1939

Notes on the season

So great was the thing which started, for us, on September 3rd last year, so pervasive of our thoughts, homes, even of our pastimes and sports, that to look back on the English cricket season of 1939 is like peeping curiously through the wrong end of a telescope at a very small but very happy world. It is a short six months since Constantine gave the England bowlers such a cracking at the Oval, like a strong man suddenly gone mad in a fielding-practice, but it might be six years, or sixteen; for we have jumped a dimension or two since then in both time and space.

It is true that throughout the season the rumble of War rolled louder and louder, that our guests the West Indies, excepting L. N. Constantine and E. A. Martindale, had to sail for home with seven matches unplayed, that in the County Championship several matches had to be abruptly cancelled; but, in a sense, it was a strangely happy season. There may have been more rain than is convenient to fast bowlers, thin shoes, or anxious secretaries; but, as is customary when great issues hang in the balance, men set themselves to a quiet but determined enjoyment. They turned to cricket as to an old friend, who gives you a seat, a glass of beer, and something sane to talk about. Perhaps some of them wondered when, if ever again, they would watch on the Mound at Lord's and borrow from a small boy in a school cap a score card to see what it was all about, and find strange entries and pencilled mysteries; when, once more, they would sit on someone else's sandwiches in the tram that sways to Kennington, or trip over the marquee-ropes at the Saffrons, or smell the sea at Hove, or argue at Old Trafford.

There was much cricket worth the seeing. The advice, both official and unsolicited, given to those who control or direct the County teams, had not, as so often before, rebounded with hardly an echo from the walls of complacency and self-satisfaction. There was a renaissance of the liberal attitude to the game and of the generous technique in batting. The fielding, if we forget a few hours of pandemonium and chaos in the Third Test, was of a high standard generally. The bowling, it must be allowed, was at least no worse than in the preceding years. There are two or three English bowlers who are nearly great, and perhaps a dozen who are undeniably good. But few of them are young, as bowlers must be young. There is hardly one man, unless some are lost in the meadows and villages, to cause the batsman to fidget with his cap-peak and shirt-buttons, the wicket-keeper's gloves to go off like an exploded paper-bag, and the spectator to suck in the long-drawn breath. Yes; there is one, K. Farnes, of Essex. But not only is he a bowler of, as it were, high-geared temperament, and difficult to stimulate to utmost powers, but also during most of last summer he was a full-time schoolmaster, and had betaken his art at half-pace to the practice-nets.

Of great leg-break bowlers there was none, in the sense that Leonard Braund and, within certain inexplicable limits, Freeman (A. P.) were great; not to mention the masters of leg-break bowling of Australia and South Africa, men who in their prime suffered but little from variation of form, who were often wonderful, and, even when they weren't, yet remained bowlers who mattered. Their very name was worth two or three wickets, and if they had come out of the pavilion with a gouty foot in a carpet-slipper, they would still have been feared, as the sick Napoleon was feared at Waterloo. There was nothing of that sort in England last summer, though there were some half-dozen leg-break bowlers who, if you happened upon them for a half-hour in a match, might almost persuade you into the belief that you had found the right thing at last. There was Sims, of Middlesex; with stuttering run-up but beautifully easy action, almost too easy; he could be difficult, sometimes, for overs on end; cheerful, willing, nearly tireless. Something here, surely; but the great moment and the great batsmen have too often found him wanting in the last indefinable gifts of temperament and art. Then Wright, of Kent; more dangerous, at best, than Sims; a vicious spinner of the leg-break at an unusually high speed; less potent and artful in the googly; failing, sometimes, through straining the possibility of spin and so losing length; always clutching at the skirts of greatness, but so far never quite holding on. And Mitchell (T. B.), of Derbyshire; so natural a leg-breaker that the ball almost spins when it sees him; unlike most others of his kind, he resorts often to genuine off-break; a genius, certainly; but quixotic and unreliable, and quite happy suddenly to desert art and purpose to argue privately with invisible fate. There is none quite like him, but his value has too often been frittered away in individualism. F. R. Brown, of Surrey, a very strong player of games, had days of inspirations both as a leg-breaker and a fierce driver. He bowled very finely against West Indies for Surrey at the Oval, sustaining length, direction, and acuteness of spin for long spells. Business prevented him from playing in all matches, but his record was good; 86 wickets at 23.34, 946 runs at 33.78. Few genuine amateurs can afford to play regularly, and Brown's form for some years would have been less variable if he had had the opportunity of regular play, for, decidedly unlike some modern cricketers, he has the heart and the will for the grimmest fight, and the optimism to surmount the occasion.

