THE EDITOR OFWisden has honoured me by asking for a contribution from my pen. He has left the subject of the article to me, but in doing so has helpfully made suggestions regarding various phases of cricket which are today the cause of much discussion. As I looked through those suggestions, I conceived the title of this article. It is intended to convey a meaning but not to be misunderstood.
No matter how much we love cricket and desire to regard it as a friendly pastime we cannot possibly disassociate its future, at least in the first-class category, from the cold, hard facts of finance. Nor can we blind ourselves to the fact that at this very moment public support for cricket (possibly excepting Test cricket, around which there is special glamour) suggests either that cricket is becoming less attractive or other forms of entertainment are gaining ground. It is a state of affairs calling for very serious consideration from player and legislator alike.
I am all in favour of hastening slowly and have admired the peaceful but purposeful way in which cricket has for so long been administered in England. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that with the quickening of modern tempo, the more Americanised trend which is demanding speed, action and entertainment value, it behoves all of us to realise we are the custodians of the welfare of cricket and must guard its future even more zealously than its present.
No matter what we may desire individually, we cannot arrest nor impede the tenor of everyday life whether it be in business or sport. With such thoughts uppermost in my mind, my reflections are intended to convey the impressions gleaned by an Australian who will naturally view things from a slightly different angle to the average Englishman. Also my opinions are based upon experience in the middle allied to contact with administrative officers and the public.
One of the most debated subjects at the moment is whether Test Matches should be limited or played out. Considerable colour has been lent to this particular aspect of cricket because of the remarkable happenings at The Oval last August. I have always held the opinion that it is futile to expect Australian teams to travel many thousands of miles to compete in a series of matches for The Ashes, and yet play under conditions which allow quite a big possibility of one match deciding the rubber, especially when that result may depend entirely on the weather and be inconsistent with the degree of skill otherwise displayed. But I rather doubt whether the big issue is limited or played-out Tests. I think the first consideration is the mental outlook of the individual who can, if he chooses, spoil any game by his interpretation of its character. And secondly, would it not be a better game if, by virtue of rules and conditions, the possibility of a match extending beyond three or four days became extremely improbable ?
If these problems were attended to, maybe the other one would disappear. At least, I think it very largely would. There can be no doubt that in recent years changes have taken place in the methods adopted for preparing certain English wickets. The popular term used for the latest and questionable method is doping the wicket. From my experience on this tour and discussions with people who are in a position to know, I am satisfied that some groundsmen can, and do dope their wickets. The effect is to produce an absolutely dead and lifeless wicket, useless to any type of bowler and not conducive to stroke-play by the batsman.
It is imperative that we should have wickets which are true and not dangerous (fiery wickets produce a crop of accidents, rob batsmen of confidence and drive them into less dangerous sports), but let them be reasonably natural and amenable to some fair degree of wear, not the sort upon which the world's best spin-bowlers can't turn the ball an inch until the pitch is three days' old. This difficulty with wickets mainly applies to Test matches. County matches are usually played on wickets offering some degree of equality, whilst practice wickets on most English grounds receive so little consideration that one has virtually no chance of getting real practice except in the middle. The scales are not evenly balanced, and the question of wickets needs serious consideration.
A prominent English International, writing in the daily Press, declared: Give me another half hour of Leeds and let me forget The Oval. He probably conveys in that statement the innermost thoughts of the majority of the players and the public. I agree with him, if I may add 1934 and 1938 after The Oval. I do that to ensure that my concurrence will not be misconstrued. At the Oval in 1934 we Australians accomplished approximately what England did in 1938, so that I have experienced both winning and losing under those conditions. People left The Oval tired of watching the unequal fight. They did it when Ponsford and I were batting in 1934. They did it when Hutton and Hardstaff were batting in 1938. Not so at Leeds. The match was one succession of thrills. People fought to get into the ground, not out of it. Their hearts beat frantically with excitement, mine along with the rest of them. Did anyone think of that curse of modern cricket--batting averages? No! It was the game which mattered. Australia won. She nearly lost and if she had it would have been a greater game still. It was stirring, exhilarating cricket. There wasn't time to think of timeless Tests at Leeds.
