AS WE MOVE into the seventies cricket in England tries to keep pace with the times. Among the recent better innovations were the introduction in 1968 of bonus points in place of the former award for first-innings lead and the restricted immediate registration of overseas players, and in 1969 the new John Player's Sunday County League. Now for 1970 we have an important change in the lbw law which it is hoped will curb pad play even if it does not eradicate it completely. Behind all this we have been compelled to endure the repercussions of the wretched d'Oliveira affair and the antiapartheid demonstrations against the South African Rugby team which threaten to continue if the South African cricketers manage to fulfil their scheduled tour here this summer.
Looking back on the whole of last summer one remembers the dismal weather that prevailed in May. Of thirty County Championship matches only five were brought to a definite conclusion; the West Indies touring team spent many hours in various pavilions watching the pitiless rain. Not a single batsman totalled 500 runs. Happily the pattern changed and we enjoyed many weeks of glorious sunshine right into late autumn, long after the cheers had died down when Glamorgan carried off the Championship on that memorable afternoon of September 5 at Sophia Gardens; Yorkshire won the Gillette Cup at Lord's and Lancashire became the first holders of the Player's Trophy.
There can be no question that the Player's Sunday League was an "instant" success. The Gillette Cup had already whetted the public's appetite for this kind of cricket. It is liked because both sides are seen batting, bowling and fielding on the same afternoon and at the end there is a definite result. Moreover every ball counts; it is a vital part of the day's sport; the batsmen have to sharpen up their strokes; go for the risky single--there were countless runouts--and the fielders have to be on their toes. The majority of these games produced wonderful fielding in the way runs were saved as well as superb catching. This was a feverish tempo and something no one could expect in a three-day Championship match let alone a five-day Test. Nevertheless, this one-day instant cricket must never be regarded as a substitute for genuine first-class cricket. That it proved so popular was partly due to its being played by first-class cricketers brought up on the three-day match basis.
The sense of urgency which the one-day game breeds must stimulate the players, particularly the younger batsmen, by encouraging them to forsake ultra-defensive methods and to go for their strokes. Some fast bowlers found the limitation of the run-up to fifteen yards put them right out of their stride--notably John Snow--and the restriction of eight overs per bowler seemed unfair. If the batsman can stay through the forty overs allotted to each innings why should a bowler have to give up at the end of a short spell when he has the opposition on the run? There is fear also that the slow bowler is gradually being edged out of the game, but Ray East, the Essex left-arm slow bowler took six for 18 against Yorkshire and five for 18 against Worcestershire, Don Wilson (Yorkshire) had six for 18 against Kent and Brian Langford (Somerset) bowled eight economical maiden overs to Essex. Surrey owed much to Intikhab Alam for his skilful leg spin and Derek Underwood (Kent) and Peter Sainsbury (Hampshire) were most effective at their slow-medium pace. With the advent of better pitches, besides the benefit of the experimental lbw law, the top-class slow bowler should always be worth his place if only because he lends variety to the attack.
I hope that during the next ten years there will be, if no more, very few tamperings with the laws or the set-up of the new system of county cricket apart from avoiding the Sunday fixture taking place in the middle of a three-day county match. Some people advocate reducing the County Championship to sixteen matches so that each county meets the others only once a year, each match to be given four days. I can imagine nothing more dreary than a four-day county match. Look what happened when Test matches were extended to five days--since then only a few have been worth while watching.
The basis of county cricket and club finance are membership subscriptions. Yorkshire take £41,000 from this source; Lancashire £35,000 and they lead the opposition against further change, while accepting the value and attraction of the one-day contest. The Semi-finals and Final of the Gillette Cup yielded nearly £30,000 last summer and most counties reported higher attendances and larger receipts compared with the previous season, thanks to the crowds which flocked to the Sunday matches. Nottinghamshire were down due partly to the absence of Gary Sobers for half the matches, as well as bad luck with the weather. Kent, too, did not fare so well, but they lost Colin Cowdrey through injury and were also weakened by the Test calls on Derek Underwood, Alan Knott, Michael Denness and John Shepherd.
