LOOKING BACK on the cricket scene of 1968 one can only call it tumultuous. It began with the riot in Jamaica; later came the D'Oliveira uproar that led to the cancellation of the M.C.C. tour of South Africa, and finally the threat to M.C.C. itself and the memorable meeting in December at Church House, Westminster, where the rebels were defeated after a discussion lasting four hours. To those not acquainted with the game, cricket must appear to be in a sorry state, but that is far from the truth. Apart from the almost incessant rain, I enjoyed most of the first-class cricket I saw last season. There was much improvement in the play in county matches due to two innovations.
By opening the door on a restricted and sensible basis to the overseas stars, the counties lifted themselves out of a depressing rut and, secondly, the abolition of points for the first-innings lead, coupled with the introduction of bonus points for positive batting and successful bowling during the first 85 overs delivered by each side, produced keener cricket in the early stages of the three-day matches. The batsmen discovered the freedom that has been there all the time. I hope this experiment will be given a thorough trial, for the upward trend towards bettering county cricket should continue as the players themselves get more used to the new conditions.
The one-day Gillette Cup has done much over the past six years towards shaking up the slothful performers and now we have the new Player's County League each Sunday to implement that good work. It has meant reducing the number of three-day Championship matches for each county from 28 to 24. The public have already shown their appreciation of the clear cut single-day contest and one wonders whether the Championship itself and even Test Matches will retain their appeal without change in some form of the maximum number of overs permitted.
In some quarters there is a cry for six-day Tests and others want timeless Tests as in Australia before the last war. These are not new ideas. In 1903, Sydney Pardon wrote in his Wisden notes:
There seems to be a strong feeling in favour of playing Test games in this country out to a finish, irrespective of the time they occupy, and if our leading players are at one with the Australians in wishing the plan to be adopted there is not much use in raising objections. Desirable as it is to see one side or the other victorious the result at cricket is not everything, and from what I have read of the long games in Australia, extending sometimes into the sixth day, they are not so interesting as our three day matches, the advantage derived from avoiding risks leading batsmen, even on perfect wickets, to play with laborious care. Given a fine day and a lively pitch batting of the stonewalling kind is emphatically not the best of cricket and when England and Australia meet one would always like, irrespective of the result, to see the game at its highest point of excellence...Time being of no consequence the game, would I fear, lose its brilliant qualities and become little more than a matter of endurance.
When the five-day or thirty hours Test was adopted as a consequence of the 1938 Oval Test--the only timeless match played in this country-- Sir Leonard Hutton made 364 and England reached 903 for seven wickets before Hammond declared--the main reason for the extension was that the extra day would afford the opportunity for a definite result when the four-day game suffered interference from rain. We have seen since that captains with negative ideas can produce the dull cricket that Sydney Pardon predicted so long ago.
The innovation permitting each county to engage one overseas cricketer on immediate registration every three years without residential qualification, was, as I predicted, a great success. For too long county cricket had been stifled by dour, safety-first methods. The overseas players by their enterprise and natural approach brought a breath of life into the three-day match. Garfield Sobers, as befitted his reputation, was the outstanding personality, and in bringing about the revival of Nottinghamshire by his own inspiring deeds he induced a new faith in their cricket ability of all the other members of his side long before he hit those six consecutive balls from Malcolm Nash for six at Swansea and so created a new world record. The appearance of Sobers with Nottinghamshire brought out the crowds. At Derby the gate was £1,686, the best for a Championship match in Derbyshire's history.
Four young South Africans were numbered in this exalted company. Barry Richards, a fine stroke-maker for Hampshire, finished with the highest aggregate, 2,395 well-made runs; Mike Procter excelled as an all-rounder for Gloucestershire and Lee Irvine, a brilliant left-hander, scored consistently for Essex. Another, Hylton Ackerman, hit belligerently for Northamptonshire. Warwickshire enjoyed the help of two West Indians; Lance Gibbs had qualified by residence and Rohan Kanhai came in the quicker way. Two Pakistanis, Majid Jahangir (Glamorgan) and Asif Iqbal (Kent) also proved to be valuable acquisitions. F. M. Engineer, from India, was somewhat disappointing with the bat, but pleased Lancashire immensely with his wicket-keeping and this summer Lancashire will have Clive Lloyd, the talented West Indies left-hander and an exceptionally fine fielder. Indeed, one of the special features about the cricket of all these overseas players was their keenness and ability in the field.
