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A big disappointment for everybody interested in the success of English cricket proved to be in store last summer. So little time having elapsed since the team, which the M.C.C. sent out under the leadership of A. P. F. Chapman, won four Test matches out of five in Australia, there existed a general feeling of confidence that the side chosen by the Australian authorities to come to England in pursuit of the mythical Ashes would fail in the object of their endeavours. Of the Englishmen who, visiting Australia in the winter of 1928-29, had acquitted themselves with so much distinction, Chapman, delaying his return home, had, it is true, played very little in 1929 and nothing at all had been seen of Jardine in first-class cricket in that season. With those two exceptions, however, all the members of the team had figured regularly in the game immediately upon their return to England and had fairly upheld their reputations. Last season, moreover, it was known that Chapman's services would be available and, as Jardine turned out in some early matches, the latter also must have entertained an idea of taking part in the great games. Thus the field of selection for those engaged in picking an eleven to represent England included the whole of the players who had done so well in Australia little more than a year previously while, in the event of some of these proving to be out of form, there were plenty of promising candidates for any vacancies which might present themselves. Not only had the English authorities apparently a big advantage in the call they possessed upon a considerable number of men of experience as well as ability but, in the opinions cabled from Australia, there seemed to exist strong doubts as to whether the attack at the command of the tourists would prove strong enough for so heavy an undertaking as a four months' tour in England. For Grimmett, of course, a very wholesome respect prevailed but the general impression appeared to be that his fellow bowlers would be found wanting.
Possibly the record of the tour in Australia, showing as it did in each succeeding Test Match an improvement on the part of the Commonwealth players that culminated on the occasion of the final contest of the series in a five wickets victory, should have prepared us more fully for what was in store, particularly as among our visitors were nine of the eleven who had gained that notable triumph. To the issue of that Melbourne match, however, much importance was not attached. A falling-off in the Englishmen's cricket rather than an advance in the skill of the Australians was generally assumed to be the cause of the reverse and this, after the rubber had been won in such triumphant fashion, seemed only natural. Furthermore, as Sutcliffe stood down owing to an injury and the Selection Committee decided to leave out Chapman, the side on that particular occasion differed in two very important instances from that which had gained so remarkable a number of successes. All things considered, the moderate estimate entertained of the Australians' abilities before these had been demonstrated in this country, was not, perhaps, so very surprising.
Even after the Australians had been here some time and had shown, only too clearly, that they would always be a difficult lot to beat, I don't think many people regarded them as likely to win the rubber. Admittedly in Woodfull, Ponsford, Bradman and Kippax, the tourists commanded the services of four exceptionally able batsmen and in Grimmett those of a bowler puzzling even to players of the highest class, but in other respects the team for a body of representative cricketers appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary. Unhappily for England, the crack batsmen, except on that drying pitch on the Saturday afternoon at Trent Bridge, nearly always accomplished great things in the Test matches and on the big occasions Grimmett's only failure as a bowler was at Old Trafford where, incidentally, he rendered invaluable service as a batsman. That extraordinary young cricketer, Bradman, meeting with truly phenomenal success, put together scores of 334, 254, 232 and 131 in the course of the five Tests and the Australians' totals, after the first innings at Nottingham, were 335, 729 for six wickets, 566, 345 and 695. Those figures speak only too eloquently for the run-getting powers of our visitors. Against such performances practically no side could have prevailed. In short the Australians, under the able leadership of Woodfull, rose to the occasion time and again in the course of the great encounters and, if their absolute triumph was not assured until the sixth day of the fifth match, they, in winning at the Oval in a single innings, could boast of an achievement which had baffled the efforts of all Dominion teams trying conclusions with England on the Surrey ground. Prior to last August England and Australia had met fifteen times at the Oval and while England, could look back upon nine victories there--three in a single innings -- Australia's solitary success dated back 48 years, and was one limited to a margin of seven runs.
While there can be no desire to lessen the credit due to Woodfull's young team for their splendid work in the Test matches, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Englishmen did not play up to form. Somehow, after that sorry time at Nottingham when Hammond, Woolley and Hendren all came to grief in such quick succession against Grimmett, England's batting as a whole never inspired confidence. Admittedly Sutcliffe played finely in the four big matches in which he took part and so did Duleepsinhji but no Test game suggested that we possessed the consistent run-getters who had accomplished so much in Australia. For Chapman's team, Hammond had made 905 runs with an average of 113, Hendren had averaged 52 and Hobbs 50, and Leyland in his one Test match had scored 190 runs for once out. Last summer Hammond's 113 at Leeds was one of only two innings he played of over 50, Hendren lost his place in the side, Leyland did little and Hobbs, after commencing with two delightful 70's, batted seven times afterwards for an aggregate of just under 150.
