Radio National Transcripts:
The Sports
Factor
        Friday, April 25, 1997
 
The Victory Tests of 1945

Amanda Smith: Today, a brief but glorious, and now almost forgotten time in international cricket - the Victory Tests of 1945.

Hi, I'm Amanda Smith, and as well as talking about cricket to celebrate the end of the Second World War, later on The Sports Factor I'll be speaking with people who are improving athletic performance by using non-athletic movement systems - the Alexander Technique, and the Feldenkrais Method - in golf, and in dressage:

Richard Weis: Wear and tear is one of our biggest problems. If you want to attract a big mob of riders around you in a pub, you just start talking about back problems, because they're endemic.

Peter Lightbown: Most golfers are absolutely fixated on looking at the ball and keeping their head still and keeping their head down and keeping their eye on the ball. And so it's absolutely impossible for them to balance their body.

Amanda Smith: And more on improving your golf, and your horse-riding, later in the program.

But as it is Anzac Day, let's first recollect the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Winston Churchill: The German war is at an end. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.

Amanda Smith: Winston Churchill, on the 8th May, 1945. And that 'brief period of rejoicing' took its form - in part at least - with cricket. Because less than two weeks later, a series of pretty special cricket matches began, between England and Australia. The outbreak of the war in 1939 had put an end to such international competition for the duration. The Australians were a services team, made up of Air Force and Army men, and captained by Lindsay Hassett. Well, there's not too many of those cricketers left with us now: Lindsay Hassett died in 1993; but Ross Stanford is still with us. A South Australian State player before the war, Ross was a Flight Lieutenant with the RAAF, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. And he took up his cricket bat for Australia after operational duties with the Dambusters:

Ross Stanford: Well I happened to be in England of course where the games were played. And before the services team was formed, there was an RAAF cricket team which played matches around England, but mainly at Lord's, and I became a member of that team. And of course in 1945, when it was decided by the Australian Government to form the Australian Services Cricket Team, supplemented by a few chaps from the AIF, like Lindsay Hassett, who was the captain, I was one of the fortunate ones who were selected to be in the team.

Amanda Smith: Well as you say, this Australian Services side for the Victory Test was an amalgam of the Air Force side and the Army side. How easily were you able to come together as a cohesive team, playing as Australia?

Ross Stanford: Well it wasn't much trouble at all, because the AIF blokes were very good. Lindsay Hassett of course, as is well known, was a great character, and he was our leader both on and off the field.

Amanda Smith: Well Ross, tell me about the atmosphere around those Victory Tests, particularly the first one at Lord's in May of 1945, which was such a very short time after the German surrender.

Ross Stanford: Yes, it certainly was a very short time. I think it was only about 11 days or something like that, that they were able to put it on, and the atmosphere was absolutely marvellous. I've never ever played in a more exciting or interesting cricket match than the first Victory Test. And of course Australia won it in the last over of the day. And of course in our team we had Graham Williams from South Australia, he'd only been out of the prisoner-of-war camp for a month, and he played in this team. And he was on glucose nearly all the time to give him some strength. He received a marvellous reception when he went into bat in that particular match - something none of us will ever forget.

Amanda Smith: Well on paper at least, the England team were a much stronger side than the Australians. At the start of the series, were you Australians concerned that you'd get a bit of a hiding?

Ross Stanford: Yes, we were. Actually I think we all played above ourselves in these games, because it was most exciting for us really. Particularly for me, because if it hadn't have been for the war, I would never have been in England, I would never have played on these famous English cricket grounds, and I never would have played against these famous English cricketers, such as Wally Hammond who was captain, Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Les Ames, and of course, quite a few others as well.

Amanda Smith: Well what's your favourite recollection from playing in those times, Ross?

Ross Stanford: Well it was the great spirit that existed between the two teams. I can give you one example: in the fourth Victory Test, Stan Sismey, our wicketkeeper, he got hit under the chin, and a piece of his skin fell right back, and of course he had to go and have stitches in it. And Lindsay Hassett put Jimmy Workman behind the stumps. Well, by the end of the day, we had 53 sundries. So next morning, Wally Hammond came to our dressing room and put his head in. Keith Carmody was twelfth man this day, and Wally Hammond must have known that Keith Carmody was something of a wicketkeeper, so he said to Lindsay, 'Do you know, Lindsay, if you asked me, I could let Keith Carmody keep wickets.' 'Oh', he said, 'thanks Wally, I didn't know that. But I'm asking you, will you let Keith keep wickets?' And Wally said, 'Yes'. So that was one of the great sporting gestures that happened during this series of matches that we played in England.

