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R. C. Robertson-Glasgow
From time to time the dubious highbrow and the benighted Philistine raise a little clatter against cricket, grudging that devotion which they cannot inspire for their own little causes and negligible interests. But cricketers of every age and every degree of ability or ineptitude, often in the most unlikely places, seize the fleeting hour to bat and bowl. They will do it. They absent themselves from felicity awhile, then return with sharpened appetite, not only to play, but to discuss the game; for, as the Labour correspondent of a London newspaper remarked of the politicians-- You can't stop them talking.
It would be an error to rate our war-time cricket on technical values. The fact that a match is played and that the friends of cricket and the cricketers gather to watch the match is of far more interest than that Hutton, after scoring 20, was out in an un-Huttonian manner, or that Denis Compton was late for a yorker, or that Nichols's slips not only stood rather too deep but stooped rather too slowly. For most of us, the mere sight of such players is enough. It reminds us of what has been and what soon will be again. Most of the cricket in which first-class men have taken part has been played for the benefit of some war charity. Practice and time have been short. In general, players have cared little for the result, as their methods have often shown. It has been cricket without competition; a snack, not a meal. 1941 might be called The Spectators' Season, for the matches scattered over the country have provided one of the few and one of the best ways of learning the news of friends scattered over the world.
These one-day matches have given such good entertainment, where at one time little or none had been expected, that some critics have urged their retention as a regular process for the first-class County Championship in peace time. I do not agree with this view. Those who urge it most strongly would, I believe, be the earliest to tire of the experiment. The new clockwork monkey in the nursery, which waves its arms and waggles its head, delights for a few short hours or days. But the children soon return to the older, if more sedate toys, the tried companions in the familiar cupboard. The faults of the three-day match are not few, but the objections to a one-day County Championship are overwhelming.
There is a false analogy drawn from modern sports that all spectators are in a hurry, and that, therefore, all games-players should be in a hurry too. Cricketers and cricket-watchers are not made like that. There will always be found those who understand no batting except that which keeps the ball far, high, and often; to whom a saving innings of few runs and great artistry is as meaningless as a batch of Hittite inscriptions; who, so far from grasping the tactics and art of the bowlers, or the nature of the pitch, even regard the difficult bowler as a nuisance, a fellow that ought to give way to one who can be relied upon for long-hops, full-pitches, and half-volleys. Such spectators are, frankly, not wanted at County cricket. They would do better to stay at home and write to the newspapers about it. For first-class cricket is a subtle as well as a strenuous game. It is a thing of leisure, albeit of leisure to-day not easily found or arranged; a three-act play, not a slapstick turn. And, in practical detail, such one-day matches would be farces, though not of the sort intended by their promoters.
There would be probably not more than sixteen home matches. Of these it is reasonable to suppose that a quarter would be either marred or deleted by rain. This would leave twelve days of play on home grounds. The thing is ridiculous, a mockery; members would resign in shoals; nor, I fancy, would the gate-money take much counting. As The Times cricket correspondent remarked, would Yorkshire, for instance, come up to the Oval on the uncertain chance of a day's cricket with Surrey? Not if I know Yorkshire. Sir Home Gordon, too, has shown that, in one-day matches between first-class cricketers, the later batsmen have less than a 50 per cent chance of getting an innings. From which he rightly argues that such cricket would lead to specialization, to teams being composed of six batsmen, four bowlers and a wicketkeeper. I should even suggest that three bowlers would be enough in most cases; and I recall a match at Lord's last summer in which an England bowler never turned his arm at all, not forgotten but compulsorily idle! Cricket fostered in such an academy would be ill-prepared to face the Australians in England, let alone in the timeless Tests abroad.
The merits and weaknesses of Two-day matches are more worth considering. They were tried in the Championship of 1919, and have generally been written off as a failure. In truth, many of these matches produced fine play and a spirit of enterprise that was painfully lacking from much of the ensuing cricket in the next two decades. The chief weakness in 1919 was the scrambling inconvenience of fitting in refreshment, rest, and travel; which irritated and exhausted players, umpires and scorers alike. There is a world of difference between seven o'clock and seven-thirty as a time for drawing stumps. Spectators, as a whole, simply do not like to stay late, and are not to be tethered even by a reduction of entrance-fee in the late afternoon. Hunger begins to assail them: also the thought that wives, cooks and servants, if any, are not pleased to be kept waiting or debarred from their favourite film-star by men who stay watching that silly cricket. If two-day matches were to be tried again, better arrangements of timing would be necessary, and, surely, possible.