There are others; some of promise and fair performance, some, I fear, unmistakably launched on the irrevocable decline that all bowlers know. Those who may think these judgments of English bowling a little harsh should remind themselves of the steep and rarely crossed hill between County and England form. The great men of the past set no easy standard.


RICHNESS OF BATTING

The thinness of the bowling was perhaps exaggerated by the richness of the batting. A strict observer, a first-class batsman of a generation ago, considers that the first dozen or so of modern English batsmen are in sum the equals at least of those of his own time, about 1905-14. The old freedom of stroke-play, especially in off-driving and straight hitting, that thing of joy which nature is always urging the real batsman to release, was more often to be found last season, and the poisonous vapours of dullness and dunce-like inaction, which hung over County grounds for heavy years, and, at one time, seemed to have settled for all eternity over Old Trafford in particular, were at last dispersing. It was Paynter who finally drove Calvinistic cricket from his native grounds. Ernest Tyldesley had begun the crusade. His art was above and beyond dry and cautious doctrines, and an eloquent rebuke to the business methods of batting. But he was almost unsupported. In 1939 such batsmen as Iddon, Washbrook, and that accomplished artist, Oldfield, completed the reformation. This new attitude, then, coupled with the loyalty of groundsmen in supporting Marylebone's suggestions for less artificial pitches, gave pleasanter hours to spectators who had deserved some compensation for the hardish seats, for the long, imperfectly explained delays, and the short, imperfectly executed strokes, to which they had, in ever decreasing numbers, become accustomed. Cricketers and committees, even under the shadow of bankruptcy, might continue to remark on the ignorance of spectators, but they could not longer ignore their comparative non-existence. This overdue change, and the discrediting of the Utilitarian method in batting, were the two great victories won by cricket in 1939. But now, of the immediate future no man can speak with more than hope.

The M.C.C. tour to India, which was to have taken place this present winter, was naturally cancelled. A moderately strong, if by no means representative, team had accepted invitations. Some of our best cricketers had decided on rest, in view of the visit to Australia, due in the winter 1940-41, and now most unlikely of achievement. Our guests for this coming summer were to have been the South Africans who, on their last visit, under H. F. Wade in 1935, gave us a rude but helpful shock. This is a severe loss. The virility and gaiety of South African teams have always been refreshing. There was an appalling interlude of funereal proceedings in the Test Matches between South Africa and England over there last winter. It will not, I think, happen again. Some notice of the deceased must be given later, but in general the matter, so far as sheer cricket is concerned, is best forgotten. It was, perhaps, nobody's fault. The pitches were often ludicrously docile, and there was an unfortunate experiment in a type of Test cricket which has been proved to be supremely suitable to only one set of matches, those between Australia and England in Australia.

At Lord's Mr. W. Findlay and Sir Pelham Warner have taken over the respective duties of Secretary and Assistant Secretary to the Marylebone Cricket Club, in the places of Lieut.-Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr and Mr. R. Aird, who are absent on military service. The Club is fortunate to be able, at temporary need, to replace two most efficient officers by men whose experience and discretion are so well tried and known. Sir Pelham Warner has given many years and much energy to the playing, the interest, and the furtherance of cricket. Mr. Findlay resumes an office which he performed with unfailing tact and conspicuous ability from 1926 to 1936.

It was announced that M.C.C. has contributed three hundred guineas to the British Red Cross Fund, and intend to arrange certain matches to be played during the summer in aid of that organisation. It is also proposed to hold the usual Easter classes at Lord's from 5th April to 24th April. More than forty matches against Schools have been arranged.

