Never in an English summer has there been so much sunshine as in 1911, and on the whole cricket flourished. Assuredly there was nothing to justify the attitude of the pessimists who, during the winter, had argued that the game was declining and could only be saved by drastic alterations in the rules. The methods of modern batsmen often make one wish that the change in the law of leg-before-wicket, brought forward by the M.C.C. in 1901, had obtained the requisite two-thirds majority at Lord"s, but apart from this I can see nothing in modern cricket that needs the interference of the reformer. The fact that in such an abnormal season only thirty-five county matches out of a hundred and eighty were left unfinished, shows that practically every match was played on its own merits without any undue regard to decimal points at the end of August. Personally I was opposed to the plan, proposed by Somerset and adopted by the Counties, of giving points on the first innings in drawn matches, but I think it led to more interesting play. As nothing is known to the contrary, I presume it will be given a further trial in 1912. The most important result of the new system of scoring was that Warwickshire carried off the Championship. Under any of the old methods Kent would have come out first, and even as it was they only lost by a fraction. It was certainly a good thing for cricket that the Championship should have gone to one of the outside counties. People had come to the belief that only Kent, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Surrey, Notts, and Middlesex had any chance of taking first honours, and the success of Warwickshire, entirely unexpected as it was, may have far-reaching effects. The immediate result was to make Birmingham, for the first time, really enthusiastic on the subject of cricket. Such sudden devotion, following on years of lethargy is not very convincing to old-fashioned cricketers, but we must hope for the best. I do not think there is much fear of Birmingham cooling down if F. R. Foster can be induced to go on playing for the next five or six years. The importance of Warwickshire having an England cricketer as captain can scarcely be over-estimated.
As I have said, cricket, speaking generally, flourished in 1911, but as regards money, the result in various directions was extremely disappointing. At the time I am writing these notes only a few of the county balance sheets have appeared. We already know that Yorkshire, Lancashire, Worcestershire, and Somerset suffered heavy losses. There was an appreciable decline in the support given to the Lancashire matches at Old Trafford, but in the case of Yorkshire things were by no means so bad as they look on paper. Despite heavy expenditure which will not be incurred in another year, the balance on the wrong side would have been the merest trifle if the Lancashire match at Sheffield had not be allotted to Rhodes for his benefit. It goes against the grain to have to deal so often with the financial side of cricket, but the subject cannot be avoided. It is constantly cropping up in one direction or another. The plain fact seems to be that most of the county clubs are carried on at too great a cost. In this connection an important pronouncement was made by Lord Cobham--so well remembered by old cricketers as the Hon. C. G. Lyttelton--at Worcestershire"s annual meeting. Lord Cobham was careful to say that he did not think professional cricketers were overpaid, but he added that the system of winter pay, instituted some years ago by Yorkshire, involved a burden that few counties could bear. It had, he said, cost Worcestershire in the past year £400, adding that he feared that the heavy scale of expenditure would inevitably drive some of the counties out of the Championship. Lord Cobham"s words carry the more weight from the fact that, unlike many players of his own generation, he is a strong supporter of modern competitive cricket and, as he plainly said at the Warwickshire dinner at Birmingham in September, does not think it would be possible to go back to the purely exhibition games that satisfied a small public thirty years ago.
The financial pressure is obviously a great danger to county cricket, but it is difficult to suggest a remedy. Any reduction in the payments to professionals would probably mean the capture by the Lancashire League of some of the most prominent players. The position is a delicate one, and as a means of improving matters I can think of nothing better than the encouragement of amateur players and a strenuous effort on the part of all the counties to secure new sub-scribers. That something can be done in this latter direction has been proved by the experience of Hampshire. I read somewhere the other day that Hampshire"s membership had doubled since Mr. Bacon became secretary, and last season, at any rate, the county club paid its way. Wherever possible men who have the welfare of county cricket at heart might well double their own subscriptions and, failing that, they might work much harder than they do now to increase the membership.
