"When the English team left these shores, it was the general opinion not only that they were practically the best all round combination  that the country could produce... but that they were a really fine side."

These words, from a leading article in The Times , appeared not in January 2014 but on 2 March 1921, after the MCC team, led by JWHT Douglas, and including such all time greats as Jack Hobbs, Frank Woolley and  Wilfred Rhodes had lost the Ashes 5-0 to a resurgent Australian side, now fully recovered from the internal dissensions which had made the Ashes contest of 1911/12 and 1912 somewhat one-sided. 

MCC, then of course the governing body of English cricket, had not wanted to make the tour, considering that the English game was not sufficiently recovered from the ravages of war, for such an undertaking to be attempted. However as they had turned down an Australian request for a tour in 1919/20, they felt that they had to comply when the invitation was issued once more. The selection of the team suffered an early set back when the nominated captain RH (Reggie) Spooner withdrew. Spooner, a former rugby international, was one of the  truly classical  batsmen of the Golden Age, but he had a mediocre Test record and would have turned 40 mid tour, so his loss, through injury, was probably far from crucial.    His elder brother lieutenant- Colonel AH Spooner, incidentally, played a few matches for Phoenix in the early years of the Leinster Senior League and was captain of the Military of Ireland side in the tragic match in College park in 1921. 

The captaincy of the touring party passed to Douglas of Essex who had led to the 1911/12 side to a 4-1 victory after taking over from the ulcer-stricken Pelham Warner. He had made poor decisions in the lost first Test denying the new ball to the temperamental genius SF Barnes in favour of himself. "If he wants the new ball, he can bloody well have the old one too, " snarled Barnes who was with difficulty persuaded to bowl first change.   Thereafter he had the new ball, taking 34 wickets in the series,  and Douglas,  greatly helped by the advice of Hobbs and Rhodes, had met with every success.

The selected team in 1920  was seen as strong in batting with Hobbs, Rhodes and Woolley supported by the emerging  talent of Patsy Hendren, AC "Jack" Russell -  whose  real initials were CAG - the Lancastrian Harry Makepeace  as well as the dogged determination of Douglas, a player who made up for a lack of natural talent by sheer determination. The bowling was another matter and was seen  as relying heavily on the off spin of Cecil Parkin , also  of Lancashire, and the medium pace of Douglas himself. Rhodes was now primarily a batsman while the amateur  spinners, Percy Fender, leg breaks  and Rockley Wilson, who turned the ball either way and had been  pulled out of the class room at Winchester College aged 42, were unknown quantities at this level as was Harry Howell, the one fast bowler in the side.   

 Against this the Australians had a formidable captain and all rounder in Warwick Armstrong, a massively built man, whose girth increased as his consumption of whiskey grew,  known because of his build as The Big Ship, though there were those who thought that his character and personality suggested that the spelling of the last   word of his nickname  needed to be  changed! In addition there were the brilliant batsman Charlie Macartney and eccentric leg spinner Arthur Mailey, who never minded shedding runs while he was taking wickets. These two were, incidentally, both of  Northern Irish descent. New players had emerged during the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) tour of England in 1919 including Jack Gregory,  nephew of Dave Gregory the first Australian Test captain,  and  a brilliant all rounder. Bowling fast right arm, he was a devastating  left handed  batsman and a slip fielder who missed little if anything .  AG Moyes, Australian and cricket historian, NSW player and one who saw him often wrote, "He didn't worry about style but hit the ball hard and often." He was well over six feet and "hurled the ball down at an awkward angle and made it bounce fast and high."There was also  Herbie Collins an opening batsman who would bat all day if required.  He never wore batting gloves and was   a bookmaker by profession. However, unlike some modern followers of this occupation he once  asked a would be match-fixer whether he would prefer to be thrown down the stairs or out of the window. 

The tour began well enough with only one defeat, to set against four victories, being suffered in the eight matches played before the First Test. The defeat might have set the alarm bells ringing. New South Wales, needing 325 to win, did so by 5 wickets, with Macartney and Collins scoring hundreds after Gregory with 5-67 had made inroads in the tourists second innings. 

Nevertheless when the First Test, which like the remaining four was played without a time limit,  began at the SCG, the tourists faced it  with some confidence which seemed justified when they bowled their hosts out for 267 and reached 140-3 in reply.  Then, however, in the words of Wisden  "So disastrously did the batting collapse that the innings was all over for 190... For the failure in the batting there was no forgiveness." Gregory and Mailey did the damage which could have been worse as Hendren (28) was dropped on 1. Australia then posted 581, (Armstrong, 158 Collins 104). Showing rather more resolution than was to be the case with their successors 93 years later, England reached 281 with three men reaching a half century. Mailey took 3 wickets and the fast medium Charlie Kellaway, also a  dour but resolute  batsman, each taking three wickets.  

