No matter the angle from which it may be viewed it is next to impossible to regard the cricket season of 1934 as other than unpleasant. In using this word I am not referring to the fact that England lost the rubber in the Test Matches with Australia. That, after we had won four matches out of five in Australia in the winter of 1932-33, was a hard enough blow to our self-esteem; but the whole atmosphere of cricket in England was utterly foreign to the great traditions of the game. As a journalist, born and bred in cricket and in mature years coming under the influence of that great lover and writer of the game, Sydney Pardon, I deplored the attitude of a certain section of the Press in what seemed to me an insane desire constantly to stir up strife.
One can only assume that the modern idea of being always in search of a stunt--horrible word--was the dominating influence which caused them to see trouble where none existed and, as the Hon. Mr. Justice Evatt says in his article in another part of the book, to magnify an incident into a dispute and subsequently into an international episode. All sense of proportion was lost and we constantly read during the Test Matches, not so much how the game was going or how certain players acquitted themselves, but rather, tittle-tattle of a mischievous character which, in the long run, prompted the inevitable question: Are Test Matches really worth while? One outcome of this was that the Australians themselves, who had come here perfectly prepared and hoping to go through the season without any bother or recurrence of the arguments surging around direct attack bowling, proceeded through their programme of matches constantly on the look out for something which might occur to give them just cause for complaint. Happily the season was nearing its close before anything happened to rouse their feelings, but at Nottingham in August they were subjected to a form of attack in bowling which not only they themselves, but the majority of people in England, fondly imagined had been scotched.
While, therefore, fourteen of the seventeen first-class county captains--the other three being represented--at a joint meeting of the Board of Control and the Advisory County Cricket Committee in November, 1933, came to an understanding that they would not permit or countenance any form of bowling which was obviously a direct attack on the batsman, Mr. A. W. Carr, the Nottinghamshire captain, whether he agreed with the understanding or not, stated that not only was he opposed to direct attack bowling but that neither Larwood nor Voce practised it. Consequently it was not in the least degree surprising that, influenced by his opinions, so often freely and openly expressed, Voce and Larwood felt that they were justified in continuing to bowl on many occasions during the summer fast bumping leg-theory deliveries with the leg-side packed with fieldsmen. Larwood escaped censure; Voce, on the definite evidence of the umpires, exploited direct attack methods against both the Australians at Trent Bridge and Middlesex at Lord's, but it is important to note that Carr did not captain Nottinghamshire in either of these games. In each case complaint was made; the allegation was found proved and the Nottinghamshire Committee, as they were bound to do, apologised. Later on this Committee appointed two young amateurs G. F. Heane and S. D. Rhodes joint captains of the Nottinghamshire eleven for next season in place of A. W. Carr. This sequence of events led to a storm of protest in Nottingham and the county. A special general meeting was held at which a resolution of no confidence in the Committee was passed. The Committee thereupon resigned en bloc.
I do not intend here to go into the question of what may happen--or by the time these lines appear in print what has happened--if the new Nottinghamshire Committee disavows the action of their predecessors, first in apologising and later on dispensing with the services of A. W. Carr. The effects may be far-reaching but, in any case, Nottinghamshire, unless they conform strictly to the agreement arrived at during the meeting in November, 1933, will have fewer friends among the other counties than they now possess. The thought of the glorious traditions of Nottinghamshire cricket, the history of which extends back for so many years, makes it hard to believe that such a state of affairs could have been brought about by a few men who placed their own individual conception of what they imagined was right and above-board in the spirit of cricket, against the considered opinion of practically the whole of the cricketers of England.
At the same time I do not hold the former Nottinghamshire Committee entirely blameless for the position in which they found themselves. With some feeling of confidence in their members I feel sure a statement could have been put forward, which, without betraying any secrets that should not have been made known generally, would have convinced those who clamoured for the heads of the Committee on a charger that the course taken was in the best interests of the County club. I would even go as far as to commend this paragraph with my suggestion to the attention of other County clubs and even to the M.C.C. They perhaps may not know it but they have many friends besides myself on the Press and a little well-judged confidence at times has before now smoothed over difficult situations. Even statesmen and politicians do not forever remain silent on important questions. Secrecy carried to excess begets mistrust.