While deploring the losses sustained year after year by county clubs, people are apt to forget that though the expenditure on cricket has increased so enormously, the cost for admission to matches has remained unchanged. Only when the Australians or South Africans come here is the modest sixpence increased to a shilling, and then the visitors take half the gate. Cricket is the cheapest of all public amusements, and it seems that only by increased subscriptions can the present scale of expenditure be met. Most of the counties are hoping to recoup themselves to a certain extent by their matches with the Australians and South Africans this year, but a sudden spurt of this kind is of course only an alleviative. What is wanted is a permanent increase of revenue.
In Wisden last year, Mr. P. F. Warner drew up a list of the young players, most likely, in his opinion, to keep up the reputation of English cricket in the immediate future. He picked out M. C. Bird, I. P. F. Campbell, Ducat, and Hitch (Surrey); F. H. Knott, of Kent; Newman, Mead, and Brown, of Hampshire; J. W. Hearne and Hendren, of Middlesex; F. R. Foster, of Warwickshire; Booth, of Yorkshire; Shipman, the Leicestershire fast bowler; and Whysall, of Notts. The doings of these fourteen players last season did not on the whole come up to expectations. F. R. Foster, Mead, and J. W. Hearne met with triumphant success, more than justifying all Mr. Warner said in their praise, but on the other hand Knott failed to get his Blue at Oxford; Campbell, though he headed the Oxford averages, was a sad disappointment in the Gentlemen and Players" matches; Newman showed a deplorable falling off as a bowler; and Whysall was soon dropped by Nottinghamshire. The remaining seven got on sufficiently well to leave one still hopeful for their future. Shipman"s comparative failure as a bowler for Leicestershire was largely due to the fact that, owing to Jayes" illness, he received little support. Knott, no doubt, will assert himself in due course at Oxford but he has a lost season to make up for. M. C. Bird did not bat with the consistent success that should have been his in such a summer, but now and then, as for example, in the Surrey and Kent match at Blackheath, he proved himself essentially the batsman for a big occasion. He has happy faculty for doing his best when most is asked of him, and he may yet play for England at home. Booth, who suffered from a strain last season, and often played for Yorkshire when he ought to have been resting, has great possibilities, both as batsman and bowler, and Drake, who was not in Mr. Warner"s list, promises to become quite first-rate as a left-handed batsman. On the whole we have a fair supply of young talent, but I wish I could see more new bowlers of real class. On last year"s form, F. R. Foster and J. W. Hearne, among the new bowlers, stand out by themselves. Dean, too, may yet rise to Test match rank. Hitch has tremendous pace and energy, but he lacks the distinctive qualities that go to the making of a Lockwood or a Richardson.
As I could see no utility in playing trial games so far ahead of the Triangular Tournament, I was not in the least surprised that the Test Trials at Sheffield and the Oval failed to attract, and that the fixture at Manchester was abandoned. Only by including the Gentlemen and Players matches at the Oval and Lord"s in the series--rather an unfair tax upon Surrey and the M.C.C.--was the scheme made to pay. The Test Trials were also intended as a guide to the M.C.C. in picking their team for Australia, and here I think the effect was mischievous, more than one invitation being sent out prematurely. However, there is one point to the good, as the result of this new movement. Prior to the first of our Test matches in the Triangular Tournament, England will have preliminary games at the Oval and Lord"s. The first one has been fixed for far too early a date--the 6th May--but this was perhaps unavoidable. At any rate we may hope to be free from the capricious folly in the selection of players that led to the disaster at Lord"s in 1909.
After the early sections of Wisden"s had gone to press, news came of the death of the Australian player, R. A. Duff, who scored 146 against England at the Oval in 1905. At his best Duff was a very brilliant bat, having hardly a superior among the Australian players of his day, except Trumper, Hill, and Noble, but I am afraid that after his second trip to England he did not give himself a chance.