Body-line methods, 1933

Notes by the Editor

Stewart Caine

Twelve months ago in dealing with the sorry experience of most of the leading counties in 1931, I ventured the opinion that there could not be a third consecutive wet summer. I based that conclusion upon recollections covering a period of more than fifty years but precedent went by the board. May proved to be nearly the worst month from a cricket point of view that anyone could recall and the rains continued for some days into June. Up to that point the weather, in its interference with cricket, certainly beat all records. There came a further depressing spell at the end of July, extending into the early part of August and the opening of September brought with it plenty of rain but, taken as a whole, conditions after the first week of June were fairly satisfactory and, forgetting the sorrows of May, the ordinary follower of the game seemed to entertain the opinion that the summer of 1932 had been reasonably fine. County treasurers, unhappily, could arrive at no such comforting conclusion. Receipts in the matter of gate-money fell once again sadly below the average and if the Oval found itself favoured with one or two fairly pleasant Saturdays early in the season there was no gainsaying the fact that, generally speaking, county cricket clubs experienced very bad luck.

At Lord's the month of May opened with four days upon which not a ball could be bowled and of nine days--prior to the twelfth of the month--when cricket should have been in progress at head-quarters seven were blank. Following upon a slight improvement, conditions turned worse than ever towards the close of the month, not a ball being sent down anywhere on the last Friday nor on the following day when nine first-class games were set to commence. Altogether sixty-three days' cricket--fifty in Championship matches--were lost during the month. Players were kept entirely idle at Lord's on twelve days out of twenty-four for which contests had been arranged. Teams particularly unfortunate in the matter of weather were Lancashire with eight blank days--six in home matches-- Yorkshire with eleven and Worcestershire with ten--seven at home--while Derbyshire, who should have brought the month to a conclusion by meetings with Yorkshire at Chesterfield, Kent at Ilkeston and Surrey at Derby, could attempt nothing in any one of those three most attractive home engagements except for some play on the second day of the match with Kent. Kent had eight idle days but all of these occurred in out-matches and Notts, while so many of their rivals suffered heavily, got off with two blank days. Naturally the delays, interruptions and abandonments played sad havoc with the progress of the County Championship. By the end of May no fewer than fifty-one games in the competition should have been decided but in only eighteen of these was a definite issue reached. Worcestershire underwent a truly appalling experience. Their May programme extended to nine engagements. Of these two were lost outright, two lost on the first innings and four other Championship fixtures yielded No Result while the contest arranged with the South Americans was, with the Worcester ground reduced to a hopeless state, cancelled before the day of the encounter.

Following upon such an experience as that of last year--a third successive wet summer--one naturally hesitates to prophesy fine weather in 1933 but a dry season is most certainly due. What will happen to some of the weaker counties if during the forth-coming summer the weather plays such pranks as it has done since 1930, it is difficult to imagine. County clubs which have no reserve funds cannot expect to carry on year after year as the result of support from donations and special celebrations. Those sources of income must eventually come to an end and then will arise the question whether all the further hard work to run a county club which does not attract adequate public support is worth while.

Early last year Mr. Davey, then secretary of Somerset and now the successor of Mr. R. C. N. Palairet in that office for Surrey, expressed the opinion that Somerset, if they could reduce their championship programme from twenty-eight to twenty-four engagements--he assumed, I suppose, reasonably fine weather--would possibly find themselves able to make ends meet. One can express the hope that in this limitation of matches demanded of participants in the County Championship a solution of the difficulties, overwhelming the less stable county clubs, may be found. If this further alteration in the minimum of fixtures which must be fulfilled by aspirants to first honours does not enable clubs to retain membership of the band fighting for the Championship, the consequence would appear to be that some clubs must drop out. Whether certain counties should ever have been admitted, is, at least, matter for discussion but as those organisations did make their way into the charmed circle, sentimental considerations would now apparently help to keep them among the great teams of the country. For the moment even the shakiest of counties must feel encouraged to battle on, seeing that they may reasonably expect a substantial sum of money as the result of the profits made by the M.C.C. tour in Australia.

