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COUNTY CRICKET has taken its biggest step forward in recent years by opening the door to Overseas players through the process of immediate registration. This bold move could be the salvation of the three-day County Championship and I am only surprised that the plunge was not taken sooner. The numerous provisos safeguard the welfare of English-born players and the very fact that a heavy responsibility will now rest upon the star cricketer should help the promising youngster to take his place in first-class company without the worry that any temporary failure will weigh heavily against his side.
No county will be allowed to engage a second star within three years of taking on the first and at no time will more than two over-seas players be specially registered for the same county, though after five years, under a previous arrangement, a player from another country enters the same category as a home-born man. Hence, the fears that cricket may be heading for a transfer system similar to professional football can be regarded as groundless. Yet when one takes into account all the publicity and the interest that League football gains from the exchange of players is the time so very far distant when cricket will be conducted in similar fashion?
While Yorkshire with their broad acres and vast resources must be admired for their adherence to local talent, the imported player from outside the county border and from overseas is no stranger among the other sixteen counties. Did not Warwickshire win the Championship in 1951 with only C. W. Grove and F. C. Gardner of the regular side born within the county? When Nottinghamshire met Leicestershire at Newark last season half the players who took part in the match were former players of other counties.
One of the reasons why the Advisory Committee retained the two-year qualification rule for so long was because our Test opponents, and Australia in particular, feared the draining of their resources if there was a steady flow of leading stars to the United Kingdom. That state of affairs no longer exists because now a man who is qualifying by residence may at any time play for the country of his birth. Hence, Lance Gibbs, who will assist Warwickshire this summer, was able to play for West Indies in the recent Test series against England.
As soon as the way was made clear for the immediate entry of Overseas players in County Cricket the destination of Gary Sobers, the West Indies captain, became the great talking point. Seven counties made inquiries and after a fortnight of speculation Nottinghamshire announced on December 14 their capture of cricket's greatest prize, and that he would captain the side. For the first time in their history Nottinghamshire did not win a match last season and now they look to Sobers to bring back the crowds to Trent Bridge and revive their fortunes. They remember how the Australian all-rounder, Bruce Dooland, rescued them in the early 1950's. They finished sixteenth in 1952, the season before he joined them, and in five seasons in English first-class cricket Dooland scored 5,245 runs and took 805 wickets, twice performing the double. Nottinghamshire soon shot up the Championship table, but on his departure another slump occurred.
Sobers says that he prefers the challenge of first-class cricket, even though he has enjoyed League cricket with Norton, and he looks forward to putting Nottinghamshire on their feet again. A few years ago Sobers made his presence felt in Australia when he helped South Australia to win the Sheffield Shield for only the second time in twenty-five years. For three years Sobers played for South Australia and in two he achieved the double of 1,000 runs and 50 wickets, adding another record to his name. The financial details of Sobers's contract with Nottinghamshire were not disclosed. It will run for three years and could be worth £7,000 a year, including a flat and a car. One may ask where is the money coming from to pay these expensive stars with county cricket in its present parlous financial state?
The views of Mr. Leslie Deakins, the Warwickshire secretary, who covered the subject when speaking at the Forty Club dinner in the autumn, are well worth considering here. He maintains that:
We must face the fact that we are providing a spectacle the public does not want--at the same time we must acknowledge that we know what the public does want (they have told us so through the medium of the Gillette Cup games), and if we want to survive, and to preserve the happiest of games, we should play it the way it was intended to be played, and the way the public understand and love it.
Mr. S. C. Griffith, M.C.C. Secretary, in his annual speech to the County secretaries, also stressed that the counties should interest themselves more in club cricket and the club cricketer.
"I am tired of hearing county players refer to club cricket as a different game--creating a mystique about county cricket which ill becomes it and can do it nothing but harm. I would like to see club cricketers given their chance alongside the Cowdreys, the Graveneys, the Titmuses, and so on", he remarked.
"As I have said often before--county clubs are still carrying staff which are too large and preventing the top-raters from earning the money we would all like to see them earning. Surely, here is a way of helping this aspect of the first-class game by giving the club cricketer a chance, even occasionally, to play in county cricket on a match-fee basis.
