Causes of listless cricket, 1952

Notes by the Editor

Norman Preston

The summer of 1951 will go down into cricket history as one that did not set a high standard of play. After the breezy exhibitions of batting by the West Indies the previous year the stolid defence of the South African batsmen provided a big contrast and the same dourness pervaded most of our county batsmen. To some extent the weather was to blame. The month of May was bitterly cold and subsequently, particularly in the North, rain constantly interfered with the game. Cricketers need sunny days to give of their best and only the ardent enthusiast will brave the cold and wet weather. But the fact remains that attendances fell to an alarming degree and the number of drawn games in the County Championship rose to such an extent that they reached 50 percent of the total fixtures.

Happily we are not being complacent and I was specially pleased to hear Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr draw attention to the problem when the county secretaries met at Lord's in December. He was right in referring to the Select Committee's report of 1944 (see Wisden 1944, page 83). I am grateful to Colonel Rait Kerr for sending us his speech in the form of an article which precedes these notes and at the same time I welcome the article by Neville Cardus who deals with the same problem from another angle. In short, cricket, and not only English cricket, needs an injection of culture and enterprise.

Judging by the results of the Test matches in 1951, English cricket has begun the long awaited upward trend. In March, at Melbourne, F. R. Brown's men broke Australia's long reign of supremacy by winning the Fifth Test--our first victory over our main rivals since 1938. Next, England went to New Zealand where we drew the First and won the Second Test--our first win over New Zealand since 1937, and last season in England we carried off the rubber by beating South Africa at Lord's, Manchester and The Oval after losing the First Test at Nottingham. For this improvement in the International sphere England has to thank first of all the captain, F. R. Brown, whose courage and leadership is duly recognised here in the article by Vivian Jenkins. Brown follows the tradition of the great amateurs who made this game of cricket as we know it in the first-class sense. There is always room for the talented professional but the amateur brings the essential spirit of adventure.

That is where cricket generally and county cricket in particular is failing at the present time. Fancy Jack Hobbs stating that he finds more pleasure in watching a village match than modern county cricket which he says consists of the same old stuff served up time after time. He emphasised that he did not regard his generation as being better than any other, but in his opinion there are few personalities in the game to-day. Hobbs thinks that the game should be improving because the youngster gets more chances than in his day, but instead it is going back. He pin-pointed one of the biggest faults for slow scoring when he remarked, "A good cricketer should be able to score off good bowling, instead of waiting for the loose ball," and he paid tribute to Denis Compton for being a fine cricketer and to Hutton whom he described as a classical batsman.

Question To Counties

The truth is that for the time being the majority of players do not adopt the dynamic attitude towards the game, whether batting, bowling or fielding, as demanded in the Select Committee's report. How many counties have followed faithfully this directive in the five post-war seasons? In my opinion not one could reply they have done so consistently, but a few like Yorkshire, Middlesex, Glamorgan, Lancashire, Surrey and Warwickshire have forced the pace when in pursuit of the Championship.

The general lack of really first-class players and the gradual retirement of those who made their names before the war, coupled with an almost total absence of all-round cricketers, are some of the causes of listless cricket. Another drawback is the constant day-to-day fixture list. The Select Committee recommended that each county play 26 matches; that number has been increased to 28. Many players are cricket-weary and travel-tired before August arrives. We should prune the competitive programme or players should be rested in turn as they are when on tour.

Some people go as far as suggesting the restriction of first-class cricket to week-ends until August arrives so that more amateurs would be available, but such a reform would probably cause a big fall of county members and further embarrass the treasurers. One of the factors which has prevented some counties recovering their pre-war strength has been the appointment of immature men as captains, particularly in 1946. There does not seem to be much wisdom in expending large sums of money trying to find and develop young talent when those same young players are drafted into teams labouring under the handicap of poor captaincy.

Warwickshire Champions

And here let me congratulate Warwickshire on winning the County Championship. Their triumph emphasised the importance of skilled leadership, for in Tom Dollery they possessed a man able to get the best out of his team both off and on the field. Dollery a professional, led an all-professional eleven, and while twentieth century conditions rob the game of the real amateur Dollery showed that the paid player can become a captain in the real sense of the word. By his astute work Dollery has raised the status of the professional just as Hobbs did in the days when every county club had one dressing-room for the paid and another for the unpaid.

