine to even remove Larwood from the attack and had to bowl Hammond and Verity. He received a thunderous applause from the 46000 strong crowd who had come to witness the match. It is interesting to note that he had told his mother to refrain from rushing to his side if he got knocked over, before proceeding to hook Larwood out of the attack in Sydney. He was praised by many cricket enthusiasts and even the fearsome Larwood who throughout the series bowled that bodyline attack praised him.
Wisden about that knock,
"He scored off Larwood's bowling in a style which for daring and brilliance was not approached by any other Australian during the tour"
McCabe about that knock,
"it was really an impulsive, senseless innings, a gamble that should not have been made but came off against all the odds”
The 32/33 series was won by England as Jardine’s bodyline tactic was successful because they were able to restrict Bradman from being a run machine but the protagonists of that tactic Larwood and Jardine both were not in the squad when Australia toured England in 1934. Larwood was sacked and one can say that he was harshly treated as he was just following the captain’s orders and Jardine was no more in the side too. It was a series which was won by Australia 2-1 as Bradman was back to his old ways of plundering opposition bowling attacks but everyone was impressed by McCabe’s batting prowess in that series. He was in sublime touch as he made 483 runs at 60.37 and was effective even with his medium pace bowling as he took a few key wickets in that series.
Wisden about his batting in that series in 1934,
"In 1930 he gave the impression of still having a good deal to learn; he was inclined to be somewhat slapdash in his methods. The intervening years had clearly made a great difference in him. Losing nothing of his power, he displayed a wider and safer range of strokes."
He was in great touch when Australia toured South Africa in 1935 as he scored 2 hundreds. South Africa had a very good batting line up at that time as they had the likes of Mitchell, Rowan and Dudley Nourse though the bowling attack may not have been that good but one can’t take the credit away from McCabe as he was at the peak of his prowess.
In 1936/37 when England toured Australia, he didn’t had the best of starts to that series as Australia found themselves 2-0 down. It was even said that McCabe’s relationship wasn’t exactly very good with Bradman. At that time McCabe was the vice captain with Bradman being the captain of the side and it is said that there was a divide in the side with some players supporting Bradman and others McCabe. It wasn’t a great time for Australia as they were 2-0 down in that series and it is even said that McCabe and few others were called by the Australian board to pacify the situation. In that context it is remarkable to see that Australia came back so strongly in that series as they won all the last 3 tests to win the series 3-2! McCabe came back to form with the highlight being his 112 in the final test at Melbourne as Australia retained the series.
The 1938 tour of England was McCabe’s last tour of Australia. He was again appointed as the vice captain of the side with the series being drawn, 1-1 but as Australia had won the previous series they were able to retain the Ashes. McCabe made his mark in that series too with an amazing knock of 232 at Trent bridge. It is still said that McCabe’s knock of 232 at Trent bridge is one of the greatest knocks of all time. McCabe scored 232 in just 235 minutes and hit 34 fours in that knock! He came in at 111 for 2 after England had made a massive score of 8 for 658 declared and from 111 for 2 it soon became 194 for 6 as McCabe kept losing partners at the other end but McCabe continued to smash England’s bowlers all over the park. He took most of the strike as he took a heavy toll on the leg spinner, Wright by scoring 44 runs of a 3 over spell from the leg spinner. It is amazing to see that he and the last man Fleetwood Smith put on 77 runs and 72 of them were scored by McCabe! Hammond is said to have tried everything to stop McCabe from scoring runs but nothing could stop McCabe from playing one of the greatest knocks of all time. The match ended in a draw mainly thanks to McCabe’s knock. The crowd who came to watch that match were said to be spellbound and even Bradman after that knock said, “If I could play an innings like that, I'd be a proud man, Stan”
It sadly was the last time McCabe played for Australia as foot injuries and the world war ended his career. He played his last first class match in 1941/42 for New South Wales.
It is amazing to see that a cricketer who wasn’t even properly coached went onto capture the hearts of so many cricket aficionadas by taking on the quickest of bowlers and succeeding with aplomb. He is no doubt one of the true greats of the game.
Finally the legendary Sir Len Hutton on McCabe,
“ I knew him well. It would be hard to think of a greater Australian batsman. He had qualities that even Bradman hadn't got. I always liked to watch him bat and he was a most likeable fellow”