During the 1930s, Queensland was a weak cricketing state, having only been admitted to the Sheffield Shield in 1926–27, and the national selectors tended to choose Australia teams composed entirely of New South Welshmen, Victorians and South Australians. New South Wales' Bert Oldfield was the incumbent wicket-keeper and had no plans to retire, while Victoria's Ben Barnett had been the reserve keeper on the 1934 tour of England. South Australia's Charlie Walker was also talked of as a possible Test player.
Tallon was scrutinised as a Test candidate when England toured for the 1936–37 Ashes series. He was selected in Bradman's XI for a one-off match against Victor Richardson's XI at the start of the season. It was a testimonial for Richardson and such matches were used as Test trials for the top players in Australia. Tallon took three catches but was unable to capitalise with the bat. He made three and was unbeaten without scoring in the second innings as Bradman's men reached their target. In the next match against New South Wales, Tallon took four catches and scored 100 to bring his team back into contention after conceding a 190-run lead. However, New South Wales scraped home to win by one wicket. It continued a winless streak for Tallon in Queensland colours that had lasted for over two and a half years. Tallon had a final chance to push for selection in two matches for an Australian XI and Queensland respectively, against Gubby Allen's Englishmen before the Tests. He made a total of seven dismissals but scored only 49 runs in three innings.
When the Test team was announced, Tallon was overlooked as the selectors persisted with Oldfield. Tallon remained consistent for Queensland, making 22 dismissals in total for the season. With the bat, he once again topped his state's averages, scoring 434 runs at 36.16. He scored 101 against South Australia and 96 against Victoria, but both matches were lost. Queensland defeat New South Wales to record their first win in three years, but the remaining five Sheffield Shield matches were all lost.
The 1937–38 season was purely domestic, with no international matches, but it was an opportunity for all players to push for selection in the squad for the 1938 Ashes tour. It was another disappointing season for Queensland, who were again winless; they lost three matches, hung on a for a draw, eight wickets down in another, and the other two fixtures were washed out before the second innings. Tallon scored 204 runs at 22.66 without managing a half-century and made 17 dismissals.
Tallon's non-selection for the 1938 Ashes touring party surprised commentators. In selection deliberations, Bradman had lobbied for Tallon and Walker, asserting that Oldfield was past his best. The other two selectors, Chappie Dwyer from New South Wales and Bill Johnson from Victoria, outvoted Bradman. They selected Barnett, because of his previous tour to England, and Walker. Tallon's omission was overshadowed by that of Grimmett, regarded alongside Bill O'Reilly as the world's leading legspinner. No official reason was given for Tallon's non-selection. A leak revealed that the reason for his omission was that he was not familiar with the bowling of Australia's three spinners: O'Reilly, Chuck Fleetwood-Smith and Frank Ward. Another was Tallon's preference in standing back to medium pacers. In reality, Tallon stood back and stood up to the stumps depending on the situation. While the medium pacers were swinging the ball, he would stand back to avoid the risk of missing an edge. When the ball was old, he would stand up to the stumps when a medium pacer was operating and effect many stumpings with his fast reflexes.
During the series, Barnett made two notable errors. With Australia leading the series 1–0 going into the Fifth Test at The Oval, Barnett dropped Len Hutton and Maurice Leyland when both were on 40. Leyland went on to post 187 while Hutton set a Test world record of 364. In effect, England were gifted an extra 461 runs as they set a world record score of 7/903. Bradman injured himself during the marathon innings in a rare stint at the bowling crease after the specialist bowlers had failed to break the Englishmen. With opener Jack Fingleton also injured, Australia were down to nine men and fell to the heaviest defeat in Test history (an innings and 579 runs) and the series was drawn.
Tallon responded during the 1938–39 season by equalling two world records. The season started poorly for Queensland, not winning any of their first three matches. Tallon made eight dismissals in the opening match of the Sheffield Shield campaign against New South Wales, but the visitors hung on for a draw with one wicket in hand. After two consecutive losses, Tallon set the first of his world records. Against New South Wales in Sydney, he dismissed 12 batsmen, six in each innings, a feat performed only once before, in 1868 by Surrey's Ted Pooley. Tallon's dozen included three stumpings and he was at the crease when Queensland hit the winning runs to complete their first victory in two years. After nine innings during the season without passing 36, Tallon returned to form with the bat, scoring 115 against South Australia, but was unable to take the field in the second innings due to injury as the match ended in a ten-wicket defeat. In the final match of the season, Tallon became the fourth keeper to make seven dismissals in an innings, in a match against Victoria. He did not concede a bye in the innings of 348, and scored 44 as Queensland completed an innings win. Tallon finished the season with 34 dismissals in six matches, setting a new Australian season record. He took more than five dismissals in an innings in four of the ten innings in which he kept wicket. Observers noted Tallon to be more motivated than ever; his catching and stumping style became more animated, and his appealing reached new levels of sound. He passed 100 first-class dismissals during the season, achieved in just 32 matches—the fastest Australian to reach the mark. Tallon ended the season with 305 runs at 30.50.
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