At last those who have insisted that pad play is not cricket--the game is a contest between bat and ball--should feel some satisfaction that a new experimental law, designed mainly to eliminate this negative and unfair practice, comes into force this season. It has already been tried during the 1969-70 seasons in Australia and West Indies. The new wording reads:
A batsman will be out lbw if, with any part of his body except his hand, he intercepts a ball which has not first touched his bat or hand and which, in the opinion of the umpire, would have hit the wicket provided that either:
The Test and Count Cricket Board put it before the M.C.C. Council after taking into account the views of the umpires, captains and several former Test players as to the best way to eliminate pad play at the ball pitched outside the off stump. At the same time it is hoped that the bowler (leg-spinner) who makes the ball leave the bat will be encouraged and that batsmen will make more strokes on the off side, particularly off the back foot. The law will throw a big responsibility on umpires who will have to decide what is in a batsman's mind as well as to consider the other factors in an lbw decision. It means that the batsman will not be out leg-before, as he has been since 1935, to the ball pitching outside the off-stump so long as in the umpire's opinion he has made a genuine attempt to hit the ball with his bat.
When the law was last changed in 1935 a long time passed before its adverse influences were really noticed. Many of the leading players of the time like Herbert Sutcliffe forecast what would happen and now it has been changed the new law should be given a prolonged trial. I believe it is a step in the right direction towards more positive batting and less negative bowling. The inswing and off-spin bowlers will probably be encouraged to aim nearer the off stump knowing that the batsman must attempt a stroke, thereby leading to more slip catches as well as keeping the leg trap busy.
Here it is appropriate to trace the history of the lbw law. Prior to 1744 there was no mention. In that year the striker was out if, with design, he prevented the ball hitting his wicket with his leg. In 1788 the design clause was omitted and the ball had to pitch straight to get an lbw verdict. About 1821 the ball did not need to be pitched straight, but it had to be "delivered straight." In 1839 they reverted to 1788 and this law remained in force until 1935 although in l901 there was a very strong move to alter the law by omitting the "pitch straight" clause, but the two-thirds majority necessary for any alteration of laws was not secured at the M.C.C. meeting.
Pad play is not a modern invention. The first notable practitioner was Arthur Shrewsbury, a fine upstanding batsman of Nottinghamshire who played twenty-three times for England against Australia between 1880 and 1893. Gradually the whole Nottinghamshire XI copied him, so much so that in 1887 it led to a great discussion on lbw. Dr. W. G. Grace, who rarely missed an opportunity of putting his bat to the ball, said "I certainly think players should not stop the ball wilfully with their legs."
One of the causes of so much bat-pad technique has been the deterioration of pitches over the last twenty years--this is a recurring subject and we now have Bert Lock as official inspector of unsatisfactory grounds. The players clamour for truer and faster surfaces. Some of the best groundsmen can be found looking after the playing areas of prosperous business firms and at the Universities and Public Schools. All the counties should employ properly qualified groundsmen but even they can be frustrated by outside influences like the weather or lack of opportunity to get to the square because too much cricket is played there. A long period of rain at Headingley just before last season's Test with West Indies spoiled all the efforts by that excellent groundman George Cawthray to provide perfect conditions. On the other hand it seemed that lack of watering rendered the pitch at Lord's rocklike and fiery for the match with New Zealand. Synthetic pitches may be the answer in lower grades of cricket but surely we must adhere to turf for first-class fixtures.
A visitor to Pakistan criticises the pitches there during the recent visit of the New Zealand team. He says that persons with authority have stated that the policy is to prepare sporting wickets to ensure finishes in four-day Tests. At Karachi the ball turned a foot from the start and he remarks that all this scheme has done is to make batsmen of reasonable talents into nonentities struggling for runs. In the first two Tests, Mushtaq spent six hours scraping together 59 and being out four times. He reckoned that Pakistan won the second Test because they had the bolder approach.