On  to Melbourne for the Second Test which the Australians won by an innings and 91 runs. They began by posting a formidable 499 having been 282/7. Gregory made exactly 100, while another former AIF man Clarence "Nip" Pellew made 116, having been missed on 3. He was an attacking batsman, sometimes known as D'Artagnan because of the glory of his stroke play, and a superb outfield, whom Warner reckoned the best he ever saw. Gregory's hundred was chanceless and came in 140 minutes. England then fell to  his pace (7-69) for 251, collapsing from 174-2. They owed much to a magnificent 122 from Hobbs who batted for 210 minutes, adding 142 for the 3rd wicker with Hendren (67). Unsurprisingly there was another collapse in the second innings which finished on 157, Armstrong taking 4 wickets with his leg spin. Mailey played in the match but did not bowl. Armstrong, a kindly man to those whom he had time for, kept him in the side because he knew that Mailey, then a manual labourer with little money, badly needed the expenses the Australian Board played. 

The Third Test, at Adelaide, saw the hosts introduce EA "Ted" McDonald to the side. Destined to become one of the great fast bowlers, his impact was really delayed until the series in England the following summer. England began the Test well enough. Despite 162 from Collins, who was missed off Howell on 53 and 61, they bowled Australia out for 354 with Parkin taking 5-60. England then gained a first innings lead of 93 with Russell making 135*, having failed to reach double figures in his previous four innings. He was well supported by half centuries from Woolley, Makepeace and Douglas. Mailey, restored to fitness, had 5-160. figures which he considered normal. However the Australians again rose to the occasion putting on a score of 582 with Kellaway making 147, Armstrong 121 and Pellew 104. Kellaway's innings lasted 7 hours and was his only Test hundred. Moyes considered him "without inspiration.... to watch him was mostly to be bored" but acknowledged his value to any side he played for. Things might have been different had he not been missed on 0! Armstrong's innings was chanceless, Pellew was  dropped  on 42. Needing 490, England reached 182-2 with Hobbs 123 in 151 minutes with 13 fours, batting magnificently, but were all out for 370, Mailey with another 5 wicket haul finishing the match with 10-202.  

Brisbane and Perth were not then seen as Test venues so it was back  to Melbourne for the Fourth Test. England batted first and though Makepeace " batted wonderfully well and did not give a chance in his 117" (Wisden)  could only manage an inadequate 284 with Mailey again shedding runs and taking wickets with equal abandon. The Australians found Fender's leg spin difficult but like Mailey he was costly. He was constantly barracked by the crowd who objected to criticisms of Australian spectators which he and Wilson had cabled back to their English newspapers. The Australians led by 105, thanks to yet another hundred from their captain. Undefeated on 123, despite suffering from malaria - for which he had the time honoured remedy of the whiskey bottle -  he batted in all for 214 minutes and gave no chance. Mailey, almost unaided then bowled England out for 315, despite Rhodes making 73 and Douglas, bemused by the googly but undaunted as ever,  his second fifty of the match. Mailey returned the remarkable figures of 47-8-121-9, establishing an Australian record which still stands. Australia, needing 211,  won by 8 wickets, a swashbuckling 76* from Gregory putting an end to England's faint hopes after two wickets had fallen.  

At the SCG in the Final Test England were again outplayed. Their first innings score of 204, with Gregory and Kellaway doing the damage was woefully inadequate, particularly as Macartney proceeded to score a superb 170 in 244 minutes with 20 fours. This innings, together with Gregory's 93, enabled Australia to recover from 89-3 to lead by 188. Another fighting knock from Douglas was not enough to enable England to set Australia any sort of target, particularly after Mailey took another 5 wicket haul.  Needing 93 the hosts won by 9 wickets. Mailey had 36 wickets in the series, an Australian record until Rodney Hogg, later to be surpassed by Terry Alderman, took 41 in 1978/79.  

Which of the three whitewashed was the most disastrous is a debateable point. That of 2006/07 was, surely, the least unexpected  for the side was poorly led,  badly managed and  under prepared. It  also faced the last hurrah of a great Australian side thirsting for revenge. Between the first and third disasters, I would suggest that the evidence points to Douglas' team having made the better fight of it. They also, I think, faced sterner opposition.  

In 1920/21 Australian batsmen hit 10 centuries and seven batsmen averaged over 50. For England Hobbs hit 505 runs at 47.14, the next highest average was Douglas with 354 runs at 39.33. Apart from Mailey's 36 wicket at 26.27, Gregory took 23 wickets and Kellaway 15. Best for England was  Parkin with 16 at 41.87. 

At the conclusion of the series the two teams sailed to England on the same boat. England, using 30 players,  lost the ensuing series of 3 day matches 3-0 rain and, possibly, a change of captaincy enabled them to draw the last two. As the Fifth Test meandered towards a draw, Armstrong lost interest and, allowing the game to drift, wandered off into the outfield. According to a possibly apocryphal tale, a newspaper blew across the ground and picking  it up and  he began to read. Years later Mailey claimed to have asked him why he had done it. 
"I wanted to see who we were playing," said Warwick.

Perhaps in times to come they will  attribute the words  to  Michael Clarke.