In legislation, it is unlikely, War or no War, that any further change or modification of the Rules of Cricket, or advices to captains, secretaries and players, will issue from M.C.C. for some period. The old and bald truth is that any game stands or falls not by its Laws but by the spirit of their interpretation. Neglect of this truth has led, and always will lead, at best to irritation, at worst to grievous quarrels. The Over is likely to remain one of eight balls. It gave rise to discussion and correspondence, some helpful and sensible, much irrelevant but harmless, and a small but diverting section of remarkable mathematical obscurity.


THE WAR AND CRICKET

As to the possibility or impossibility of playing this summer what is generally known as first-class cricket, I cannot avoid the opinion that there has been in some quarters a deal of cloudy thinking and an over-generous flow of sentiment devoid of reason. Optimism is the thing. So is sense. We must be prepared, as so many are at the moment compelled, to have nothing at all, or nearly nothing. But, in another sense, too, members of County Clubs must be prepared--and this is the duty of those who are left behind--to pay, if possible, the full subscription, if not possible, a part of it, to the Club to which they belong; in the words that Sir Stanley Jackson addressed to the Yorkshire County Club, "to keep our grounds and facilities for cricket in order ... to keep our organisation in its present efficiency ready for the happier times when the troubled world has returned to normal conditions." On the same question the Surrey County Cricket Club began their circular to members with the same words as were used in their Report dated April 14th, 1915, the first issued after the start of the last War: "The Committee are faced with many difficulties and uncertainties in the present National Crisis, and rely on the loyal support of the Members, as heavy current expenses have to be met whether cricket is played or not."

Advice on the spending of private monies is, in general, as improper as it has become unhappily necessary and frequent, but I do not feel that many will turn as lightly as they might in peace-time from helping to secure the future of a game that they love. On this point, then, agreement must, I feel, be nearly complete. But on the playing of actual, as opposed to the supporting of future cricket the divergence of view is wide. First, there are those who think that any organised cricket this summer, by those "first-class" cricketers who are too old or too young or unfit for War service, or only temporarily available, is improper ethically. While respecting this view, I cannot agree with it. The idea of having anything remotely resembling the ordinary championship is certainly not only improper but wildly impossible. But I can see no reason or gain in wearing mental sackcloth in advance. Secondly there was--I much doubt if there still is--a view held that County cricket might take place in the form of one three-day match a week, starting on a Saturday, with certain adjustments of the Qualification Rule. But three-day cricket, in peace, was scarcely maintaining the public interest except in matches between the few best, or the locally rivalrous, teams, and how many are going to pay even sixpence to watch cricket for three days between scratch or constantly varying elevens? Again, it was proposed that two-day matches might be played on Saturday and Monday. But why two-day? And why Monday? Few who remember or took part in the two-day matches in the County championship of 1919 will wish to revive them. Gaily undertaken as a bright and promising idea, they proved a dreary disaster; tiresome, unsatisfying, and financially hopeless.

Later, in December 1939, proposals came from Lancashire suggesting groupings for Regional Cricket in 1940, each group including a proportion of the Minor Counties. This carefully thought out, if perhaps over-ambitious scheme, may conceivably prove to be the basis of a simpler programme this summer. I much doubt it. As none can tell who will be available to play any cricket at all, or to what extent the severity of war may strike us, it is useless to make even provisional arrangements for any such programme.

On January 12th this year M.C.C. issued the statement that their Committee was not prepared "at this stage" to take the initiative in the matter of Regional Cricket, but that if the general feeling was in favour of it, they advised the Counties to ask for a meeting of the Advisory County Committee. This wise exhortation to rational procedure was wrongly interpreted by some as an expression of indifference or inertia. In fact, as the conditions then were, and, at the moment of writing, still are, only, so to speak, more so, it was the only decision that could reflect the view of the majority.

