GIVEN THE RIGHT DIRECTION cricket will prosper at all levels. That is the way I feel while looking back on 1971 and into the future. How long five-day Test Matches and three-day County Championship Matches remain viable is in the hands of the players; too many of them still do not appreciate that no longer will county members or those who pay at the turnstiles tolerate unimaginative performances. The one-day Gillette Cup ties and John Player Sunday League matches, for all their imperfections, have proved to the public that top-class cricketers can provide exciting entertainment. This summer we welcome again the Australians and, granted a fair amount of sunshine and, if possible, some fast pitches, let us hope that both England and Australia will rise to the occasion and that a Test series will ensue free of the unsavoury incidents which marked the most recent struggle for the Ashes.
There must not be arguments on the field against umpires' decisions, as occurred in Australia. The Cricket Council have stated that such conduct will not be tolerated; it is contrary to the spirit and tradition of the game and brings it into disrepute. Such incidents are rare, but when they occur in Test Matches under the range of the T.V. cameras and are broadcast to all parts of the world where cricket is played, the incidents are over emphasised to the detriment of the game. Moreover, a very bad example is set to the young players, particularly schoolboys who like to imitate their heroes.
The majority of the millions of people in Britain who followed the six Test Matches played by Ray Illingworth's team in Australia admired the brave struggle put up by the England players. From the very start there was trouble at Adelaide through the interpretation of the front foot no-ball experimental law and it appeared that the Australian newspapers on the whole were hostile to Illingworth, whom they regarded as a negative captain, forgetting that he differed in no way from their own Bill Lawry. In fact, Lawry was previously heavily criticised in India and South Africa.
It was the first time since 1888 that Australia had failed to win a single Test in a series. The tour is reported elsewhere by E. M. Wellings, but I would personally like to congratulate Illingworth and his men for the good cricket they played despite all the criticism, their poor start on the field and crippling injuries that laid low key men like Luckhurst, Snow and Boycott. Illingworth emerged not only triumphant, but with his reputation as a batsman, bowler and tactician greatly enhanced. On the other hand, his finger-wagging incident to the umpire following the warning of Snow for intimidation led to much controversy as did his decision to lead his men off the field during the Saturday of the final Test at Sydney, following a storm of booing and the throwing of beer cans by a small section of the crowd.
The umpires, whom Illingworth did not inform of his intention to leave the field, ordered the England captain to return or concede the match. What a different state of affairs from Trent Bridge, 1938. When Australia followed on 247 behind Brown and Fingleton adopted stone-walling tactics which called forth mild barracking from some of the spectators. Fingleton stepped away from his wicket, took off his gloves and laid down his bat until all was quiet again. I do not know whether the umpires, Chester and Robinson, told him to get on with it or concede or if they said anything later when Bradman, who batted six hours and hit only five fours in his not-out 144, stepped clear of his wicket in showing disapproval at some ironical cheering at the wearisome cricket after tea when Australia had saved the game.
For something like sixty-five years M.C.C. were responsible for organising and sending official Test teams from this country to play overseas. Now we have the Cricket Council. Curiously England in name has never been a member of the International Cricket Conference. It has always been M.C.C. since the I.C.C. was constituted in 1909. M.C.C. has little say these days, but gets all the brickbats. M.C.C. had no hand in choosing the players who went to Australia. The Test and County Cricket Board selectors, namely A. V. Bedser, D. Kenyon, A. C. Smith and C. Washbrook, were responsible for appointing the captain--the manager having already been named by M.C.C. Surely it would be preferable for the side to be called England in the Tests and England XI in other engagements. Otherwise if M.C.C. are retained in name they should be responsible for the whole operation from first to last.
After India's conquests in West India and England, one might ask who are the current World Cricket Champions? True, England regained the Ashes, but India well deserved their success in gaining their first victory either at home or abroad over West Indies, which they followed at The Oval with their first Test victory in England. Small wonder that the flight plans of Ajit Wadekar and his men for the return journey to India were altered at the last minute to take them first to New Delhi, for the Prime Minister expressed the wish to meet the players and congratulate them personally. When they arrived in Bombay they were taken from the airport to the city in a motorcade, with thousands lining the seventeen-mile route to cheer the heroes. A leading newspaper raised a fund for the captain and his team. Handsome gifts in cash and kind reached them from people both known and unknown. Following so quickly on success in the West Indies, the public felt that their immense enthusiasm and support for cricket had at last been rewarded with the ultimate prize--a win over England in England. The scene at The Oval was memorable indeed as the cricketers filed in front of the pavilion in a sea of turbans. After thirty-nine years of splendid endeavour India had at last gained their first victory on English soil.