There were no stars in the Warwickshire team--none of their men was chosen for England--they were a well-balanced side splendidly equipped in bowling. Perhaps the match winner was W. E. Hollies, a grand leg-spinner in this country, but the whole attack was capable of exploiting any type of pitch and they did not pursue the fetish of in-swing and off-break. Much credit for Warwickshire's achievement must also be given to the Committee and Secretary, L. T. Deakins, for shrewd team-building.

Warwickshire certainly played dynamic cricket. Twice they beat Yorkshire, their main challengers, and six other games were won in two days. At the celebration dinner given by Lord Iliffe and his fellow directors of the Birmingham Post, Dr. Harold Twaite, the president, presented a gold watch to each member of the team. In praising his side Dollery said: "You will see many better cricket teams, but I doubt if you will see a keener one. And I know that there never has been a more loyal one, not only to the club but to the captain."

To some people the success of Warwickshire gave dissatisfaction because only two of the regular players, F. C. Gardner and C. W. Grove, were qualified by birth for the county. The majority were acquired by special registration but none were obtained from other first-class counties. Warwickshire set an example in making every effort to improve their standard of cricket. In the absence of home talent they looked elsewhere as they were entitled to do under the qualification rules. They made no secret of their policy. Two years ago in a special article approved by the club for Wisden M. F. K. Fraser wrote: "Warwickshire were persistent challengers for the Championship in 1949(the first year Dollery became full-time professional captain). The President and Committee are confident it can be won--and held--in the near future. With a record membership and record support at the turnstiles they are willing to back their confidence by outlay wherever it may be made usefully. There are critics of this policy which has turned the Warwickshire staff into a Cricket League of Nations: but the Birmingham public, nurtured on the liberal transfer system of Soccer, will not worry where their cricket favourites come from so long as they play attractively and win matches.

It would be a sorry day for cricket if players were bartered in the transfer market, but no one need fear such a happening for already the problem has been tackled and Warwickshire were one of the counties represented on the small committee which has tightened the Special Registration rules. Now only two new registrations are permitted each year by any county and from 1953 no county will be allowed more than ten specially registered players on their list including eight professionals.

Encouraging Sign

While much has been written about the decline of English cricket there are signs that the corner will be turned if we continue to produce players like P. B. H. May, T. W. Graveney, D. S. Sheppard, F. A. Lowson, R. Tattersall, R. Appleyard, F. S. Trueman, D. J. Insole, M. C. Cowdrey, J. B. Statham, J. M. Parks and D. B. Close, and instil into everyone the joy of playing cricket keenly the whole time.

Excessive pad play is responsible for much negative cricket. To discourage batsman adopting this method of defence Sir Donald Bradman advocates that a batsman should be l. b. w. even if standing outside the off stump. Tampering with the laws has not always produced the results desired, but if this idea would bring about a return to leg-break bowling and thereby encourage batsmen to cultivate the off drive--one of the glories of cricket--it would be worth a trial, but so far not even Australia are wholly in favour. Linked with this problem of pad play is the leg-bye which many people think is an unfair penalty to the fielding side. The number of leg-byes might be reduced by this proposed extension of the l. b. w. rule.

Too Many Specialists

The need for all-rounders was emphasised in the composition of the England team in the five Tests against South Africa. We would not have dared face Australia with such a long tail, and during the winter the same thing handicapped the M.C.C. team in India and Pakistan. When England were left to make 238 in an hour and forty minutes in the Second Test at Bombay, N. Howard could not instruct his batsmen to go for the runs because the batting strength ended at number six.

Worcestershire's Dramatic Win

The cricket at Worcester and Old Trafford on July 27 provided striking examples of the way different teams tackle similar problems. Nottinghamshire left Worcestershire forty minutes to make 131 runs--over three runs a minute. There were only 2,000 people present and they were rewarded for their loyalty to their local club on the third day for they saw a glorious finish. Worcestershire not only attempted what seemed to be an impossible task but hit off the runs in 12.1 overs with five minutes to spare and won by nine wickets. Lancashire, on the other hand, were not so closely pressed for time. They wanted 110 in forty-eight minutes to beat Northamptonshire and, apparently, thought so little of their chance that they sent in their tail-end batsmen who in eighteen minutes made three runs for the loss of two wickets. The extra half-hour was not claimed so a position which had aroused the small crowd to a high level of excitement brought disappointment as they witnessed the farcical ending. While praising Worcestershire for their enterprising cricket one must also congratulate R. T. Simpson, the Nottinghamshire captain, and his men for the prompt way they moved to their places between the overs.

