Notes on the season

R. C. Robertson-Glasgow

It is not easy to write notes on our First Class cricket season of 1940, because no competitive First Class cricket was played. Nearly all the County players were occupied in some form of National Service. The war was critical. Our ally France fell; and the British forces were evacuated from Dunkirk. There are those who still think that M.C.C. might have done more to encourage and foster the game. I cannot agree with this view. M.C.C. had given the County Clubs the opportunity to discuss the possibility of organised cricket, and nearly all the Counties in effect decided that such a thing would be impossible.

The military crisis wiped out several matches due to have been played at Lord's, in at least two of which the standard of play would probably have been that of a Test Trial, without the insistence on individuality which often mars such a match as a spectacle. Entertainment, therefore, was left largely to private enterprise. Of teams so raised two stood out far above the others: The London Counties, of whom the originator was Mr. C. J. E. Jones and the President Mr. J. B. Hobbs, and the British Empire Team, gathered and directed by Mr. Desmond Donnelly, with Sir Pelham Warner as President. Both these teams could and did put teams into the field of strong County standard. London Counties relied mainly on southern professionals of established reputation. Their team sparkled with hitters and known fast scorers. Such players as Frank Woolley, Wellard, Jim Smith, Watt, Hulme, Watts, and Todd often scored runs at an almost unbelievable pace, and so gave pleasure to many County folk to whom previously these cricketers had been but names in the newspapers. Both this Club and the British Empire Team did very good work for war charities.

The British Empire players appeared always as amateurs. Besides playing very good cricket, by which they raised over £1,200 for the Red Cross Fund, they brought to the public notice at least two club cricketers of more than ordinary ability, L. F. Parslow and W. M. F. Bebbington. Parslow, an opening batsman, had made many runs in several seasons for Chingford. He played a very good innings at Lord's against London Counties. Bebbington, a wicketkeeper of considerable skill, had much success as a batsman during August. R. P. Nelson, the Northamptonshire captain, played seven innings for the club, heading the averages with 299 runs at 49.83 an innings. He has since been killed by enemy action, while serving as a Second-Lieutenant in the Royal Marines; a source of grief to his many friends, who will remember a character of charm and sincerity. Like many quiet men, he was a determined fighter. He scored 91 in the first Cambridge innings against Oxford in 1936.

H. T. Bartlett, the lefthander, one of the first hitters of this generation, captained the side in several matches, and, as Donnelly wrote: "His captaincy was a source of inspiration to the team both on and off the field, while his batting was as entertaining as ever." The fielding was not always up to the standard of the bowling and batting, the brilliant exception being J. G. H. Davies, the old Cambridge Blue and Kent amateur, who played in several matches before he joined the Army. C. B. Clarke, the West Indies Test Player, "showed unfailing enthusiasm in travelling long distances for his games." He bowled his leg-breaks and googlies so cunningly that he took 83 wickets at 10.74 each. He had a great match against Metropolitan Police. In the first innings when seven Empire wickets had fallen for 23 runs, he scored 74; in the second he made 85, after going in at a total of 16 for 6 wickets. He also took 10 wickets in the match for 117 runs.

Essex, always enterprising, had arranged a long programme of one-day matches for 1940, but early in the summer the County was declared a Defence Area, which stopped teams from travelling into restricted parts. Six matches were played, and won; and a profit of some £60 was made in the season.

Only in the Leagues did cricket flourish with scarcely diminished strength, and the lack of County Cricket enabled many First Class players to help various League teams. Here are some who took part: Birmingham League: R. E. S. Wyatt (Moseley); head of the batting averages with 64.5 for 516 runs, highest score 120. Howorth (Walsall); third in the batting averages with 52.84; ninth in the bowling with 60 wickets at 12.5. Merrett (Dudley); fourth in the batting with 46.21; fourth in the bowling with 80 wickets at 11.47. His score of 197 against Smethwick is the highest individual score ever made in the First Division. His aggregate of 878 runs equals H. O. Kirton's record. Merrett's all-round performance is unrivalled in League history.

