Writing in the early days of the New Year it is impossible to take other than a gloomy view with regard to the immediate future of cricket. Never before has the game been in such a plight. One may take it for granted that, in any circumstances, county cricket, as we have known it for the last forty years or more, will be out of the question this season, but in the happy event of the War coming to an end at an earlier date than the experts expect, we are sure to see plenty of games of a less competitive character. Indeed, as all the fixtures were provisionally made last summer, the counties might try something in the nature of a modified programme. However, it is idle to speculate in January as to what will happen in May or June. I hope no attempt will be made to close the game down entirely. All the counties are asking their members to keep on with their subscriptions, and in return matches of some kind should from time to time be played on the various grounds. Cricketers have made a splendid response to the call to the colours. They cannot all go to the front; some of them have duties that must keep them at home. To my mind, it would be a great misfortune for any county ground to be closed for the whole summer. I had thought of preparing for Wisden a list of the cricketers who have joined the Army, but the number is so great that I could not be at all sure of accuracy. Any accidental omission might have involved protest and correction. After the War, whenever that may be, cricket will, no doubt, go on as before, but it will naturally take some time for the game to recover completely from the blow it has received.
Turning to the past season, it was pleasant to find Surrey winning the Championship, a distinction that had not fallen to them since 1899. Some people thought that when, in deference to public opinion--W. G. Grace himself was the chief spokesman--Surrey cancelled their last two matches, the Championship would have to remain in abeyance for the year, but this view received no countenance from the M.C.C. It would have been iniquitous if Surrey had been robbed of the position they had so fairly won. When, at Surrey's own request, the question was brought before the M.C.C. committee, the matter was promptly settled, Middlesex disclaiming any notion of objecting. Surrey had a fine eleven, but to make their side complete they needed a little more bowling. The enforced transfer to Lord's of the return matches with Kent and Yorkshire when, in the first days of the War, the military authorities took possession of the Oval, involved serious disadvantages. Indeed, the Kent match, as a benefit to Hobbs, was such a failure that the Surrey committee have decided not to treat it as a benefit. They will give Hobbs another match as soon as circumstances permit, his subscription list in the meantime remaining open. This generous action on Surrey's part--not hitherto made known--will please everyone. Hobbs is not only the best bat in England at the present time, but also the most attractive and popular.
Apart from the heavy toll imposed by the War, the casualty lists including many young officers who had gained their colours at the public schools, death was very busy among cricketers in 1914. To mention only the most famous names: Joseph Makinson, Canon McCormick and B. B. Cooper, died full of years, A. G. Steel and J. H. Brain were still in middle age, and three great players of our day, R. E. Foster, Albert Trott and A. O. Jones passed away prematurely. W. O. Moberly, one of the batsmen who helped the Graces to make Gloucestershire invincible in the seventies, was not exactly an old man, but he had reached the age of sixty-three.
The death of R. E. Foster, together with the success for Oxford and Surrey last summer of D. J. Knight, sets one thinking of the wonderful things done by Malvern batsmen during the last twenty years or so. Until P. H. Latham played for Cambridge in 1892, no Malvern cricketer had ever appeared in the University match. Since Latham's time we have seen in addition to the Fosters, six of whom have won distinction in first-class cricket, C. J. Burnup, the late W. H. B. Evans, S. H. Day, A. P. Day, F. T. Mann, and now Knight, not to mention one or two others who failed to fulfil their early promise. No school, I should think, has in the same space of time produced so many good batsmen since Eton in, roughly speaking, twenty years, turned out R. A. H. Mitchell, C. G. Lyttelton (now Lord Cobham), Alfred Lubbock, E. W. Tritton, C. J. Ottaway, Lord Harris, C. I. Thornton, A. W. Ridley, G. H. Longman, Alfred and Edward Lyttelton, Ivo Bligh, Walter Forbes and C. T. Studd. The Eton record, extending from 1857 to 1879, is without parallel in the history of public school cricket. Beyond putting R. E. Foster out by himself at the head of the list, I would not attempt to place the Malvern batsmen in any strict order of merit. Most people, if asked the question would give second place to H. K. Foster, but Burnup, on his form for Kent in 1906 and W. H. B. Evans at his best, have very strong claims. A. P. Day did not have the advantage of going up to Oxford or Cambridge but, stepping straight out of school cricket into the Kent eleven, he made over a thousand runs in his first season in county matches.
One of the most notable feats last season was that of Sir T. C. O'Brien in the match at Attleborough, between Mr. Lionel Robinson's Eleven and Oxford University. O'Brien became famous as a batsman in 1884 and yet, after an interval of thirty years, he hit up scores of 90 and 111. For a man of nearly fifty-three this was a big performance. I happen to know that O'Brien has a poor opinion of most modern bowlers, contending that in their craze for the swerve they have lost much in spin and accuracy of length. In the match at Attleborough, as another famous cricketer of the last generation put it, he gave the swervers and slingers of the Oxford eleven a good deal to think about.
At the Oval, in August, I was asked to mention in Wisden a record which, so far as I know, has escaped the notice of all the statisticians. R. G. Barlow told me that he played first-class cricket for twenty-one years, and that he was then completing his twenty first season as an umpire. Judging from appearances he is likely to go on for many years to come. He was born on the 28th of May, 1850, and would, I fancy, be very pleased to play a single wicket match with any man of his age in the United Kingdom. In the course of a brief talk he recalled, with some pride, that not long ago he bowled out John Tyldesley and Sharp at the practice nets.
As to the future inter-change of visits between English, Australian, and South African teams, everything for the time being is, of course, in abeyance. The proposed tour of the Australians in South Africa this winter was cancelled soon after the outbreak of the War, and, at a subsequent meeting of the Australian Board of Control, the following resolution was unanimously passed:--
"With regard to the proposed visit of an English team to Australia in 1915-16, and the request of the South African Association that the Imperial programme should be put forward a year, so as to allow Australia to visit South Africa in 1915-16, the Board is of the opinion that, owing to the gravity of the situation in Europe, the matter be left solely to the Marylebone Cricket Club, to decide as to sending a team to Australia in 1915-16, or when they would be prepared to send a team to Australia. Further, that the South African Association be informed that their request cannot be dealt with until the wishes of the M.C.C. are conveyed to the Board."
The most memorable event in the season of 1914 was, to my thinking, the dinner given at the Hotel Cecil by the M.C.C. in June to celebrate the Centenary of the present Lord's ground. Nothing could have illustrated more forcibly the greatness of cricket. On every hand were men whose names are familiar wherever the English language is spoken. No other game or sport could have produced such a company. Half a century of English cricket was fully represented, and in every speech there was a note of unswerving devotion to the game. It was a peculiarly happy circumstance that Lord Hawke, who has played cricket all over the world, should, as president of the M.C.C. for the year, have had the privilege of being in the chair. One may be sure that he appreciated the honour.