Amanda Smith: Ross Stanford, one of the Australian XI of 1945. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the upcoming Australian tour of England for the Ashes will be a little different in spirit from those Victory Tests.

SONG: Peter Dawson, "V for Victory"

Amanda Smith: And the five Victory Tests resulted in two wins for each country and one draw - which you'd have to say was probably a very fitting result under the circumstances. The Australian team then went on to a four month tour of the Indian subcontinent, then another month of matches against Australian State teams when they finally got back. By which time, as you might imagine, they were a pretty weary bunch of warriors.

Ian Woodward is the author of a book called 'Cricket, Not War', all about this Australian Services XI, and the Victory Tests, which were never given official Test status:

Ian Woodward: No, they weren't. The MCC thought they should be and proposed to the Australian Board of Control that they be classified as official Tests. The Australian Board was happy for them to be first class, but would not agree to them being classified as official Tests.

Amanda Smith: Why was that?

Ian Woodward: Well I assume it's because they thought they were going to get thrashed. And it's probably perfectly understandable when you look at the teams written down, there was no reason to suppose that England wouldn't absolutely thrash the Australians.

Amanda Smith: Well despite the fact that these Victory Tests didn't have official Test status, the teams were nevertheless called England and Australia, they were playing as national sides, weren't they?

Ian Woodward: Oh yes, they definitely were. And the competition was very serious. They took it all quite seriously. The Australians didn't really expect to do all that well, but they were determined to do as well as they possibly could.

Amanda Smith: So who made up the Australian side? Were they first-class players?

Ian Woodward: There was only one player with any Test experience, Lindsay Hassett who'd played four Tests in 1938. And then there were about half a dozen players you'd say were established first-class players. There was then a sort of group who were just on the fringe of first-class cricket when the war had broken out, who'd perhaps played one or two games, and then the others were really just grade players.

Amanda Smith: But there was one player who emerged from the Services team to become something of a star cricketer, that was one Flying Officer Keith Ross Miller?

Ian Woodward: Yes, that's right. When the war broke out, Keith was certainly an established State player for Victoria, but he was really regarded then as a promising batsman basically. He was probably just as well known, or perhaps even better known in Victoria as a footballer with St Kilda. But those years in England during the war really developed his cricket to an enormous level, and I suppose most dramatically, his bowling.

Amanda Smith: What sort of crowds did these Victory Tests attract?

Ian Woodward: Altogether there was 367,000 people who attended the five Victory Tests, and at the fourth one at Lord's there was a new record set for a three-day match at Lord's, 93,000. So they attracted very big crowds.

Amanda Smith: What was the symbolic importance of these Victory Tests, Ian?

Ian Woodward: Well they clearly were very symbolic of the return to the normal way of life, and the re-establishment I suppose of great British traditions and so on. I think their significance in England really was just tremendously strong. Of course people there had lived with the day-to-day threat of the war for six years, and life had been very grim and grey and drab and so on. And then this sudden spectacular burst of excitement that these matches generated must have been an absolute - like a new awakening of life there I think.

There's a wonderful story that Bert Cheetham tells of a man who he was introduced to - just a few years ago I think, in the early '90s - and this man explained that he had been taken to one of the Test Matches in London as a small boy of about eight. Being so young, he couldn't remember what life was like before the war, he thought life was this dull, grey, awful sort of wartime experience. And the experience of seeing the Victory Tests just affected him so greatly that he determined to meet every one of the players in the two teams, no matter how long it took him. And it was about 1991 when he finally caught up with Bert Cheetham who he'd been pursuing them for nearly 50 years.

Amanda Smith: Well after the five Victory Tests in England, the Australian Services XI then toured the Indian subcontinent for four or so months, I think, and then had another month of matches once they got back to Australia, against the State sides. Under the circumstances, this was an incredibly gruelling tour, wasn't it?

Ian Woodward: Yes, it really was. It probably is the most gruelling cricket tour ever undertaken, and the only one I think that even comes close to it would have been the tour by the Australian Aboriginal team to England in 1868.

Amanda Smith: Well it was a pretty big ask of a bunch of blokes who must have been completely war-weary, apart from being exhausted from the earlier part of the tour?