Lobs At Trent Bridge

This action of Simpson's showed he was not unmindful of the necessity to provide attractive cricket, yet at Trent Bridge cricket has become so negative that the county club appointed a special committee to thrash out the problem. The matter boiled up in the Nottinghamshire and Glamorgan match when after a drab period during which the Glamorgan batsmen scored only 12 runs from fifteen overs on a perfect afternoon, Simpson bowled lobs to W. Wooller the opposing captain. Wooller voiced the opinion of many cricketers when he said, "The root of the trouble at Trent Bridge is the feather-bed state of the wicket. Visiting teams know that unless there is interference by the weather they are fighting for four points, not an outright victory. The Nottinghamshire fielding strategy is to bowl to a deep-set defensive field hoping that visiting batsmen will take chances and give catches. If batsmen are not prepared to do this, scoring rates of between 30 and 40 an hour result."

More sporting pitches may be expected there this summer, for on the instruction of the sub-committee one third of the "table" has been relaid. Immediately the 1951 season ended the marl and surface turf were cleared to the depth of an inch, the subsoil lifted to level the area again and the whole has been re-seeded. A light dressing of ordinary soil was also applied. If this experiment is successful the whole of the pitch area will be treated in a similar way.

Those Early Finishes

The time has surely come when some counties should cut down the number of early finishes arranged for the third day. In one instance last season the home side and the umpires were staying at the same venue for the next match and the visiting team were travelling only 40 miles, yet long hours were played on the first two days and stumps were drawn early on the third. In another case only ten minutes' cricket took place after lunch on the third day when stumps were pulled up and the match left drawn. When lunch is included most cricketers think of a whole day match, but not, apparently, some first-class county clubs. These things irritate the public. They do not always complain but do they come to cricket again when there are so many counter attractions? I am indebted to Captain W. A. Powell, R. A. F. Staff College, Andover, for the following figures showing the growth of counter-attractions to cricket over the last 50 years:

Baseball Teams10952
Lawn Tennis Clubs3205,300
Golf Clubs1202,100
Civil Flying Clubs and SchoolsNil175
Dog-racing CoursesNil257
Sailing and Motor-boat Clubs125247
Private Cars licensed4,3005,200,000
Motor Cycles3,000681,000
Speedway TracksNil43

If first-class cricket is to survive, it must be able to challenge these formidable competitors.

Alec Bedser's Feat

If we could look ahead say ten or twenty years I wonder where Alec Bedser would stand in a list of great bowlers. All his first-class cricket has been played since the war and already his total number of wickets in Test matches, 162, have been surpassed by only two men, C. V. Grimmett 216, and S. F. Barnes 189. In the course of one year, September 1950 to August 1951, Bedser claimed 62 Test victims in twelve matches. In Australia his haul was 30, then he took two in New Zealand and returning to England again he took 30 wickets in the Tests against South Africa. Bedser has the gift of rising to the occasion because of the care and seriousness which he attaches to the importance of playing for England. Not even the most tempting invitation would induce him to break his self-appointed rule of bed by ten o'clock throughout a Test match.

Cricket For The Million

The most comprehensive effort in the history of the game to take cricket to the youth of England is now in force and the M.C.C. and many former first-class cricketers must be congratulated on their splendid work. The scheme began in 1948 and now after three years of intensive work behind the scenes it has been launched on a National basis. While it should be the means of producing county and Test cricketers the main idea is to introduce cricket to boys who would otherwise never have the opportunity. The M.C.C. have made a grant of £15,000 to their Youth Association for this purpose and at the first week-end Conference they wisely took the course of giving sound instruction to the coaches who in turn instruct schoolmasters and youth leaders.


