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When Wisden reaches the public the result of the rubber in Australia will be past history, and I do not propose to refer here at any length to the doings of our cricketers who are abroad under the captaincy of G. O. Allen. Full details of the tour will be recorded in the next edition of the Almanack. But, whatever the issue this series of Test Matches may be, it was truly remarkable that England led off with two victories over Australia without a good opening partnership being set up in either contest. Indeed, up to the time of Australia's victory at Melbourne England's highest first-wicket stand was no more than 29 runs. No doubt in due course competent successors to Hobbs and Sutcliffe will be discovered, but, although Barnett of Gloucestershire has played several noteworthy innings, a complete solution has still to be found for the problem facing England since Sutcliffe last played in a Test Match -- against South Africa at Lord's in 1935. Much experimenting has been conducted in the hope of finding the best men available for this very important position. Since Sutcliffe was passed over, no fewer than eight players -- D. Smith, A. H. Bakewell, R. E. S. Wyatt, A. Mitchell, H. Gimblett, A. Fagg, C. J. Barnett and T. S. Worthington -- have been tried as opening batsmen in a Test Match, and we are little nearer overcoming the difficulty.
In stating this, I intend no disparagement of the efforts of the Selection Committee, and the scarcity of adverse criticism when the names of players chosen for the tour were announced could be taken as an indication of general opinion that the best men available were sent out to Australia. Personally, I should have liked to see Gover chosen in preference to Copson because of the stronger physique of the Surrey fast bowler, but that is a small point. The task of the Selectors was rendered the more onerous by the deplorable weather which interfered with so many of the matches which they attended for the purpose of watching likely candidates for the tour. Seldom until August were they able to see batsmen and bowlers perform under conditions resembling those prevalent a normal season in Australia. No one could have expected that so much bad weather and so many soft wickets would be experienced by our representatives after their arrival in the Commonwealth. It was, therefore, a tribute to the care taken in the choice of the seventeen players that the side turned out to be adequately equipped with bowling of a type suitable for these unusual conditions. Form in early matches of the tour made many people apprehensive of our batsmen's ability to play spin bowling; perhaps, so intent upon criticism of our own players, we ignored the possibility that Australia, too, might have similar troubles. Judging purely by results and cabled comments from sound judges in Australia, I incline to the belief that ordinary development of talent there has been prevented, or at least seriously affected, by the strain of International tours year after year. In this country it is unlikely that we shall ever again see a purely domestic season and yet I am firmly of opinion that the game would be all the better if the county programme were cut down.
In this connection, recent remarks of the new Secretary of M.C.C., Lieut.-Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr, are of special significance. He told the County Secretaries at their annual meeting that it has become a competition between reducing the strain on players and giving a better service to the public, and pointed out the stress and strain of a season when there are five Test Matches and a Test Trial game in addition to the usual programme of county fixtures. I would add that the steadily increasing number of non-competition games also should not be overlooked. A few weeks previously the Board of Control had shown no desire to extend the number of days allotted to Test Matches in England. Clearly this matter is very closely linked with that of excess of county cricket and while so many counties prefer to exceed the minimum number of twenty-four games necessary to qualify for the Championship Competition it is unlikely that any plan to allocate more time to the Test Matches will receive the support necessary to make it law. Nevertheless, support for the view that all Tests over here should be played to a finish is steadily growing.
One of the main arguments against the proposal is that the timeless match produces wearisome cricket. Although it has not been my lot to see a Test Match played in Australia, I contend that such matches can be hardly less interesting than some of those in England during recent years. In 1930 and 1934, four days were allotted to each of the first four games between England and Australia, but each time the crowds at Leeds and Manchester failed to see a decision, the result of the rubber being undetermined until the teams were opposed at the Oval where no restrictions were placed upon the number of days over which play could proceed. That a rubber may be settled by a definite result in one match only is always a possibility while present arrangements obtain. This is what happened in 1926, Australia losing at the Oval after four drawn matches.
The remarkable and exciting struggles in the latest series in Australia cannot be taken as a true example of what cricket is like in a timeless Test, but as long as the rubber is undetermined play is bound to be interesting, which means that the first three of five contests must always possess life. Certainly, there has been no decline of enthusiasm on the part of the Australian public who have always flocked to the matches in tens of thousands. No one would suppose for a moment that the huge attendances are due to genuine admiration for the slow type of play which frequently takes place. Opportunities of seeing first-class cricket in Australia are few compared with those enjoyed by admirers of the game in England and I assume that Australians are prepared to take the risk of being bored--because they know they are going to see a result--and having grown up with timeless matches, they may not find the slow play a strain on the patience.