As I write, with the cricket season only three months ahead, it is still uncertain whether the scheduled tour by the South Africans will be fulfilled either wholly or in part. The various pronouncements from Lord's during the past year reiterating the Cricket Council's policy can be found among the "Meetings in 1969" section at the back of the Almanack. Personally I have never condoned apartheid in sport. It was the British who took cricket to the ends of the earth. The game has brought all classes of people together, irrespective of colour or creed, except in South Africa. There the State maintains a barrier between white and black which it is not prepared to relax to meet overseas criticism.
This is South Africa's problem and one their sportsmen must put right. Mr. Vorster, the South African Prime Minister, said in his New Year speech that he would not allow multi-racial sports teams to make overseas tours. So the statement by Jack Cheetham, President of the South African Cricket Association, that in future all teams sent abroad would be chosen on merit alone had a false ring. As a gesture the S.A.C.A. offered the non-whites a fund of £28,000, but they turned it down, saying that what they needed first was recognition. The non-white Board of Control has been ostracised and permitted only meagre facilities since its foundation in 1904. We in England have seen the primitive rock-like grounds where the non-white South African cricketers and golfers spend their leisure moments on the T.V. programme conducted by Andy Mulligan, the former Cambridge University Rugby captain, British Lions tourist and Irish International. Until the politicians allow sportsmen to mix together this South African problem will remain.
Now, cricket in England is threatened with mob violence. Was not a forty-five yard trench dug along the length of one side of the square in The Parks at Oxford last summer when a team of young South Africans went there to play the University? People with no interest in cricket are among those who plan to disrupt play if the South Africans carry out their tour in 1970. There is the possibility of severe damage to cricket grounds as well as bodily harm to the police on duty and to spectators.
The dispute has led to debate in the House of Lords and among those who have stated that they are against the tour taking place is Mr. Dennis Howell, the Minister with special responsibility for Sport. More than one hundred Labour and Liberal M.P.'s are apparently willing to join the anti-apartheid demonstrations. What sort of an atmosphere is this for cricket? We know that South Africa possess about the best and most attractive side in the world to-day and given normal conditions there would be splendid cricket and welcome finance to English coffers. But if money is to be poured away employing police trying to prevent ill-bred violence, how many genuine cricket lovers will want to patronise the games? Some, I feel sure, would prefer instead, a peaceful county programme with all the teams, for once, being at full strength--free from Test Match calls--in other words an authentic Championship, something we have not enjoyed for over forty years.
Fifteen years have passed since England last won the battle for the Ashes in Australia. That success was achieved under the shrewd and cautious captaincy of a Yorkshireman, Sir Leonard Hutton. Last summer another Yorkshireman, Ray Illingworth, stepped into the breach at the last hour and led England home against West Indies and New Zealand. Whether Illingworth retains the leadership when England go to Australia next winter must depend to some extent on the fitness of Colin Cowdrey, for whom he deputised. The thirty-hour Test does not encourage positive batting in the early stages and if a number of wickets go down on the first day a dour prolonged defensive struggle is pretty certain. Slow play has often spoiled the pleasure for the onlookers; there were plenty of complaints around the ground and in the pavilions at Headingley and Lord's even if the England professionals were satisfied. I doubt whether things would have been very much different had Cowdrey been in charge; so it was a pity that Illingworth felt that the attacks were against him personally.
Considering the England batting was torn apart by the loss in one year of Cowdrey, Barrington, Milburn and Graveney, there was much for which to be grateful. First, the fine batting of Edrich, then the successful return to the Test scene of Sharpe, who is surely worth taking to Australia for his slip-catching. I would also like to see Hampshire in the party. He is essentially a hard-wicket batsman, as he showed against West Indies on that sunny Saturday at Lord's. Hampshire's potential has been lost on poor county pitches and it must be remembered that he proved himself in Australian conditions when he played for Tasmania two winters ago.