The Test Matches last season dominated everything and there can be no doubt that sharp feelings of disappointment were felt when England were defeated in the first and the last of the five great fixtures and could claim only the one victory at Lord's where rain and Verity proved altogether too much for our opponents. Exceptionally strong in batting, the Australians really possessed in Grimmett and O'Reilly only two bowlers to carry them through. Woodfull and his fellow selectors probably thought that Fleetwood-Smith, if making a remarkable advance in the latter half of the season, might be rather too expensive if he were included in a Test team. The pinning down of the England batsmen was too important an advantage lightly to be thrown away. After his return to Australia Fleetwood-Smith jumped right to the top of the tree with a number of splendid performances, thus fulfilling the prophecies made on his behalf by Arthur Mailey, who never ceased to sing his praises. Although of very different types, Grimmett and O'Reilly were, in their work, almost comparable with Gregory and McDonald of the 1921 team, while the figures of Woodfull, Ponsford, Bradman, Brown and McCabe suggested that, man for man, they were better than our first five batsmen. The two bowlers, however, in addition to all-round superiority in team-work, carried Australia through. Here I cannot refrain from criticising adversely some of the Australian batsmen. The M.C.C. and the general body of cricketers in England gave a patient hearing to, and acted with forbearance towards, the protest condemning the method of bowling adopted, particularly by Larwood, in Australia during the last M.C.C. tour there. Consequently it was, to say the least, an ungenerous and misleading gesture when some of the visiting batsmen, as we all saw in several matches, ducked or turned their backs to balls which got up, not head high, but about a foot above the stumps. If that was meant as a sign of silent resentment, it carried no conviction whatever, even to those who abhor short bowling that bumps.
England suffered all through the series of Tests from the fact that the Selectors could never get together a team which, in all respects, balanced. In C. F. Walters they certainly found an excellent successor to Hobbs as opening partner for Sutcliffe but, unfortunately, Hammond, though like Woolley, simply superb as a county batsman, failed badly. Only once did he look the master and then, in the second innings at Leeds, he was run out. In nearly every match either Hendren, Leyland or Ames, instead of being able to go in and play a free, confident game, had to save or remedy a position seriously damaged by the quick fall of two or three wickets. But in bowling and fielding the weakness just referred to was accentuated. The form of Nichols, from whom so much had been expected, was only a shadow of that of 1933; Farnes broke down after the First Test Match and should not have played in the second; Bowes, if increasingly successful from Lord's to Leeds and on to the Oval, failed us when he was most urgently required to be at his best--during the partnerships of Ponsford and Bradman at Leeds and the Oval. Mitchell, a Triton among the minnows in many of his county matches, like Hopwood, emerged from two Tests with his reputation sadly tarnished and even Verity, apart from his one amazing performance at Lord's, could be complimented upon his steadiness rather than upon his effectiveness on hard wickets. Allen did not realise expectations--he was a very tired bowler at Manchester, where his first over consisted of thirteen balls in which were four no-balls and three wides, while Brown hit two boundaries off the others. This overstepping the crease was a common fault with many of our fast bowlers whose work must have suffered by their being frequently no-balled. Clark, if trying hard, found none of his theories successful and received scarcely adequate support in the field. Hammond only occasionally bowled with real fire. Clark, by the way, when he had several men close in on the leg side, kept, for the most part, a good length--left-hand round the wicket, be it remembered--and the suggestion that his occasional short ball constituted direct attack bowling, as was put forward at the time, did not hold water.
Nobody envied the Selection Committee their thankless task, but, admitting all their difficulties, we could have wished that they might have had just a little wider vision and when they found that some of those men selected did not come up to scratch, have taken a chance and introduced new blood. Unlike the Australians, they did not set sufficient store on youth and all that it meant as a revivifying influence. No better illustration of the unbalanced nature of the team, particularly with regard to fielding, could have been presented than at the Oval. Scarcely a man apart from the wicket-keeper knew where he was to go and Wyatt himself had to field in the deep. He did brilliant work there, but as a captain a more advantageous position for him would have been much nearer the wicket. Without committing any pronounced blunder either in tactics or strategy, Wyatt, I am afraid, was not the ideal leader. It is difficult definitely to point out where he failed to fill the bill, but if a great trier himself, both as batsman and fielder, in what, after all, was never a well-balanced eleven, he did not possess the essential attribute of a great captain in being able to inspire the men under him to a big effort.
No greater disservice was ever done to English cricket than when Larwood was induced to dash into print and become responsible for statements which put him beyond the pale of being selected for England. I think I am right in saying that he would have been chosen for the Test Match at Lord's--to mention only one--but for the article under his name which appeared shortly before that game. No Selection Committee worthy of the name could possibly have considered him after that and the backing which unfortunately he received in the Press from certain quarters merely added fuel to the flames of controversy about this unhappy incident. Jardine as I have explained elsewhere, ruled himself out of selection by his communications from India and subsequent decision to write for the Press on the Test Matches; thus two cricketers, whose services England greatly needed, were absent from the big games.
Perhaps, after all, it was as well. Possibly greater complications than those which arose in Nottinghamshire were avoided. After deep consideration, and carefully weighing up the effects of the disruption in English cricket together with contributory causes, I incline to the opinion that it would in the long run have been better if the Australians had postponed their visit until the echoes of the cable fencing between the M.C.C. and the Australian Board of Control died away. Test cricket then could have been resumed when both sides were in the mood to meet in the traditional sporting spirit which characterised the struggles of thirty or forty years ago. One little sentence more: let us get back to cricket as a game; compose our internal differences and, above all, go on to the field against Australia with the knowledge that we intend to play the game.