At the moment of writing these notes the third Test match has just ended in a handsome victory for England but while followers of cricket in this country rejoice exceedingly over that success the public in Australia appear to be getting very excited about the fast bowling of some of the Englishmen and what is variously known as the leg theory, shock tactics and body-line methods. leg theory, as we have understood that kind of bowling, not only recently when exploited by Root but away back in 1921 by Armstrong and even earlier by the late A. Jaques of Hampshire, consisted in the delivery--in the case of the two latter--of a slow ball, with an off-break, pitched on the leg stump or well outside it, with three or four men fielding close in at leg and to the on. Given a ball of this description and the space near by packed with fieldsmen, the batsman was called upon for the exercise of much judgment. The ball, if he left it alone and it did not happen to turn much, might bowl him and if he tried a smothering stroke he was apt to give the softest of catches while, off a ball going away a mishit was obviously more than likely. Occasionally the leg theory--particularly in the hands of Root--proved extremely effective but, as a rule, it tried the patience of both batsman and spectator and, if that of the batsman held out, slowed the play down to a most depressing extent.

The ball to which such strong exception is being taken in Australia is not slow or slow-medium but fast. It is dropped short and is alleged in certain quarters to be aimed at the batsman rather than at the wicket. It may at once he said that, if the intention is to hit the batsman and so demoralise him, the practice is altogether wrong--calculated, as it must be, to introduce an element of pronounced danger and altogether against the spirit of the game of cricket. Upon this point practically everybody will agree. No one wants such an element introduced. That English bowlers, to dispose of their opponents, would of themselves pursue such methods or that Jardine would acquiesce in such a course is inconceivable.

At the same time there obviously exists an awkward situation. The batsman of the sixties in the last century, had, on the rough wickets which then obtained in most parts of the country, to depend upon his own dexterity to prevent himself from being hit by the fast bowlers and often--however high his class--found himself badly bruised at the end of an innings but he accepted those knocks as all in the game. Indeed, unless fast bowling had been forbidden, knocks--to some extent--were almost inevitable and, furthermore, if a bowler chose to drop the ball a bit short now and then, no one would have thought for a moment of raising objection. Is it not on record that W. G. Grace, who in ordinary circumstances was scarcely ever hit, said, in reference to an M.C.C. match against Yorkshire at Lord's, in 1870 when out of a total of 161, he made 66 and C. E. Green 51, " About every third or fourth ball kicked badly and we were hit all over the body and had to dodge an occasional one with our heads." In that season, W.G. was never out to an amateur bowler and was only once lbw.

Batsmen to-day are accustomed to play on turf so skilfully prepared that not one ball in fifty gets up. The bowler may succeed in making it lift a little and in so doing presents, with an occasional swerver, as difficult if not as dangerous, a proposition as his predecessor of no swerve but of commanding accuracy in length. With wickets so religiously rolled, marled and rendered so true, batsmen should surely be prepared to take all the risks and more than their forefathers faced so readily. So far from jumping in to an accurate bowler, the batsman of to-day, however well set, does not, as a rule, leave his ground to score but moves back, tries to get the ball away on the leg side and uses his well-padded leg as a second line of defence. In the ordinary way to-day the bowler sees nothing of the wicket beyond the off stump--and often little of that--and cannot, with the use of the legs so pronounced, hope that if he beats the bat he will necessarily hit the stumps. Things being so, it is inevitable he must try and find another way of getting a batsman out and if the methods he employs are calculated to upset the batsman, he will naturally be pleased that his ingenuity has brought about this effect.

What exactly has been happening in this match at Adelaide, it is difficult to realise. I do not read anywhere that the fast bowlers are accused by the batsmen of pitching outside the leg stump and so short as to constitute a positive danger. The shock bowlers, as they are being called just now, pitch apparently on the leg stump, rather short of a length and so place their field that the leg glance, the hook and the carefully guided stroke between short leg and mid-on become not only risky but, to a large extent, ineffective. Players pursuing the two-eyed stance and the ensuing movement of the right foot backwards, lose largely the possibilities of run-getting in front of the wicket on the off-side and dispositions of attack which shut out practically all possibilities of scoring by well-controlled placing to the on and to leg leave the average batsman of today--unless he be extremely enterprising--with very restricted possibilities. In these circumstances annoyance on the part of the batsman must be very easily generated, but that consequence of shock tactics is, if anything, rather an argument in favour of the employment of such methods.