A programme of 32 matches could be arranged by playing two two-day matches each week. One lot could be played on Saturday and Monday, the other on Wednesday and Thursday, the two latter days including the trade half-holiday in nearly all parts of England. Thus Tuesday and Friday would be free for travelling, and their mornings could, if wanted, often be given to practice, in the nets or fielding, or both. Or, if no journey was to be made, an occasional game could be played, in which some of the County players would join with promising local cricketers, members, their sons and relations, much to the mutual benefit, cricketing and social. For one of the most obvious weaknesses of the present system is the almost total detachment of the County cricketers from those who watch and support them. Time and opportunity are lacking for such games and society as I have suggested. This is a mistake. For, to the club and average cricketer, who might well have it in him to rise from the ruck, there is no stronger incentive to keenness and a higher standard of cricket than to play sometimes with those who, at present, are usually no more than heroes at a distance. Also, it might well lead to an increase of membership in County Clubs.
From the playing point of view the difference between Three-Day and Two-Day matches is not so complete as some suppose. The Three-Day match, in theory, allows for 18 hours of play. In practice, this often shrinks to 17, the hour being cut off the end of the third day, either for the catching of a train, or because the match has died. Again, the gates on the third day are nearly always very thin, even when there is a prospect of a fine finish. Third days of County matches are no joy to the treasurer. Two-Day matches, if played on each day from 11 to 7 o'clock, would give 14 hours. If--admittedly a large if--pitches were not made to break the bowler's heart, and if--an easier thing to ask--batsmen were to play with a sensible freedom, and if captains were to use judgment tempered with adventure in the declaration of innings, there is no reason why Two-Day matches should not produce a reasonable number of finishes and a type of cricket worth both playing and watching. The old enemy, rain, might be attacked by arranging that, if two hours or more were lost on the first day of play, the match should be decided on one innings only. The whole system would more than ever depend on the captains and the groundsmen, but, even in its times of failure, it could hardly produce cricket more dismal and unattractive than is seen in those matches which, like wounded snakes, drag their slow length along and die miserably during the third day.
Yet, though the Two-Day match has much to commend it, I think that the Championship will be resumed on the old Three-Day system. Tradition and habit favour it; the chief danger being that tradition so easily degenerates into inertia and habit into self-satisfaction. It may be said that this danger was being met and overcome by most counties and captains in the two seasons before this war; and spectators appreciated the change of spirit and tempo. In the last analysis, cricket must depend on the character of its players. A thousand laws mean nothing without liberal interpretation, and, in the matter of days and hours, a half-day cricket match can be a purgatory of boredom. The stroke of the bat, not of the pen, makes or kills a match.
The enemies of the Three-Day match are apt to condemn all slow play; but I think that most spectators still relish it in its proper place; when, for instance, batsmen of great skill and control are opening an innings against able bowlers fresh from the stall, or when a match is being well saved against expectation and every wile of the attacker; arts that are far removed from slow play merely for its own sake. It is not so much slowness that kills cricket and disperses the crowd as the communicated sense that the players do not care what happens; a negligence and a slackness of mind which are as likely to corrode a match full of boundaries and apparent gaiety as one that plods and groans its heavy way.
Your slashing reformer would away with all slow play. By him the artist and the mere obstructionist are measured and condemned alike in terms of boundaries and minutes. He is a senseless glutton, who would readily choke from a surfeit of sixes and drink up to the eyes on speed. He assumes that all bowling, all pitches, are equally easy; in captaincy as in individual execution he dislikes a finesse which he cannot understand. He occupies the room of the unlearned, but he cannot keep silence. He is a plague of noise and nonsense.
We often find ourselves saying that first-class cricket no longer attracts the public. We grumble at supposed decline. So it is interesting to read the remarks by Mr. Alfred Cochrane in the Cricketer Annual. He played for Oxford against Cambridge in 1885, 1886 and 1888; also for Derbyshire when it was one of the weakest of the principal counties. "I detect," he writes, "hardly any difference between the game as I played it in the 'eighties and the game as I last watched it in the summer of 1939." To him, the ability of a contemporary cricketer does not increase with memory. "In some cases I may even venture to question whether what seems to be the popular conception of these heroes, who now like those in Homer carry fixed epithets, coincides with my own recollection." Again, "there are veterans who say that cricket is not the game it was in their youth, that modern batting is slow and dull"..."Sentiments like these convey the impression that first-class matches half a century ago were a lively mixture of physical risks and big hits"..."that is not my recollection; the cricket of my time was much like the cricket that I watch now; as regards the standard of play, my considered opinion is that, so far from any deterioration, I should say that it has greatly improved. Not only has the general standard advanced, but the leading experts, players like Bradman, Hammond, or Hutton, can challenge comparison with any that I have ever seen. Holding these views, I cannot be expected to take much interest in proposals to alter the rules and conditions of the game, in order, as the phrase goes, to brighten cricket. There is always a risk that in searching for spectacular values you may reduce rather than increase the real attraction of the game, and that is the rivalry between two competing elevens."
