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The season of 1919 proved, beyond all question or dispute, that cricket had lost nothing of its attraction for the public. Indeed, one may go further than that. Despite a break of four years and the fact that all grounds the charge for admission--in view of the entertainment tax and vastly increased expenses--was doubled, county matches drew far larger crowds than in ordinary seasons before the war. The faint-hearts who, without evidence on the point, had jumped to the conclusion that cricket would never again be its old self, were utterly confuted. Even the hopeful spirits, among whom I include myself, were agreeably surprised, things turning out much better than they had expected. Such being the pleasant state of affairs in the first year of peace, I trust we shall hear no more about the need for drastic alterations in the game. Looking back on the events of the season it is quaint to think that we were asked to shorten the boundaries, to penalise the batting side for every maiden over played, to banish the left-handed batsman, and to limit to three, or at most four, the number of professionals in every county eleven. All these fatuous suggestions and others just as foolish were, it will be remembered, put forward quite seriously. Happily we shall not be worried by them again. It is only right here to pay tribute to the steadfast confidence of Lord Harris. In the darkest days of the war he expressed his conviction that when peace came back cricket would have all its old charm for the English people. Everything he said was amply justified last summer.
I have no wish to pat myself on the back or exult unduly over the abandonment of the two-day scheme in county cricket. I felt sure the experiment--hastily determined on--would not answer, the objections to it being so obvious. It was doomed before the season had run half its course, and in August the Advisory Committee decided unanimously to go back to three-day matches in 1920. Thanks to a fine summer the scheme had every chance, as not till August did the weather do the game any harm. The great trouble lay in the inordinately long hours of play. Hours that even on an exceptional occasion, such as the Eton and Harrow match, are too long for enthusiastic school boys could not suit men of thirty and upwards. On that point I never had the smallest doubt. The players and the umpires hated the long days and the public assuredly did not like them. Only when something quite out of the common was to be seen, as for example the wonderful finish of the Surrey and Kent match at the Oval, did any great number of people wait on the ground till half-past seven. Before that time the craving for food had as a rule become stronger than the passion for cricket. To put the matter in a prosaic way, the advocates of the two-day match overlooked the needs of the human stomach. I have no prejudice against two-day matches as such, but the simple fact is that modern wickets in fine weather are too good for them. At Trent Bridge last summer only one match was played out, and at the Oval, though a miracle of hitting by J. N. Crawford and Hobbs enabled Surrey to beat Kent and the clock, the all-important matches with Notts and Yorkshire had to be left drawn. It is often argued, with a good show of reason, that the wickets should not be so easy, but no one has yet solved satisfactorily the problem of preparing a wicket that shall ensure reasonable scores and yet not be dangerous. The experiment tried at Old Trafford some years ago of playing on half-rolled wickets was such a failure that it had speedily to be given up.
Though the liberal support given by the public last summer removed many fears, and incidentally had the effect of producing excellent balance sheets, the outlook as regards county cricket is not altogether satisfactory. The menace of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Leagues cannot be ignored. From what I am told leading professionals constantly received from League clubs offers of better terms than they are getting from the counties, and naturally the temptation of more money for far less work is very strong. I am not sufficiently behind the scenes for my opinion on the subject to be of any value, but one point strikes me. Cricketers who are proud of the positions they have won may, while making the best arrangements they can with their county committees, be willing to sacrifice a little so as to keep in the public eye. Wherever he goes an England player is somebody but nothing more than local popularity can be won in the Saturday afternoon matches of the Leagues. It is clear that a good deal of anxiety is felt by some of the counties, the resolution proposed by Yorkshire, and carried by the Advisory Committee on the 8th of December, barring from representative matches, tours abroad, and festivals, players who will not pledge themselves to assist their counties when required, being obviously designed to meet the situation. This resolution was confirmed by the M.C.C. a month later.
The death in August of David Gregory set me thinking as to what would have happened if when the first Australian eleven came here in 1878 the season had been dry and sunny and not so miserably cold and wet. My own belief is that the team would not have been so successful. Of course the great bowlers, with their varied gifts and new methods, would have asserted themselves--nothing could have stopped Spofforth--but on fast wickets the comparative weakness of the batting would have been felt far more than it was. More than that our people would have escaped the shock of seeing the M.C.C. out in one afternoon for scores of 33 and 19. The moral effect of that catastrophe was incalculable. As regards the bowling, it is almost certain that in a fine summer we should have thought a great deal more than we did of Frank Allan, and far less of Harry Boyle. Of the twelve men who started a new epoch in cricket there are, now that David Gregory has gone, six survivors--Spofforth, Blackham, Charles Bannerman, Alec Bannerman, George Bailey, and Tom Garrett.
