Game holds own against adverse weather, 1923

Notes by the Editor

Sydney Pardon

Following the excitement and bitter disappointments of 1921 we had a comparatively uneventful season, but with better weather there would have been no cause for complaint. I am afraid some of the smaller counties suffered severely, but speaking generally the game held its own in quite a wonderful way in face of adverse conditions. To some of us--I am in full accord with Mr. Ludford Docker, the Warwickshire president, in this matter--the recollection of England having lost eight Test matches in succession was a perpetual nightmare, but despondency affected only the old. It may have been due to the fact that Hobbs was back in the field, getting hundreds in his inimitable way, but I think English cricket as a whole was appreciably better than in 1921. I do not cherish any illusion that, even with Hobbs to help us, we could have beaten the great Australian eleven on a hard wicket, but there did seem to me to be an improvement on the form of the previous year, more especially in fielding. To take a conspicuous example, the Gentlemen on the opening day of their match with the Players at Lord's proved to demonstrate that fielding of the superlative kind was not an Australian monopoly. The work done that afternoon by Chapman, Carr, Hubert Ashton, and Arthur Gilligan among others, left perhaps the pleasantest memories of the whole season. My reason for thinking that we could not have beaten the Australians is that we still lacked the requisite bowling. In county cricket many of our bowlers--Parker, Freeman, Kennedy, Parkin, Richmond and Fender--had remarkable records and the Yorkshire bowling was in the collective sense splendid, but we had no one of the old Test match standard. Not to go back so far as the days of Tom Richardson and Lockwood, we lacked a new Barnes, a new Frank Foster. Bowlers of that class appear at long intervals without the slightest warning; they cannot be made. When one or two of them come forward--the hour is overdue--English cricket may regain its old supremacy.

Watching our batsmen--Hobbs is quite outside this argument--make big scores day after day I constantly wondered how they would have fared if Gregory and McDonald had been bowling at them. Still there is no denying that in our own cricket in these days we are abundantly rich in run-getters among the professionals. In the Players' team at Lord's room could not be found for Sandham, Hendren, Sutcliffe, Holmes, or Hallows, to say nothing of George Gunn and Makepeace. A second eleven could have been picked not so very far inferior in batting to the first. Here at any rate there is ground for satisfaction. As regards amateur batting of high-class we are by comparison, despite the brave show made at Lord's, still very badly off. At the end of four seasons since the war the recovery is by no means so marked as one had thought it would be. Some batsmen who left school with big reputations have, so far, fallen short of expectation. Our great hope at the moment is A. P. F. Chapman. He may not be quite sound in method, he may need a good wicket and be uncertain in dealing with the fast ball just outside the off stump, but he has the genius of the game in him, and as he is happily going on with his cricket no limit can be placed on what he may do in the next few years. By right of his batting and his glorious fielding he is the most attractive personality in the new generation of players. As stated in another part of Wisden he earned one extraordinary distinction last summer. In following a hundred in the University match with a hundred for the Gentlemen at Lord's he did a thing that only R. E. Foster had ever done before. The association of his name with that of so great a batsman should be an inspiration to him. Hubert Ashton unfortunately has gone to Burma and is, for the time being at any rate, lost to English cricket.

It was pleasant to find that when at their Annual General Meeting in May the M.C.C. passed some alterations in the laws of the game for Australia only, not the slightest disposition was shown to adopt the eight ball over in this country. Except for a small saving of time I am at a loss to see what advantage there would be in it and I remain firm in the conviction that it would lead to a further decrease of fast bowling. Playing practically six days a week for four months all our bowlers are more or less overworked, and with the eight ball over bowlers of real pace--unfortunately there are not many of them--would be bound to spare themselves. There may be something in favour of the extended over of which we are ignorant, but it has not had the least effect in Australia in checking the excessive run-getting. On this point the scores in the Inter-State matches are illuminating. I am glad that the Australians have secured official sanction, as regards their own country, for their innovation. Though nobody seemed to mind, their matches among themselves for three or four seasons were not played in accordance with the laws of cricket.