A gust of sense in these observations blows strongly enough to shake the most self-assured Nestors and Jeremiahs, and to sweep the mist from the minds of the wild reformers.
In the South, once again the British Empire Team and the London Counties each carried through long programmes with conspicuous success, and gave pleasure to a wide variety of players and spectators. This is not a time when records and results matter much, but British Empire team did well to beat a Nottinghamshire side of considerable strength at Trent Bridge in June, and in August, at Bradford, they beat a Yorkshire Eleven containing nine County players by four wickets. In both these matches R. E. S. Wyatt (94 and 52) and the Essex man, H. P. Crabtree (50 and 68) distinguished themselves, and, against Yorkshire, that clever Irish and Middlesex bowler, E. A. Ingram, took 6 wickets for 26. At Lord's a strong Royal Air Force side was beaten by three wickets. But the two needle matches were undoubtedly those against London Counties. At Lord's rain fell when the Empire team had lost three good wickets for only 34 in reply to the London Counties' total of 194. Three weeks later, at Reading, the Empire team scored 187 ( A. V. Avery 59), then bowled out the London Counties for 120, to which Alan Watt, of Kent, contributed a fierce innings of 40. In the two war seasons these teams have met four times: British Empire has won twice, London Counties once, one match has been drawn.
The outstanding batsmen were R. E. S. Wyatt, H. P. Crabtree, A. C. L. Bennett and A. V. Avery. Of the regular bowlers C. B. Clarke, the West Indies Test cricketer, was quite the most distinguished. His spin, flight and accuracy were generally too much for his opponents, and he returned an average of 11.4, taking 98 wickets in 273.5 overs. His fielding also was brilliant. In the win over the Royal Air Force at Lord's he took 6 for 74. The ordinary club batsman could not cope with him; and, against Metropolitan Police, he took 15 wickets for 58, including all 10 wickets in the second innings for 29 runs. R. Smith, of Essex, bowled magnificently against Sir Pelham Warner's team at Lord's, in late May; the first six wickets all fell to him, including C. J. Barnett, R. E. S. Wyatt, D. Compton, and R. W. V. Robins, all England players. W. E. Merritt, the New Zealand and Northamptonshire leg-break bowler, could appear but rarely, but memorably at least once when, against Nottinghamshire, on a true pitch, he took 8 wickets for 48. Just over £2,000 was raised for War Charities, including £165 for the Coventry Distress Fund. The Club was again organized and inspired by D. L. Donnelly, and had as its President Sir Pelham Warner.
London Counties, consisting almost entirely of Southern professionals, again played cricket that was both entertaining and successful. In A. W. Wellard and A. E. Watt they had two of the big hitters in the game; and a steadier excellence was provided by such tried men as A. E. Fagg, J. O'Connor, and the brothers F. S. and J. W. Lee. Frank Woolley and D. Compton could only play 7 innings each, but Compton finished top of the batting averages--59.33 for 356 runs. His brother, Leslie Compton, played some very fine innings, earning high praise from such judges as R. E. S. Wyatt and the well known umpire, Frank Chester. His best performance was probably his 121 not out at Coventry, in which he defended surely and drove magnificently. Considerably larger than his brother, he will, fortune favouring, surely have a good trail with Middlesex after the war, and might well become an England batsman.
The team suffered a sad loss before the season began in the death of L. C. Eastman, the Essex all-rounder; and that vast but subtle bowler, J. Durston, who holds a commission in the Home Guard, was unable to play at week-ends. A. R. Gover, taking 33 wickets at 9.5 each, showed no decline in ability as an opening bowler, and was admirably supported by the tough and persistent Watt. J. W. Lee, a clever off-spinner, finished at the top of the averages, 47 wickets at 8.19 each. Good work, too, was done by J. A. Young, the Middlesex left-hander, who has increased his pace, and by P. F. Judge, of Glamorgan. But Wellard unfortunately dropped out during the season with serious knee trouble.