Ian Woodward: Absolutely. Lindsay Hassett said they were absolutely fed up with cricket by that stage, and really wanted to have no more part of it. But it was put to them that the Australian public wanted to see them, and they needed to help put cricket back on its feet in Australia, as they'd done so brilliantly in England.

Amanda Smith: So did those who participated in the Australian Services XI get much credit either at the time, or subsequently, for what they had achieved in terms of international cricket and moreover, in England anyway, in giving people a sense that all could be well with the world again if England was playing Australia at cricket.

Ian Woodward: It's difficult to say; certainly in England they were very highly regarded and a lot of people in England thought that when official Tests did resume, that the Australian side would look pretty much the same as the Services team. But in Australia, it's hard to say. There was I think, perhaps even possibly a little bit of the tall poppy syndrome in some places, that here are these chaps coming back with this wonderful reputation, but they were so easily beaten by the locals. And I think that really was very sad, because they were nowhere near at the peak of their form by the time they got back here.

Amanda Smith: Ian Woodward, who's the author of 'Cricket, Not War', in remembrance of the Victory Tests.

***

Now you may have heard of a couple of human movement systems - the Alexander Technique, and the Feldenkrais Method - that were both developed as ways of fixing chronic pain or injury. Well, in sport these days, athletes are interested in pretty well anything that might help improve their performance. So today, we're looking at how these movement systems are being used in a couple of sports.

Dressage lesson: Now just inject a little bit more life, you look like you can contain it, you look like you're really well grounded, that you can just bounce that extra energy up and down from the ground. You're just going to find in a second that the neck will pop a little bit longer, and the back will swing more - that's coming, yes. That's -- you feel that? It's coming smooth now.

Amanda Smith: That's a dressage lesson in progress, with instructor Richard Weis applying the Alexander Technique.

Up till now, this technique has mainly been used in the performing arts. But according to Richard Weis, it's increasingly being applied to any activity that needs physical co-ordination, therefore in sport, and in his case, dressage.

The inventor of the technique was Frederick Alexander, a Tasmanian actor at the turn of this century who started having vocal problems, like losing his voice on stage - very embarrassing for an actor. So he started thinking about his posture as a way of fixing the problem.

Richard Weis: What he discovered was that in the process of performing, almost everybody shortens their stature, and that sounds like a very, very simple concept, and a fairly obvious one. But mechanisms tend to work best in expansion.

Amanda Smith: So you're saying that we tend to kind of shrink down into our bodies?

Richard Weis: Yes, we not only shrink down, but we actively pull ourselves down. It's not necessarily a passive process, it's more that in the activity we engage unnecessary tensions, thinking they're going to do the job. And in fact they interfere with the job being done.

Amanda Smith: Well Richard, how did Alexander Technique and dressage come together for you, in your life?

Richard Weis: I was a riding teacher first, and I taught for about 10 years and eventually found that I had a back that wouldn't stand up to the work. Wear and tear is one of our biggest problems. If you want to attract a big mob of riders around you in a pub, you just start talking about back problems, because they're endemic in the riding community.

If the jolts and thrusts and forces of the horse don't flow through you and flow out, if they are in some way accumulated in a particular part - if you watch a lot of people ride, their general posture gives the impression that they're trying not to hit the head on a roof, an invisible roof. The horse is bouncing up and down underneath them, and they're pulling themselves down towards the horse. Well, if you put anything in a vice and squeeze hard enough, eventually something gives, and that's what that situation is like: the rider pulling down and the horse trying to spring up, which is a requirement of his movement. The rider is jammed between these two things, and mostly lumbar spines or necks, or knees give.

Amanda Smith: Well one of Richard Weis' pupils is the Australian Grand Prix dressage champion, Mary Hanna. Mary was the only Australian who qualified for the dressage at the Atlanta Olympic Games last year, and she believes that learning some Alexander Technique has brought big improvements to her riding:

Mary Hanna: I've always found it difficult to correct my posture on a horse, and I mean many riding instructors come and say, 'Oh you've got to sit more straight, you've got to put your shoulders back, or do this or do that'. And if I look in the mirror when I'm riding, I can see what I'm doing wrong. But it's a difference in the way of explaining how to correct it. And that's what I found really interesting about it, because when Richard gives me a lesson, he actually explains to me how to do it; he gives me a way to think about it that makes it possible for me to do it. Whereas before, sometimes the more you try to correct something, the worse it gets.