No. There is only one solution of the question, unless beyond expectation but not hope, peace returns early, and that is the improvising of one-day matches whenever and wherever possible, in the same spirit that has moved villagers to come out from under the yew-tree and bowl in the place of Tom looking after the calf and bat for Johnson delivering a telegram, and be d--d to the score and the points and the Cup! There will be plenty to play and enough to watch such games. Many would delight to see again a few early-Edwardian drives and a late-Victorian pull or two. And if most of the pence taken at the gate should go to help a greater cause than cricket, so much the better.


TEDIOUS TESTS

For the notes that follow, on the Test series between South Africa and England in South Africa, winter 1938-39, I am much indebted to an able and vigorous critic, who was an eyewitness of the five principal matches. If the original lucidity of the information should suffer from necessary compression, the fault is not his. It is probably that in the memories of those who took part in this tour little now remains except the entertainment given by a most hospitable people. Which is natural and proper. But annals demand fact; and the warmest enthusiast could not deny that much of the play in the five Tests was, as earlier remarked, laboured and tedious. The effect of this on spectators accustomed to the brisker pleasures of half-day and one-day cricket can readily be imagined. They saw their sprinters, so to speak, stretched out on a marathon, and most of them were frankly bored--and often said so. In truth, the intensity of the matches was out of all proportion to their meaning. The general standard of skill, too, was unequal to the importance artificially attached to it. The growth was unnatural. And, in the end, the Fifth Test match exploded in frustration and farce. For this there were two chief causes; the undue solemnity of proceedings, and the Test pitches which, like certain triumphs of chemistry in England, had so far overstepped perfection as to be of little use to the bowler and to impose some inexplicable narcotic on the batsman. They were plumb, but without pace. Yet the batsmen, with a few exceptions, cannot be wholly acquitted of blame. Some of them nearly slept on the pitch, and it is recorded that the number of half-volleys played by the back stroke was quite dreadful!

On the South African side Melville, the captain, well-known in England as a former captain of Oxford University and Sussex, played a beautiful innings in the Fourth Test. He had not been in form. But on this occasion he attacked that wonderfully accurate left-hander, Verity, first on the full pitch, then by hooking; probably the best innings in the series. His fielding was of the highest class and his captaincy, in most trying circumstances, sound. Dalton, a free and wristy batsman, kept to his natural style. Nourse, another attractive player, headed the Test averages for South Africa with 60.28. He scored centuries in the second and fifth Tests. Bruce Mitchell, classical and elegant as ever, averaged 58.25, and seemed happier when not called upon to open the innings. Van der Bijl, a very big man and rather slow of foot, showed an advance in ability, played the faster bowling very stoutly, and was extremely hard to shift. His average was 51.11.

On the English side the averages were generally higher. First Hammond with 87.00. It was remarked that in the Tests he used, in general, his quieter and safer method, scoring mainly from strokes off the back foot. Then Paynter (81.62). He, too, was studious; though the partnership between him (243) and Hammond (120) in the Third Test at Durban, which England won by an innings and 13 runs, produced a rare interlude of freedom and gaiety. Valentine (68.75) and Ames (67.80) brought a reviving breath of festival Canterbury to the solemnitites, and from them and Hutton (44.16) came most of those strokes which flow instead of being squeezed from the bat. Nor must Gibb (59.12) be forgotten. With a concentration rarely given even to a Yorkshireman, he applied his mind and spectacles to the task. He scored 93 and 106 in the first Test, and 120 in the unfinished second innings of the fifth. He was very slow, but entirely in the fashion.

In bowling, Farnes, the one fast bowler of a high class on either side, was seldom happy with either pitch or climate. But he was accurate always; occasionally hostile. He took 16 wickets at 32.43 each. Verity, as ever, was extremely steady, taking 19 wickets at 29.05, so heading the list on both sides. Wright, though fairly steady in length, was unable to spin the ball much. Wilkinson, the other leg-breaker, could neither spin the ball enough nor find any certainty of length. Goddard did a hat-trick and Perks had one fine performance, but neither could make much of the pitches. Edrich, at a very fast medium pace, was hard-working and often useful.