While praising India one must not overlook how near a few weeks earlier Pakistan came to lowering England's colours. The innings of the summer was played by Zaheer Abbas, when he hit his brilliant 274 at Edgbaston in the first Test and Intikhab Alam declared at 608 for seven. England were struggling to avoid defeat when rain saved them on the last day. The weather ruined the Lord's Test in every sense, including a financial loss of £25,000, and so to a hard struggle at Headingley where England won by 25 runs, thanks chiefly to Illingworth's skilful leadership in the hour of crisis. Pakistan proved a well-balanced side with plenty of natural cricketers. Then a few months later the two visiting countries who had afforded so much pleasure in their cricket were at war. Possibly cricket will be the means of bringing the two countries together again in peaceful pursuits.
Now it is appropriate to examine England's prospects of retaining the Ashes this summer. The problem is two-fold--pitches and players. Ken Barrington has written that for ten years he has said sections of The Oval pitch ought to be dug up and relaid. Only by that drastic measure can Surrey hope to produce faster wickets, which means better cricket. The same remarks could apply to many other grounds and particularly Headingley. Illingworth said, "These pitches are too slow. We might as well be playing in Pakistan or India. We are throwing away the advantage of playing at home. They are doing us no good."
At Lord's, M.C.C. have decided that the time has come for the square to be relaid for the first time since cricket was played there in 1813. The work will be done in quarters, beginning at the end of the 1972 season over the space of four years which means that during that period only threequarters of the surface will be usable for pitches. Some fixtures will have to be pruned at least temporarily and first on the list are the schools and Service matches. Down the years the Lord's pitches have varied considerably in quality. Did not our own John Wisden establish a personal record there in 1850 when for the North he took all ten South wickets clean bowled, a feat unparalleled in the history of cricket? There was a long period when batsmen reigned supreme but in 1935 a plague of leatherjackets caused much concern and Bosser Martin was called from The Oval to solve the problem; eventually his son, Austin Martin was appointed head-groundsman. In the quest to produce fast pitches, these became fiery and a peril to batsmen and one remembers the "ridge" controversy during the Australian Test Match of 1961.
I presume England will keep Illingworth as captain. There are two Illingworth camps, either for him or against him. He will not have the same stresses and tensions as in Australia, but he is getting no younger. He will be forty on June 8, the opening day of the first Test at Old Trafford. Much will depend on his form in May and the form of younger contenders for the leadership like J. M. Brearley, who revitalized Middlesex last season, A. R. Lewis (Glamorgan), R. M. C. Gilliat (Hampshire), or one of the established players, J. H. Edrich (Surrey) or G. Boycott (Yorkshire). Apart from J. A. Jameson (Warwickshire), the selectors did not strengthen the batting in the Tests with Pakistan and India. They were disappointed by D. L. Amiss and K. W. R. Fletcher, who left gaps in the middle order.
In the past when these difficulties arose, the lower places were filled by reliable county opening batsmen. I recall the valuable displays by W. W. Whysall (Nottinghamshire) at number six or seven for A. E. R. Gilligan's team in Australia in 1924-25 and only recently John Edrich has either opened or gone in first wicket down. In this light the prospects of R. T. Virgin (Somerset), M. J. Harris (Nottinghamshire) and M. H. Denness (Kent) appear favourable, while among the younger men of promise are G. R. J. Roope (Surrey) and D. R. Turner (Hampshire). Some people favour giving P. H. Parfitt (Middlesex) another chance. Always ready to come to the rescue is England's great wicket-keeper, Alan Knott, and if Basil d'Oliveira's star is in the decline at the age of forty we have two proved all-rounders in R. A. Hutton (Yorkshire) and A. W. Greig (Sussex), both of whom have been in Australia during the winter.
Turning to the bowlers we find a host of new ball men. But how many of them will find the pitches to suit them in their county engagements to get into top form? The ace is John Snow who struck terror into the opposition in Australia. He has had his troubles with Sussex for "not trying" and with England when he charged down Sunil Gavaskar at Lord's. After a temporary suspension all was forgiven, since when he too has been back in Australia and J. H. Fingleton, who condemned his bouncers so severely a year ago now writes: "One word on John Snow. He has succeeded here in all ways--on the field, in the Press Box and on television. His praises are constantly being sung. He has so aided young Rowen, a fast left-hander from his own club here (Carlton, Melbourne), that I feel he is a good long shot for the tour." Besides Snow, the selectors will be noting the Lancashire pair, P. Lever and K. Shuttleworth, R. G. D. Willis, John Price, who came back at thirty-four last summer and can be deadly at Lord's even if the pitch is not so lively there as a few years ago, G. G. Arnold, A. Ward, C. M. Old and D. J. Brown. So much depends on physical fitness. The pacemen do not stand up to hard work as in the olden days. Alec Bedser blames the motorcar--not enough walking to and from school, he comments.
