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AFTER ALL THE TENSION and bitter controversy as to whether the South African tour should proceed and its final cancellation one must be thankful that we enjoyed so much excellent cricket in England in 1970. Had the Springboks come under peaceful conditions their visit must have been a tremendous financial success, not only because they would have been hailed as World Champions following their overwhelming victories in each of their four Tests a few months earlier over Australia, but because of the excellent weather which prevailed for most of the summer from the beginning of May until long after the season ended.
With the continuous weeks of sunshine came also the long awaited improvement of pitches--the two main factors which govern the standard of cricket and the way it is played. In addition, we had the new experimental l. b. w. law which in my opinion gave the batsmen more freedom and consequently led to more attractive cricket, though whether it will become permanent remains to be seen. I am pleased that it will be continued in 1971; it must be given a reasonable trial to see the general trend for better or worse.
While many first-class cricketers reckoned that the 1970 l. b. w. version curbed pad play, it was still prevalent and in some cases so skilfully done that the intent clause was masked. The off-breakers, fast and slow, besides the inswingers were at a disadvantage as some batsmen thrived on leg strokes, particularly the sweep. Yet, other batsmen blossomed into attractive cover drivers, notably Roy Virgin and Glenn Turner, to name the pair who made the biggest advance last season. Only four bowlers took 100 wickets, yet all were spinners, so the new l. b. w. condition did not worry them so much as was suggested. Two were off-spinners, Don Shepherd (Glamorgan) and Fred Titmus (Middlesex), with one left-arm slow, Norman Gifford, the new Worcestershire captain, and Robin Hobbs, leg-breaks and googlies. Hobbs, incidentally, sent down nearly 400 fewer overs than Shepherd and Titmus.
Australia, apparently, will press for a return to the 1937-69 law with the addition that if no stroke is offered to a ball pitching outside the off-stump which in the opinion of the umpire would hit the stumps, but hits the batsman on any part of his person other than the hand, then the batsman is out, even if that part of the person hit is not in line between wicket and wicket. Looking at l. b. w. decisions in Australia's Sheffield Shield, I find that in the 20 matches in 1968-69 there were 46 l. b. w.'s, but when the law was altered only 25 in 1969-70. No wonder they suggest something different for their hard pitches, but conditions in England are usually more favourable to bowlers and I do not think that such a drastic change would be welcome in England.
While the l. b. w. law held the attention of the players and the off the field experts, everyone I imagine enjoyed the better cricket, especially the keenness and excitement provided by England and The Rest of the World in the five improvised Test matches and the thrilling struggles for supremacy in the three county competitions which remained open until the final days of a memorable summer.
All these events are reported fully elsewhere in the Almanack but I must stress the great challenge by the rejuvenated Lancashire. At one time they threatened to carry off all three titles, but in the end their proud captain Jack Bond had to be content with the John Player Sunday League trophy for the second year in succession and the Gillette Cup for the first time since its introduction in 1963. Gone are the stodgy days of Lancashire cricket. Now they believe in hitting the ball and they possess two wonderful exponents in the art of thrashing the bowling in their two imports, Clive Lloyd from West Indies and Farokh Engineer from India. May they provide many more delightful days this summer for their new President, Sir Neville Cardus, one of their many staunch supporters who has sung their praises even in their darkest hours.
A late burst of success carried Kent to the top of the County Championship amidst their Centenary celebrations but, in rising from the bottom of the table at the beginning of July, they had great difficulty in shaking off their two main contenders for honours, namely Glamorgan, the 1969 Champions, and Lancashire. On the Sunday when Lancashire won the John Player trophy, 33,000 people were present at Old Trafford to see them overthrow Yorkshire and millions more watched the performance on T.V., while at the same time one of the quality newspapers was proclaiming on one of its main pages and in its boldest type that cricket is dead. Very few counties have ever made cricket pay; wealthy individuals used to help out and now cricket, like many other sports, has to thank sponsors such as Rothmans, John Player, Gillette, Fords, Guinness and the Wrigley Foundation for coming to the rescue.
In these days of full employment and so many ways for people to spend their leisure time, gates have generally fallen to an alarming degree, but his cannot be said of all counties and, in particular, of Kent and Essex who play their home matches at so many delightful and picturesque places. Naturally, Lancashire, with a winning team, have been rewarded with their biggest crowds for some years, but they reported a record loss for the 1970 season of £13,692 following a loss of £11,197 in 1969. The major reason for the heavy loss last year was the cancellation of the South African tour which also involved television and broadcast fees. By selling the club's office block lease Lancashire reduced the bank overdraft from £66,949 a year ago to £1,676, but few other counties possess such means of putting their house into order.
The Test and County Cricket Board demanded from the Government compensation for the loss of the South African tour, but at the time of writing this had not materialised. None of the seventeen counties made a profit in 1970. Here are the losses already announced: Derbyshire £12,000 to £13,000; Essex £500 instead of an expected profit of £7,000; Glamorgan £9,000; Gloucestershire £19,000; Hampshire £18,000; Kent £7,000; Leicestershire marginal; Lancashire £13,692; Middlesex £3,900; Northamptonshire £11,000; Somerset £13,000, Surrey £12,000; Sussex £10,000; Warwickshire £20,000; Worcestershire £2,000; Yorkshire, a loss more than in any other year. Minor Counties, each £1,000 down.