With Knott behind the stumps, a battery of fast bowlers in Snow, Brown, Ward and Old and with Illingworth and Underwood to lend variety, the attack should not be found wanting even if we do not produce a top-class leg-spinner. One wonders how Australia will approach the six Tests. The tactics are in the hands of the captains. If Lawry is in his most obstinate mood Australia cannot grumble if England adopt the same methods.
Unless they change their minds, several county stalwarts will be missing in 1970. Yorkshire will not seem the same without Jimmy Binks behind the stumps. He never missed a match following his debut in 1955 and made 412 consecutive Championship appearances. I understand Yorkshire have a promising young replacement in Neil Smith. Binks was responsible for 1,067 first-class dismissals, comprising 891 catches and 176 stumpings. His 108 victims in 1960 stands as a Yorkshire record. Bowlers figure mainly in the retired list, which includes Jack Bannister (Warwickshire); he took 1,199 wickets; Tom Cartwright (Warwickshire) 1,108 wickets and 11,180 runs; Len Coldwell (Worcestershire) 1,076 wickets; Ken Higgs (Lancashire) 1,165 wickets; Derek Morgan (Derbyshire) 1,248 wickets, 18,356 runs; Harold Rhodes (Derbyshire) 1,072 wickets and Terry Spencer (Leicestershire) 1,319 wickets.
Three County Clubs, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and Kent, are celebrating their centenaries this year. Their official formation took place in 1870, but the game itself in those parts goes back much longer. It is known that a match took place in Kent in 1646, and in the eighteenth century it was one of the great centres of the game at the time when Hambledon flourished.
Personalities in the cricket world in recent Honours Lists include two whom Wisden has special reason to congratulate are Sir Learie Constantine who for his services as a member of the Race Relations Board and a governor of the B.B.C. was created a Life Peer. John Arlott, broadcaster and journalist, was appointed O.B.E. Both have made valuable contributions to Wisden. Basil d'Oliveira also received the O.B.E. A new Knight is Sir Brian Hone, captain of Oxford University in 1933, honoured for his services to education in his native Australia.
There was a time when any match allotted three days with exactly eleven players a side was deemed first-class. That became unacceptable because on occasion the standard of cricket was second-rate. Now the various members of the International Cricket Conference have the last word and some of the M.C.C. decisions last summer were not only hard to understand but were announced long after the matches had taken place. Hence, the batting and bowling averages for Oxford and Cambridge Universities that were compiled immediately after the University match bear little relation to the figures appearing in this Almanack. Oxford's matches against Free Foresters, M.C.C., and W. Isaacs' XI and Cambridge's against M.C.C. and J. G. W. Davies' XI were wiped out and consequently M. T. Barford, having been acclaimed a hero for a maiden century on his first-class debut for the Light Blues against M.C.C. had his honour brushed aside. So also was the feat of Chris Waller, the young Surrey left-arm slow bowler, who twice dismissed Graeme Pollock, the greatest batsman of the moment, at The Oval. I was amazed when the Wilfred Isaacs' matches against Essex, Oxford, Surrey and Ireland were declared not first-class. They were staged as first-class matches and the public paid their admission money on that basis. I wonder if any of the M.C.C. committee who came to this decision saw any of the games played by these fine South African cricketers. The batting and bowling averages of their first-class opponents were also affected. The statisticians have a bad enough time coping with the errors perpetrated at the cricket grounds, by the score-board workers and others. Could not M.C.C. make their decisions at least when the matches are taking place, if not sooner?
Considering that there are now twenty-one different Cricket Societies, including two overseas in Australia and Rhodesia and one in Scotland, it is not surprising that they have decided to get together. They embrace 8,000 members and with the blessing of M.C.C. they have formed The Council of Cricket Societies. Mr. Jim Dunbar, the M.C.C. assistant secretary, presided at the inaugural meeting in Leeds in October when Ron Yeomans (Yorkshire) was appointed chairman, D. W. Wragg (Leicester) secretary, and Eric Rice (London) treasurer. The link-up must strengthen the movement, and enable the various societies to help each other more easily, and the Council's representative will be able to speak for them all at headquarters.