Repeating what I said last year, I wish the M.C.C. would make their own cricket a more prominent feature of the season's doings at Lord's. Their programme in these days, except when the Australians or the South Africans are here, is featureless and not worthy of the first club in the world. There would be no advantage now in meeting first-class counties--all of them fully occupied--but something might be done to restore the old standard of the matches with Oxford and Cambridge. With so many teams to select for tours in various parts of the world it strikes me that a couple of matches with picked elevens from the minor counties would serve a good purpose. A bowler or two of real class might possibly be discovered. I am told that some young amateurs, brought forward as playing members, have not always been ready to fulfil their obligation by assisting the M.C.C. when asked to do so, but there must be many good players in the club, with no time, and perhaps no special inclination, for county cricket, who would like to have a few matches at Lord's in the course of the summer. I throw out these modest suggestions in no spirit of fault-finding, but only with the wish that the M.C.C., so active in arranging small matches all over the country, would be more in evidence on their own ground.

For the most part cricket went on last season without friction, but there was a little trouble, the M.C.C.'s sharp criticism of certain irregularities at Oxford and Cambridge causing quite a commotion. At Oxford G. T. S. Stevens was asked to go on batting after the umpire had given him leg-before-wicket, and at Cambridge, in the second innings of the Free Foresters, G. B. Cuthbertson was allowed to bat as a substitute for J. N. Buchanan who was unwell. Incidentally, Cuthbertson scored 76 not out. I am at a loss to understand how anyone can seriously defend laxities of this kind. They rob cricket of all significance and the fact that similar things have happened in the past is nothing to the point. I am a rigid purist in these matters and all for the rigour of the game. When in the Gentlemen and Players match at the Oval in 1904 W. L. Murdoch and L. V. Harper, were allowed to take the places in the Gentlemen's team of P. F. Warner and George Beldam, both of whom had fielded through the first day, Beldam going on to bowl, I wrote privately to the M.C.C. asking them to give a ruling on the point. They decided, that what had happened at the Oval in Beldam's case was an infringement of Law 37, but in view of previous irregularities of the same kind they took no retrospective action. With regard to the question whether the M.C.C. last June, instead of spreading their condemnation broadcast, might not have been content with private reproofs, I cannot do better than quote from a letter sent to me setting forth the M.C.C.'s view: "It has to be borne in mind that the whole cricket world is always looking to M.C.C. for right guidance. If there is a tendency to go astray all that M.C.C. can do is to remonstrate, and surely it is wiser that it should do so publicly. Otherwise there is a risk of errors being repeated some time subsequently, and the excuse being put in that these things had been done in such and such matches and M.C.C. had not corrected them."

Not having an arithmetical mind and, moreover, being quite unable to associate cricket with the niceties of decimal fractions, I have no suggestion to offer with regard to the method of deciding the Championship, but I am glad the matter is being dealt with by the small body appointed by the Advisory Committee. Under the various schemes adopted from time to time things have by some happy chance always come out right, but last year there was a narrow escape of the final result being an utter absurdity. A very small accident would, on the present percentage plan, have placed Notts at the head of the list, though their record could not bear comparison with that of Yorkshire or Surrey. The fact that they stood above Surrey in the final table was sufficiently ridiculous. Never having made a fetish of the Championship I should personally prefer a far more elastic method of deciding the matter, letting the M.C.C. place the first half dozen counties on the general play of the season, but it seems to be agreed that we must have a plan that admits of the positions of the counties being easily followed week by week.

There was no hint last year of an agitation on the question of leg-before-wicket--the Hon. R. H. Lyttleton remains a voice crying in the wilderness--but I seldom meet an old cricketer without hearing lamentations about the way in which the modern method of batting handicaps the bowlers. Sympathy with undeserved suffering, however, does not go to the length of suggesting an attempt to bring about the drastic change in the law which, when proposed in 1901, secured a numerical majority of 71 at Lord's. Things will apparently continue as they are, but one can at least go on protesting against the pestilent doctrine laid down in the new Badminton that a batsman, in playing a ball that pitches outside the wicket, is entitled to regard two well-padded legs as a second line of defence. Surely nothing could be more flagrantly opposed to the true spirit of cricket.

© John Wisden & Co