Thirty-eight matches were played, and only three lost. These were, respectively, against British Empire Eleven, as before remarked, Bedford, who on that occasion had the help of L. G. Berry ( Leicestershire), and J. Grimshaw ( Worcestershire), and against Slough, for whom Frank Edwards, that excellent left-hander of Buckinghamshire, bowled with great skill on a wet pitch. Over £1,200 was handed over to war charities, including £350 for Coventry Hospital and £296 for Bexleyheath War weapons Week. The arrangements for 1942 are again in the capable hands of C. J. E. Jones, the Counties Secretary.
Teams representing the Army and the Royal Air Force played each other on five occasions, distributing their entertainment and skill over the country, at Lord's, Bramall Lane ( Sheffield), Nottingham, Harrogate, and Liverpool. The results were; at Lord's, Royal Air Force won by 5 wickets; at Nottingham, Army won by 5 wickets; at Harrogate, Army won by 8 wickets; at Sheffield, Royal Air Force won by 77 runs; at Liverpool, Royal Air Force won by 7 wickets. The Lord's match was full of good cricket, the Essex players, M. S. Nichols and P. Smith, distinguishing themselves with both bat and ball; but in vain. R.A.F. won the toss and put the Army in. This has been the general practice, captains using the two hours of Summer Time to give their bowlers the advantage of a dewy pitch.
J. D. Robertson, the young Middlesex professional, showed his skill and grace in an innings of 30. The crowd would have enjoyed more of the crisp fluency and orthodox style of this batsman. D. Compton seemed rather short of practice, and soon, mistiming a drive, was caught and bowled by P. F. Judge, of Glamorgan. P. Smith and M. S. Nichols then added 123 by sane and strong cricket, and the Army and Yorkshire captain, A. B. Sellers, followed with a typical innings of 32 not out, starting shakily, but being undisturbed. J. W. A. Stephenson, electric as ever, was run out trying to startle close third man, and Sellers declared at 261 for seven wickets, generously leaving the Royal Air Force some four hours of batting.
R.A.F. lost the England batsman, C. J. Barnett of Gloucestershire, and C. Washbrook, of Lancashire, for only 10 runs. R. J. Gregory, of Surrey, scored 30, and H. S. Squires, also of Surrey, one of the calmest and most correct of batsmen, made 54 before he was caught at wicket by S. C. Griffith of Sussex, whose form was very fine throughout. Then came what was probably the innings of the season, by L. E. G. Ames. His first 50 runs were made quietly; then he attacked with wonderful speed of foot and power of wrist. He had made 127 including 3 sixes, when the Army total was passed.
Six England players took part in this match, and, for future record, the players and their ranks may be of interest. In order of batting, The Army:--2nd Lieut. J. D. ROBERTSON (Middlesex); Pte. E. COOPER (Worcestershire); Sgt. Instructor D. COMPTON (Middlesex); 2nd Lieut. P. SMITH (Essex); Sgt. Instructor M. S. NICHOLS (Essex); Major A. B. SELLERS (Yorkshire), captain; Major J. W. A. STEPHENSON (Essex); Major G. W. PARKER (Gloucestershire); Captain S. C. GRIFFITH (Sussex); 2nd Lieut. T. F. SMAILES (Yorkshire); Captain H. VERITY (Yorkshire).
Royal Air Force:--Flying Officer C. J. BARNETT (Gloucestershire); Sergt. R. J. GERGORY (Surrey); Sergt. C. WASHBROOK (Lancashire); Flight Lieutenant H. S. SQUIRES (Surrey); Flight Lieutenant L. E. G. AMES (Kent); Cpl. L. J. TODD (Kent); Squadron Leader R. G. MUSSON, captain; Sergt. C. OAKES (Sussex); Ldg. A/c. P. F. Judge ( Glamorgan); Ldg. A/c. J. NYE (Sussex); Pilot Officer A. D. MATTHEWS (Glamorgan).
England players marked
Sir Pelham Warner, continuing to deputize for Colonel Rait Kerr as secretary to M.C.C., again showed his unquenchable enthusiasm for the game, and an energy which does not abate with the years. He gathered teams, advised secretaries and cricketers, and exhibited an optimism tempered with wisdom. To many others, too, nameless but not unknown, cricket owes much in war time for their help, example, and refusal to admit gloom or impediment. Among the Counties, Nottinghamshire carried out a programme of 10 matches, of which only one was wrecked by rain. Trent Bridge could watch the brilliance of young Joseph Hardstaff, and sometimes saw that other and more adventurous C. B. Harris which, like his Dickensian namesake, Mrs. Gamp's friend, had seemed to be only a myth.