In our domestic cricket we have in post-War days made repeated efforts to bring about a result. Various schemes of scoring in the County Championship have been put into force, special laws have been passed to cover matches in which no play has taken place on the first two days, the size of the ball has been reduced, the wickets have been made higher and wider and, if cricketing hours have not been increased, those who govern English cricket cannot be accused of a luke-warm attitude towards efforts to make the game more attractive. It is impossible to put into cricket the concentrated excitement of ninety minutes' football; it is the uncertainty of the summer game that gives it so much charm. There are thousands who love the game for its own sake apart from which side may win or lose. Yet a number of counties regularly pay extra sums to their professionals for winning matches and this we must take as a sure indication of the strong desire of those who run the county clubs to see a result. As Lord Hawke told Yorkshire members, the public prefer bright cricket with a definite result. It is therefore rather puzzling that in the more important matter of representative games between England and those countries forming the Imperial Cricket Conference to whom Test Matches are allotted when they visit us, facilities to ensure a result are withheld.
Obviously the chief objection--and a very sound one--is excessive interference with county fixtures. A four days' Test starting on a Friday cuts in upon two series of county games and so long as the Friday start is maintained any extension of the number of days allotted must inevitably interfere with at least one more Championship series. The reason for the Friday start seems to be to afford selected players opportunity for rest and for travelling to the scene of the Test in comfort; the wisdom behind this arrangement can be readily appreciated. Mr. P. F. Warner has expressed himself in favour of the start being brought forward to Thursday and frankly I cannot see serious disadvantages in such a scheme. The risk of a Test being finished by Saturday is small in these days of well prepared wickets.
If the change in 1930 and 1934 to four instead of three days apiece for each of the first four matches of a series with Australia has proved detrimental to county cricket, no publicity has been given to the matter and it would appear there is not even a noisy minority so far as this point is concerned. Opposition to an extension of time that would assure a clear-cut result is greater although many famous cricketers who have seen timeless Tests in Australia remain strongly in favour of all games with Australia and South Africa in this country being played to a finish. By the adoption of the alteration sponsored by Mr. Warner no more interference with county cricket would be caused than is the case under existing regulations, but it is evident that a complete solution of a problem that is agitating the minds of many cricket-lovers can best be found in reducing the surfeit of county cricket to which the M.C.C. Secretary felt it desirable to allude. To make the matter plain the remedy is that the minimum number of matches in the County Championship (24) should be the maximum. Taking no account of friendly games, it should be possible to spread that number of competitive encounters over the space of four months without the Championship aspirations of any side being seriously affected by the calls upon leading players for a Test or Trial Match. In judging the effect of such a scheme it should be borne in mind that the possibility of the Final Test lasting a week or more must be allowed for when the fixtures are made. Personally, I think too much fuss is made about counties losing support through the absence of leading players. It is a doubtful point nowadays when there are few outstanding personalities whose absence from the field is likely to have damaging effect on the attendance at a county match. Some time during the season opportunity has to be found to give match practice to men on the fringe of the county elevens, and the choice of a player for a representative game smooths the way for this to be done. Bowling would be better if players were not kept at full tension for six days of the week, and batsmen would not be so apt to become stale were the programme lightened so that an occasional break of three days was afforded.
As to the effect upon the County Championship, I am sure most people agree that fewer county matches would mean better cricket. If five timeless Tests once every four years--or embracing the visits of South Africa in two seasons out of four--tend to level the strength of teams in the Championship, so much the better for the game. It would be preferable to have occasional rapture in several counties than excessive jubilation in one. Equality of matches and a straightforward Championship arrangement must make a big appeal to the man in the street.
There can be no doubt that for any form of sport in which players of the highest class are on view, adequate support from the public can be relied upon. The abolition of certain friendly matches and the substitution of representative matches is another matter which I think deserves consideration. Every effort ought to be made to keep an England eleven more or less in being, and to this end England v. The Rest and North v. South, not necessarily both at Lord's, might be made regular fixtures. When Australia or South Africa are over here, a match between the touring team and Players of England would command far more interest than several of the games that are normally included in the programme of the visiting side. In short, I urge that it would be sound commonsense to arrange as many matches as possible with real public interest and abandon such contests as possess only a limited appeal. Every-one knows that year after year a number of fixtures which are confirmed as first class mean financial loss to those who arrange them, be the weather wet or fine.
The M.C.C. Committee having asked for a report as to the eight-ball over now in force in the matches of the England team in Australia, no good purpose will be served by discussing the matter here. Except for the fact that the change reduces time lost through the alteration of the field after each over, it does not appear to have excited any special comment from the critics watching the matches in the Commonwealth, and the one thought passing through my mind when endeavouring to appraise the merits or demerits of the eight-ball over is whether it is in any way responsible for the scarcity of good fast bowling in Australian cricket.
The side successful in the toss for choice of innings having been the ultimate winners in the first three Test Matches in Australia, it was not surprising to read statements that the luck of batting first was far too important to be decided in such a haphazard manner. With the comment was coupled the oft-repeated suggestion that the sides should have choice of innings in turn until the fifth game of a rubber when the spin of the coin should decide the point. Such a plan invites such obvious objections that it hardly seems worth mentioning. Surely those who hint at a change which is entirely unnecessary must realise that previous knowledge as to which side would bat first would give an opportunity to dishonest folk to prepare a wicket to suit the circumstances or arouse scandal to that effect among sceptical people. Uncertainty being one of the attractions of the game, any tampering with the present method of tossing for choice of innings must be unthinkable.