Naturally such a plan of action on the part of the fielding side, coupled with the inability of batsmen to change their game sufficiently to meet the situation, must inevitably render play rather tiresome and extend the feeling of annoyance to the spectators. Surely, however, the blame for such a condition of things rests with the batsman rather than with the bowler. The batsman, in stepping in front of the wicket and using his pads as a second line of defence, may be within the letter of the law, but he is pursuing a mode of play which was certainly never contemplated by those who drafted the regulations. So long as that system prevails in first-class cricket, so long will bowlers need to find something else than the good-length cleverly-flighted off-break which, after beating the bat, is not allowed to hit the stumps. Two generations back or even less, it was largely the practice of the batsman to stand clear of the leg stump and, if he stepped in front, that movement was made, not in defence of his wicket, but to give him power in bringing off a hit. Thus there could, in those times, be no such objection as prevails today to the law of leg before wicket.

To the abuse of this law may fairly be traced the trouble which has arisen in Australia during the tour now in progress. In suggesting, as has the Australian Board of Control, that bowling such as that of the Englishmen has become a menace to the best interests of the game, is causing intensely bitter feelings between players and, unless stopped at once, is likely to upset the friendly relations between England and Australia, the Commonwealth cricket authorities seem to have lost their sense of proportion. The idea that a method of play to which, while often practised in the past by Australian as well as English bowlers, no exception had been taken in public could jeopardise the relations of the two countries, appears really too absurd. At the same time all this acrimony, generated, I fear, partly through the papers demanding a news-story daily, will not have been entirely purposeless should it, in the long run, bring about--with qualifications as to its application on the leg-side -- a return to the old rule as to lbw. Or if the striker puts his leg before the wicket with a design to stop the ball and actually prevent the ball from hitting his wicket by it--the striker is out.

During the past season quite a number of clubs tried experiments in the direction of late starts in order to allow of stumps being drawn at a later hour than the regulation half past six. Play began at various times at different places and no surprise could have been felt had the departure justified itself by a substantial addition to the gate late in the afternoon. I do not read, however, of any case of the later hour for drawing stumps proving popular. Possibly, in some instances, the company stayed on for the extra hour when play proceeded until half past seven but I recall no clear instance of the extension of time being thoroughly, appreciated. Fourteen years ago when county matches were reduced to two-day contests and play went on until half past seven, the average London spectator had obviously made up his mind to spend the evening elsewhere than Lord's or the Oval for, however well filled in the course of the afternoon, the ground nearly always showed a tendency to empty soon after six o'clock. It is only fair to mention in connection with the past season that, despite the deplorable weather of May, the number of Championship games left unfinished fell from 125 in 1930 to 105. Moreover, if in so large a measure of contests a definite issue was not reached, there occurred sixteen instances in which first innings points were decided by less than ten runs while among the encounters played out the margin in four cases was limited to three wickets, in three others to two wickets and in three further matches to a single wicket.

Mr. A. H. J. Cochrane of Repton, Oxford and Derbyshire in sending some particulars about W. Evetts and A. C. Bartholomew--the two oldest Oxford Blues now that W. Fuller-Maitland is dead--mentions a curious coincidence in connection with the Eton and Harrow match. Harrow won in 1864 by an innings and 66 runs and in 1865 by an innings and 51 runs and each of these games was finished off in the same way--by the same Harrovian-- W. Evetts catching the same Etonian-- W. B. Barrington on the leg side. Strangely enough, sixty-eight years later there are two survivors of those two games and only two and those men are W. Evetts and W. B. Barrington. While Fuller-Maitland has passed away and been succeeded as the oldest Oxford Blue by A. C. Bartholomew--a colleague in the 1868 side of W. Evetts but a year older than that player--Tom Collins who played at Lord's against Oxford in 1863, happily still remains to enjoy the distinction of being the oldest Cambridge Blue. Mr. Collins, now resident at Newport (Salop) is 92 years of age on January 31.

In concluding my notes last year I bore testimony to the splendid service which, over a long term of years, Mr. F. S. Ashley-Cooper had rendered in collecting Cricket Records and other information for Wisden, and announced that his help would no longer be available. Mr. Ashley-Cooper, of whom a biographical notice will be found in front of Deaths in 1932, passed away while the sixty-ninth Edition of the Almanack was in the press. As mentioned in the Preface, I have been fortunate in getting Mr. J. A. H. Catton to undertake the preparation of Cricket Records. In dealing with that section of the book Mr. Catton has revised and consolidated the statistics and, in a large measure, restricted them to first-class cricket. No feature that is essential or of paramount interest has been omitted, such excisions as occur in this issue being made as certain tabulated matter had become unwieldy. On the other hand, there will be found extensions and re-arrangements of information which should prove helpful to readers of the Almanack.

© John Wisden & Co