County committees' impoverished cry, 1911

Notes by the Editor

Sydney Pardon

It is a long time since we have had, in the absence of Australian or South African visitors, such a thoroughly interesting season as that of 1910, but it is equally true that lamentations from the county committees on the score of poverty have seldom been so loud. Since the season ended one has heard little save complaints of diminished receipts and deplorable balance sheets. The natural result is that a good many people have come to the conclusion that first-class cricket is losing its hold on the public. Personally I am far from taking this pessimistic view. There is no getting away from the fact that in several quarters the situation is serious enough, but I do not think that sufficient allowance has been made for the effects of the weather. We may have had wetter summers, but I cannot recall one in which cricket, as a spectacle, was more handicapped. On many days when the rain held off, the temperature was so low that even enthusiasts might have been forgiven for deserting the game. There is, I think, every reason to believe that when we again get a normal summer the present feeling of depression will soon pass away. It was at least encouraging that, even so late as the 13th of September, a sunny afternoon tempted twelve thousand people to watch the second day"s play in the Kent and England match at the Oval.

In the meantime many of the county clubs are undoubtedly finding it a hard matter to make both ends meet. Still it is a very hopeful sign that when things get to the worst the money required is always forthcoming. For example, there was a grave fear early in the autumn that Derbyshire as a first-class county club would cease to exist. The response to a special appeal, however, was so encouraging that, at a meeting on the 2nd of December, the committee resolved to go on as before, and at Lord"s in the following week the usual fixtures were ratified. Of all the counties, Somerset could plead the best excuse for giving up the fight as hopeless, the supply of talent being so inadequate, but whatever may have been contemplated two years ago there is now no idea of winding up the club. Some of the richest counties were hit hard in 1910, both Lancashire and Yorkshire suffering severe losses, but in Lancashire"s case the weather was largely responsible and it so happened that the most profitable fixture--the August Bank Holiday match with Yorkshire--had been given to Sharp for his benefit. The weather also told against Yorkshire, but there can be no doubt that the comparative ill-success of the team brought about a regrettable apathy on the part of the public, especially in Leeds. Kent, more fortunate than any of their rivals, rose superior to all difficulties, and, after a liberal outlay for ground improvements, left off with a net balance for the season of over seven hundred pounds. Hampshire too, after long years of anxiety made a small profit on their season"s working.

It is an unpleasant task to write as such length on the purely financial side of cricket, but so many lamentations have been heard during the last three months that the subject could not be passed over. In comparing the present with the past, people are apt to forget that a county club nowadays is a far more expensive business to run than it was years ago. In the old days there was no winter pay for the professionals, and there were not nearly so many matches. I am strongly of opinion that we have now too much county cricket, but there is an obvious danger in cutting down programmes. With the busy agents of the Lancashire League always on the look out for talent, committees cannot hope to retain their professionals unless they ensure them a large amount of remunerative employment. I cannot help thinking that by purely voluntary effort a great deal might be done to avoid the financial difficulties that so frequently crop up. The cry of every committee in trouble is that if they could only get a sufficient number of members to make them more independent of gate money all would be well. Annual subscriptions cannot very well be increased, but a good many people would, I should fancy, if the situation were brought clearly home to them, be willing to pay two guineas a year instead of one. As it is they often pay the extra money, either in supporting bazaars, or in contributing to special funds. Moreover, cricket being one of the cheapest forms of amusement, it ought to be a simple matter for all who have the interest of their county club at heart to get new members.

Writing at the end of the year I am quite in the dark as to what the Advisory Committee will do with regard to Yorkshire"s proposal to give points in county matches to sides leading on the first innings. Personally I hope the idea will not be entertained. No doubt it answers very well in the Minor Counties" two days" matches, but I think that, especially in a dry season, it would encourage slow and laborious batting. I do not for a moment think that the salvation of county cricket will be found in a more complicated system of reckoning points. The end to aim at is to play every match on its own merits, let the final result be what it may. Repeating what I have said before in Wisden, I would like to see the Championship decided at the end of the season by the M.C.C. on general play, without any slavish regard to decimal fractions. The system adopted by the counties last season of deciding by the percentage of wins to matches played, brought about some stimulating finishes, but there is no logic in it. It might involve at any time, on the strength of one extra victory, a county that had been beaten three or four times being placed above an unbeaten side. To take a recent example, if this new system had been in force in 1908 Kent, with seventeen wins and three defeats, would have ranked above Yorkshire who won sixteen matches and did not lose one. If the M.C.C. had the ruling in their own hands they could avoid such an absurdity as this, and at the same time give full weight to the number of victories. If the abolition of all points be considered too drastic a course, I would rather go on with last season"s system than complicate the position with points on the first innings. With sixteen counties competing every summer it will always be an honourable ambition to stand at the top of the list when the season is over, but we want to make county cricket more elastic than it is now rather than more rigid. One very hopeful sign during the season of 1910 was the increased desire of county committees to secure the services of young amateurs. The foolish notion of not troubling about amateurs unless they could play regularly all through the summer received a very decided check.

It is in every way a matter for congratulation that the question of securing the best possible England team for the triangular Tournament in 1912 has already been taken in hand, but I do not see that much good can come out of the trial matches that are to be played next season at Lord"s, Sheffield, and Manchester between Probables and Possibles. What advantage can there be in making Tyldesley, Hobbs, Blythe, and K. L. Hutchings, for example, play in trial games a twelve-month before the real business begins? I think it would have been vastly better to put a Young England Eleven selected from the players Mr. Warner has mentioned in his article, and any others considered good enough, against the M.C.C., Yorkshire, and Lancashire. This plan would have given us a good idea of what the young men could do by themselves against powerful sides. There is more wisdom in treating the Gentlemen and Players" matches at Lord"s and the Oval as trial games. Of necessity there will be a much larger element of youth in the elevens than has been the case in recent years, and the experience gained cannot fail to be valuable. Far more important, however, than anything that can be done in 1911 is the recognition of the fact that the method of selection of England elevens for Test Matches must be altered. In other words the authorities are at last condescending to organize. We may be sure that in connection with the Triangular Tournament we shall have no repetition of the wild follies for which such a price had to be paid in 1909. From what I have heard when talking with various cricketers, I have little doubt that in 1912 the selected England team will play at least one trial game before the First Test Match. The advantages of such a plan are so obvious that the wonder to me is that we have gone on so long in the old slipshod way.

The discussion that arose last season over the question of stumping from a no-ball has induced the M.C.C. to suggest an alteration in the laws. They propose that a no-ball should be dead immediately it is called and two runs given to the batting side. If the change meets with general approval from the county clubs and other authorities consulted, it will be brought forward at the Annual Meeting of the M.C.C. in May--a two-thirds" majority being required to pass it into law. The proposed alteration is a good one. There was always something absurd in seeing a batsman let fly at a no-ball without regard to height or direction. Moreover, the penalty of two runs ought to have the effect of diminishing the extraordinary number of no-balls bowled in modern cricket. The discussion that led to the present legislation was in itself rather foolish, the M.C.C. having in their notes on the Laws stated plainly that a batsman could not be stumped off a no-ball.

Lord Hawke"s formal resignation in November of the captaincy of the Yorkshire eleven must not pass unnoticed. It marked the end of a long and brilliant chapter in the history of Yorkshire cricket. There is nothing to add to what was said about Lord Hawke when his portrait was given in the Almanack for 1909. He led the eleven to numberless victories, but his most valuable work for the county and the players was done off he field.

© John Wisden & Co