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Occasionally, comments are made which show a lack of knowledge of the conditions under which cricket is organised and played in Australia, and I send these notes to the Editor of Wisden in the hope that they may serve to clear up some misapprehensions.
The controlling body is the Board of Control, to which delegates representing the six States of the Commonwealth are appointed annually. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia each send three delegates, Queensland two, and Western Australia and Tasmania one each. Then there are the Associations in the several States. The controlling body in each State comprises delegates from affiliated clubs. As any player or resident may join a district club in (say) Sydney or Melbourne, he has the right of taking part in the election of his club delegates to the State Association just as, in turn, the Committee of the Association elects representatives on the Board of Control. In form, this is a very democratic system of control, because the members elect the delegates, and the delegates choose the representatives on the Board. In practice there is perhaps an inevitable restriction of membership of the supreme Board to those club officials who have been Association delegates for many years. The Board of Control assembles only four or five times a year, whereas the State Association committees meet frequently and at regular intervals.
The Australian system of control of cricket is therefore representative in character, quite the reverse of the M.C.C. In practice, the M.C.C. may voice the opinion of the English clubs and players quite as effectively as the Australian Board, but their Committee is elected annually by the members of the Marylebone Club.
New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland play each other twice in a season for the Shield presented by Lord Sheffield. As this means twelve Sheffield Shield matches a season, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane each see only three Shield games, so that there is no surfeit of high-class cricket. The other two States, Tasmania and Western Australia, participate in only a few matches. A second grade competition between these two States and the second elevens of the four Sheffield Shield States has been suggested recently but not adopted. A great difficulty in the way of big cricket in Australia is the enormous distances between the largest cities.
In the cities, the major part of cricket is confined to club games, which are organised on a district basis, and residential qualifications are imposed. The standard of club cricket is difficult to gauge. There has been a tendency to increase the number of clubs, and it is suggested that the standard has declined. As to the attendances these are relatively small in comparison with football crowds. Some at least of the clubs in Sydney and Melbourne might reasonably hope to defeat the weaker English county teams. Last season for instance, Bradman and O'Reilly played with the same Sydney club, and one Melbourne club had five or six Test Players.
The leading Australian players take part in a very limited amount of first-class cricket and this should always be remembered when comparisons are made between the performances of the players of England and of Australia. Some statistical enthusiast could probably show that, although Hobbs has scored 197 centuries and Bradman only 51, the latter's proportion of centuries to innings is much higher. A representative Australian player's games are confined to Sheffield Shield and club cricket except, of course, when a team from abroad visits Australia.
The club games are restricted to two Saturday afternoons--about four hours play on each afternoon. Some years ago, the Sheffield Shield rules were altered to confine the duration of those games to 4 days, with several hours play on the fifth day if necessary. Finally, four days were allotted with 5½ hours play on each day. Originally, and for several seasons, the Sheffield Shield games were played to a conclusion, however long they might take.
The time limit has been a great success. First innings points are awarded but are of small value in comparison with an outright win. A very great proportion of the games are finished in the four days. The rate of scoring has certainly increased, and wickets fall more rapidly. Personally, I am satisfied that it was the necessity of quick scoring in the interests of his side some years ago which developed in Bradman that vehemence, not to say ferocity, which characterises much of his recent batting.
The Australian Board would probably disagree with any attempt to fix a time limit on Test Matches in Australia; but I definitely think that if the experiment of a 5-day limit were tried, most of the Tests would be concluded and the cricket would be more sporting. The five days would, with our shorter hours, correspond to a four days Test in England. The success of the Australians in four days Tests in England in 1930 and 1934 is partly accounted for by their having adapted themselves under the newer Sheffield Shield rules, to time-limit matches. The eight-ball over still obtains in Australian cricket and there seems to be no tendency to revert to the six-ball over.
Whilst a number of representative cricketers earn their livelihood from sports businesses, there is practically no professionalism in the English sense. This does not mean that our Test players are not paid. For matches in Australia they receive about £30 each; for tours in England they receive about £600 each, in addition to expenses. In the days of the privately conducted tours of England, larger sums were on occasion received. The payments for Sheffield Shield games are almost nominal, whilst all the players bear their own expenses in club cricket.
Many of Australia's greatest players have been country as opposed to city players. The State Associations spend a good deal of time and money in fostering country cricket by sending city teams to the country and by arranging Country Weeks in the city. Bradman and McCabe received opportunities in this way and quickly succeeded. The handicap of distance is a serious one in country districts but a great deal is being done to overcome it.
This is very well organised by the school authorities. In Australia the bulk of primary education is controlled by the Educational Department of the State itself and this facilitates control. The older boys attending secondary schools are well catered for whether the schools are controlled by the State or privately. The Association keeps a keen eye on this training ground for its future representative players. For instance, the late Archie Jackson played cricket for his State school in the Balmain district of Sydney and, by reason of his success in combined matches, was chosen to play with his district club at the age of 15 and with his State at 16 or 17. He represented Australia at 19, and scored a century in his first Test Match.
When English critics speak of Australian barracking, they are apt to overlook the crowds' very generous treatment of nearly all of our English visitors. Hobbs' reception from the Sydney crowd, first in December 1924 when he beat Victor Trumper's record of six Test centuries, and later in December 1928, when he was given a presentation, was quite wonderful. Players like Hobbs, Douglas, Gilligan, Kilner, Chapman, Parkin, Hendren and Tate, were idols of Australian crowds. It is a great mistake to judge the Australian spectators by the reaction of some of them when many of their players were repeatedly hit in 1932-3 as a result of an entirely novel method of fast bowling. Unfortunately a section of the press exaggerates every trifle. It becomes an incident, then a dispute, and it ends in an international episode. In February 1920 for instance, in the Fifth Test at Sydney, Hobbs, who had a bad leg, was fielding at cover when Macartney drove a ball for four. Hobbs was allowed by two other English players (at mid-off and extra-cover) to limp to the boundary in order to return the ball. Some of the crowd chaffed, not Hobbs, but his two, apparently, inconsiderate colleagues. One or two English papers misunderstood what had happened and asserted that Hobbs himself had been barracked about his injury. It is all very well to counsel silence, but nothing in the world will prevent occasional comment by some of the spectators.