If our batsmen, generally speaking, disappointed, our bowlers on wickets subjected to an exceptional amount of preparation proved quite unable to dispose of their opponents at a reasonable cost. On those pitches into which such an abnormal amount of work had been put bowlers could neither turn the ball to any real extent nor, if keeping a reasonable length, make it lift at all. Indeed, except at Trent Bridge--after rain and sunshine-- England's bowlers suggested little trouble to the Australians. Greatly handicapped, they rarely rose above ordinary quality and often fell below even that standard. Still, if most pronounced, their failure was scarcely matter for much surprise considering the conditions under which they had to face some of the best batsmen in the world. To complete our discomfiture, while the Australians steadily improved as a fielding team, our much-altered elevens fell off considerably in that department as the long drawn-out struggle proceeded. The work was creditable at Nottingham and admirable during the tourists' ten hours' innings at Lord's but in the three remaining encounters distinctly inferior to that of their antagonists.
To such an extent was England's eleven changed from match to match that in the course of the five contests no fewer than twenty-one different players appeared for the Old Country, the only four who, with Sutcliffe prevented through injury from assisting at Lord's, figured in every game being Hobbs, Hammond, Tate and Duckworth. No doubt in some instances the judgment of the Selection Committee proved at fault but, as every contest brought out some weakness, the temptation to try fresh men must have been very strong. This tendency of the Selectors to make experiments reached its climax when on the eve of the final match it was decided to substitute R. E. S. Wyatt for Chapman as England's captain. Admittedly Chapman had not batted well--when he made a hundred at Lord's he gave the softest of chances before he scored--and his management of the bowling in the Manchester match had not given satisfaction. On the other hand while his run-getting powers had been shown to be a most uncertain quantity, he remained a man who might knock any bowler off his length. Having led England to victory six times and only once to defeat in the course of nine games, his record was full of encouragement and he possessed unrivalled experience as a Test match captain. He was immensely popular with the players and, above all, he stood out as the most brilliant of fieldsmen anywhere near the wicket. There existed the chance that Wyatt's watchful methods might invest England's batting with some much-needed solidity and so prove invaluable in a match with no time limit but this possibility should scarcely have outweighed the arguments in favour of retaining Chapman's services as leader. Certainly Wyatt, once he had settled down, batted very well in the first innings but the lack of Chapman's special skill in the field was clearly felt and it cannot be said that the course taken was justified by results. Since the war, England's Selection Committees have developed quite a habit of changing the captain in the course of a series of games with Australia. Nine years ago the late John Douglas, after leading England in the first two matches against Armstrong's famous band, gave way for the remaining contests to Lionel (now Lord) Tennyson. Five years later Arthur Carr captained England in the first four Tests against Herbert Collins' men and was superseded in the final contest by Chapman and last summer Chapman underwent a similar experience to thatof Carr.
Into the hands of the Australians various English Committees undoubtedly played by allowing, if not absolutely urging, their groundsmen so to deal with the turf that the result of continuous labour was a wicket which placed bowlers at a pronounced disadvantage. It is to be hoped that when representatives of the Commonwealth come here again, the over-preparation of pitches which obtained last summer, will have been abolished and a return made to conditions that admit of an even fight between bowler and batsman. By that time the question of the bigger wicket will, no doubt, have been settled and our men, consequently, will not be called upon to bowl at a smaller wicket than that used in their other matches. Finally I trust that we have seen the last of playing a match to a finish, however many days may be required for that purpose. Given normal circumstances, four days are quite sufficient for the decision of a game contested in a reasonably enterprising spirit--the real cricket spirit. Over and above that question, the idea of a rubber in which in the deciding game the conditions are changed from those obtaining in the earlier encounters cannot logically be defended.