"A lot has been said about the difficulties of immediate registration of one overseas player and how this might affect the wage structure. It is a simple economic fact--we can only do what we can afford. How much more simple it would be if we were able to ensure that our own players received commensurate remuneration related to their worth to the county club and to the spectator."
Usually the M.C.C. secretary confines his remarks at this meeting in December to the first-class game, but on this occasion he also dwelt about the organisation of cricket as a whole--at all levels. In order that the Minister responsible for Sport could establish relations with cricket, M.C.C. became in June last the official rulers of cricket. Mr. Griffith told the first-and second-class county, secretaries:
"We have been for some time considering an organisation which will ensure that every cricketer and administrator--Test, county, service, university, club and school--and umpires--at whatever level--will feel eventually that their voice can be and is heard by the governing body. We consider that it is vital to organise ourselves--as in the First-class and Minor County games--on a county basis with a view to all county associations, in company, of course, with the ladies, youths and so on, having direct representation on the National Cricket Association.
"We are told that interest in the schools is flagging. If this is so, it is a matter of the utmost importance to us all, and absolutely vital to you who run county cricket.
"Every county association must do something to ensure that cricket is available to the keen youngster who starts his holiday in mid-July. It is all very well for you to produce cricket for the boys to watch. This is not enough. Cricket is for the playing. Our future depends on it.
"County clubs must ensure that club and village cricket forms an essential part of what the Clark Report calls a logical pyramid. In other words, that the boy moves from school to club and from club to county, and eventually to Test cricket, feeling all the time that, if he works like a beaver, he could make it in the end."
Looking back on the cricket in England last season, one cannot report any improvement on the general low standard of batting and bowling in the County Championship, nor any change in the indifferent attitude of so many contracted players to the welfare of the game. The new points system, designed to provide a genuine interest in the struggle for the first-innings lead, had mostly the opposite effect. So many sides declined to take the slightest risk. Instead of aiming to make 400 to 450 on the first day when winning the toss, too many crawled to 350 at lunch time on the second. That the points were not divided equally when Hampshire took four and Middlesex eight from their tie at Portsmouth emphasised the absurd way the Championship was conducted. Law 13 states that each side has two innings. That is the basis of the first-class game and when a match ends in a tie surely the spoils must be allotted equally.
Yet again the season had a wretched start, due to the weather. England and Wales had the wettest May since 1773. There were as many as nineteen "No Decision" matches that month in the County Championship, eight more than in the whole of 1966. Lancashire were particularly hard hit; the side scored only 568 runs in the whole of that first month. On May 27, not a ball was bowled in any of the ten first-class games. Lancashire cancelled their first day with Yorkshire some days beforehand and such was the state of Old Trafford that they changed the venue of their game with India on June 3 to Southport. It would seem that there is now a tendency for the summer in England to begin later. Far from being the "Merry Month of May" when batsmen had the opportunity to complete 1,000 runs, it often proves a stumbling block for cricketers seeking to get into form. Indeed, last May, Ken Barrington alone scored 500 runs. No wonder the counties are thinking of beginning the season a fortnight later and stretching it into September.
The bad weather so prevalent in the early English summer also provides a severe handicap for our overseas visitors, and especially those who come first on dual tours. We had the first dual tour in-1965 when New Zealand arrived first and had a wretched time battling with the rain in their early matches. Attendances were small and they left England £4,000 on the wrong side. In the second half of that season the sun shone on the South Africans and they played some sparkling cricket. Last year, India arrived first and never had a chance to settle down before the first Test was upon them. Fortunately for them, they managed to pay their way, but the conditions they experienced were totally unfair to them.
Their successors, Pakistan, were favoured mostly with sunshine and despite the safety-first attitude of their captain, Hanif Mohammad, they too occasionally played exhilarating cricket. The 20-year-old Majid Jahangir, son of the former India and Cambridge University cricketer, hit a century in sixty-one minutes against Glamorgan at Swansea and went to 147 not out in eighty-nine minutes, setting up a new record with thirteen 6's in the same innings. He has now decided to play for Glamorgan. Asif Iqbal distinguished himself in the Tests at Lord's and The Oval and he too will be seen in county cricket, having joined the rejuvenated Kent side, the latest holders of the Gillette Cup.