Bound up with finance and the public's appetite for one-day cricket where a definite result in fine weather is assured, is the structure of the County Championship. As I write before the Spring meeting at Lord's, it is possible that already something definite has been outlined for 1972. Some counties would like another one-day League on Saturdays and if that view prevails it seems that the County Championship would be confined to mid-week with possibly a further drop in the number of loyal members who wish to see proper cricket and not instant cricket. For some time a programme of sixteen four-day county matches in mid-week has been a talking point, but I fancy that would lead to much defensive and purpose-less cricket which the onlookers detest even if the players enjoy it. There may be a compromise with twenty Championship matches, each of three days.
I doubt whether more one-day matches will benefit the game. Will England destroy their middle order batsmen? In the John Player League and the Gillette Cup they have little or no time to settle down and accustom themselves to the pace of the pitch as well as getting a sight of the ball, but are expected to do or die the moment they reach the crease. No wonder the Test selectors complain that many promising players are being ruined. The first dozen places in the first-class batting averages-- T. W. Graveney and D. W. White excepted--were occupied last season by either opening batsmen or those from overseas.
Two years ago no one would have predicted that Ray Illingworth was destined to be England's captain. The move began when Tony Lock decided to stay in Australia. So Leicestershire were stranded without a captain. At the same time Illingworth, unable to get a long term contract with Yorkshire, was released by his native county. Leicestershire snapped him up; within weeks Colin Cowdrey broke an Achilles tendon and the selectors in their search for a new leader for England turned to Illingworth for the Tests against West Indies. At once, he showed himself to be a sound tactician and in his new found freedom in being his own master, his batting in Test cricket improved out of all recognition. He retained the captaincy that summer in the last three Tests against New Zealand and with Cowdrey out of the running at the beginning of the 1970 season, Illingworth's reign continued.
He was certainly put to a thorough test by one of the strongest teams ever to take the field--The Rest of the World, led by Garfield Sobers. This was a tough assignment for England and for Illingworth and although Cowdrey eventually returned to the England team the selectors, in their wisdom, decided to retain the sound and practical Yorkshireman who had clearly demonstrated that he could induce his men to offer a bold front in adversity. Most people felt sorry for Cowdrey, particularly as he would be making his fourth tour of Australia. I write while the early Tests are taking place and I understand that Illingworth from the moment the team flew into Adelaide from London Airport, performed his arduous duties most creditably. When the team was chosen I must admit that I did not fancy Luckhurst, especially after those two ducks against Procter at The Oval, but he has been one of the kingpins along with Boycott, Edrich, Snow and Knott.
I must say that I considered it a sensible decision to arrange a substitute Test when the third match at Melbourne was ruined by rain, but I cannot agree that the original one should rank as having been played because the captains had exchanged sides and tossed for choice of innings. Here in England, a first-class match abandoned without a ball being bowled has never counted. Nevertheless, if the authorities want it, this match that wasn't will go into the records and among the Test appearances. As England triumphed in the fourth Test at Sydney by 299 runs, thanks mainly to Snow's devastating bowling, Illingworth had a great opportunity to return home with the Ashes. As a follower of England's fortunes from a distance of 12,000 miles I had to depend on the newspapers, sound radio and television. Fortunately, for Illingworth, he was there on the spot all the time. He knew the fitness and capabilities of his men at any given time and he did not have to listen to the commentators and some former Australian captains, Lindsay Hassett excepted, to decide his next move on the field.
When on May 27 the Test and County Cricket Board announced through the M.C.C. Secretary that the newly arranged series of five Test matches between England and The Rest of the world would be accorded "Test match status" and that England caps would be given to the England players, I never regarded them as anything other than proper Test matches. Here cricket came into line with International Association Football when England have played the Rest of the World, F.I.F.A. and the Rest of Europe. Since 1953 there have been five such matches, some drawing attendances of 100,000 at Wembley, and one has only to look at the football record books to find that such famous players at Billy Wright and Bobby Charlton count their caps in these matches among the hundred and more with which they are credited for their country.
No one has ever suggested that these football matches were wrongly classified, yet when a World cricket XI is brought together by events caused by political pressure a small minority have sought to have these splendid matches omitted from the records. At the moment the Test matches, as T.C.C.B. announced at the time, must be considered unofficial and therefore do not come within the jurisdiction of the International Cricket Conference, the governing body for official Tests. Since South Africa left the Commonwealth and consequently the International Cricket Conference there have been no official Tests between England and South Africa, or Australia and South Africa or New Zealand and South Africa. If one must omit England v. The Rest of the World then all those matches played by South Africa since 1961 would presumably have to go, which to my mind is a ridiculous situation. I would emphasise that the England v. The Rest of the World matches were broadcast by the B.B.C. and I.T.V., and publicised by the newspapers throughout Great Britain, and sold to the public as Test matches as advised by the Test and County Cricket Board of Control.
There is no copyright in the term "Test Match". I believe it was first used in Australia before the international series began in March 1877. Some official recognition by the I.C.C. is also needed about the status of first-class cricket in South Africa. The rules of the I.C.C. can be found towards the end of the Almanack and they show that the home authority alone has the power to define what is first-class. South Africa possess the strongest side in the world today; the cricket they play on their home grounds in the Currie Cup is of the highest standard and must be regarded as first-class irrespective of the omission of South Africa from the first-class classification of the I.C.C.