Obviously the future of the three-day County Championship system may rest on the degree of support given to the new one-day Sunday League. Jack Fingleton in his accompanying article condemns the method of county cricket as archaic. This opinion has been ventilated pretty freely by visitors from the Antipodes during the last three Australian tours of the United Kingdom and frankly I have grown rather tired of hearing them. We do not hear it from other overseas teams when they visit us and I am beginning to wonder whether it is the declining standard of Australian cricket that has made some of them weary of six-days-a-week cricket. Or is it the monotonous defensive policy of so many county players that annoys them?
Our county sides vary in strength over the years but the Australians no longer record a string of easy victories as in the not so distant past of Lindwall and Miller. It is only in the last thirty years that the County Championship has been gradually overshadowed by the Test Matches because of the glamorous publicity which these international contests now receive, particularly from television.
The crowds may no longer flock to Lord's and The Oval or some of the other big grounds for county matches, but if one cares to go to the rural settings, or the Scarborough Festival, one will still find a fairly good bunch of people enjoying the cricket.
Moreover, a few Australian cricketers still enjoy participating in county cricket. Their first captain, W. L. Murdoch, who appeared in the First Test Match at The Oval in 1880 and made 153 not out--Dr. W. G. Grace the England captain hit 152--later settled in England and captained Sussex. J. J. Ferris went to Gloucestershire and so down the years Australians have been welcomed in county circles. Albert Trott, the only man who has hit the ball over the pavilion at Lord's, and Frank Tarrant appeared for Middlesex at the turn of the century. There were others before E. A. McDonald thrilled us with his fast bowling for Lancashire. J. E. Walsh and V. E. Jackson did a lot for Leicestershire before and since the last war, and Alan Walker (Nottinghamshire), Ken Grieves (Lancashire), Bruce Dooland (Nottinghamshire), L. Livingston, George Tribe, and Jack Manning (Northamptonshire), all enjoyed their county cricket.
I have not overlooked Somerset. From their early days as a first-class county they were closely linked to Australia in the person of S. M. J. Woods, one of the great sportsmen of all time. He played for them between 1886 and 1910; was captain from 1894 to 1906 and secretary from 1894 to 1923. More recently Somerset leapt up the Championship table with the help of those two fine all-rounders, Colin McCool and Bill Alley. And does Alley, who has topped his own half-century, find county cricket wearying and archaic? Certainly not; he has joined the first-class umpires for 1969, along with Cecil Pepper, a fellow countryman, who also knew how to hit the ball. And Somerset already have another Australian established in their side, Gregory Chappell, younger brother of Ian Chappell the Test player. Only 20, he made over one thousand runs in his first season of county cricket. At least two more Australians will make their debuts in the Championship this season with the Test opening bowlers, Graham McKenzie joining Leicestershire and A. N. Connolly being engaged by Middlesex.
The D'Oliveira controversy which shook the cricket and political worlds could only have been avoided if he had not succeeded on his recall to the England team last August for the final Test. I have seen all his Test innings in England and never have I seen him play better than he did at The Oval. He rose to the occasion, knowing it was his last chance to fulfil his ambition to play first-class cricket in his native country and before his own admirers. It must be remembered that D'Oliveira usually bats as low as sixth in the order and yet in 24 Test innings he has hit two hundreds and seven fifties and achieved an average of 50. This is something out of the ordinary by any standard.
I am sure that if the South African tour had taken place, D'Oliveira would have been a great success on the field, and off the field he would have behaved with the same dignity which has won him so many admirers over here. Cricket has been the loser with its name tarnished and M.C.C. thrown into divided camps. M.C.C. has always fostered cricket wherever the game is played and for all their faults in this imperfect world I was pleased that the majority of the members rallied to their support when the matter was thrashed out at Church House, Westminster.
Twelve years have passed since England last won a Test series against Australia and that was in 1956 when Laker made history at Old Trafford by taking nineteen wickets. During the last three major tours abroad England have not lost a rubber. By mainly defensive cricket the odd victory in two otherwise drawn series sufficed for the side to return victorious from South Africa in 1964-65 and West Indies, 1967-68; England drew in Australia in 1965-66 when each team managed to win once. The lack of top-class all-rounders and on occasion slovenly fielding are two main causes for England failing to dominate the world at a time when the strength of Australia and West Indies has been on the wane.