An interesting point in last summer's cricket was the selection for Gentlemen v. Players, at Lord's, of G. T. S. Stevens. No cricketer still at school had played in the match since the famous bowler, Alfred Lowth, was picked for Eighteen Gentlemen in 1836. Stevens had thus special reason to feel proud of the distinction conferred on him. He was chosen in the first instance as twelfth man, being given his place on the morning of the match--to the exclusion of J. C. White--owing to the state of the ground. It may not be generally known that N. E. Partridge, who has done such brilliant things at Malvern, was asked to play for the Gentlemen at the Oval. The Surrey Committee did quite the right thing in trying to introduce new talent in the first year after the war, but for some reason the invitation was declined. I cannot see why public school batsmen and bowlers should for so many years have been excluded from the Gentlemen's eleven. R. A. H. Mitchell was asked to play at the Oval while still at Eton, but I know of no other case till last season, though there may have been some that were never made public. Many school batsmen and a few bowlers have, of course, been fully worthy of selection. The batsmen--leaving aside Mitchell--whose names strike me were C. G. Lyttelton (Eton, 1860), F. W. Wright (Rossall, 1862), Alfred Lubbock (Eton, 1863), C. F. Buller (Harrow, 1864), B. Pauncefote (Rugby, 1867), William Yardley (Rugby, 1868), C. J. Ottaway (Eton, 1869), A. J. Webbe (Harrow, 1874), A. P. Lucas (Uppingham, 1874) and, coming to much later years, A. C. MacLaren (Harrow, 1890), R. H. Spooner (Marlborough, 1899), and that sad disappointment at Oxford, F. H. Knott (Tonbridge, 1910). In contrast to all these instances of brilliant achievement before the age of twenty, A. N. Hornby, Lord Harris, C. T. Studd, F. S. Jackson, C. B. Fry, and R. E. Foster were comparatively slow in getting to their best. Though they did not appear for Gentlemen v. Players the year they left school, F. W. Wright and A. P. Lucas got very near to it, both meeting with conspicuous success in representative matches. In 1862 F. W. Wright, in the North and South match at Lord's for Jimmy Grundy's benefit, made 50 against Willsher's bowling--a performance that caused a tremendous sensation--and in 1874 A. P. Lucas, for Gentlemen of the South against Players of the North, at Princes's, scored 48 against Alfred Shaw and Morley at their best.
Of public school bowlers good enough for the Gentlemen I would not in the last fifty years or so suggest more than five--C. K. Francis (Rugby, 1869), A. G. Steel (Marlborough, 1877), S. M. J. Woods (Brighton College, 1886), C. L. Townsend (Clifton, 1895), and J. N. Crawford (Repton, 1904-5). A. G. Steel stood out by himself. Bob Thoms said he was never quite so good as in his last year at school and that what he could do with the ball was marvellous. I have always thought it a misfortune that Townsend did such wonders in the August of 1895. He took a hundred wickets, or very nearly a hundred, in that month for Gloucestershire. He was clearly over-bowled and never again did he have the same spin or the same command over the ball. In happier circumstances he would have stepped into the England eleven against the Australians in 1896.