The South African bowlers were facing an extremely severe task, and, until they collapsed with weariness or strain in the fifth Test, acquitted themselves well. Langton we know as a resourceful and artistic bowler. Of Gordon, a tall, powerful bowler of inswingers and off-breaks, Hammond spoke with high praise, and remarked especially of his difficulty in the fourth Test, when on a damp pitch he made the ball swing very late away from instead of into the batsman.

England led by one match in the series after four had been played. The fifth was to have been played to a finish. It never ended. Some wished that it had never been begun. Player after player, especially on the South African side, became halt or incapacitated. England had been set the colossal task of scoring 696 runs to win. Quite soon, as "soon" went in this match, with 250 for one wicket on the board, it was obvious that England stood a strong chance of winning. Langton was reduced to bowling half pace and round-arm. The athletic Gordon's powerful springs at last ran down. Newsome was only difficult with a new ball. The captain, Melville, was dead lame. But he could still speak. So on they went. The world of cricket, till now uninterested, suddenly became wildly excited at the prospect of a victory in this weird battle. The days went on, and at last that victory was almost in sight. But the boat for home was growing restive. If it were missed, it meant another week's stay; alternatively, a return by aeroplane. It has been said that M.C.C. would have granted the aeroplane. But, whatever the world was thinking, they were dead sick and tired of it over there. It had lasted for ten weekdays and two Sundays; and all that taking of guard, retaking of guard, walking, running, limping, talking, and throwing, went in the end for nothing. O bathos! But, once more, it is not perhaps the cricket that the teams so much remember; rather, the sun; and friendships renewed or made.


WEST INDIES IN ENGLAND

I think that the West Indies cricketers enjoyed their tour here last summer, cut short though it was by the War, and often interrupted by rain. They enjoy their cricket, because they mean to do so, because to them the game is a natural, yet important, sort of fun. And this pleasure they communicate, a happy gift, to the spectators. Their matches and scores are set out fair in another part of this volume, but no mathematics can recapture George Headley batting against England in the first Test at Lord's, looking far smaller out there than the hundred and forty odd pounds of weight that he claims, quietly defiant, artistic in cutting, watchful on the line of the ball in defence. In the first innings he made 106 in a total of 277, in the second 107 in a total of 225. None before had ever made a century in each innings of a Test at Lord's. There were some who criticised his style of playing so many strokes off his back foot, and it is true that no batsman, however great, looks so well playing like that; but two forces had combined to push him into the more pragmatic method; weekly play in the League, and the sense that so much depended on his individual success. He was not quite so free as when he came here in 1933, but he showed himself to have no living superior in the square and the late cut. He was wonderful, too, in hooking, and in that very late flick of the ball from thigh or hips to long-leg. I can see a resemblance to Bradman in this stroke; like Bradman, too, he seems to play the ball very late, yet with certainty; but I would not dare to compare him, great batsman as he is, with Bradman in completeness of mastery. He has not, none has, quite the same iron precision or almost heartlessly perfect technique. And I don't think that Headley, as he stood "smiling away like clockwork" at third man, ever reflected seriously on such comparisons.

England won this Test at Lord's by 8 wickets, having declared at 404 for 5 wickets. Hutton (196) and Compton (D.) (120) added 248 for the fourth wicket by fluent and masterful batting. Apart from Cameron, who flighted the ball cleverly from the Pavilion end, and took three wickets for 66 runs, the West Indies bowling was not good. Constantine for once somehow lost himself in eccentric experiments, and it was early apparent that Martindale had declined in speed. J. B. Stollmeyer, only eighteen years of age, opening the innings with his captain, R. S. Grant, made some lovely on-drives in his 59. High promise here. Bowes and Copson both bowled very finely in this match.