C. H. Palmer (Old Hill) was eighth in the batting averages with 39.54. Santall ( Moseley), ninth in the batting with 36.17, fourteenth in the bowling with 17.66. The late M. K. Foster (Walsall) was fourteenth in the batting with 29.81. Hollies (Old Hill), heading the bowling averages with 99 wickets at 9.92 each, beat the record of Freeman (A. P.), who in 1937 took 98 wickets. Second was Perks, with 94 at 12.14. Partridge played for Cambridge against Oxford in 1920, and occasionally for Warwickshire; a cricketer who, but for business, would probably have played for England; a medium to medium-fast righthander of unusual skill, and a very fierce hitter.

The Bradford League, too, was full of distinguished cricketers. Paynter, the Lancashire and England batsman, playing for Keighley, headed the batting averages with 1,040 runs at an average of 74.28; and on Whit Monday he set up a record for the Lackholme ground by making 150 not out against Lightcliffe. Other well known players in the League were: Barber (Brighouse), average 59.62; Place (Keighley), 57.3; Pope (G. H.) (Lidget Green), 42.73; Smith (D.) (Lidget Green), 39.00; Berry (East Brierley), 33.56; Constantine (Windhill), 30.50, with an innings of 106 not out in less than an hour; Mitchell (A.) (Baildon Green), 26.00. In bowling, T. A. Jaques, formerly of Yorkshire County, came first with 79 wickets at 8.53 each, taking all 10 wickets for 49 against East Brierley.

In the Lancashire League all contracts with professionals for 1940 were cancelled at the outbreak of war. This, combined with some rainy Saturdays, sadly diminished the gates. Church were the champions, R. Parkin, son of the Old England cricketer, and T. Lowe bowling extremely well. League cricket is but very ordinary stuff without the "star" professionals. The gate for the match between Nelson and Burnley, keen rivals, on a fine Saturday, only came to £14. It has been known more than once to reach nearly £250. This cricket must have a showman, such as Constantine. The general standard of play, contrary to the opinion of some who have never seen it, is not high; but the entertainment is concentrated. A "star" player should not only make runs, but make them in a distinctive, even a flamboyant manner. Ordinary merit is insufficient in so very personal an atmosphere. The crowd is better pleased, and so more likely to fill the hat, if a bowler can knock stumps out rather than merely knock them back. All this, which is foreign to the temperament and the habit of the average County Cricketer, is natural in a type of game which is intended to give the greatest possible diversion and excitement in one afternoon of the week. It must sparkle if it is to rival the horses and the dogs.

It had seemed likely at one time that there would be an unofficial match between Oxford and Cambridge, probably at Fenner's, but it never came off. Of the Freshmen seen in a fleeting season, E. R. Conradi, of Oundle and Cambridge, showed much promise. A lefthander of strong build, he made many runs at Fenner's and elsewhere, and often hit with great power.

Eton beat Harrow by one wicket in an unofficial one-day match at Harrow. It was a finish which, in old days at Lord's, might have induced a frenzy of umbrella-cracking. This crescendo of excitement redeemed a match in which the standard of play, apart from the fast-medium bowling of A. D. Gibbs, of Eton, was never high. L. Crutchley, of Harrow, in a short innings, looked to be the best batsman of the match in point of style. A. F. S. Coats and D. W. J. Colman made a long stand for Eton's third wicket, and it seemed that they could win the match together. But, when they were parted, D. F. Henley struck a brilliant streak of bowling, and within some twenty minutes Gibbs was walking in as last man to make four runs. When the scores were level, three maiden overs were bowled, a ghastly strain, during which Gibbs gave a very hard chance to backward point, and twice survived balls which, to a Harrow eye, must have passed straight through the stumps. Then he clouted a four to the off, and all was over.

Among School cricketers, H. A. Pawson, the Winchester Captain, was undoubtedly the batsman of the year, averaging 108.6 in all matches. At present he is chiefly a cutter, hooker and leg-player, with a vigilance in defence beyond his years. In driving he is less impressive; but his was a very difficult wicket to take.