Yet in the first six months of the year England compelled West Indies to follow-on twice--at Port of Spain and Kingston--and Australia to do so at Lord's. Caution is usually England's watchword, but at times Colin Cowdrey as a captain, and as batsman, can be so splendidly aggressive, as we saw when he was striving for victory at Lord's, Edgbaston and The Oval. The injuries which overtook Cowdrey and Boycott revealed that England possess reserves of batting as demonstrated by Prideaux on his debut at Headingley and D'Oliveira when called up at the last minute at The Oval. Yet, when a promising position has been established too often the middle batting has failed as at Old Trafford and Headingley. Happily England have produced a dependable pair of openers in Boycott and Edrich, and Milburn has such a contempt for the loose ball that one wonders how the selectors could leave him out as they did D'Oliveira immediately after both had played such important parts in the victory over Australia at The Oval. Green, Fletcher, Alan Jones and John Hampshire are others awaiting the opportunity to prove their worth in Test company.
Nor is England short of bowlers. Besides the recognised pace trio, David Brown, John Snow and Jeff Jones there are Bob Cottam, as well as Alan Ward who is spoken of so highly in Derbyshire circles as a youngster possessing exceptional speed. Surely Ossie Wheatley, who transformed the Glamorgan attack last season, also has a just claim for consideration.
Several notable cricketers will be seen no longer in first-class matches though some may still delight their admirers in minor games. Tribute is paid elsewhere to Brian Statham and Trevor Bailey. Just before the end of the year Freddie Trueman, as he approached his thirty-eighth birthday, also decided to call it a day. A fuller appreciation, together with statistics of Trueman's career, must await our 1970 edition. His departure marks the end of an era during which England possessed three of the finest fast bowlers of all time: Trueman, Statham and Tyson and all were backed up by Bailey. Trueman's Test record of 307 wickets in 67 matches is likely to stand for a very long time; only 15 other bowlers have taken more than his 2,301 wickets in all games and none of those matched his devastating speed.
Hampshire will not seem the same without Derek Shackleton, whose gentle medium pace commanded so much respect, especially from those batsmen who only expected to score from the loose ball that he so rarely offered. Worcestershire bid farewell to their talented wicket-keeper, Roy Booth and while I write these notes has come the news that Ken Barrington, following a mild heart attack while taking part in exhibition cricket in Australia, will play no more cricket. So he, too, retires at 38, leaving a gap which will be hard to fill in the ranks of England and Surrey. His 6,806 runs from 82 Tests have been surpassed by only four other cricketers, Walter Hammond, Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Leonard Hutton and Colin Cowdrey.
Among the many changes which have taken place in cricket recently, one of the most important affects the Marylebone Cricket Club and the administration and organisation of the game in the United Kingdom. M.C.C., a private club, was formed in 1787; the following year it was invited to revise the Code of Laws and ever since M.C.C.'s responsibility has continued. With the recent setting up of the Sports Council and with the possibility of obtaining Government Grant aid for cricket, M.C.C. were asked to create a governing body for the game on the lines generally accepted by other sports in Great Britain.
So now cricket has one central body, the M.C.C. Council. It comprises the National Cricket Association, the Test and County Cricket Board and M.C.C. who will have minority representation, but the structure will be such that no one body can outvote the other two. Let us examine these three bodies.
Some years ago, M.C.C. inaugurated the National Cricket Association with the idea of forming a channel of communication throughout the game. It consisted of representatives from club, schools, services cricket, umpires and the Women's Cricket Association. In future, the N.C.A. will represent all other grades and interests of cricket not covered by the Test and County Cricket Board.
Mr. S. C. Griffith, the secretary of M.C.C., has explained that a great deal of thought was given to the best method of representation to the Council of the N.C.A. and it was decided that it would best be done by the formation of County Cricket Associations in every county where these did not already exist. This would retain county loyalties and provide a broad structure to cover all interests. There was no question of existing bodies losing their autonomy or discontinuing the good work they were already doing.
Since its formation the National Cricket Association Council has been composed of representatives from the National Club Cricket Association, the English Schools Cricket Association, the Combined Services C.A., the Women's C.A., the British Universities Sports Federation, the Headmasters' Conference and the Association of Cricket Umpires with power to co-opt, if necessary, representatives from the National Playing Fields Association and, the Central Council of Physical Recreation. The work of the National Cricket Association, whose chairman is A. M. Crawley, will be carried out by the M.C.C. secretariat, with J. G. Dunbar in charge.