The second Test, at Manchester, was ruined by rain. On the first day, in the few overs available, England scored 11 for no wicket, and it needed a Marie Corelli or Ouida to describe how the torrent swirled round the chosen heroes of each country. Hutton and Fagg, the latter having, in my opinion unjustifiably, displaced Gimblett, found it almost as difficult to stand still as the bowlers found it to run. After a strange and not unexciting scramble on the Monday and Tuesday the match was left drawn, as had always seemed probable. Some harshly criticised Hammond's captaincy, suggesting that he might have forced a win. This was rather silly, if expected. Hammond does not rank among the more imaginative England captains. But he is experienced and sound, and he found the correct solutions in a quaint puzzle. At least the West Indies came out of the match with credit increased. Grant, in his 47 in the first innings, attacked the slow bowling with fierce zest. Headley, with 51, batted skilfully enough, but the best achievement was that of Bowes, who, on his thirty-first birthday, took 6 for 33. In England's first innings Hardstaff batted beautifully for his 76 in a total of 164 for 7 wickets declared.

At the Oval, in the third Test, England now leading by one match, West Indies added to the credit carried from Manchester. True, at the end, England led by 220 with 7 wickets in hand and Hutton (165) still batting, but it was something to have overtopped England's first innings of 352 by 146 runs. I should doubt if ever in the history of Tests the English bowling has been so lashed and banged and rattled. Headley and Victor Stollmeyer played comfortably enough, but Weekes, the left-hander, then Constantine, "fired indiscriminately." Weekes scored 137 (78 by boundaries) in 135 minutes, and Constantine, soon wearying of mere unorthodoxy, began to aim for sixes over the wicketkeeper. Two, if not three, of England's best bowlers had been unable to accept invitations to play, and the land was naked indeed. At one period, when Compton and Hutton were bowling, it seemed as if all the long-hops and full-pitches in the world were being simultaneously released. Hutton and Hammond put the arithmetic right by adding 264 for the third wicket in England's second innings, and nothing was left but a formal declaration ten minutes from time on the last day.

The West Indies showed themselves to be as a team quite strong, if unreliable--Headley excepted--in batting; only moderately strong in bowling; good, sometimes brilliant, in fielding. Their chief disappointments must have been the weather and the decline in form of Martindale, opening fast bowler, and of Barrow, wicket keeper and opening batsman of the 1933 tour. Barrow had scored a century in the Manchester Test in that tour, and proved himself a sound wicket-keeper. Unhappily for his team, his batting seemed from the first to be over-anxious last season, and Sealey took his place as wicket-keeper at Manchester and the Oval. Sealey is a natural batsman of many and attractive strokes, also a witty and refreshing conversationalist; but, myself, I do not rank him high as a wicket-keeper. Hylton, tall, medium to medium fast, was a clever bowler, with a fluent action and often deceptive flight. His figures do no justice to his skill. R. S. Grant, capable and alert as a captain, took upon himself the task of opening the innings. Within the limits of his skill he performed it well, being free and venturesome in method; but it is as a short-leg that he will be remembered. Here he made some astonishing catches, and his reach was tremendous. On the administrative and social side he received tireless and valuable help from Mr. J. M. Kidney, the manager, whose wisdom and tact were equally appreciated among English friends and cricketers. J. H. Cameron, who captained the side when Grant was absent, showed a certain maturity of form. He was a most useful all-rounder, and had the advantage of an intimate knowledge of most his opponents and their methods.

As to Leary Constantine, one of the few unquestioned geniuses of cricket, he shows his greatness by his gift of adaptation. He reached the age of thirty-seven soon after the last Test. And that's not young for a man who bowls, fields, and hits with the best. He no longer bowls fast as a regular habit; just a "fizzer" now and again, to remind the impertinent. But he has kept that curious upward jerk of the head just before delivery, as if to reassure himself that the sky is up to no nonsense. He bowled every variety of medium, medium-slow and medium-fast pace. There are better bowlers in cricket to-day than Constantine, but there's none to equal him for a study in bowling craft. In the Tests there was that one lapse, at Lord's when he reminded me of a chess-player who had somehow confounded his gambits and made a muddle of the game. At the Oval, in England's first innings, when he took 5 for 75, he was grand. His fielding, usually in the gulley, is still one of the sights of cricket, as he takes every oddity of bounce with lazy-seeming ease. As a batsman he has somewhat declined. The eye and foot are not quite so quick for those attacks on probability and text-books. But his innings at the Oval, even allowing for the ineptitude of much of the attack, was glorious hitting.