I believe the time is imminent when another change in the L.B.W. law should be made. When our forefathers devised this beautiful game, I have no doubt they intended it to remain a contest between bat and ball. But evidently, to use the words of an eminent politician, they didn't make it clear, and the practice of pad obstruction eventually reached such proportions that it became necessary to legislate against the use of pads.
Irrespective of where the batsman's pads or feet are, I believe that if a ball is pitched in a line between wicket and wicket or on the off-side of the wicket and would have hit the stumps but is prevented from doing so by part of the batsman's person (providing the ball has not first touched his bat or hand) the bowler is entitled to be rewarded. Under the existing law, that part of the batsman's person which is struck by the ball must be between wicket and wicket. Those last six words afford the batsman too much latitude.
An experiment could be tried with my suggestion similar to the experiment tried before the last alteration. I am confident that it would result in further reducing huge scores, increasing off-side shots, brightening the play and reducing the effectiveness of the purely defensive rabbit. The leg-side may have to be considered in later years, but it would possibly be too drastic a step to alter both sides at once. Just prior to the introduction of the last alteration in the l. b. w. rule, there was a great deal of adverse comment about it. I then stated that these hypothetical ills would be found to disappear in practice. They did--and they would do so again.
Even if we assume a reasonably severe result and found county matches ending in two days, and the leading batting average dropping from 70 to 50, what would it matter? All figures would alter correspondingly and the gates for two days would exceed what they now are for three.
An experiment is going to be made with the eight ball over. It has been used in Australia for years, has proved a great success and saved a tremendous amount of time. The only people who can reasonably object to it are the fast bowlers. Whilst their claims may be reasonable, we must consider the welfare of the game itself before any of its component parts. And in any event, if the authorities consider that fast bowlers are going to be unjustly handicapped, there may be other ways of assisting them, such as by allowing a new ball earlier than after the scoring of 200 runs as at present.
We very frequently hear a suggestion that the old method of tossing should be dispensed with. If any person has grounds for objection, surely it is I, after my 1938 experiences, but, on the contrary, I favour retention of the present method. To enable one captain to know in advance which team would have the choice of batting would pave the way to so many undesirable possibilities that I do not think it worth while discussing.
I do, however, counsel very urgently the need of up-to-date scoring boards of the Australian type at your principal grounds. I have just been reading an article in a leading English cricket publication by a very well-known writer. He was describing the happenings in an important match at Lord's. After telling of a glorious innings by a young player, he wrote: I had no idea of his identity--there were no score-cards about at the time. Subsequently, he told how he discovered the player's name.
Such a state of affairs to an Australian enthusiast is hard to comprehend. I am well aware of the forceful argument regarding the revenue produced from selling score-cards, but I submit that 10,000 spectators who do not need score-cards to tell them what is happening are going to be a happier and more virile advertisement for the game than 8,000 who do. Cricket needs to retain its present followers and to gain new ones. Modern scoring-boards would be a big help, and any temporary loss would be recouped eventually through the turnstiles.
There are many other factors upon which I could enlarge, such as playing hours, the number of matches, and so on. They are sure to form a basis for future debate and argument, but their importance is, for the present at any rate, subservient to other problems.
Whether my suggestions prove practicable or otherwise, time alone will tell. They are at least submitted in an honest endeavour to assist in ensuring that the game we all cherish so much will be enjoyed by future generations no less than our own.
I doubt if a happier series of Test matches than the 1938 series has been played and I am quite sure the administrators of England and Australia are more closely united now than ever before. To me, therefore, it seems an appropriate time to try and achieve a greater measure of uniformity of opinion uppers current cricket problems.