A rain shortened dead rubber in Birmingham means more history here on Limited Overs.
England’s first match after World War 2 was against India on June 22-25, 1946, at Lord’s.
The Allies had officially declared victory at 2:41am on May the 7th, 1945, but despite the throngs that filled London to celebrate peace that spring, and despite what our history books tell us, the victory rang hollow and cold.
That summer saw the nuclear devastation in Hiroshima and Nagaski, as well as the beginnings of the Cold War. In July of 1945, Churchill was ousted from power by the Labor Party, and England was left alone by its former Allies to lick its wounds – the USA had cancelled lend-lease without notice, and only after much cajoling did congress agree to lend them money to rebuild: money that they would not fully repay until 2006.
England was a shell of its former self. There was a housing shortage, a food shortage, and a morale shortage. The bombings had ceased, but so had the sense of community they had created. English society was fractured, their buildings destroyed, and their economy broken.
Their opponents at Lord’s, India, were also in a state of post-war flux. As an English colony, they had committed an all-volunteer army to the war effort – almost 2.5 million strong at its height. They fought in Western Europe, Italy, North Africa, and throughout Asia reclaiming territory for the allies after Japan’s surrender – almost 70,000 Indians were killed in the fighting.
Unlike England, but like the USA, India had not experienced any fighting on its home soil, and entered peacetime stronger than ever – especially financially. This strength would assist them in their formal declaration of independence in 1947 – making the series in the summer of ’46 their last series against England as a colony.
The only dark mark on India during the wars years was a devastating famine in Bengal – caused by overly drastic rationing. Historians differ on how many lives were lost, but the number hovers around 3million souls.
(Side note: as I was reading through a report on World War 2 casualties by country, I saw that China lost 10-20 million people during the war – mostly civilians during Japanese occupation. I had no idea. A sad commentary on the average American’s understanding of history.)
And that was the backdrop as the coin was flipped at Lord’s on the morning of June the 22nd. 30,000 people turned out that day, and the gates were closed by noon. India won the toss and chose to have a bat.
Sir Alec Bedser’s seven wickets restricted the visitors to just 200 all out. England responded with an entertaining 428 – thanks to a double century from the always elegant Joe Hardstaff.
India’s second innings was not much better than its first. Sir Alec took another four wickets and the visitors were bowled out for 275 – which put them only 48 runs ahead of England. The home side knocked those off before one o’clock on the third day – giving them a 10 wicket win to usher in the post-war cricketing era.
Between 1877 (the year of their first test match) and 1939, England had played in 243 tests: winning 100, losing 72, and drawing 71. A winning percentage of 42% and a win/draw percentage of 70%.
Between June of ’46 and their win at Trent Bridge last week, England has 679 tests: winning 229, losing 193, and drawing 257. A winning percentage of 34% and a win/draw percentage of 72%.
Obviously, those numbers are a bit misleading, as while some test teams, like India, have improved greatly since 1946, the number of minnows playing tests has been greatly expanded. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe account for 11 of those 229 wins and three of those 257 draws, for instance.
Either way, I don’t think the 10 point drop in winning percentage speaks of England’s decline – I think it is instead emblematic of their inability to maintain their dominance in an increasingly competitive cricketing marketplace.
Which, in turn, is a metaphor for the United Kingdom’s overall place in our modern world.
Despite the fact that the Germans were the capitulators in May of 1945, England’s victory did not launch them into the stratosphere, like it launched the USA or India. And that’s how war works, I guess. To the victor go the spoils? Not necessarily. The spoils go to those that remained out of range of the bullets.