When reviewing the subject of dual tours in England, consideration should be given to the desirability of maintaining five-day Test matches with New Zealand, India and Pakistan. When England visit New Zealand at the end of an Australian tour they play only four-day matches, and though India and Pakistan playing at home can extend the strongest opposition, they find England a much harder proposition away from their own sunlit arenas. There would be more likelihood of sustaining interest through the series on a four-day match basis. The thirty-hour Test provided the opportunity for Barrington to give his monotonous exhibition at Trent Bridge. He had so much time at his disposal that he was able to avoid taking the slightest risk and thereby he placed his side in an impregnable position. As an England player that was his duty, but it was a painful procedure for the onlookers. The day may come when the three weaker cricketing countries will live up to their early promise and be worthy of meeting England on the same basis as the touring teams of Australia, South Africa and the West Indies. A three-day series would probably be too short. Another stalemate like that of 1949 when New Zealand drew all four Tests of eighteen hours duration would be most unsatisfactory.
Brian Close led England to victory in five of the six Tests and also Yorkshire to the top of the Championship, which they have now won six times in the last nine years. Altogether Yorkshire have won the title outright thirty times, but on this occasion, although their ultimate success was deserved, their deliberate waste of time at Edgbaston in order to prevent Warwickshire winning so that they could take two points, brought upon them and their captain a heap of adverse criticism and the image of cricket was besmirched. That was an exceptional occasion. In Close and Trueman, who was in charge in eleven matches, Yorkshire possessed imaginative leadership. Yet their twelve victories were the smallest credited to the leading county since the Championship was increased to fourteen counties in 1895. The weather and the new points system were responsible. In fact there were 161 drawn games, compared with the previous record number since the war of 112 in 1962. In addition last season there were five abandoned Championship matches and one tie.
Writing while the snow falls here in England and before the five Tests in the Caribbean between West Indies and England begin, I find naming the World Champions a hazardous task. The balance of power among the cricket nations was disturbed when South Africa mastered England in the three-match series in the United Kingdom in 1965. Now they have overwhelmed Australia and played some glorious cricket in the process. Recently, one of my South African friends, Charles Fortune, took exception to the paragraph which appears in italics in front of the list of Test cricketers and in front of the records concerning South Africa's official Test status. In fact, according to the International Cricket Conference, South Africa has no official Test status, but Wisden, unlike some cricket annuals, never omitted their deeds from the record since the country left the Commonwealth in 1961. Moreover, England, Australia and New Zealand have awarded caps to players who have appeared against them. Now that South Africa have become a real power again in the cricket world the course that I adopted has been clearly justified. South Africa could not be left out. They come here again in 1970 for the whole season. Meanwhile our readers can enjoy the story of their triumph over Australia by turning to the pages devoted to the series later in the Almanack.
I was not surprised that the International Cricket Conference rejected the M.C.C.'s experimental clause in the Law against illegal bowling at their July meeting. The following additional Note to Law 26 brought about the disagreement: "A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if, in the opinion of either umpire, the process of straightening the bowling arm, whether it be partial or complete, takes place during that part of the delivery swing which precedes directly the ball leaving the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from straightening an over-extended arm nor from the use of the wrist in the delivery swing." The words in italics were struck out and it means that in England this season we shall have one law for county cricket and a different one for the Australian matches. The Advisory County Cricket Committee have decided not to fall into line until 1969 in order to give some bowlers, notably H. J. Rhodes, a chance to sort things out.
When every cricketing country is doing its utmost to rid the game of throwers, why did England weaken the throwing rule? At their 1967 Spring meeting the Advisory County Cricket Committee agreed that all umpires in first-class cricket would be expected to accept the decisions of the adjudication committee on throwing as far as the basic action of a bowler is concerned. The over-extended arm is the thing which every javelin thrower tries to achieve so that he can throw faster, so how can one endorse the legality of the over-extended arm? M.C.C. has always held sacrosanct the edict that the umpire is the sole judge, yet since J. S. Buller, who is considered the world's best umpire, gave his judgment in the middle, the offending bowler has been whitewashed by a narrow majority in the committee room. One may appreciate the desire not to put a professional out of the game unless there is certainty about his guilt, but on the other hand the Laws of Cricket lay down that if either umpire be not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery he shall call and signal No Ball instantly. Another curious decision has been the relaxation of the on-side field limitation when everyone is desperately crying out against negative bowling. Then there is the front foot no-ball rule. It has done a lot to cure drag, but I am not alone in thinking that it has not helped cricket as a spectacle nor has it helped the umpires. One famous Test player asks how many wrong decisions have been brought about because the umpire no longer has as much time in which to look up and adjudicate. Moreover fewer no-balls get hit for six, because the call comes later and the batsman has lost that vital second in making up his mind that he has been given a free hit.
