Cricket's post-war resumption, 1985

Forty years on

1945, the game resumed, in a mood of dominant celebration and excitement. Apprehensive - because throughout the war, the shape of post-war cricket had been a never-failing source of argument.

There was general acceptance that the changing shape of British society meant cricket too must change. It was argued that professional cricket might die out, because sharply increased income tax would demand wage levels beyond the reach of any club seeking to finance a full playing staff. Ideas about match reform ranged from a fat-headed proposal that fast bowlers be banned - to save time taken by ever-longer run-ups - to agreement that wartime use of loudspeakers to inform crowds was a modern development worth continuing. But the theme recurring constantly through wartime dreaming and planning is of the need for brighter cricket, debating whether the three-day match should be of single rather than two innings, cut to two days, replaced by one-day cricket, or perhaps stretched to four.

The understandable success of one-and two-day matches played between scratch elevens, Service teams, the British Empire XI, reinforced club sides, and groups such as the London Fire Service or the Metropolitan Police, persuaded many that post-war crowds would want short, sharp matches: something that was to blossom twenty years later. In 1944 MCC named a Select Committee to report on the problems confronting county cricket after the cessation of hostilities. It had nineteen members, many of them recent Test players like Hammond (Flight-Lieutenant W. R.), under the chairmanship of Colonel The Hon. Sir Stanley Jackson, dashing Test skipper of Edwardian days, with the Secretary of MCC, Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr, and his wartime deputy Sir Pelham Warner, as secretaries. The wise men were for a return to the six-ball over - eight had been tried in 1939 - and against Sunday play or any limit on the length of an innings by time or overs. Their most imaginative plan was a knockout competition, not like today's one-day NatWest Trophy, but a full-blown three-day match series. Its introduction was to be delayed until the county game got properly going, and in the end the idea fizzled out.

But as far as 1945 was concerned, there was no need to worry about devising brighter play, or changing the game to boost gates. The crowds hurried to every match. The first ball of post-war first-class cricket was bowled in that first Victory Test by an Australian, Captain Albert Cheetham of New South Wales and the AIF, to - most suitably - Len Hutton, who in the last peacetime England- Australia series had given his weary opponents the impression that they were doomed to bowl eternally against him as he ground out his monumental 364 in thirteen hours twenty minutes. As if to indicate that postwar cricket was to be different, Hutton's wicket was the first to fall in the brave new age - caught at the wicket by Stan Sismey off Graham Stork Williams for a modest single.

England was charmed by the Australians: first the RAAF team, drawn from thousands of Australian airmen stationed in Britain for the final assault on Europe; later strengthened by soldiers returning from various European and Middle East theatres of war. Keith Carmody, later to help Western Australia win the Sheffield Shied in its first season in the competition, and to give his name to the slip-packed Carmody field, gave way as skipper of the combined side to the puckish Lindsay Hassett, most experienced of the uniformed Australians in Europe. They drew the series, which was notable for magnificent innings from a famous name, Wally Hammond, who hit a wonderful century on an erratic Bramall Lane pitch; from a new name, Keith Miller, who played a series of fine attacking knocks; and from a virtual unknown, Bob Cristofani, who bowled finely and hit a thrilling hundred at Old Trafford.

Looking to a renewal of the fight for the Ashes, critics tipped Hassett and Miller, plus Sismey and Cristofani, to play for Australia. The first two did, to well-remembered effect. Sismey found his way barred, first by the brilliant Don Tallon and then by the stylish Ron Saggers, while Cristofani, though by many to be O'Reilly's successor, resumed his university studies, played cricket only briefly, and a quarter-century later returned to settle in England as an executive with Trust House Forte.

