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One minute before 7pm on Tuesday, May 22, 1945 a packed Lord's roared as Australia beat England in the last over of the first Victory Test. A fortnight after Victory in Europe, the result did not matter -- only the cricket. The five matches between a near full-strength England and Australian servicemen, at least one of whom had just been released from a PoW camp, drew huge crowds. Great cricketers played on both sides: Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, Keith Miller, Lindsay Hassett. Everyone hailed the spirit of sportsmanship. Even the result -- a 2-2 draw -- was satisfying. Yet this story is forgotten today. The only history of the series is a limited-edition Australian book on the subject. The story has characters -- besides the stars, men such as the Australian Dambusters Squadron pilot Ross Stanford; the quiet un-Australian Australian spin bowler Reg Ellis; and the English teenagers Donald Carr and John Dewes, who were on the wrong end of Keith Miller discovering that he was the fastest bowler in the world. By using the available sources to the full -- newspapers of the time, memoirs, deposited records in England and Australia, recollections of surviving players The Victory Tests details what made the dressing rooms tick -- in England's case, the class system of amateurs and professionals; and the tensions inside the Australian team too. Two controversies not aired before but covered in The Victory Tests are the war records of the charismatic Keith Miller -- not the war hero his admirers have assumed; and of Sir Donald Bradman, absent in 1945 -- and accused of being a war-dodger. Besides the see-sawing games -- the largely unknown Australians playing beyond themselves -- it's a story of players and sports lovers alike emerging joyously after years of war. Cricket mirrored wider society -- people hoped for brighter cricket, just as they hoped for a better post-war world. Their hopes, inevitably, were disappointed. The Australians, wearied by a colourful tour of India, did poorly in matches on their return home and largely returned to obscurity. Even the bomber men's war efforts were later derided. And yet while the Victory Tests were not officially for the Ashes, they offer a refreshing change from the commercial and cynical cricket of the 21st century. The 1945 series brought sporting competition with goodwill -- something more than the Ashes.
- SportsBooks, March 2011
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