Cricket loses a notable personality through the decision at the age of 34 of M. J. K. Smith, the England and Warwickshire captain, to retire from first-class cricket in order to devote himself to business. In the course of seventeen seasons, Mike Smith scored 31,580 runs, average 41.99 and hit 55 hundreds. His individual records, including those for Oxford University, are too numerous to mention. He served England in 47 Tests, being captain 25 times, and he led Warwickshire for 11 seasons. He batted under the disadvantage of being compelled to wear glasses and although his defective eyesight at times brought about his downfall as soon as he reached the crease he was always a delight to watch when set. Moreover he was a brilliant fielder and a popular captain of the M.C.C. teams he led in Australia, South Africa and India.
Worcestershire are now in the course of rebuilding the side which twice won the Championship. Three of their players, Don Kenyon, Jack Flavell and Dick Richardson, have gone into retirement, and so the captaincy passes to Tom Graveney, whose services to cricket received acknowledgement in the New Year Honours by the award of the O.B.E. Worcestershire, too, have a new coach, for Henry Horton, having finished his playing days with Hampshire, will return to his former county. One also notes with a tinge of regret the retirement of some popular visiting Test players, Norman O'Neill, Peter Burge, Bobby Simpson and Tom Veivers ( Australia) and Conrad Hunte ( West Indies).
This year the United States Cricket Association, now Associate members of the International Cricket Conference, will send a team to tour in England. Their cricket, according to their President, John Marder, is wholly amateur and makes no pretence to first-class status. To those people who may be surprised to learn that cricket is played in America I would say that this team is not the first American combination to visit England. The Gentlemen of Philadelphia, virtually an American national side, came in 1884, 1889, 1897, 1903, and 1908 and the last three tours were first-class in status.
In 1875, Wisden recorded that the previous year the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox baseball nines combined to send a team to England and they alternated by playing cricket and baseball in an attempt to interest English sportsmen in the American game. The tour lasted one month and in six games of cricket the professional baseball players were unbeaten. On the Bank Holiday Monday 3,500 people paid a shilling each for admission to Lord's and saw the Americans give a throwing and catching display. Twelve of M.C.C. then played a cricket match with "Eighteen Gentlemen from America", which was suspended after two hours to allow the Boston Red Sox, Champions of the United States, to play the Philadelphia Athletics at baseball. For two hours and ten minutes, baseball held sway at Lord's as Boston defeated the Philadelphia Athletics by 24 runs to 7. Rain ruined the cricket match after the Americans had gained a first-innings lead of two runs. The Americans also played at Old Trafford, The Oval, Crystal Palace, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, and Dublin.
Cricket enthusiasm in America was kept alive mainly in Philadelphia and from the eighties to the outbreak of the First World War the game became first-class and a power to be reckoned with by touring teams. Some Philadelphians such as J. B. King, P. H. Clark, Dr. J. A. Lester, A. M. Wood and F. H. Bohlen were really first-class bowlers with King considered one of the finest swerve bowlers in the world.
The 1968 American team will play in England for about a month--their fixtures are given elsewhere in the Almanack. They begin according to recent custom by playing the Duke of Norfolk's XI at Arundel. Except for the two-day match with Cheshire all the games will be of one day duration. Perhaps the biggest event will be on Saturday, July 27, when the Americans meet M.C.C. at Lord's. The Americans consider the tour will be successful (a) if it knits their cricketers, drawn from all over the nation, into a cohesive group who can keep the game going in the United States and (b) if the cricket is played in a sporting manner and awakens English people to the fact that cricket is played in the United States.