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In an Interview
It is a big pull leaving the stage, as they call it; leaving the people I have played with and the camaraderie ofr the game, but we all have to come to it at some time, and I thought it as well to give up while I was doing well.
You know what they say about cards: bad beginning, good ending. Well, my first county match was one in which I did not get an innings! That was in 1907 against Lancashire at Lord's, the game being abandoned before lunch on the second day. There were naturally unusual circumstances. After heavy rain, a drizzle set in, but the crowd -- allowed, as they were then, on the playing-area -- gathered in front of the Pavilion and clamoured for cricket. In the middle of all the rumpus, somebody got on to the pitch itself and, accidentally or not, stuck the ferrule of an umbrella into the turf. When this was discovered by Mr. Archie MacLaren, the Lancashire captain, he refused to play, even if a fresh wicket were cut out. So there was nothing for it but to pack up and go home.
The fight for the Championship in my last season, 1937, provided a great struggle, but it was not the closest in which I have been concerned. I remember in 1920, when Middlesex were under the captaincy of Mr. P.F. Warner (as he was then) for the last time, Lancashire, in celebration of winning the Championship, split a bottle or two of champagne before the result of the Middlesex and Surrey match at Lord's reached them.
As a matter of fact, I started the turn of that game by catching Tom Shepherd in the deep -- I can see myself now running from long-off to long-on to take the ball -- and, with a win by 55 runs, Middlesex gained the title.
It has been suggested that cricket at the present time does not attract spectators as it used to do. All I can say is that the kind of game Middlesex played in 1937 most certainly does not fail to attract. Many times we made 350 or more before tea, and that is a lot of runs. Then, too, we had a skipper who was always out to win. That in itself must make the game interesting and worth watching, particularly when the skipper concerned is a great fielder and one who studies the viewpoint of the spectator.
Anyway, I have said good-bye to all that, and I take up with confidence my new task as coach at Harrow School. I have done a good bit of coaching; I was the first to start indoor cricket schools in London. A big mistake often made in coaching is that of trying to teach youngsters too much. No two batsmen play alike, and it is no use one trying to copy another. It cannot be done.
My advice to budding batsmen if they want to keep the game alive is to play off the left foot a little more, ready to hit the half volley. The average cricketer is apt to play a bit too safe. That is all very well till you have made 20 or 30, but then you must be ready to hit the ball. Otherwise what should be hundreds are only seventies.
I consider that a batsman should make a good coach for bowlers -- as good, indeed, as a bowler. The bowler can show the pupil how to hold the ball, how to spin it and how to flight it; but the man towards whom the ball is coming is the one who can say whether or not the bowler is bowling well.
I am in favour of indoor cricket schools. Lots of people improve their game there. They have, of course, to adapt themselves from matting wickets to turf, but winter practice cannot fail to do a lot of good to club cricketers, who in this way get the necessary exercise to commence a cricket season already loosened-up.
There is, at the moment, a scarcity of outstanding bowlers. I cannot give a reason; they run in cycles, and this is one of the off-periods. Wickets, too, do not help them nowadays. We want another Maurice Tate or another F.R. Foster. We cannot except to get another Barnes; that is too much to ask.
I must say a word about fielding, to my mind the most interesting part of the game. Good fielders make a fair bowler very good. There is nothing more pleasant for a bowler than to see people dashing about trying to save runs and improve his analysis; it puts heart into him. It is a great mistake for fieldsmen to stop chasing the ball. Too many men slacken off when a four seems a certainty. Spectators like to see the ball chased to the very end, with the resultant thrill in the point of whether the man or the ball will win the race to the boundary.
Sir Pelham Warner once said he would never, if he could help it, play anybody who could not field. There is a lot in that idea.
In connection with fielding, a funny thing once happened to me when on an M.C.C. tour in Australia. Between fixtures, I was journeying into the Bush by motor-car with a colleague when we stopped to watch a cricket match. One of the players, unaware of our identity, approached and asked if, as his team was a man short, one of us would play.
I had already been in the field for two and a half days, but I yielded to persuasion and, rigged out in borrowed gear, was put in the deep field at the bottom of a pronounced slope, from where I could see nothing at all of the cricket.
For hour after hour I fielded there, throwing the ball back at intervals until, at long last, I caught one. I ran to the top of the hill and announced with some satisfaction that I had made a catch. To my consternation, I was informed that the other team's innings had closed and that I had caught one of my own side!
Some important changes in the Laws of the Game have been made during my thirty years in first-class cricket. As regards the larger stumps, I do not think they have made a big difference to the real class player. Certainly the increased size of the wicket has helped the bowler a little, but when a good batsman is in, it does not really matter. The smaller ball, too, has been of assistance to the bowler, though strangely enough, while this was supposed to help in spinning the ball, there are fewer people bowling spinners.
