Inasmuch as the one Test match brought to a definite issue last season resulted in a handsome victory for England, there is occasion for much thankfulness. The period of depression, started by the sorry failure of John Douglas's team in Australia, deepened by the triumph of Armstrong's side in this country during the following summer, and only mildly relieved by the play of Arthur Gilligan's band in the winter of 1924-25, is--for the moment at least--at the end. If in only a solitary instance last summer did England actually win, Australia's bowling was thoroughly trounced at Lord's, and at Leeds where an unfortunate course of action, in giving Australia first innings, courted disaster, England's batsmen extricated themselves from a dangerous situation in most convincing fashion, while in the final game, the superiority of the old country was clearly demonstrated.
In its happy issue, especially after the anxieties of the Leeds contest, the battle for the Ashes furnished matter for much satisfaction, yet there was some disappointment over England's bowling. A good many people--and I include myself among that number--were of opinion a year ago that in Tate and Macaulay we had two match winners. Tate certainly bowled with exemplary steadiness, but he did not fizz off the pitch as he had done in the previous summer, and his thirteen wickets in Test matches cost nearly 30 runs apiece. Macaulay failed. A lifeless performance in the Trial game shaking any confidence in his powers the Selection Committee might have entertained, he was not chosen for either of the first two contests, and at Leeds, even if he played an invaluable innings, he crumpled up badly before the fierce onslaught of Macartney. Root, after raising great hopes by taking seven Australian wickets for the North of England at Birmingham at a cost of 6 runs apiece, was only moderately successful at Lord's, and did nothing at Manchester until Macartney and Woodfull had made their great stand. Kilner's single achievement was in finishing off Australia's innings at Lord's, and Geary proved ineffective. Larwood, perhaps, bowled better than his figures would suggest, and had a fine record at the Oval, where Wilfred Rhodes, appearing in a Test match twenty-seven years after he had first enjoyed that distinction, showed himself still England's best bowler. The triumph of the famous veteran was of course immensely popular, but that he--a man nearly 49 years of age--should have had to be called upon was no small indictment of the younger generation.
Thus we must guard ourselves against any undue optimism. No such triumph as the Australians achieved in each of the three preceding series of Test matches was ours. Moreover, Collins and his men, even if with their great batting strength a hard side to beat, lacked the formidable attack which previous teams from Australia had possessed, and which, no doubt, England batsmen will have to face in the future. It behoves us therefore not to indulge in any great jubilation over last year's victory, but to realise our limitations and to set to work to try and build up, for the tour in Australia in 1928-29, a side to which the reputation of English cricket, under the severe ordeal of games played to a finish however long they may last, can be confidently entrusted.
There is one recent development of cricket life that may, I fear, militate against the prospects of England against Australia. That is the ever increasing tendency to undertake winter tours in different parts of the world. These trips are obviously very agreeable or they would not prove so popular, and in so far as participation in them is confined to amateurs and to professionals outside the foremost rank, there can be no objection to them. It is a different matter when, as happens at the present moment, our leading bowlers, after a season's heavy work and that of another in front of them, are subjected to a further call upon their powers during the intervening months. For a time, no doubt, men at the height of their physical strength may appear to undergo this additional strain without any deterioration in skill, yet the lack of rest must tell in the long run, and so tend to shorten a brilliant career. In the case of tours in Australia--so much is at stake on those occasions--that danger has to be risked, and naturally men earning their living by the game cannot be expected to refuse opportunities of making money, but in the best interests of English cricket it would be well if matters could be so arranged that great bowlers without loss of income, were enabled to conserve their energies for the summer.
The Australians urge that, in future, Test Matches in this country shall not be restricted to three days, but that four days shall be allotted for the decision of those contests. The desirability of some extension of time, it is argued, was shown by last summer's experience, when the only one of the five games brought to a definite issue was that for which--with unlimited time, as it happened, arranged for the encounter--four days sufficed but proved necessary. Opponents of change might contend, on the other hand, that in two instances rain destroyed the chance of a finish, and that in the other two the moderate quality of the bowling was the chief reason of the matches being drawn. The probabilities, however, appear to be rather in favour of the three-day limit being abolished, and if that course be taken no strong reason can be adduced in favour of four days as against five or six. The interference with county cricket would be the same in either case. That is to say, certain counties would find themselves in no fewer than ten Championship engagements without some of their leading players, the great annual Competition being consequently robbed of all real importance. In those circumstances, a return to the old system of three Test Matches might be suggested, but the representative games produce so much money that that plan is not at all likely to be adopted. The money question, in short, threatens to dominate the situation. Claims are made that the inter-change of visits fosters the Imperial spirit. One hopes that this may be so, but the fact remains that the early visits of England cricketers to Australia and of Australian players to this country were all purely commercial enterprises. Recent cables from Australia suggest that, even in these days when arrangements are under official control, the players still regard a tour in England as a business venture and expect that profits should be devoted to their personal benefit.