Amanda Smith: And how much has that, do you think, improved you as a rider and as a competitor?

Mary Hanna: Well, it's been a whole combination of things that have improved me competitively to the stage now where I'm the number one rider in Australia. But I really feel that the correction of the position has been one of the major things. I mean I've been working of course on the training of the horse, and through competition routines and all of that. But to ultimately get the correct picture, I think this has really played a major part in it. It's really only been the last year-and-a-half, two years that I've been doing it. And it's really for me been a revolution for my riding, to be able to correct it in that way.

Dressage lesson: Open the tops of your thighs, let the weight of your leg hang more and see if you can get the weight right down into the stirrup, so that you're pedalling, right, left, right, left. Breathe down to your pelvis, see if you can spread the base; widen your sitting bones, get the weight hanging into your stirrups.

Richard Weis: It's a curious mechanic, isn't it, that the tiny weight of a rider, sitting right in the middle of the horse, can make the horse go up and down, sideways, backwards, forwards, in every direction, and that that can look completely invisible. And it's because riding is really a balancing sport, and what we're doing with posture is making, giving our body the order like a spring. And then we use that spring to spring the horse up and down from the surface of the arena. So when you're watching Mary ride in - I don't know how many of your listeners would have seen the first test that she rode in Atlanta - but it was an incredibly harmonious performance. And Mary was telling me before that quite a few people that didn't know anything about dressage said, 'Oh, now we know what dressage is: you go sideways and backwards, all over the place. How do you do that while you're looking to do nothing?' And this is because the organisation of the body is so precise that when the body makes a little bit of spring, that spring goes right down into the horse's foot, where it finds a thrust from the earth, and that earth comes up through the horse's bones and right up through the rider and out through the top of the rider's head.

Dressage lesson: You soften your shoulders a little bit, breathe back into your back and see if you can sustain the moment that you're in the air, in the rise just a little bit longer, so you can just slow to be with her and spring her up and down a little bit more from the ground.

Amanda Smith: Well, when we're talking about the Alexander Technique and dressage, are we just talking about the rider?

Richard Weis: Yes, we are. But if you read biomechanical literature on equine locomotion, and then if you read descriptions of the Alexander Technique, a lot of the time if you just didn't know one was a horse or one was a person, you could interchange the concepts.

Dressage lesson: Good, and go sitting trot, establish it, and then vertically rebound her into the down transition.

Mary Hanna: I'd like to say that in the training, I mean as a trainer of dressage horses, I hadn't known anything about the Alexander Technique till recently, talking to Richard. But now I can see tremendous similarities because we've been doing a lot of those things anyway, like stretching the horse's spine. When you want to teach the horse something, its muscles must be relaxed. If the horse is tense and tight, then you can't teach it anything; it's got to have the right posture to form the movement that you're trying to achieve. So in that way, what we're doing is training the horse to be relaxed, to stretch the muscles, to make the spine long and not be short and contracted and tight, because he can't do anything and carry the rider, if he's like that. So I can see tremendous similarities in what we're trying to achieve with the horse, and in the way that if Richard comes to teach me and give me a riding lesson, he's often asking me to do things almost in similar terminology to what I'd be asking of the horse.

Dressage lesson: It's good to see - you know you've improved a real lot with the engagement in there. I'd still like to see her plunge a little bit deeper and a little bit rounder, and for you to give forward on your inside rein so that she can actually stretch her neck and feel the space in the bridle ...

Amanda Smith: So Alexander Technique applies equally to horse as to rider. And that was dressage instructor Richard Weis, and Australian champion, Mary Hanna. And Mary's competing this weekend in the Victorian Dressage Championships at Werribee Park, after just coming back from the World Cup finals in Holland.

Now Feldenkrais is another movement system designed to increase your awareness through movement. And this year, golf instructor Peter Lightbown, has teamed up with physiotherapist and Feldenkrais exponent, Caroline Yabsley, to create a rather new approach to learning how to improve your golf swing. Let's first find out about who Feldenkrais was:

Caroline Yabsley: Moshe Feldenkrais was a Russian-born physicist who was born in 1904. And during the 1940s, he undertook to rid himself of a disability caused by pain from an old knee injury. He'd injured his knee in his early years playing soccer. Now with his knee injury, he noticed that he had good days and bad days. And he might do something like stepping off the kerb onto the road with that leg, and it would be no problem at all. And the next day he would do the same thing and he'd be in excruciating pain.