Outside the loss of The Ashes, there was further matter for disappointment in 1930 in the wretched weather which prevailed so frequently during the season. The summer opened in rather cheerless fashion but mended somewhat as the month of May progressed and June brought with it scarcely any serious interruption of important matches. In July and August, however, conditions proved so unhappy that during the second half of the season the days entirely lost numbered more than sixty. The experience of the previous year, when the total of drawn games in the County Championship dropped from 122 to 89, had raised hopes that the new regulations as to the size of the wicket and the extension of the lbw rule would materially reduce the large proportion of unfinished contests. Against heavy rain all over the country, however, these experiments availed so little that out of a programme of 238 championship matches no fewer than 125 could not be brought to a definite issue. That is to say more than half of the competition contests resulted in either a draw or a more or less complete abandonment. In certain instances, no doubt, big scoring prevented games being played out but, as a rule, rain was the controlling factor. In this connection a close investigation as to the actual cause of cricket being impossible might, to the well-being of the game, be undertaken. Time and again when rain had ceased for many hours, the pitch remained so soft and wet that a match could not be resumed. In such circumstances water, lying ona wicket subjected to no abnormal preparation in the way of liquid manures and continual rolling, would usually drain into the ground. As matters are to-day, with the turf rendered so solid and binding by special applications and intensive rolling, the water, in the event of rain, does not disappear in that way but, to no small extent, remains on the surface until it evaporates. Indeed, admitting, of course, that modern methods of treatment make a wicket last longer than one naturally prepared, the question arises whether in these days at the end of a moderately wet summer, there has not been less cricket on some of the big grounds than would have taken place if the preparation had been that of olden times. It is certainly curious that at Kennington Oval, which used to be one of the quickest drying grounds in the country there should, last summer, owing to the state to which the pitch had been reduced by rain, have been no fewer than eleven blank days.
Next summer yet a further step is to be taken in determining the issue of the county championship, the change consisting in the increase of the value of an actual win from eight to fifteen points. Likely enough when the new system has undergone a season's trial, some objections--not at the moment apparent--may manifest themselves. Personally I think the new plan will prove to be the most satisfactory yet devised in the course of eleven different attempts to deal with the matter. The score for a win outright is so large as to compel practically every team to go all out to gain a victory. At the same time the Advisory Committee have wisely not yielded to the unreasoning clamour for the abolition of first innings points. These will remain as they have been for the past four seasons--five points for the side leading on the first innings and three for their opponents. Cases, of course, do occur when contending teams, fearful of meeting with defeat, pursue such restrained methods that a first innings decision appears to be all either side can contemplate and the cricket necessarily becomes very dreary. On the other hand, when a definite result is obviously out of the question, a battle for first innings points often invests a game with a measure of interest which, without such reward at stake, would be largely lacking. Last season, for instance, there took place in the competition for the county championship, no fewer than 103 matches in which, as circumstances compelled, innings points proved to be the only matter at issue.
Another new departure to be adopted in the forthcoming season is the abolition of the individual appeal against the light and the placing in the hands of the umpires exclusively of the question as to whether the conditions prevailing demand a stoppage of the game. Here again I consider is matter for satisfaction. Under the custom which obtained right up to the end of last summer the batsman, when the light deteriorated, was placed in a difficult position. To play on in such circumstances might jeopardise the prospects of his side unduly while to raise the point whether the match should be interrupted until the light improved invited unpopularity with the spectators. A striking illustration of the objection to the old system occurred in the Test match at Leeds. England, having followed on, naturally could not afford to risk anything. Yet when Hobbs, taking a step which duty to his side compelled, appealed against the conditions, the gloom which hung over the city seriously handicapping the batsmen facing in that direction, he and Sutcliffe, of all people, found themselves subjected to quite a lot of hooting and jeering from the crowd. Given a similar situation, such spectators as disgraced themselves on that occasion--and these numbered several thousand--would possibly misconduct themselves again but, under the new arrangement, the objects of their resentment would be the umpires and not the batsmen. Umpire-baiting is, of course, cowardly work and therefore gravely to be deplored but it is a lesser evil that these officials--generally men of some age and possessed of much experience of crowds--should be assailed in this way than a batsman on an all-important occasion should be prevented from doing himself justice.