The return home of the Australians was followed by announcements that two very prominent members of the team--Ponsford and Arthur Richardson--were coming back to England to play for Lancashire League clubs. In the case of Ponsford steps have since been taken to retain his services in Australia. Whether the arrangement in regard to Richardson is likely to be carried through, I do not know, but there is to most of us something objectionable in the idea of a man battling for Australia in Test matches one season, and a year later figuring as a paid player for an English local club. Of course an Australian cricketer has a perfect right to turn professional if he thinks fit and in that event, to sell his abilities in the best market. Did the matter end with the fact of a man accepting a situation, there would--much as one might regret the occurrence--be nothing more to be said on the subject. Unfortunately, there is the precedent in the case of McDonald who, after playing a great part in Australia's triumph over England in 1921, accepted an engagement with a League club and, as soon as he had completed two year's residence, became a member of the Lancashire County Eleven. In the ordinary nature of things, a similar course might be followed by Arthur Richardson, if that player takes up employment in this country. Against such a development there would, I feel confident, be a very general and a very proper outcry. In qualifying Australians, Lancashire and Middlesex--and still further back, Gloucestershire--were big sinners, but the practice happily died out, and I am not aware that Lancashire County, even if prompt to avail themselves of McDonald's services, had anything to do with bringing that fine bowler back to this country. Obviously, however, if Arthur Richardson does join a League club, there must exist, as things are, something more than a possibility of that player also in two years time finding his way into the ranks of the Lancashire Eleven. How the situation should be tackled it is difficult to say. In what has happened--and still more in what may happen--there is a danger that the fine spirit which now obtains in county cricket will be lost. The question really resolves itself into an appeal to Lancashire--for at the moment no other county is affected--to apply to themselves a self-denying ordinance, that they will not employ any more of these Dominion players whom the enterprise of League Cricket Clubs may have placed at their service. In default of something of this kind, I see nothing for it but action on the part of the counties generally in insisting upon an increased period of qualification for Australian cricketers.
It seems likely that, in the near future, cricketers all over the world will be using a smaller ball. The special Sub-Committee appointed by the Advisory County Cricket Committee at their meeting in November have already made it known that they recommend a reduction in size of cricket balls, and it only remains for the M.C.C. to confirm this for the Law to be altered. Here we have the case of an infringement of the rule by cricket ball manufacturers being not only countenanced but strongly supported by the counties themselves, for it was discovered two seasons ago that balls smaller than of the regulation dimensions were in almost general use. The M.C.C. put a stop to this directly the matter was officially brought to their notice, but now everything points to that line of action being abandoned. I am old-fashioned enough to hope that the proposed resolution will be lost, for in this I see the thin end of the wedge. Once the authorities start tinkering with the implements of the game, there is no telling where supposed reforms will end. I do not believe for a moment that the smaller ball will solve the problem of placing the bowler on more level terms with the batsmen. Whatever fancied advantage may accrue will probably be lost by a falling off in the standard of fielding, for it is an undoubted fact that the smaller ball, having to be made harder, hurts a fieldsman's hands. The ability to spin the ball, which seems a lost art, does not necessarily come from length of finger. Rather is it digital strength, and no real reason exists why our modern bowlers should not be able to impart just as much spin as their predecessors of twenty or thirty years ago--before anyone thought of the smaller ball.
Far better would it be, in the attempt to improve the chances of the bowler, for the counties to come to a definite understanding not to prepare wickets artificially. The outcry against the use of marl some years ago had a beneficial effect, but on nearly every ground that substance has been reintroduced by groundsmen. Moreover, instead of spreading the marl on the turf and rolling it in as they used to, they now adopt a different system by reducing it to a powder and watering it, with manurial matter, into the ground. The result of this is that for two or three inches there is a substratum of marl, and even if the top is knocked off, say, on the first day, the pitch rolls out almost as true as ever. How often nowadays does one see a really sticky or broken up wicket? On some grounds, too, the mowings are left on the ground and rolled in, rendering the pitch so dead that the poor bowler has little or no chance. Let wickets be prepared naturally and discountenance the use of abnormally heavy rollers, and there will be no need to alter the size of the ball.
With the tremendous growth of county cricket, the Marylebone Club is not the big force in the actual playing field it was forty or fifty years ago, but its responsibilities in the control and administration of the game have increased ten-fold and in the performance of that work there is no bigger figure than the Secretary of the Club. Thus the retirement from that post of Sir Francis Lacey is an important event in the cricket history of the day. Mr. F. E. Lacey--as he then was, the Knighthood being conferred upon him last summer--succeeded Mr. Henry Perkins as secretary in 1898. Mr. Perkins having occupied that post for 22 years, and Mr. Lacey's term extending over 28 years, the tenure of the office by the two secretaries covered a period of half a century. Lord's in Mr. Perkins' time was a very cheery place, but discipline may have been rather slack, and on taking over the duties, Mr. Lacey, no doubt, found himself faced with a difficult task. Possibly the new broom swept a little too clean at first, but steadily Mr. Lacey built up a big reputation and became not only a highly esteemed official but a big power in the cricket world. Of the regard in which he was held by the members of the Marylebone Club he had convincing proof in the acknowledgments made on his retirement and in his nomination as one of the trustees of that organisation. During his term of office great work has been accomplished in the coaching of young cricketers and the accommodation for the public at Lord's has been enormously increased. A splendid batsman in his day and a 'Varsity blue at both cricket and association football, Sir Francis carries with him into his well-earned leisure the good wishes of a host of friends who have benefited by his always readily-rendered and sagacious advice. He is succeeded by Mr. William Findlay of Eton, Oxford and Lancashire, a fine wicket-keeper and a steady bat. Mr. Findlay brings to the fullfilment of his duties experience obtained as secretary of the Surrey Club and as assistant-secretary for many years of the Marylebone Club. Very popular with all who know him, he is sure to maintain the high traditions of the Marylebone Club Secretaryship.
In the list of Hobbs' Hundreds in the last issue of Wisden, there was included 138 for the M.C.C. Team against Geelong and District in 1920-21. For this should be substituted:--114 for the M.C.C. team against Western Province at Cape Town in 1909-10.