On the whole one may look back on the season of 1913 with keen satisfaction. Before the season began there was certainly reason to feel apprehensive. During the winter the game was subjected to attacks of such a bitter kind that people, imperfectly acquainted with the facts, might, on reading some of the letters that appeared in the papers, have come to the conclusion that first-class matches were no longer worth looking at. Then on the top of all this uncalled for criticism there came something like a crisis in connection with county cricket. Various proposals were put forward for the consideration of the Advisory Committee, some of them unimportant, but one quite revolutionary in character, Northamptonshire proposing that in future all county matches should be restricted to two days. This was too much, and startling developments ensued. No one really supposed that Northamptonshire"s plan would be adopted, but the air was much disturbed. It was not long before the storm broke, the fact leaking out that at a private meeting eleven of the leading counties had agreed among themselves to support a proposal by Lancashire to reduce the scope of the Championship by excluding from the competition four or five of the weaker clubs. On the face of it this seemed an unsportsmanlike proceeding, and naturally there was an outcry. As a matter of fact the leading counties had no desire to act in an arbitrary or ungenerous spirit. Their proposal meant no more than that they were determined to be masters in their own house. They stood in an impregnable position, as at any time, by arrangement among themselves, they could have restricted the Championship by declining to make fixtures with some of the less important clubs. That they were not actuated by any unfriendly feeling was proved when the Advisory Committee met at Lord"s on Friday, the 16th of May. No one knew what was going to happen, but Lord Harris soon found a way out of the difficulty. At his suggestion the counties that had supported Lancashire"s proposal in sub-committee were allowed time for a private conference, at the end of which the following resolution was brought forward and unanimously passed. As it is likely to be of some historical interest it may as well be given here in full:- That the representatives of the combined counties were prepared to recommend their counties to withdraw Lancashire"s scheme on the understanding that the counties represented on the Advisory County Cricket Committee undertake not to propose to alter the existing First-class County Championship scheme until after the season of 1917, except as to awarding points.
In this way a crisis which had threatened to produce a great deal of friction and ill-feeling passed off in the happiest fashion. Mr. Darnell, on behalf of Northamptonshire, expressed his regret that, if unintentionally, their proposals had been put in a manner to arouse antipathy, and all was peace. Lord Harris is entitled to thanks from all real cricket lovers for the tact with which he dealt with rather a difficult situation. For four seasons, at any rate, county cricket will be conducted on the old lines. This to my thinking is all for the best. I always felt sure that, when it came to the point, the leading counties would stand out against any scheme of promotion and relegation, which involved the risk of a famous club, as the result of one bad season, being put down into the second class. Such a misfortune would mean little less than ruin to the club concerned. What induced Northamptonshire to propose that all county matches should be limited to two days I cannot understand. Years ago at Lord"s matches were easily finished off in two days, but on the carefully-prepared and well-rolled wickets to which modern cricketers are accustomed that time, in anything like fine weather, would be altogether insufficient. Possibly the underlying motive was to make each county meet all the others, thereby modelling the Championship on the method of the Football League.
In a financial sense county cricket last summer flourished in some quarters, but not in others. Lancashire, in particular, suffered a heavy loss, and as regards Sussex, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, and Somerset things were by no means as they should have been. On the other hand Surrey, Yorkshire, Middlesex, and Warwickshire prospered, the change of fortune in the case of Middlesex, as compared with the disastrous experience of 1912, being as surprising as it was welcome. Apart from the question of money the season, taken all round, was an eminently satisfactory one. In every direction a truly sporting spirit was manifest, matches being played on their own merits without any over-keen regard for the positions in the County table at the end of August. Reverting for the moment to money matters, several incidents during the summer afforded proof of the inherent vitality of county cricket. Lancashire"s domestic storm had a very happy result in the promise of largely increased subscriptions from some of the most influential people in the county, and when Worcestershire"s existence was threatened such substantial support was at once forthcoming as to ensure the continuance of the county club for, at any rate, the next three years. To give one other example a shilling subscription on behalf of Somerset resulted in a sum of just over £500 being collected. While things go on like this there cannot be much fear on any county club, once recognised as first-class, being allowed to perish. As I have said more than once in Wisden, it was not until Association Football became such a power in the land that people began to think county cricket could live on gate money. The various committees are now recognising that it is to a larger membership they must look for security. One point, generally overlooked by those who cry out about bad times, is that the expense of running a county club has in these days increased to an extent out of all proportion to the amount of money paid by the public for admission to the matches. For the time it lasts cricket is the cheapest amusement I know of, and there is no safe way of making the general public pay more than they do. In many instances in 1912 the only result of charging a shilling instead of the orthodox sixpence for Australian or South African matches with the counties was a depressingly poor attendance.