Before leaving this question, I would remark that to the best of my recollection the practice of appealing against the light--however well justified--is a comparatively modern development. Fifty years ago, unless I am much mistaken, cricketers accepted bad light as all in the luck of the game. John Crow, the famous old Kent scorer, now 83 years of age, to whom I put the point, is of opinion that in his days of first-class cricket appeal against the light was very rare and G. G. Hearne, the famous all-rounder, who would probably have been a Test match player had such things existed when he was at his best, tells me he doesn't recall, all through his career, ever making appeal against the light. Personally I call to mind a Yorkshire and Notts match at Sheffield in which play went on although we on the ring couldn't distinguish the stumps. And is not the story told that Lumpy, said to have been a bit of a poacher as well as a cricketer, would wait until a very dark cloud was passing--spectators appear to have possessed remarkable patience away back in the eighteenth century--and then bowl his swiftest?
Before bringing these Notes to a close I would like to thank Mr. Arthur M. Goodhart for sending me the score of a Sussex v. Surrey match at Brighton in 1872. In the course of this game Charlwood played a ball off Street and, seeing it likely to roll into his wicket, hit it a second time--to square-leg. His partner, Reed, started to run and Charlwood was given out by Julius Caesar, the Surrey umpire, for Infringing Rule 20--Hitting the Ball Twice. The decision, even if correct, would have been hard luck on Charlwood who himself apparently did not leave his ground. The umpire was wrong seeing that the matter of running affects the Law in question only as proof that the Striker, in hitting the ball a second time, was not merely defending his wicket. I am also much indebted to Mr. J. W. Shuker who, when the question was raised as to whether Mr. W. Fuller-Maitland, born on May 6, 1844, and a member of the Oxford Eleven of 1864, was the oldest cricket Blue, pointed out that this distinction belonged to Mr. Tom Collins, who was born on January 31, 1841, and appeared for Cambridge against Oxford at Lord's in 1863.
I have also to acknowledge receipt of a letter from Mr. H. E. Holmes of Durban, enclosing the text of a pronouncement made by the South African Board of Control to the effect that, in the opinion of that body, the contest between the M.C.C. team and The Reef at Vogelfontein on December 22 and 23, 1909, was not a first-class match. In the course of this encounter Hobbs scored 70 runs which are counted in his first-class aggregate. Seeing that the game was regarded, at the time it was played, as first-class and until a little while ago had been left in undisputed possession of that rank, the need for raising any question about the matter after more than twenty years is not at all obvious. In any circumstances, I should not advise the dragging up of what, with all due respect to the recent ruling of the South African Board, must remain a debatable matter. The Reef team included some Test match players and others who had appeared in Inter-State games so it certainly had considerable claims to be regarded as first-class and from that standing, I cannot, all things considered, agree after such a long lapse of time to reduce it. Outside the merits of the case, is there not something rather grotesque in the idea of a controlling body sitting in solemn conclave over so small a matter and deciding to upset what had been accepted for twenty years?
Sooner or later the cricket authorities in this country will have put before them very strongly the question whether the ever-growing interchange of visits between English cricketers and those of the different Dominions makes for the well-being of the game. In 1929, after the South Africans had toured here, teams were sent out to New Zealand and to the West Indies and not only has the triumphal march of the Australians in England last summer been followed by the despatch of a side to South Africa but, had not trouble in India developed so badly, another team would have toured that Dependency. No one questions the fact that cricket has benefited enormously in different parts of the world from the visits of English players or that the winter tours, if travelling is kept within reasonable limits, are very enjoyable. The difficulty which threatens is in connection with the continuous stream of Dominion cricketers to this country. Every summer for the past five years there has been a team from some part of the Empire touring in England and arrangements have already been made for a similar state of things during the next five years. At the moment purely domestic cricket can hold its own in public interest with that produced by New Zealand or the West Indies but, in the ordinary nature of things, the game in those far-away lands will steadily improve and it is not difficult to immune a time when every summer a challenge to the reputation of English cricket will dominate the home season and bring with it the excitement which now attaches only to an Australian tour in this country. In such circumstances county clubs, able to depend upon a regular and substantial income from their shares of Test match proceeds, may be free from the anxieties which in these times trouble so many of them but what will be the fate of the battle for the championship? Interest in a competition must suffer when leading aspirants to first honours have to forego in a third or more of their engagements the services of some of their best men. The danger, no doubt, is not yet but it appears to be an inevitable outcome of modern developments and will have to be grappled with by the authorities. In what particular fashion those in control will approach the question it is impossible to say but I do trust that big monies resulting from tours in this country will not blind those with whom the power of action lies to the dangers threatening the future of county cricket.