Ashes Tests: 31
Record: 7 wins, 4 losses, 10 draws
Off the Mark
Joe Darling is widely regarded as the man who led Australia back to greatness. The well-respected batsman represented Australia in 31 Ashes encounters, and went on four English tours.
His career exploded in 1897/98, when Darling became the first player in history to register three centuries in a series. Interestingly, Darling would never reach triple figures again, but still managed to finish his Ashes career with 1,632 runs at 28.56.
Darling began his tenure as Australian captain in 1899 on the famed tour to England. Before the series had even started, Darling shocked many by selecting a youthful Victor Trumper in a squad of 14. The move will go down as an unrivaled masterstroke.
With the five Test series scheduled to feature three day matches, many people thought draws would be the most likely result. And they would be right for the most part; except for the second fixture at Lord’s. With Grace finally retiring at the age of 50, Trumper’s arrival signaled a changing of the guard. The effect couldn’t have been more pronounced, with the youngster hitting 135 in his second match, as Australia coasted to a 10 wicket win. Although Australia would find themselves in trouble throughout the series, rain and the batting heroics of Trumper and Noble saved them and sealed an historic 1-0 win.
The second Test in 1901 at the MCG was another famed occasion. 25 wickets fell on the first day on a horrendously sticky wicket. Darling decided to reverse the order in a hope the pitch would dry out. Despite being 5/48 at stumps, the final two wickets added 225 to set up another big win.
In 1902, Darling led Australia to another famous win; this time at Old Trafford. In a tipsy-topsy affair, Darling posted a half-century as Australia reached 299. A century to Jackson looked to have England back on top, and victory for the hosts looked certain when Australia was dismissed for just 86. Chasing just 124, England looked on track when they reached 0/37 at lunch. Hubris looked to have set in, and the hosts crumbled to lose 7/44 to set up a grandstand finish. Needing eight runs to win, and with only one wicket in hand, the much maligned Fred Tate strode out to face the red hot Jack Saunders. The number 11 stood no chance. Game, set, match Australia.
Joe Darling retired as one of the great leaders of the so called Golden Era of Australian cricket. While previous captains appeared solely interested in financial gain, Darling established an ethos within the team that cricket was about winning. His style was by no means autocratic, with Darling often employing a leadership group to help make the big decisions.
He would go down as one of the most respected captains ever. Darling was not afraid to discipline his teams in a bid to develop what is now regarded as the first steps towards professionalism. Darling stood several players down for being late to a match, and received no objections when he lowered the team’s wages to accommodate Trumper’s position in the side. Only a truly respected figure could get away with such a thing in the early 1900’s.
Darling became the most successful leader at the time, after having led Australia to back to back series wins in England. The team had finally become a batting force, while its bowling never wavered.
Played and Missed
Joe Darling became the first Australian cricketer to be waxed in Madame Tussaud’s.
Darling was the first Australian captain to record a pair in a Test match.
In 1897/98, Darling became the first player to bring up their century with a six.
In the same year, he became the first player to score 500 runs and three centuries in a series.
In 202 first-class matches, Darling only managed one wicket.