Considering that we had lost four seasons, the class of English cricket last summer was quite as good as could reasonably have been expected. The weak point was a lack of the highest class bowling, this being emphasised by the fact that Barnes did not take part in the Gentlemen and Players match at Lord's. Whether Barnes has finished with first-class cricket I do not know, but as he will be forty-four in April he can hardly be regarded now as a serious force. Parkin was the best substitute available at Lord's, but, clever and individual bowler as he is, no one would at present venture to place him on anything like Barnes's level. To the best of my belief Barnes was not asked to play at Lord's, it being thought wiser, in view of the future, to give Parkin his chance. The question of bowling apart, there was not, I think, any cause for misgiving. The England team that beat Yorkshire so handsomely at the Oval in September would have done us no discredit in a Test match. I thought our amateur batting would be very weak, but, though a long way below the best pre-war standard, it proved surprisingly good. For this happy state of things we had chiefly to thank D. J. Knight and J. N. Crawford. Knight exceeded the most sanguine hopes entertained of him in 1914, and Crawford, returning to English cricket after an absence of nine years, was a better batsman than ever before. He played a marvellous innings against the Australian eleven at the Oval, and the way in which he and Hobbs won the Surrey and Kent match was the sensation of the season. Knight had nothing less than a triumph for the Gentlemen at Lord's, proving himself a real master on a wicket that varied enormously in pace during the three days, and after that in several Surrey matches he fairly divided honours with Hobbs. Another amateur batsman to whom the season brought distinction was the Hon. C. N. Bruce. He could not play many times, but his innings against Lancashire at Lord's--I unluckily did not see it--was described on all hands as magnificent. Less gifted than Knight and Crawford, he needs a fast wicket, but when the conditions suit him he is brilliant. Before the war Bruce seemed to have dropped out of first-class cricket and his reappearance was very welcome. It will be remembered that when he went up to Oxford from Winchester, with a high reputation, heart trouble stopped his cricket in his first season.
As regards new talent last season, the chief prizes fell to Yorkshire and Lancashire. In finding Sutcliffe and Waddington, Yorkshire received compensation for the loss of Booth in the war and the premature death of Drake. Holmes was not a new man, but his doings in 1914 had hardly suggested that he would jump at once into the front rank of batsmen. As a first wicket pair Holmes and Sutcliffe recalled the feats of Jupp and Tom Humphrey for Surrey in 1864, but their success was more of a surprise to the public than that of the Surrey players. In Hallows Lancashire found a first-season batsman only second to Sutcliffe, and in Norbury a fine hitter. Of Waddintgon as a bowler we may reasonably expect a great deal. His delivery could scarcely be better. It was a great achievement to take a hundred wickets for Yorkshire, the more so as he was still suffering from the effects of a wound in the leg.
Nothing in the season was more gratifying than the successful revival of the University match. When the fixture was provisionally arranged the outlook seemed very dubious, but watching the game at Lord's one might have imagined there had been no war and that things had gone on without interruption since 1914. Thanks mainly to the batting of Howell and Knight, Oxford won, but Cambridge had, I think, rather the better all-round side, and but for an unhappy run-out in the last innings the result would quite possibly have been different. So many public school cricketers with wonderful records to their credit gone up to the Universities that the big match this year ought to be something quite out of the common.
The Memorial Biography of W. G. Grace duly appeared during the year, publication having been delayed till after the war. Though the book gives a faithful record of all that W. G. did in the cricket field it would have been all the better if the recollections furnished by many famous players had not had to be so severely condensed, and in some cases left out altogether. Sir Home Gordon tells me he had sufficient material to fill a far larger volume but that the restriction as to size was unavoidable. One omission is much to be regretted. There is no portrait of W. G. in his young days except in a group of the amateur team that went to Canada in 1872. We are in danger of forgetting that W. G. was not always bulky of figure. He put on weight very rapidly before he was thirty but it was not until after 1876--one of his greatest seasons--that the burden of the flesh began to trouble him. Not the least wonderful thing about him was the way he played when weighing considerably over sixteen stone.
It is to be feared that a good many people who find their pleasure in watching cricket are very ignorant of the game. In no other way can one account for the unseemly barracking that sometimes goes on. A particularly bad case occurred in the Middlesex and Yorkshire match at Lord's in August. J. W. Hearne--playing as well as he has ever played in his life--was doing his utmost to save Middlesex from defeat and yet a section of the crowd hooted him. A remedy for this sort of nuisance is not easy to find, as obviously the batsmen cannot leave the wickets. A stoppage of the game, however, with all the players staying on the field, might have the effect of bringing the malcontents to their senses.
I must not forget to mention the dinner given by Messrs. Wisden in September to the Australian Imperial Forces Team. Not since the M.C.C. dinner in 1914, to celebrate the Centenary of the present Lord's ground, had so many famous cricketers gathered together under one roof. Lord Harris took the chair and in all the speeches the one note was confidence in the future of cricket. To the compliments paid to Wisden's Almanack by P. F. Warner and F. S. Jackson I cannot--from motives of modesty--refer in detail, but I need hardly say they were keenly appreciated.