The Test and County Cricket Board has been formed by merging The Advisory County Cricket Committee and The Board of Control for Test Matches at Home. The former was set up in 1904 by M.C.C. to run the county championship and was composed of representatives of each of the first-class counties, three from the Minor Counties and at least one from M.C.C. The Board of Control was established in 1898 to organise and administer Test Matches in England and was composed of representatives from the first-class counties, two from the Minor Counties and three from the M.C.C. Committee. M.C.C. organised overseas tours, although any financial profits were distributed to the counties, universities and elsewhere.
Overseas tours will in future be the responsibility of the T.C.C.B., but will continue to be called "M.C.C. Tours." The new Board and its several standing sub-committees will have a measure of executive power. M.C.C. will continue to play an important part. The chairman of the Council is the M.C.C. President and the vice-chairman the M.C.C. Treasurer and many of the representatives on the other two bodies will be members of M.C.C. That the name of M.C.C. has been preserved in the title of the new governing body is a tribute to the past tradition of the Club as the controlling body of the game. Now its influence could be greater, for it should have no qualms about exercising any influence it considers necessary for the good of the game at all levels. This new arrangement must make for easier working; the bits and pieces of cricket organisation have been swept away.
Among the delegates who attended the International Cricket Conference at Lord's in July was Sir Denis Blundell, the new High Commissioner for New Zealand in London and Ambassador to the Government of Eire. His older friends remember him as E. D. Blundell, a splendid fast-medium bowler for Cambridge in the University matches of 1928 and 1929. The leader of the Light Blues attack, he took 49 wickets in his first year and 53 in his second. No fewer than five members of the 1929 Cambridge XI were left-handed batsmen--F. J. Seabrook, the captain, E. F. Longrigg, J. T. Morgan, N. G. Wykes and E. D. Blundell. Sir Denis, a third generation New Zealander, was born in Wellington in 1907 and educated at Waitaki Boys' High School, Oamaru, South Island and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Called to the Bar by Gray's Inn, he is a national figure in New Zealand where he has been President of the New Zealand Law Society and a leading cricket administrator. He is also the first New Zealand High Commissioner in London who has not had an active career in politics.
No doubt Sir Denis' biggest problem this summer will be to find time to watch the New Zealand cricketers when they come for the second part of the season. This will be New Zealand's sixth visit to England since they gained Test Match status forty odd years ago. The popular Tom Lowry brought the first team in 1931 and they put up such a fine show at Lord's in the only Test allotted them that they were given two more--at The Oval and Old Trafford when they should have been playing Surrey and Lancashire. So far England have won 17 of the 37 Tests, the other 20 being drawn. A year ago New Zealand gained their first victory over India. They possess a fine opening batsman in G. T. Dowling, and R. C. Motz and V. Pollard did well on the last tour here in 1965 as all-rounders, but the side does not appear to be sufficiently equipped with class players to extend the full might of England. One hopes that the sun shines on them and encourages them to rise to the occasion.
Harry Brind, the 39-years-old Essex chief groundsman, was awarded a minor prize of £25 as the best groundsman in 1968 on whose ground less than four county matches took place. The award was made on behalf of Messrs. Watney's, Ltd., by the Fixtures Sub-Committee of M.C.C. and must have been specially gratifying to Brind after a season in which so many complaints about pitches were made and that at Southend in the Essex v. Middlesex match was reported to M.C.C. by the umpires as being unfit for first-class cricket. Chelmsford, the County headquarters where Brind holds sway, was the venue for the games with Worcestershire and Somerset which yielded a higher aggregate of runs than any other Essex Week.
The trophy for the Groundsman of the Year was won jointly by F. Dalling (Nottinghamshire) and N. Hever (Northamptonshire) and each received a cash prize of £50. The county pitches table for 1968 was: 1, Nottinghamshire 2.45 average points; 2, Sussex 2.35; 3, Northamptonshire 2.31; 4, Gloucestershire 2.21; 5, Derbyshire 2.20; 6, Glamorgan 2.16; 7, Leicestershire 2.13; 8, Somerset 2.11; 9, Kent 2.08; 10, Surrey 2.07; 11, Yorkshire 2.05; 12, Lancashire 2.00; 13, Hampshire 1.98; 14, Warwickshire 1.97; 15, Worcestershire 1.94; 16, Essex 1.93; 17, Middlesex 1.83.