Fielding in 1900

DLA Jephson

Much has been written with regard to the batting of the past season, and much has been written with regard to the bowling much praise, and rightly too has been bestowed on the one, and on the other a modicum of commendation. To write in the same congratulatory vein of the fielding necessitates the pen of a ready writer, the pen of a Defoe. As these are not numbered among my possessions, it is a difficult task. To write well of the fielding in 1900 is but to forge a romance that exists nowhere, save in the writer's brain.

Taken as a whole the fielding has been bad, thoroughly bad. Men stand in the field to day like so many little mounds of earth, A timid, though euphonious paraphrase of Clods of Dirt; a definition given by an old cricketer, of many latter day fieldsmen,or waxen figures in a third-rate tailor's shop. The energy, the life, the ever-watchfulness of ten years ago is gone, and in their place are lethargy, laziness, and a wonderful yearning for rest. Today a ball is driven through two so-called fieldsmen, and instead of a simultaneous rush to gather it, to hurl it to one end or the other, the two little mounds of earth stand facing each other with a lingering hope in their eyes that they will not be compelled to fetch it. There are, unfortunately, but a few counties, regarded as sides, to which the above censure does not apply.

The two northern counties, the two best elevens of the year fielded well, perhaps as well as any teams it has been my pleasure to play against, but the majority of the rest are absolutely outclassed by many a local club throughout the country. Naturally on every county side there are exceptions to this general sloth, men who believe that the game does not wholly consist in the making of a hundred runs, or the taking of five wickets men who delight in chasing the ball with the possible chance of saving a run, and who never slack however long their outing may have been. These are the members of a team that help to win your matches, the fieldsmen whose energy, pluck and endurance go far to remedy your deficiencies in other parts of the game.

The success of Yorkshire is due, in a very large degree, to their fielding. There are many fine fields on the side, and an article of this description would be void of all interest if mention were not made of Hirst and Denton, perhaps the finest mid-off and the finest out field of the year. The one is in front of you, and you may as well attempt to drive through a brick wall as pass those hands of iron and the other, hovering on the edge of the green circle, has made you run many a three when you were crediting yourself with a four. They are cat-like in their activity before the bat has struck the ball, by some strange intuition, they divine the direction it will take, and move, whilst the so-called fieldsman-the little mound of earth-stands openmouthed, watching the ball go by. All through the season their catching has been good and their ground work perhaps better their fielding has been full of life, full of vigour. And of Lancashire, the same may be said. Here there are many good fields, and again two stand out above their fellows- A. C. MacLaren, the captain, and Tyldesley. A. C. MacLaren is ubiquitous, his presence is felt everywhere, and it is a daring youth that shirks when he is in command of a team. He is full of nerves, he can scarcely stand still as the ball leaves the bowler's hand, and it is only on the fall of the coveted wicket that the stern features relax and he rests for a moment. In all positions in the field is he good, exceptionally good and so marvellously keen is he for the downfall of the unfortunate batsman that on occasion he has been known to bowl, but rarely, I am sorry to say, with marked success. At the present time he, G. L. Jessop, and A. O. Jones, are in all probability the three players that can fill more places in the field, and fill them splendidly, than any other first-class cricketers. Tyldesley, like Denton, is always to be found in the outfield, and there is little to choose between them. Both have the same untiring energy, both go for catches, however seemingly impossible they may appear, preferring to miss rather than to stop the ball first bound, as is the method adopted by the so-called fieldsman-the little mound of earth. Again, both throw well, with a low quick return that invariably reaches the wicket-keeper or the bowler after pitching but once. Not with the terrible inaccuracy, the inaccuracy of length and direction that characterises the efforts of a very large majority of the players of today.

It is impossible with the space at my disposal to give anything approaching a complete account of the fielding, or rather the misfielding of the county elevens of 1900. Therefore in this article I am not able to deal with the work, in this respect, of all the various sides that played in the Championship Competition. Mention must, however, be made of the good fielding of Gloucestershire and of Kent. Both are young sides and both are strangely aware of the importance of this branch of the game, that in so many teams is regarded as an aggravated nuisance, knowing well that many a game has been won, not by brilliant batting, or sensational bowling, but by unflagging exertion in the field. G. L. Jessop, besides having saved dozens of runs, runs that the restful field would willingly have given to the other side, has thrown out thirty or so batsmen. Readers of this will perhaps remark to themselves- It is all very well, but how many runs has he lost shooting at the stumps? Yes, very likely many have been lost, but think a moment. What is four or many fours on a good wicket compared to the dismissal of Ranjitsinhji, Fry, Abel, or Hayward. Again, rare instances occur of a ball being thrown in well so that the wicket can be broken by the bowler or the stumper, arriving the fraction of a second too late. The batsman is in, whereas had the wicket been hit he would have walked slowly, miserably, probably discontentedly, to a seat in the pavilion. I am not advocating indiscriminate throwing, but if there did not exist this terrible inaccuracy of length and direction in the returns of the majority of the fieldsmen of to-day, many a wicket would have fallen that stood for hours piling up tedious fours.