Derek Underwood and Norman Gifford will surely be the main hopes among the slow bowlers. Whereas Gifford has been toiling in Australia with the Rest of the World XI, Underwood has enjoyed a winter's rest which he so badly needed. Still young at 26--like Illingworth, his birthday falls on the first day of the Old Trafford Test--the Kent left-armer has a wealth of experience behind him and could be better than ever. Illingworth and Titmus have lost none of their cunning down the years and waiting for another chance is P. I. Pocock, who contributed so much with Arnold towards Surrey carrying off the County Championship.
Most appropriately in the year of an Australian visit, M.C.C. have as President a former Test captain of repute in F. R. Brown, which means that he will chair the Cricket Council and the International Cricket Conference. Freddy Brown has spent a lifetime in cricket in all its phases. Born in Lima, Peru he learnt to bowl leg-breaks and googlies, and hit the ball, from the noted Aubrey Faulkner who was his Prep master at St. Pirans, Maidenhead. Then at Leys School, where he had a fine record as cricketer, he received guidance in batting from the coach, Albert Iremonger, and N. J. Holloway, the old Cambridge fast bowler. So he stayed at Cambridge and at the age of twenty he was a Test and Surrey player. He hit with tremendous power and as a fielder he had one of the best returns of anyone of that time. He was picked to go to Australia and D. R. Jardine's team in 1932-33, but his art was not required and he did not appear in any of the Tests. In fact before the war Brown figured in only six Tests. Yet, despite being taken prisoner at Tobruk and losing four and a half stone, he duly returned to big cricket and played in 16 more Tests. His revival came when he was appointed captain of Northamptonshire in 1949 and he won fame for his captaincy of M.C.C. in Australia in 1950-51. A cheerful character, Freddy Brown breathes the spirit of cricket and so one expects 1972 to be a notable year in the game's history.
The new President will bring rich experience into his office. Besides his background as a player, he has been chairman of the County Pitches Committee, President of the English Schools Cricket Association for six years, chairman of the M.C.C. Youth Cricket Association for five years and since 1969 he has been on the Junior and Youth Standing Committee of the National Cricket Association. Now his authority may be severely tested by the new structure for big cricket in England in 1972. There is the new Saturday League Cup backed by Benson and Hedges for £160,000 over the next two years. Each county will receive £3,000 before a ball is bowled and £15,000 is earmarked for prize money--full details can be found among the Meetings and Fixtures section near the end of the Almanack. These one-day matches will be restricted to 55 overs for each innings. Between April 29 and June 3 there will be 40 preliminary matches played in four regional zones: North--Derbyshire, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Minor Counties XI; Midlands-- Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Cambridge University; South--Essex, Kent, Middlesex, Surrey, Sussex; West--Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Minor Counties XI. The Minor Counties will be drawn from their areas and Oxford will replace Cambridge in 1973.
Consequently, the County Championship has been further pruned from 24 matches to 20 for each team. I suppose this was inevitable looking at the financial success of one-day cricket which, with its sponsorship and large crowds is subsidising the first-class game, but there is a lot of good cricket played in the three-day county matches, especially when we have two enterprising captains. Some counties would like a clear-cut Championship confined to 16 matches each, which would mean that the 17 contestants would play their home matches alternate years, possibly of four days' duration. The great danger is that the public may tire of instant cricket if it is overdone--to the detriment of proper cricket. Those who follow the first-class game appreciate its finer points.
The International Cricket Conference again tampered with the Laws of Cricket when they met in July. I had hoped they would give the experimental lbw law a reasonable period to see how it worked, but after only two years we are back to the 1937-69 version whereby the off-side ball can get an lbw decision. This has been done to satisfy Australia and West Indies where conditions are different. Anyhow the intent clause has been added if the umpire considers the batsman padded up and made no genuine attempt to play the ball.
Dragging by bowlers has caused a lot of disagreement as well as unpleasantness through various interpretations of the no-ball law in connection with the position of the front foot. Now it will not matter whether that foot is grounded or raised so long as part of it is behind the popping crease. No sooner had this been placed in the Law Book than the Australian Board of Control instructed all States to judge no-balls by the back foot placement. Umpires were ordered to use a marker behind the return crease to adjust a bowler's take-off to prevent him landing beyond the popping crease. So, in a sense, Australia have gone back to the old law and at the same time have adopted the practice years ago of Frank Chester and other English umpires. Unfortunately some touring teams to this country disliked English umpires compelling their bowlers to keep back and so we have the front foot method, which is so unsatisfactory. We are also going back to the old way of judging boundary catches which again will be legitimate if the fielder holds the ball while he has both feet inside the boundary edge, but goes over the line afterwards. This is a sensible decision.
The flow of Overseas cricketers has done much to improve the standard of county cricket, but when the presence of so many stifles the opportunities of home-bred talent it is imperative to take action and I am pleased that the Test and County Cricket Board have changed the registration rules. In future each county will be limited to two classified overseas players and, instead of five, it will take ten years for a cricketer from another country to be regarded in the same category as one born in England.