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Armstrong, Warwick Windridge (1879–1947)

by S. M. Ingham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Warwick Armstrong, by Bolland, W. Hanwell & Southall, n.d

Warwick Armstrong, by Bolland, W. Hanwell & Southall, n.d

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21230190

Warwick Windridge Armstrong (1879-1947), cricketer, was born on 22 May 1879 at Kyneton, Victoria, son of John Andrewartha Armstrong, clerk and later solicitor, and his wife Amelia Mary, née Flynn, both of whom were Tasmanian-born. He was educated at Cumloden College, St Kilda, and University College, Armadale, made a name for himself in schoolboy cricket and quickly graduated to the South Melbourne and Melbourne clubs. He also played football for South Melbourne.

Statistics reveal the measure of Armstrong as a cricketer. He represented Victoria in 1899-1922, scoring 6615 runs at an average of 51.7 and taking 244 wickets at 22.68 runs each; he was captain for many years. Between 1901 and 1921 he played in 42 Tests against England, a record bettered to that time only by Sydney Gregory. He made 2172 runs averaging 35.03, and took 74 wickets at 30.92. On his retirement he was one of four Australian batsmen who had scored more than 2000 runs against England. On each of his four English tours he made more than 1000 runs; on three tours he took more than 100 wickets.

Wisden, referring to the 1902 series, claimed that few players had rendered better service on a first tour. Armstrong was in his prime from 1905 to 1909. In 1905 in England he made 2002 runs and took 130 wickets. In the Test at Lord's he captured 6 wickets for 35 runs in the second innings on a good wicket. He played little Test cricket in his thirties, mainly because of World War I. Yet in his early forties he enjoyed a glorious 'Indian summer'. In 1920-21, aged 41, he became the only Test captain to win all five matches in a series, and scored three centuries, including his highest Test innings of 158. Later in 1921 he won the first three Tests in England (the last two were drawn), headed the bowling averages for the tour, and hit three centuries in four matches, including 303 against Somerset.

As captain, Armstrong was immensely knowledgeable and a stern disciplinarian; he seemed to have no nerves and was at his best on big occasions. Though he had few stylish pretensions, his ability to 'murder' any type of bowler made him an invaluable middle-order batsman. As a bowler he specialized in 'straight' leg-breaks, but his impeccable length and uncanny field-placement earned vital wickets. He was one of the greatest all-rounders the game has known.

Physically, Armstrong was an impressive man, sometimes known as 'the Big Ship'. To get fit on the way to England in 1921 he shovelled coal in the stokehold for two hours daily, but his weight on arrival was 22 stone (140 kg). He towered over an opposing captain when they tossed the coin; the bat seemed like a teaspoon or a toothpick in his hands; but he was nimble enough between wickets and in slips.

Neville Cardus described Armstrong as 'Australian cricket incarnate'. He was one of the 'characters' of Test cricket, an Australian version of W. G. Grace: abrasive, cantankerous, with strong likes and dislikes and cast-iron convictions. In 1912 he was one of the six who defied the new board of control, on the issue of the players' right to appoint their own manager, and stood down for the Test series. Early in 1921, when disciplined by the Victorian selectors, indignation meetings in the city culminated in a rally of some 8000 outside the members' entrance to the Melbourne Cricket Ground while the match against the Englishmen was in progress. Later that year at Manchester he told England's captain, the Hon. Lionel (Lord) Tennyson, that he was breaking the rules in declaring an innings closed; sat on the pitch, while the crowd heckled him, when the umpires upheld his point; then unwittingly broke the rules himself by bowling two overs in succession. At best he maintained an armed truce with the game's administrators.

Armstrong retired in 1921 from the secretarial staff of the Melbourne Cricket Club to represent a firm importing Scotch whisky. Next year, in London, his Art of Cricket was published. He played his last game for Melbourne in 1927 and occasionally reported on cricket for the newspapers. About 1934 he moved to Sydney and became general manager in Australasia for James Buchanan & Co. Ltd, whisky distillers. On 16 July 1913 he had married Aileen Veronica O'Donnell, daughter of a Gundagai grazier; she predeceased him. He died of pulmonary embolism complicating venous thrombosis at his Darling Point home on 13 July 1947, and was buried in the Catholic section of South Head cemetery. Nearly all his estate, valued for probate at £105,813, was left to his only son. The museum at the Melbourne Cricket Club holds his tent-like shirt, capacious trousers and enormous boots.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Dunstan, The Paddock that Grew (Melb, 1962)
  • R. Grace, Warwick Armstrong (Camberwell, 1975)
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 July 1947
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 July 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Oct 1955.

Citation details

S. M. Ingham, 'Armstrong, Warwick Windridge (1879–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/armstrong-warwick-windridge-5053/text8423, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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