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At the time of writing the chief subject of discussion among cricketers is the proposal by Mr. Abe Bailey that the South Africans should be invited to England in 1909, and that England, Australia, and South Africa should engage in a series of Test Matches. What the upshot will be remains to be seen, but the South Africans are enthusiastic on the question, and at the meeting of the County Secretaries at Lord"s several well-known English cricketers expressed a very favourable opinion of the scheme. Before Mr. Bailey"s letter was made public in the early days of December, a circular had been sent by the M. C. C. to the various counties asking them if they approved of the Australians being invited to visit England in 1909, and the answers were all in the affirmative. These replies, however, had no bearing on the new situation, and the M. C. C. promptly held a meeting of their committee at which, on referring the matter to the Advisory Committee of the Counties, they decided that they could not express any opinion till something like a definite scheme had been put before them. A meeting of the Advisory Committee is to be called within the next few weeks, and in the meantime all further communications with the Australians are being held over. It is clear that even in the event of England as well as South Africa desiring the three-cornered tournament, the decision must rest with the Australians. They may or may not care to tour in England with a rival team in the field. Mr. Bailey"s project is on the face of it rather a fascinating one, but if carried out it will involve on the part of the counties a very considerable sacrifice.
The idea is that there should be nine Test Matches, the three elevens meeting each other three times. The essence of such a competition being a definite result there would, at any rate on the part of Australia and South Africa, be a strong desire to play all the matches out to a finish irrespective of the number of days occupied. This would mean beginning every one of the nine matches on a Monday, and keeping the whole of the week free. The result of this arrangement, so far as English cricketers are concerned, would be that for six weeks of our comparatively short season no county with a representative in the England eleven could depend on having its full strength in ordinary engagements. Whether the gain would compensate for the loss involved is a point on which I personally have doubts. I am far from making a fetish of the Championship, but such a complete upset of county cricket for a whole summer cannot be contemplated without some misgiving. There is the further objection that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Even in an ordinary year our fixture list is too heavy, and there is a danger with two teams touring throughout the summer of cricket becoming a toil rather than a pleasure. That the Test matches themselves would, unless one side at once showed a marked superiority, excite an enormous amount of interest there can be no doubt, but still the outlook is not to my mind very alluring. Of Test Matches played to a finish, regardless of time, we have had no experience in this country, but in Australia they beget a style of play which to say the least is not exhilarating. At the time I write these lines the M. C. C."s team have just been engaged in a stern and successful fight with Australia at Melbourne. The weather was fine and the wicket in perfect condition, but so cautious were the methods of the batsmen that for six days the rate of run-getting did not average more than about fifty an hour. Except in a Test match such laborious cricket as this would soon empty any ground in the world. It is only the extreme keenness as to victory or defeat that keeps people in their seats hour after hour, and in the match at Melbourne to which I am referring, there would seem from the cabled reports to have been a good many dreary moments. Only on the basis of playing the matches out can I regard the proposed triangular contest, as at all practicable. If, playing on our three day system, four or five of the nine matches were left unfinished, everyone would be dissatisfied and the general result would be disappointment.
With respect to the proposed tournament, the South Africans stand in a peculiarly favourable position as with Mr. Bailey behind them they need not trouble themselves about the financial side of the question. Moreover, it is only natural that they should be eager to meet England and Australia while Vogler, Schwarz, Gordon White, and Faulkner are still in their prime. Successors to these remarkable bowlers may not be easy to find. The Australians, with no millionaire at their backs will want to count the cost more carefully before embarking on such an ambitious enterprise. A decision one way or the other will be come to before Wisden has been out many months, and there is no need here to discuss the subject further. Without being at all antagonistic to the project I think there are many points which need to be very carefully weighed and considered.
Apart from the tour of the South Africans, with their surprising developments in the art of bowling--a subject fully dealt with in another part of the Almanack by Mr. R. E. Foster--the outstanding feature of last season"s cricket was the triumph of Notts. Going through the summer unbeaten they carried off the Championship, winning back a position that they had not held since 1886. It is only fair to say, however, that if the present system of counting points had been in vogue in 1889 they would have stood ahead of Surrey and Lancashire in that year instead of tying with those counties. Nothing could have been better for county cricket than their success. Keeping strictly to old traditions they have, in good and evil days alike, depended entirely on home-grown talent and never condescended to the system of importing players. In all their long list of famous cricketers I can only recall three--John Jackson, Mr. J. A. Dixon, and Iremonger--who were not born in Nottinghamshire, and even they were closely associated with the county from childhood. It would not be practicable or desirable to insist at this time of day on a hard and fast birth qualification, as such a system would keep many brilliant players out of county cricket altogether, but counties that do not go outside their own borders to make up an eleven will always command the widest sympathy. That Notts should have been able to carry off the Championship so soon after the depression that followed the gradual break-up of the old team speaks volumes for those who have in recent years controlled the fortunes of the club. The great turning point was no doubt the carrying out of the Club and Ground scheme at Trent Bridge, opportunities being thereby afforded for retaining any young players who showed more than ordinary promise. At one time the race of Notts professionals really seemed to be dying out, but to-day the county is rich in young players. The only anxiety in the immediate future is to find new bowlers to back up Wass and Hallam--both of them men well over thirty.