Enemy action has caused occasional disturbance on well known cricket grounds. After a night visitation on a certain South Coast ground last summer the following notice was found pinned to the gates: Local cricketers are as pleased as you. Each peardrop which fell on this ground saved lives and property. We shall carry on. Nothing which falls from the skies will deter us, except RAIN. A good document.

As a study in finance, even satire, it is interesting to note that a few counties have actually gained through the absence of cricket. Expenses have dropped to a minimum, and a large number of subscriptions have been received. As a whole, County members, from devotion and the desire for future pleasures, have continued to subscribe in whole or in part. Mr. A. J. Spelling, who is deputising for Major B. K. Castor as Essex Secretary, writes that he has received a large number of letters promising full support after the war. A thousand Hampshire members had sent their subscriptions by December 1940. From Kent, in November 1940, came the news that 1,200 members had continued to subscribe wholly or in part, and that the manager, Mr. G. de L. Hough, having been turned down for active service, was successfully working a scheme for Army welfare in East Kent.

The Middlesex Club announced in December 1940 that members had been given the option of paying one guinea instead of two guineas, but that those who could afford it had been asked to pay in full. In the following month the annual report showed that the Club had a credit balance of some £735, and that M.C.C. had agreed to reduce the war-time rental from £800 to £350. Smith (C. I. J.), the fast-medium bowler and eccentric hitter, will play for Windhill in the Bradford League in summer 1941.

From Surrey comes news that The Oval has had its trials; but all records and pictures had been removed before these diversions began. The subscription has been reduced by half. Martin, the groundsman, retires after fifty-one years of excellent service; esteemed by all except, possibly, the bowlers!

Yorkshire arranged no inter-County cricket in 1940, but over £2,000 was raised in matches for the Red Cross Fund.

In Australia, inter-State matches have been played for charity. Don Bradman enlisted in the Australian Royal Air Force, but later was transferred to the Army School of Physical and Recreational Training. On Christmas Day 1940 he was bowled out first-ball in a match at Adelaide. We have not found that secret.

Events allowing, and of them no man can prophesy, there should be far more cricket of good quality than was possible last summer. Sir Pelham Warner has been busy on behalf of Lord's. The Royal Air Force, capable of turning out a very strong side indeed, are due to appear there four times: 2nd and 3rd June v. Rest of England; 21st June v. The Army; 5th July v. British Empire XI; 16th August v. Sir Pelham Warner's XI. Among other matches at Lord's will be, it is hoped: 24th May, Sir Pelham Warner's XI v. British Empire XI; 19th July, London Counties v. British Empire XI; 4th and 5th August, Middlesex and Essex v. Kent and Surrey. The Schools classes are to be held at Lord's as usual this spring.

Out of town fixtures have been arranged by Surrey, Essex, Nottingham, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and the Royal Air Force.

Obituaries do not officially fall within the scope of these notes, but I should like to make short mention of the late Mr. A. J. Webbe. A great cricketer is one who not only has much cricket in himself, but takes much delight in the cricket of others. Such was Webbe. For more years than most can remember he was an essential part of Middlesex cricket, first as batsman, then as organiser and unfailing adviser. As long ago as in 1875 Dr. W. G. Grace and he put on 203 for the first wicket of the Gentlemen v. Players at Lord's. I first happened to meet his kindly interest as a Freshman at Oxford, for he used sometimes to stay at Corpus Christi College with his old friend and fellow-cricketer, the President, Professor Thomas Case. Together they had long watched over Harlequin and Oxford cricket. Webbe had a charm beyond description in print. To see him smile and to hear him talk, always of fine and happy things, was to know the breadth of the human heart.

And so to a close. If little has been said, little enough was done. We hope for more; much more, and soon. But first a task falls to be completed. Delendus est hostis.

I should like to thank for information my friends, Mr. Hubert Preston and Mr. Norman Preston, of Pardon's Cricket Reporting Agency; Mr. Frank Thorogood, still chronicling in retirement; and Sir Pelham Warner, for the spoken and the written word.

February, 1941.

© John Wisden & Co