On October 1, 1945, Australia's Foreign Affairs minister, Dr H. V. Evatt, urged at a Claridge's lunch in honour of the Service team that England should tour Australia as soon as possible. Eight days later MCC announced, despite misgivings that English cricket was not yet ready, that it would tour in 1946-47. Certainly cricket had paid its wartime toll: E. W. Swanton in his History of Cricket estimated that more than 60 first-class players round the world had died on active service. England's prime loss had been peerless Hedley Verity and Ken Farnes, the later a genuinely fast bowler who represented a generation robbed of opportunity by the war. Australia lost a highly promising batsman in Ross Gregory and their reserve wicket-keeper, Charlie Walker: South Africa lost A. W. Briscoe, C. M. Francois and A. B. C. Langton, and New Zealand D. A. R. Moloney and W. N. Carson.

It was hard to assess Australia's strength. In place of its traditional nursery of two-day district matches, its wartime cricket had been based on single-afternoon games which spawned a reckless approach and alarmed the traditionalists. Sheffield Shield cricket was scrapped early in the war in favour of inter-state patriotic matches which drew on the same players, took much the same time, and - lacking competition - did little to enthuse the crowds. All talk was that Australia would see no more at Test level of her outstanding match-winning batsman and bowler, Bradman and O'Reilly respectively. Those of us too young to follow big cricket before the war, our eager appetites no more than tickled as we grew into adolescence in the wartime forties, could not believe how our Australia, lacking the Don and the Tiger, could ever face England. O'Reilly, though not Bradman, did drop out, after a brief New Zealand tour for an Australian team had dispelled pessimism. The Don batted on - and on.

But cricket in other Test countries was not as seriously disrupted by war as in England, where it was an industry employing hundreds of players, officials, groundstaff and others. India played on much as usual, strengthened by Service visitors such as the splendid Denis Compton, the West Indies were far enough from action to enjoy a fair number of good-quality inter-island matches, while South Africa played scratch matches and club games. One intriguing meeting took place on New Year's Day, 1944, at The Wanderers ground in Johannesburg - soon to be swallowed by railway extension - when Transvaal played a South African Indian XI. It was a rare mixing of the races, impossible when an Afrikaans government won power and tightened race laws until an inevitable backlash saw the sporting world outlaw South Africa, etching the name D'Oliveira in cricket and political history.

In England, the country which had been bombed, had suffered the loss of so many of its cricketers and cricket-lovers, and had endured rationing and other hardships, the post-war lightheartedness that welcomed cricket so enthusiastically was soon replaced by enthusiasm for other pastimes when opportunity offered. County cricket survived easily enough for a while - until petrol rationing ended and cars became available for the home market. Then young men and families preferred to go for a weekend spin to walking or taking the tram or bus to the nearby county ground.

Adam Kuper, Professor of Anthropology, at the University of Leiden, is one of many observers of the changing shape of cricket to put his findings: Sports stars are the equivalent of the old film stars. Cricket kept its innocence for so long because it was entirely dependent on public TV, notably the BBC in England and the ABC in Australia. Consequently there was not much money in the game. As soon as a commercial TV company - Packer's - broke the gentlemanly monopoly, the game was up.

A futile but entertaining pastime is to assess the likely course of Test cricket if war had not caused the cancellation of projected tours - England's visit to India in 1939-40, South Africa's to England in 1940. England's to Australia in 1940-41 and then Australia's back to England in 1942. Would Bradman have added in those half-dozen wasted years so hugely to his formidable record that he would now, despite an age of profligate Test-match expansion, tower even further beyond the reach of today's heroes? What might have been in fun to imagine: what actually happened is there in the records, showing a worldwide appetite for big cricket and the game booming in the fifties, especially in England.

The burgeoning of a new style of cricket stems from a decline when the Swinging Sixties and the affluent age of You've never had it so good turned attention to more ostentatious and self-aggrandising interests, until cricket was revived - whether for long-term or ill - by the sponsor, the advertiser and the TV eye. A game that had been in many ways in anachronism, scraping by on amateur goodwill and its professionals' acceptance of inadequate return (once the Depression eased) blossomed into the hard-selling commercial enterprise of 1985, aimed at a new society influenced by transatlantic sporting expectations and sold by American marketing methods. It is a long way from the simple, even naïve game that cricket still was back in 1945.

© John Wisden & Co