Most reluctantly I feel compelled to draw the attention of M.C.C. and other International cricket bodies to the problem of to the problem of throwing by bowlers in the act of delivering the ball. Over fifty years ago throwing on English grounds became so common that Sydney Pardon, the Editor of Wisden, conducted a campaign which led to the stamping out of the nuisance (see Wisden 1895, 1898, 1899). I am told by some people who followed the M.C.C. tour in Australia that they came across three bowlers whose actions were suspicious and two of these have played in Test matches. The problem cropped up in England last summer and nothing was done about it. In these days when the slightest incident on the cricket field may be magnified into an International affair it is no wonder that umpires are loath to take action, but I would remind umpires and all members of the Imperial Cricket Conference that Law 26 is perfectly clear as to the course that should be taken: For a delivery to be fair the ball must be bowled, not thrown or jerked; if either umpire be not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect, he shall call and signal "No Ball" instantly upon delivery. There is no question that the umpire must be positive that the man is throwing; he must call "No Ball" if there is any doubt in his mind about the delivery being absolutely fair.

Another Menace

The general form of the West Indies in Australia in 1951-52 fell a long way below expectations. Leaving aside the result of the Test series, the tone of letters from those who followed the tour is not happy. My information is that "West Indies were bounced out of the Tests." More than likely they returned home in similar frame of mind to other teams who have faced Australia's fast bowlers since the war, believing that they cannot meet Australia on level terms until they produce bowlers of like speed and method. That is, men capable of sustained attack of fast short-pitched bowling with the ball repeatedly flying around the batsman's head. In its origin cricket was never meant to be played that way. No matter what the issue involved, the game is greater than the individuals. It is a sad thought that sometimes this truth is submerged in the quest for victory and those with the interests of the game at heart regard the frequent use of the bumper as a menace. Action should be taken before someone is hurt, and hurt seriously.

An Unsatisfactory Law

No good can arise in approaching the problem by resurrecting past incidents, nor would I apportion the blame, but nearly every cricketer, past and present, condemns this type of bowling whether by an Englishman, an Australian or anyone else. It leads only to resentment and retaliation. As the rules are framed, however, no umpire can legislate. Law 46 declares that "the persistent and systematic bowling of fast short-pitched balls at the batsman standing clear of his wicket is unfair." To be completely clear of his wicket the batsman must be several inches away from the direct line between the stumps. If he takes normal guard and plays correctly his head and body are in line with the middle stump. To him the greatest danger of physical injury comes from the fast short-pitched STRAIGHT ball. If the batsman is standing clear of his wicket, the bowler can bowl at three unprotected stumps.

Fast Bowling Essential

In the interests of cricket the law should be amended to empower the umpire to act if he considers the bowler to be persistently bowling fast short-pitched balls AT the batsman. The suggestion by Australia in 1933 might well be the answer. It read: "Any ball delivered which, in the opinion of the umpire at the bowler's end, is bowled at the batsman with the intent to intimidate or injure him shall be considered unfair and "No-ball" shall be called." Everyone recognises that without fast bowlers the game becomes a pale imitation of itself, but would not their numbers increase if Committees insisted that groundsmen produced faster pitches and if the present l. b. w. law was altered to conform with Sir Donald Bradman's suggestion referred to earlier in these notes?

New M.C.C. Secretary

Few appointments to cricket's high places have met with such general approval as that of Mr. Ronald Aird to the Secretaryship of M.C.C. Long experience--he has been at Lord's for 25 years as Assistant Secretary, first to Mr. W. Findlay and then to Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr--makes Mr. Aird particularly fitted for his new post, as also does his career as a player for Eton, Cambridge University, Hampshire and M.C.C. The heavy strain of office compelled the retirement of Colonel Rait Kerr, than whom Lord's has known few better administrators.

Death of King George VI

The sudden death in February of King George VI left its gap in cricket as in most other spheres. He was Patron of the Marylebone, Surrey and Lancashire clubs and always received a great welcome at cricket grounds. In his younger days, when Prince Albert, he was a left-handed batsman and bowler of no small ability. There is a ball mounted in the messroom of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, commemorating his feat of performing the hat-trick on the private ground at Windsor Castle, where he once bowled King Edward VII, King George V and the present Duke of Windsor with consecutive balls.

© John Wisden & Co