Now as I said, he was a scientist, and he applied his scientific way of thinking and deduced, 'Well, everything else is the same except the pain; the only variable that can be in this matter, is the way that I'm using myself. I'm doing something different in the way I'm stepping off this kerb, so that one day I cause pain, and the other day I don't.' So he set about learning how it is he uses himself differently that causes pain and the next day doesn't cause pain. So that's how it came about, from his point of view.

Amanda Smith: Well Peter, how do you, as a golfing instructor, work with Caroline, in teaching people to play better golf using the Feldenkrais Technique?

Peter Lightbown: My whole approach revolves around awareness, and it has done for quite a while. So I've identified three areas that I think are necessary in a golf swing: first of all to achieve good balance, secondly to learn how to relax, and thirdly to learn how to release the rhythm of the body in movement. So these things can only be discovered through becoming more aware of them; and Caroline can bring her expertise to make it easier for people to become more aware of how to apply those characteristics to the way they move.

Amanda Smith: Caroline, from a Feldenkrais point of view, what are the sorts of things that affect a person's ability to play golf well?

Caroline Yabsley: One of the classics is holding the breath. And a lot of people hold their breath, not only playing golf but in so many activities that require what they consider to be a little bit of effort. But if they were able to move more efficiently, that effort wouldn't be necessary. Holding the breath seems to give people a feeling that they're performing better. But what actually happens when you hold the breath is that you tighten up your chest, your ribcage. And when you tighten up your ribcage, there's a lot less flexibility in arm movements, so that your bringing your arm back to swing the golf club is less refined and it throws your whole self off balance as well.

Amanda Smith: Peter, you and Caroline have been running workshops using Feldenkrais Method in golf. With the golfers who've come to your workshops, what's an example of perhaps someone who had a particular problem with their game, that this movement work has been able to help?

Peter Lightbown: Most golfers are absolutely fixated on looking at the ball and keeping their head still, and keeping their head down, and keeping their eye on the ball. And so it's absolutely impossible for them to balance their body. If we've got the head stuck and the neck rigid, we really can't turn correctly. So most golfers are stuck in that mindset of keeping their eye on the ball in that particular way. And so any time that we can start loosening up the neck and getting the head to turn, and at the same time watch the ball, we can really improve the balance of the body dramatically.

Amanda Smith: Right. So how do you do that?

Peter Lightbown: Well Caroline's got a couple of exercises that she's got people to do. And I've got some as well that I've been sort of developing over the years, which basically involve looking at the ball with the eyes, but allowing the head and neck to turn away. So you're getting the feeling almost of the eyes working one way and the head working the opposite way.

Caroline Yabsley: And it has the effect really of loosening the muscles of the neck. It's like the brain suddenly recognising 'Ah, there's another possibility here'. This happens at a subconscious level, you're not aware of it; but what you are aware of is a looser feeling in your neck. And you can take this with you into playing golf.

Amanda Smith: Well Peter, what's the difference between teaching people about golf using Feldenkrais, compared to more traditional instruction?

Peter Lightbown: More traditional instructions always involved that rather horrible word 'keep'. So there have been instructions about keeping the head still, keeping the arms straight, getting the elbow here and the shoulder there. So the movements really - it's not a self awareness approach at all, it's a mechanically imposed, almost authoritarian approach.

Amanda Smith: Right. So it's 'Do this, put this here'.

Peter Lightbown: Yes. So you end up with a jigsaw puzzle really. And it's the brain's attempt to try and get the jigsaw puzzle right that creates a tremendous amount of self doubt, a tremendous amount of tension and anxiety. So instead of that, we're basically teaching people how to move more efficiently and more easily and more pleasurably, I think.

Caroline Yabsley: And also teaching people to let go, to stop trying to do so much, but to find their own natural rhythm and their own style.

Peter Lightbown: Very much find their own rhythm, their own style. Almost leading them to discovering a swing that's unique to themselves, rather than this idea of mechanical correctness, which I think is a myth anyway.

Amanda Smith: Peter Lightbown, who's the teaching professional at the Macquarie Driving Range in Sydney. And Caroline Yabsley, physiotherapist and Feldenkrais practitioner.

And that's The Sports Factor for this week. Hope you'll join me, Amanda Smith again next Friday. Till then, Cheers.


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