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Very wisely, the first-class counties during the past winter have given consideration to the future of the County Championship. Nearly all the counties, thanks to loyal members, are in a far healthier financial position than at the outbreak of hostilities, but they will avoid a recurrence of the lean times only if they plan carefully while big cricket remains in abeyance.
I think that most people who were fortunate to be able to spend the greater part of the summers of 1938 and 1939 watching cricket, when, in turn, Australia and West Indies visited England, will agree that there was little wrong with the game. Many captains showed a welcome spirit of enterprise and genuine efforts were made to provide good entertainment for spectators. It may take a long time to get back to that happy state of affairs and some people feel that during the period of transition a useful purpose would be served in making experiments.
Sussex have sponsored a scheme for two-day matches and, as I write in early March, I hear that Surrey, among other counties, will also put forward proposals. It is argued that if some of these schemes are given a thorough try out, those people who persistently urge that changes are desirable will be satisfied and the various questions answered once and for all. Reformers must bear in mind the failure of two-day matches in 1919, and also that in 1939 out of 261 matches, including 208 in the Championship, only 41 were completed in two days. While one admits that these games were scheduled for three days it is significant that the majority of those completed in two days were at places recognised for the sporting nature of their pitches and accomplished in most instances by teams well equipped with bowlers, such as Derbyshire, Essex, Gloucestershire and Yorkshire.
It was on December 8, 1942, at Lord's that the Advisory County Cricket Committee met for the first time during the war. The meeting, which lasted ninety-five minutes, was informal and of a purely exploratory nature. No binding resolution was taken and the only thing agreed was that, in order to speed up the resumption of the Championship, the Counties should try to find a basis on which the Advisory Committee could work at a further meeting in the spring.
During the interval each County Committee would have an opportunity to discuss the position and could submit specific resolutions for consideration.
All the representatives made it plain that they were anxious to clear the way so that when the war ceased first-class cricket could be resumed promptly.
Among the wide range of subjects discussed were the merits of the three-, two-and one-day cricket. Many problems confronted the Counties, the chief being that of personnel. Few Counties could put a representative side into the field at short notice and no one was aware of the Government's plans for demobilisation and the control of man-power after the war.
Certain grounds such as Kennington Oval, Old Trafford, and Bramall Lane, Sheffield, suffered severe damage from air raids, and some grounds which were requisitioned might not be free immediately hostilities ceased. Other obstacles were the possibilities of the continuation of travel and petrol restrictions, and the supply of equipments.
Sussex took the opportunity to outline their scheme for an experimental season of two-day County matches, which was seconded by Lancashire and supported by other counties. Before the war I heard this plan discussed by cricketers, notably Frank Woolley, while R. C. Robertson-Glasgow gave it fairly fully in his notes in the last edition of Wisden, but for the sake of those who were not aware of it I am repeating it as printed in the 1943 Sussex Report:
"The proposal for an experimental season of two-day matches post-war is:--
I imagine many county treasurers will disagree with Sussex that the third day usually produces a financial loss. The Findlay Commission, which consulted the counties as to the saving of expense if two-day matches were adopted, in their report said: "For the main part the Counties consider that the expenses saved by curtailing the matches to two days would be less than the gate receipts lost as the result of having no play on the third day. A large majority of the Counties are opposed to two-day matches."
Both Sir Stanley Jackson and Sir Pelham Warner, two men of vision and of vast experience, have publicly warned cricketers of the danger of tinkering with the game. At the Yorkshire annual meeting Sir Stanley said: "Do not make your alterations unless you are sure that what you are going to do is not going to spoil cricket."
"Interfere," he said, "with the implements of the game and you are taking upon yourself a great responsibility, for what may be possible in one class of cricket may be unsuitable in another class of cricket." Sir Stanley mentioned one or two alterations that had been made--the increase in the height of the stumps and the changes in the l. b. w. rule. He considered the enlarging of the wicket good, but he used to wonder about the l. b. w. rule and sometimes thought that if George Hirst, Schofield Haigh, Wainwright and Wilfred Rhodes had been bowling under the new conditions teams which made such use of their legs would not have scored 70 runs. However, the players said the l. b. w. rule alteration had been a success and he took their word for it.
Sir Pelham Warner, in his capacity as president of Middlesex C.C.C., devoted the greater part of his speech at their annual meeting to the future of county cricket.
"I can see nothing wrong with modern cricket," said Sir Pelham, "except there are too many counties and some wickets are over-prepared and over-doped. Do not be led away by the call for brightening cricket. It is a leisurely, intricate game of skill. We live in an age of speed and people are apt to think that cricket must be speeded up; but my experience is that it is not necessary to have fast scoring to have interesting cricket. I do not wish to see anything better than two fine batsmen opposed to two first-class bowlers, backed up by good fielding; then the number of runs scored in an hour is unimportant."
Sir Pelham said that in planning for the future people should base their ideas on the Findlay Commission of 1937. "Everyone should study it, he remarked. You can find it in the 1938 Wisden. It is a splendid report and so up to date."
2Up at Lord's during the war we have been delighted with one-day matches. We have had some wonderful finishes, but you cannot imagine great Surrey, Middlesex and Yorkshire matches without a morrow. In 1919 two-day cricket was a complete failure, and Lancashire, who proposed it, graciously acknowledged the mistake when, half-way through the season, they pleaded for the return to three days."
Sir Pelham emphasised that the Findlay Commission recommended that the counties should be reduced from seventeen to fifteen so that each could play all the others. Then it would be possible to do away with averages in calculating results, and the reduction of first-class county matches would allow extra representative games to be played. This would enable the best players to play together as preparation for Test matches. "If it is the desire of the counties to raise the standard of English Cricket, such matches should be encouraged," was Sir Pelham's closing remark.
When the Sussex members reviewed the position at their annual meeting, it was emphasised that the number of days allotted to a match cannot make a deal of difference to the attractiveness of the cricket unless it is played in the proper spirit, which depends upon the captains. Here is the crux of the problem. The destiny of the County Championship lies in the hands of the County Committees and the captains who hold the reins during the summer months. When all is said and done the Eleven is a reflex of its leader.