With regard to England"s position in the cricket world at the present time things could not be better. We won the rubber in Australia in the winter of 1911-12; we came out first in the Triangular Tournament, and while the pages of Wisden were going to press, the news came to hand that the M.C.C."s team in South Africa had won their Third Test Match in succession, thus settling the rubber off hand. Of this latest success I would not attempt to make too much, South Africa, with their famous googlie bowlers settled in England, having struck a lean time, but there is no denying the fact that we are just now very strong. In Hobbs we have, I think, the best bat in the world, Bardsley being at the moment his nearest rival, and in Barnes, beyond all question, the best bowler. That our strength is so largely professional is matter for regret, but this is a state of things that may soon change. The absence of Fry and Spooner from first-class matches left our amateur batting very deficient in class last summer, but for all that the Gentlemen nearly beat the Players at the Oval. Whether we have found a star in Tennyson remains to be seen, but his first experience of big matches was such as to hold out high hopes. The encouraging fact about our cricket is that we have so many men who while still quite young have reached the top of the tree--J. W. Hearne, Woolley, and Mead are the most striking examples--and so much new talent. I have no wish to take up the role of prophet, but looking back upon what happened last season, it will be disappointing indeed if, to mention only a few names, Lee of Notts, Kilner of Yorkshire, Jeeves of Warwickshire, Chester of Worcestershire, R. B. Lagden and D. J. Knight, do not do a great deal for us in the next few years. It was quite in accordance with recent precedent that Lagden, after playing splendidly for Cambridge, should have failed for the Gentlemen. The days seem to have gone by when University bats, such as Yardley, and Ottaway, could step as Freshmen into the Gentlemen"s Eleven, and at once prove themselves good enough for the best company. From some cause, which I cannot explain, amateur batsmen develop their powers more slowly than they did a generation ago. Even R. E. Foster was not a crack bat until his last year at Oxford.
Schofield Haigh"s retirement from the Yorkshire eleven is the first break in a memorable combination. Rhodes, George Hirst, and Haigh did practically all the bowling for Yorkshire when in 1900--1--2 the county won the Championship for three years in succession, and in cricket history the three men will always be linked together. I think I am right in saying that they were never all at the top of their form in the same season. Rhodes, before he thought about batting, was always at his best--a marvel of consistency--but Hirst and Haigh varied from year to year, first one and then the other obtaining much the finer record. Now, Haigh has gone, Rhodes is a star batsman, and Hirst, though he keeps up his form surprisingly well, cannot in the nature of things last very much longer. There was, perhaps, no need for Haigh to give up just yet, but in the interests of the younger generation retirement from a county eleven at forty or thereabouts is, as a rule, desirable. Unless the door is kept open for them young men, eager to be seen in first-class cricket, will either give up the game or drift to other counties. Haigh, at any rate, has done more than enough for fame. He will be remembered as one of the best of sportsmen and, on his own wicket, one of the deadliest of bowlers.
There is one rather delicate point of which I would like to write a few words. Alletson, the big hitter of the Notts eleven, won the Kent match at Trent Bridge by his bowling, but during the rest of the season he practically bowled no more. I am told that the reason for this was that exception was taken to his delivery. Assuming this to be the correct explanation, we may congratulate ourselves on the welcome change that has come about in the last ten years. The county captains did a truly wise thing when they took the question of unfair bowling into their own hands. As the result of their united action throwing in first-class cricket has practically disappeared.
Owing to certain unpleasant incidents that occurred while the Australians were here in 1912, Mr. G. S. Crouch, the manager of the team, suggested on returning home that in future the selection of players for trips to England should not be governed entirely by the cricket qualifications of the men. No time has been lost in acting on his advice. At Melbourne, on the 14th of November, 1913, the following resolution was carried at the annual meeting of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket Matches:- That the names of the players selected shall be submitted to the Board for approval, and in the event of the Board not approving the name or names submitted, for reasons other than that of cricket ability only, then the Board shall direct the selectors to submit other name or names in his or their stead.
It was in 1814 that the Marylebone Club first played at the present Lord"s ground. In honour of the centenary of the ground a book is being prepared by Lord Harris and Mr. F.S. Ashley Cooper, dealing with the history of the Club. The subject is a fascinating one, its possibilities being almost inexhaustible. I do not envy the writers the task of selection, as they have at command sufficient material to fill several volumes. By the aid of pictures, cricketers will be able to compare Lord"s as they know it to-day with the ground as it was a hundred years ago.