Now about "l.b.w., N."; I am in favour of the rule being applied to the ball turning from leg as well as that breaking from the off. After all, the leg-break is the most difficult ball to bowl, and the additional reward to this type of attack would bring the spin-bowler back into the game.
Personally, however, I thought the "snick experiment" with the l.b.w. Law better than the "N" rule. It put a stop to those batsmen who, given out leg before, so often returned to the pavilion declaring: "I played it."
The new rule is not fulfilling expectations as regards improvement in off-side strokes; maybe it makes batsmen afraid to get across as they should. One thing I do think, and that is that a batsman should not be given out under the "N" rule when playing a forward stroke to an off-break. After all, the rule was directed chiefly against the men who merely raised their bats and stepped across to play the ball with their pads. It was not intended to penalise the player employing an attacking stroke, and I am pleased to say that, so far as I have noticed, not many umpires give a man out in these circumstances.
My opinion is that, if all wickets were the same as at Lord's, we should have more of a fight for runs. Men are too often picked for a Test match on the strength of a hundred on a doped pitch.
Another mistake we in England make is in preparing special wickets for touring teams. As early as the autumn of the year preceding an Australian visit, for instance, some of the ground-staffs get to work on wickets for their county's game with the touring team, who in consequence are able to play in England on something like their own wickets.
If visiting sides had to bat, especially in Test matches, on the same pitches as those upon which ordinary county games are played, there would not be so many big scores.
So much has happened during my career that I find it no easy matter to single out the happiest incident. Probably my proudest moment was when, in 1926, I completed my first hundred in a Test Match against Australia. That was a dream come true: a century at Lord's, where I had been a ground-boy! A certain incident concerning a hose, which by some strange manner of means was left running all night on the pitch, nearly spoiled it all for me.
Among the players with or against whom I have played, I shall never forget the famous W.G.. I first played in a charity match with him and also for M.C.C. at Charlton, and very proud I was to be in the same side with him. In one of these games, I got a hundred and the Doctor 50 odd -- he was past his best at that time -- and I well remember him clapping me on the back and saying in that high-pitched voice of his: "You'll play for England one day, young'un." I am glad he was right.
Then there was Albert Trott, one of the grandest cricketers of all time and the only man ever to hit a ball clean over the Pavilion at Lord's. In his benefit match against Somerset at Lord's in 1907, he performed the hat-trick twice in one innings. He took four wickets with four balls and with the fifth dislodged a bail with a ball that went for four byes. In those days, the bail had to be removed before a batsman was out.
Next over, he sent back three men with following deliveries, making his analysis for the innings seven for 20. At the end of the innings, Albert punched his own head and called himself names for finishing his benefit match early on the third day!
Sammy Woods, captain of Somerset, and one of the victims, gave him a straw hat with a hand-painted picture on the band of seven rabbits bolting into the Pavilion. Albert wore it at a good many matches during the rest of the season -- to the wonderment of everyone not in the know.
I cannot fail to mention J.T. Hearne, my great hero on and off the field. He was a very dear man and an outstanding example to young cricketers. I have never seen a bowler with a prettier action. He did the hat-trick against the Australians in the Test match at Leeds in 1899, the batsmen concerned being Clem Hill, S.E. Gregory and M.A. Noble.
I have made a good number of tours abroad, and I must confess that one gets extremely tired in the course of them. It is a big strain, especially in Australia, where there are very few easy matches. In most of the State sides there are four or five Test players, and in the Up-country matches, where the cricket is less arduous, there is much travelling to do. You have to be very strong to stand it.
I had five continuous seasons of it, and as I fielded in the long field at that time, it demanded the highest standard of physical fitness. In one match at Melbourne, by the way, I once occupied every position in the field -- except that of wicket-keeper, of course.
My football training did me the world of good as a cricketer, and among other things it helped me to keep my pace in the deep. Personally, I do not consider the absence of a cricketer-footballer from a Soccer season when on tour is a handicap to him; it does him more good than harm.
On these tours, about seventeen players are generally taken. One can never tell if that number is going to be sufficient. As it is, four or five players sometimes do not get a game for perhaps three weeks at a time. It would, of course, be very nice if you could take enough to rest the whole of the Test team now and again, but I am afraid it would cost too much money.
When on tour, amateurs and professionals mix splendidly. They are all part of one team: all live together, all change together. A lot has been said and written from time to time about separate exits on grounds for amateurs and professionals. So far as Lords is concerned, the professionals have the option of going through the centre-gate on to the field if they care, but they probably think it too much trouble to walk along there from the dressing-room.
Statistical details of Hendren's career in first-class cricket are given in the Middlesex section of the Almanack.