Oxford and Cambridge played a one-day match at the Lord's on 28 June, Cambridge winning deservedly by 7 wickets. Oxford certainly began with the disadvantage of having played scarcely at all as a team, The Parks pitch not being available during the war; also, their captain, E. K. Scott, was unable to play on the day. But, even so, Cambridge had the stronger set of cricketers. They appeared on the field in a specially designed cap, light blue with stripes, which suggested a pleasant approximation to the real thing.
At Fenner's, during May and early June, the side, captained by that excellent opening batsman, J. R. Bridger, of Rugby, beat Cambridgeshire, Southgate, and the United Hospitals team led by C. B. Clarke, then drew with an Army team, rain interfering. These were one-day matches. An exciting two-day match with the British Empire team was left drawn. Cambridge made 217, British Empire 199 for 6 declared; Cambridge followed with 222 for 6 declared, and British Empire just failed to score the necessary 241 in the 2½ hours available, in spite of a brilliant innings of 149 by R. E. S. Wyatt. Wyatt also scored 70 in the first innings and revived a dying match with a generous and sensible declaration. After a most pleasant two-day match, left drawn, against Sussex at Hove, the University suffered its only defeat, by Aldershot Area, by 8 wickets. Here some fine bowling by Company Sergeant-Major Gover, of Surrey, settled the issue. After term, the match against Club Cricket Conference at Lord's was drawn, the Cambridge bowling looking rather ordinary.
Against Oxford, H. E. Watts, of Downside, bowled his leg breaks very cleverly. E. Crutchley, the best of the Oxford batsmen, met him with confidence, and looked set for a good score, when he was caught off a careless drive. M. J. W. Cassy, the Oxford opening batsman, made a valuable 52, before being bowled by a leg-break from Watts that might have settled anyone. Throughout the season J. A. Dew kept wicket well, sometimes brilliantly, for Cambridge.
From time to time news came through of well-known cricketers on Service overseas. Names and places must not in these days be connected, but mention should be made of some grand bowling by the South African cricketer, R. J. Crisp, who also won high and enduring honour in a sterner game.
Notice of the deaths of cricketers will be found in a another part of this volume; but I cannot here pass by two whom I knew well myself. First, Kenneth Farnes, of Essex: the very type and embodiment of fast bowling, tall, strong and enduring, a magnificent sight in action. His bowling was always good and, when need called, often great. Many fine performances stand to his name, none more remarkable than his 6 for 96 in an Australian innings of 600 at Melbourne during G. O. Allen's tour of 1936-37. And who that saw it could forget his attack on the Players at Lord's in 1938? At the end of the first day he sent back both Edrich and Price for 0 in one over. On the next day he was irresistible, and, in five spells, he dismissed Hutton, Hardstaff, D. Compton, Nichols, Smailes, and Pollard for 43 runs; surely the grandest fast bowling seen in this match since Arthur Fielder, in 1906, went through the whole Gentlemen's side for 90. He was gentle and courteous in manner, humorous and observant of mind and speech, and he will be sadly missed and fondly remembered by all who knew him, not least by the young cricketers whom he taught at Worksop.
Essex have lost another fine cricketer, L. C. Eastman, whose death was the result of service during enemy action. He was the utility man of the County side. In batting he would generally go in first, and, though his scores were seldom large, he often so rattled the opening bowlers by his adventurous attack that batting was made easier for those who followed. As a bowler, slow-medium to medium, he relied on a combination of length, swerve, subtly varied flight, and slight spin. On a sticky wicket he could be devastating; and at all times he was apt to take that one important wicket which loosens an innings. He was an optimist; gay, companionable and witty; and would, I am sure, have made a wonderful coach for some boys' school in his retirement, for he was both intelligent and patient.
Meanwhile, schools of every sort continue to turn out young cricketers of a standard no whit below their predecessors, for all that a few critics, who stand in perpetual need of some mental cathartic, bemoan the annual decay of cricket in paragraphs whose regularity is only equalled by their idiocy. Haileybury, coached by that admirable all-rounder, A. F. Wensley, late of Sussex, were probably the strongest side among the Public Schools. Dulwich had two excellent all-rounders, T. E. Bailey and A. W. H. Mallett, and a real fast bowler for a boy, H. P. H. Kiddle. But I hear rival coaches and supporters sharpening their swords and pencils, so will refrain from further comment on this subject.
As to the future of English cricket, I join with the old song-writer, in the search for the silver lining. It can be found.
May I again thank Mr. Hubert Preston and Mr. Norman Preston of Pardon's Cricket Reporting Agency, for their kind help and research, and express the hope that they and many other friends will soon again be enjoying the agitated pleasures of peace-time reporting.