And now I have to draw attention to two very important decisions that occurred when the season was over. At a meeting of the Advisory County Cricket Committee last November a ruling by the M.C.C. Committee that the type of bowling regarded as a direct attack by the bowler upon the batsman is unfair was endorsed. A year ago I had occasion to express the opinion that this bowling was scarcely such as could be prevented by the passing of any law, but that it could be stamped out if County Committees would, through the medium of their captains, drastically discountenance it. I thought then that the agreement reached at the joint meeting of County captains and the Advisory Committee would effect its purpose. Not for a moment did I imagine that any captain would go behind that agreement and, in effect, repudiate it. All the same I still believe that it would have been better to have left the matter to the captains, who in time would have worked out their own salvation, always, of course, if backed up by their Committees. It is a subject requiring a lot of thought. Even a definition of this type of bowling is difficult. However, I will quote and paraphrase a saying of a very famous Blackheath and England Rugby footballer, the late Arthur Budd. Asked one day if there was any difference between hard and rough play at Rugby he replied:-- "There is a very great difference, Sir, between hard and rough play, and a gentleman knows the difference." I would say in regard to this bowling which has caused such trouble that, There is a great difference between fast bowling and direct attack bowling, and a cricketer knows the difference. There, I think, we can for the time leave it.
The other decision was the most momentous for very many years in the history of cricket: one which, if it had not been obscured by the other issues engaging the attention of everybody, would have received far greater notice. It dealt with the vexed question of leg-before-wicket. In the effort to obliterate by an alteration of Law 24 regarding leg-before-wicket, the excessive pad play which has crept into, and disfigured so much modern batting, the mantle of the Hon. R. H. Lyttelton, so long an advocate of a change, fell upon the shoulders of Mr. F. G. J. Ford, the old Middlesex batsman. Largely in consequence of his persuasion a sub-committee of the M.C.C. was formed to go into the matter. As the outcome of their deliberations it was decided by a large majority at a meeting of the Advisory County Cricket Committee that a trial be given to an amended l. b. w.law the wording of which is given in full at the end of the Section of the Almanack, "The Settlement of The Bowling Controversy."
Many old cricketers aver that direct attack bowling was largely brought about by excessive pad-play so that in this respect the matter of the proposed new rule impinges on the other question. I am a rank conservative so far as cricket and its laws are concerned but I have for some time felt that something ought to be done whereby the bowler could reap the reward of his own good work. To some extent pad-play has largely deprived him of this. But the whole business is of such vital importance in all its ramifications that I am very chary of expressing any definite opinion as to whether the suggested new law will prove a satisfactory solution. Like many others I prefer to wait and see. Meanwhile, I don't think that the new rule goes quite far enough. Nothing whatever is said about the ball pitching on the leg-side of the striker's wicket. Surely, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; and I can see no cogent reason why off-break bowlers are favoured and leg-break bowlers ignored. There are also the left-handed break bowler and left-handed batsman to be considered. We have all seen batsmen hold up their bats and present both pads to leg-break and the same thing often happens when a left-handed bowler is making the ball come back from leg to a right-hand batsman or from the off of a left-hand batsman. Practically all the older school of cricketers are in favour of the change; most modern cricketers are against it, so that we have strong and clearly marked differences of opinion. The altered rule will be tried in the coming season and the South Africans, who will be with us, have agreed that it shall be in force in their matches. I scarcely think, however, that the result of one season's trial will prove much either one way or the other. A wet summer in 1935 might go a long way towards wholesale condemnation of the change. So that its effects can be estimated fully a trial for two or even three seasons is desirable.
There is just one other small, but I think important point to which I should like to draw the attention of the M.C.C. Everyone will remember that last season an incident which did not sound nice occurred at Eastbourne in the match between Sussex and Lancashire. James Parks of Sussex, not hearing the umpire and under the impression that he had been given out for a catch at the wicket made by Duckworth standing back, walked away and when he was out of his ground Duckworth ran up and put down the wicket; Parks was thereupon given out by the other umpire. We will admit that Parks, before walking away, should have made certain if the umpire put up his finger or not, but that does not really concern the point I wish to raise. It has been the custom--in my opinion a very bad one--for some years now for umpires when answering an appeal in the negative to turn their heads away; look towards the sight-screen and say nothing, or else tell the bowler or wicket-keeper to get on with it. In its simplest interpretation this gesture has always appeared to me to be of a contemptuous nature and unnecessary on the cricket field. I would urge the M.C.C. to issue an instruction that when an answer to an appeal is in the negative the umpire must clearly and audibly say:-- Not out. There ought never to be any misunderstanding over the affirmative reply, which is the raising of the index finger above the head; equally there should be none when the answer to the appeal is in the batsman's favour.
As on more than one ground on which the Test Matches were played previous attendance records were left behind, Mr. W. Findlay, the secretary of M.C.C., has furnished me with the gate receipts at these encounters. They are as follows:--
|Making a grand total of||£88,313||12||5|
The receipts from the Test Trial Match at Lord's were £1,196 12s. 6d., and, as their share of the whole profits, each first-class county received a sum in the neighbourhood of £1,500. Those organisations on whose grounds the Test Matches were decided received proportionately larger amounts.