YORKSHIRE AGAIN

Our own County championship was again won by Yorkshire. Middlesex, who played six matches fewer than the winners, came second; but more than a whole unit behind. Gloucestershire, who had the felicity to beat the champions both home and away, were third. In the previous year they had finished tenth. Their bowling in 1939 was most effective. Goddard, slow-medium, alone of any County cricketer took 200 wickets (200 at 14.86 each). He was finely supported by the two younger bowlers, Scott (121 at 22.89) and Lambert (74 at 26.86). Their captain, Walter Hammond, headed the first-class batting averages for the seventh successive season, an achievement that is unlikely ever to be rivalled. He scored 2,479 runs in all matches at an average of 63.56. As a team they were enterprising in idea and execution.

Essex came fourth, a rise of two places. For the seventh time in eight seasons Nichols brought off the "double," 1,387 runs and 121 wickets. He was most ably assisted by Kenneth Farnes during the later part of the season. Smith (R.) and Smith (P.), in their different styles, between them took 174 wickets. A varied and strong attack. Avery, a stylish batsman, advanced in ability, averaging 41.71 for 1,335 runs. O'Connor showed little, if any, decline in his powers. The playing of matches in widely separate parts of the County has proved a success. According to latest advice, the secretary, Mr. B. K. Castor, absent on War service, has handed over his duties to his wife.

Yorkshire's victory in the Championship was assured before the programme was stopped or altered by the War. The captaincy of A. B. Sellers was once more of the highest standard, reflected in the discipline no less than in the tough optimism of his team. Verity (191 wickets at 13.13) headed the first-class bowling averages. There is nothing new that I can say of this greatest among the slower-paced modern left-handers. Bowes, fast-medium to fast, took 122 wickets at 14.48, and, to my mind, has reached in the last two seasons the climax of his powers. The untidiness has gone; the vigour and control remain. Robinson, the off-spinner, showed very good form, taking 120 wickets at 19.07. This was a trio in attack of a total ability a little beyond that to be found in any other County. Hutton and Sutcliffe were a grand opening pair. The older master was occasionally absent recovering from injury, but it was a wonderful performance, in his forty-fifth year, to score 1,416 runs in 29 innings, including, at the end of May and start of June, four consecutive centuries.

Middlesex owed much to the personality and leadership of I. A. R. Peebles. Unlike some captains, he never stretched the bow too tight, but was nevertheless an observant and understanding leader, equally unworried in defeat or success. The batting, even with the brilliant Compton (D.) and the strongly effective Edrich, was never of quite the same solid quality as that of Yorkshire. It was pleasant to note the success as a batsman of J. P. Mann, of Cambridge University, son of the former Middlesex and England captain, F. T. Mann. Jim Smith was as tireless as ever in bowling, and his system of batting was, if anything, more violent and eccentric than ever.

In conclusion, I should wish to end on a note of praise for English batting. There is much to criticise in our cricket. The standard of bowling is low. In some counties the discipline of cricketers is slack. But the batting is very good indeed, and there were stars about last summer, to be seen by those not lost in the mists of pessimism and antiquity. A man could count himself happy to sit down and watch the ripening greatness of Hutton, the airy graces of Hardstaff, and the twinkling feet of Compton. While Hammond, if less flexible and destructive than he was, still looked greater than anything else that we have in the game. Besides these, there were many others last season to show that English batting had tricked its beams anew, and flamed in the forehead of the morning sky.

May I thank those friends and colleagues without whose help these Notes could not have been started: Mr. Hubert Preston; Mr. Norman Preston, and their colleagues in Pardon's Cricket Reporting Agency, who provided much matter, statistical and general; Mr. Frank Thorogood, of the News Chronicle; Mr. E. W. Swanton, who gave me the benefit of his observation of the M.C.C. tour in South Africa; Sir Pelham Warner and Mr. H. S. Altham, whose opinions I asked for, received, on various subjects.

February, 1940


© John Wisden & Co