Mr. R. E. S. Wyatt, in his book Ins and Outs of Cricket struck an original note by seeking to unfold to the public generally and in plain language the attractions of cricket. A deep student of the game, Mr. Wyatt set himself the task of trying to educate the casual watcher into the finer points of batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy. Statistics are ignored and every important branch of the game is fully explored; the book forms a very valuable addition to the wealth of literature on the game. In the hands of a mild enthusiast, such a volume should help considerably to bring the results aimed at by Mr. Wyatt, who wishes to build up a larger public for cricket. My reference to the book here is deliberate because of a recent speech by a former president of M.C.C. to the effect that he thought the Australian public were better educated in the finer points of the game. The reason, he believed, was due to the help the captains gave--through the medium of the Press--in explaining why certain actions were taken on the field. He urged that more consideration might be given to the cricket public. So do I. Our county secretaries are an enterprising body of men, ready to try new ideas with the hope of bringing increased attendances to the grounds and so removing the nightmare of making ends meet. Whether the game be an ordinary county fixture or a representative match, everything possible should be done to advise onlookers of decisions made during its progress. Gloucestershire are to be congratulated upon their scheme of announcing such information to spectators by loudspeaker, and Surrey for their up-to-date method of placing a suitable board in the middle of the ground for all to see the result of the toss.
It would be a distinct step forward if all county clubs equipped themselves with facilities--apart from score-cards--to announce to their patrons the result of the toss, a declaration, time for an inspection of the wicket or a restart after rain, alterations in hours of play and the like. Members, generally speaking, are not much better off than those who pay at the turnstiles. Frequently incorrect information as to the result of the toss is disseminated even at a Test Match and discussions are heard in pavilions as to whether a side has declared, or whether an innings terminated automatically without the full number of men batting because of an injury to a player. The cricket public deserves more consideration than it is given at present and in the words of M.C.C.'s Secretary: We must keep up interest in the game and not allow it to lapse in any way. This is the more important when, after such a wet season as that of 1936, keen attention is likely to flag.
It was inevitable that county incomes would fall of considerably in a year when with India opposing England only three Test Matches were played. Receipts from this source, so far as the first-class counties are concerned, declined from over £1,500 in 1934 and over £500 in 1935 to less than £150 as last season's share of the profits. Drastic economies were essential; the officials and players of at least one county voluntarily agreed to accept reductions of pay.
Knowledge of how the game had to contend against the disadvantages of the weather which prevented play altogether in many first-class matches on one day and interfered with Saturday starts to a dreadful extent, leads one to suppose that 1936 may have been the worst season experienced for half a century. Records show that in 1903, described in Wisden as the wettest season within the experience of anyone playing cricket, 59 out of 152 County Championship games were left drawn. Last summer in the 234 matches there were 116 drawn games! The season of 1932 provided a more recent story of the melancholy effect of bad weather on cricket but that year the percentage of games finished was higher than last summer. It is, however, impossible to form an accurate opinion from match results and while the tale of money troubles shows little sign of abatement, county treasurers know already that they may reasonably expect an addition to their funds of between £300 and £400 when the profit made on the M.C.C. tour in Australia is available for distribution.
In preparing these Notes I have purposely delayed until the last all reference to the experimental LBW rule. It may be realised therefore that my opinion is that the provisional alteration has been so great a success that its adoption as a law of cricket next May at the annual meeting of M.C.C. is assured.
It is pleasant to record that practically nothing occurred during the past season to disturb the peace in cricket. An incident at the end of the Sussex and Nottinghamshire match at Hove (referred to on other pages of the Almanack) passed off without need for official action and, except for the comment that the umpires are the sole judges of the fitness of the ground, the weather and the light for play, I have nothing to say on this point. Nor can I understand the objection in some quarters to the bowling of wides when a fielding side is anxious to obtain use of the new ball and batsmen are ignoring good runs. If it is urged that such bowling tactics are against the spirit of cricket the obvious answer is that the batsman is offending in like manner, and the one violation--if such it is--begets the other. At the same time I contend that nothing should be given away in cricket. The game is to make runs and take wickets as quickly as possible.
Conversation during a match at Headquarters last season reminded me that although a special signal was authorised for the use of umpires to indicate when a batsman was out under the experimental LBW rule nothing has been done to make clear to those watching a game the reason for which a bowler is no-balled. In the game in question argument as to whether a bowler was throwing developed apace every time he took the ball and when, as happened once or twice, he was no-balled for dragging his foot over the crease there was cause for further comment. Although fairly sure in my own mind that throwing long since disappeared from English cricket, there seems logical reason why instructions to umpires should include in the code of signalling a sign to indicate no-balled for throwing.