Looking back calmly and dispassionately on the past season, there is another feature that strikes the interested spectator, namely the growing inclination on the part of certain fieldsmen to remove themselves as far as possible from the dangerous ball that travels at too great a speed. Discretion has ever been considered the better part of valour, and perhaps this is the right view for the great batsmen and the great bowlers of a side to take, but it is emphatically not the plan of campaign for the privates of an eleven. For fieldsmen numbered among these last, I should strongly recommend a study of the fielding of Albert Trott, one of the finest fields at slip or in near proximity to the wicket that I have ever seen. There is no funk here, the big strong hands flash out, they give with the ball, it is held, and many a fine batsman has walked disconsolately away, who would have stayed to all eternity had he but selected a fieldsman of discretionary valour.

Another feature that presents itself is that the lethargy, the laziness, the wonderful yearning for rest, are more noticeable in our great batsmen than in our great bowlers. A great batsman having produced a colossal score seems content with his performance, he loafs in the field, and when not loafing he peacefully slumbers. Sometimes, fortunately for the side on which he plays, he drifts into the slips and sustains a rude awakening when the rising ball is faintly touched and he receives it on the wrist or on the ankle, as the case may be. Naturally for a while, so long as the pain is acute, he is awake, and perhaps during this lucid interval he makes a catch or two, but then again the yearning for rest is felt, and peacefully he dozes. It were a good thing for cricket if many a great batsman could be confined to the slips, for there there is always this chance of a sudden shock, a sudden realization that he is in the field to do some work.

The same idea of rest, of dolce far niente pervades many of the great bowlers of today, but not, I think, to so great an extent. This is probably due to the fact that they know and feel keenly the disappointment of a missed chance, a chance that they have been bowling over after over to obtain. Feeling this they do not sleep, they do their best to help their fellow workers in the field. We have all felt it, this clinging desire for rest. It may be that we are tired, that we play too much cricket it may be the subtle influence of a bright June day, or the soothing light from the soft green turf but from whatever cause it springs it has been with us in a more pronounced form this season than ever before in may experience of the game. We nearly all do it, we cricketers who are not included in the category of great batsmen or great bowlers, and its effect on matches is prodigious.

Personally, I shall never forget missing a well-known player through sleeping at extra slip. I missed him when eighteen, and he remained with us the rest of the live-long day, making nearly three hundred with not a vestige of a chance. For several ensuing matches I endeavoured to keep awake.

Though few men have this year raised themselves to the front rank of fieldsmen, there is one whose efforts should not go unrecorded, and this is Vine, a fair all-round cricketer, but one whose fielding should ensure him a place in almost any side in England. He is full of life, full of energy, he is fast on his feet, he throws straight and hard, he catches well and possesses the same strange intuition of the ball's direction that belongs but to fine fieldsmen. In most matches, should he take no wickets, make no runs, he will have saved a goodly number, and in all probability have assisted at the downfall of some of the other side. And there is yet another whose right is plain to be included in a list of splendid workers, and he is Victor Barton, perhaps the finest cover point of the day, though run very close in this position by Johnny Briggs, who is nearly as good today as ever he was. Barton has the easiest and surest return of almost any county cricketer I have ever seen, and he never tires.

Of the fielding of the "Varsity Elevens, I am not in a position to write having seen comparatively little of them. From what I saw, I should say Cambridge were a really good team in the field, their ground work being very clean, J. Daniell in all positions especially noticeable. Oxford were also good and in R. E. Foster we have one of the finest short slips in the country.

A large number of cricketers no doubt will object, and object strongly to my strictures on our fielding in 1900. There are many good fields that owing to lack of space I am unable to mention, but as I said at the commencement of this article there are exceptions on every side to this general sloth, men who have energy and endurance that will carry them through a long day"s outing. Doubtless all these are numbered among the little band of hard workers, the exceptions to the general rule. It is impossible for all of us to be fine fields, for to be a fine field is to be equipped with physical advantages that only a few possess. The keen, long sight-the long, quick stride-the ability to throw hard and straight-the strange intuition to divine the flight of a ball-the pace at which it is travelling- its direction-the power to hold it-all these gifts are given to but a few. Therefore let those of us, we who today stand like little mounds of earth, like waxen figures in a third rate tailors shop, put energy, motion, life into our fielding let us sleep not-let the lethargy, the laziness, the wonderful yearning for rest become as shadows of the past and there will be but few drawn matches, but few new rules required in our great national game.

© John Wisden & Co