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FROM MOST POINTS OF VIEW the English season of 1972 was the best for some time. The presence of the Australians coupled with generous endowment from sponsorship brought beaming smiles from the county treasurers. In other words county cricket is back on its feet again financially, but many people consider that in its present varying forms of one-to three-day contests, jumbled together, standards are falling, especially where batting is concerned.
The early weeks of the season were spoiled by the weather. The rain was bad enough, but bitter winds made conditions most unpleasant, notably in the first Test Match at Old Trafford in the second week of June. The exciting struggle for The Ashes led again by the respective captains, Ray Illingworth and Ian Chappell, undoubtedly made the summer for cricket. With four of the five Tests reaching a definite conclusion, each country winning in turn, interest was sustained right to the end. The three one-day Tests were closely fought at the August holiday week-end and later Warwickshire were proclaimed County Champions; Lancashire carried off the Gillette Cup for the third successive time; Yorkshire lifted the Fenner Trophy which drew 34,000 enthusiasts in three days at Scarborough and, finally, Kent won the John Player Sunday Trophy before a full house at Canterbury. Earlier, Leicestershire won the new Benson and Hedges Trophy which meant that the main honours were shared by five different counties and this was most satisfactory from the angle of preserving interest up and down the country.
With sponsorship providing £230,000, T.V. and Radio roughly £100,000, five Test Matches an income of £261,283, three one-day Internationals £44,367 and the Benson and Hedges and the Gillette Cup Finals at Lord's£68,017, each of the seventeen counties received £25,000 as their share of the £600,000 kitty with something extra going to the six Test Match centres. So in this age of National and Social Security, cricket has found its own financial security, but it will be maintained only by raising the standard of cricket produced on the field by the counties.
Opinions differed as to the merits of the teams which represented England and Australia. They were certainly evenly balanced, but I thought of rather moderate quality. The Australians possessed one priceless virtue. They were a young set and they improved all the time, whereas England relied on the old brigade--dubbed Dad's Army in some quarters. For the first time in the history of five-day Tests against Australia, England had no century to their credit. Only four hundreds were hit against the Australians in all first-class engagements--by J. H. Edrich, G. A. Greenidge (a West Indian), D. R. Turner and C. P. Wilkins (a South African). England introduced only one new player, Barry Wood at the age of 30, and he did not get his chance until the fianl Test. Greig, who had already appeared for England against the Rest of the World in 1970 and had toured Australia with a World XI, established himself as a talented all-rounder.
After all the fine performances achieved by Boycott, Edrich and Luckhurst in Australia only eighteen months earlier, their meagre contributions provided unexpected problems for the selectors. Injury kept Boycott out of the last three Tests, but even in the first two he was extremely uncomfortable facing Lillee's short-pitched deliveries. One thought of how Hutton and Washbrook stood up to the fiery bowling of Lindwall and Miller in long partnerships. Luckhurst left his wicket wide open to Lillee and though Edrich battled bravely his best score in ten innings was only 49.
I sympathise with the selectors in their dilemma. Whereas the Australians went through their usual list of first-class matches, mostly uninterrupted by one-day skirmishes, the England players had no chance to settle down to a steady serious programme. Some effort must be made to sort out the week-end fixtures. Even the quest for bonus points in the County Championship has an adverse influence in the development of young batsmen. The limited-over games are a worse hindrance when playing down the line is frowned upon, and even for a seasoned campaigner the long wearisome Sunday journeys on our crowded motorways and side roads, are surely no help towards freshness and eagerness to continue a three-day Championship match on Monday morning. The John Player Sunday League matches should not entail tedious travel in the midst of other engagements.
One reason constantly put forward for our failure to produce talented young batsmen is the lack of hard and fast wickets. This is partially true, yet look at the success of the overseas men imported by the counties. Few of them fail on our slow wickets. Many are established Test players, but they do not have the anxiety of trying to get into the England team. They come and enjoy themselves. Despite the pruning of the County Championship from 24 to 20 matches, Majid Khan, for Cambridge University as captain, and for Glamorgan, scored 2,074 in 38 innings--the only player to complete 2,000--and he took part in one-day games for Cambridge and later in the Sunday League. Moreover, both his teams were usually struggling for runs. The crowds will flock to the grounds to see players like Majid Khan, Kanhai, Procter, Turner of New Zealand, Barry Richards and Kallicharran, but where are the personalities in the English-born contingent?
The batting failures in recent months in India must compel the selectors to seek new blood and in choosing future teams I hope we do not repeat the error of a year ago when no recognised slip fielders were picked for the first two Tests against Australia. We must hope for decent weather and a good firm pitch at Hove at the end of May when for the first time in many years we shall have a Test Trial Match. There should be scope then for the young men to prove their worth in all departments of the game.
The latest move by the Test and County Cricket Board against slow over-rates is to impose fines on those counties which fall below 18.5 overs an hour. Counties may face fines of £500 and looking at the figures for 1972 one finds that only Hampshire and Leicestershire would have escaped. Sides which better 19.5 overs an hour will share the kitty, but none qualified in 1972. I very much dislike the idea of imposing fines. To use cricket's own phrase "It isn't cricket," and I am afraid the authorities might be held to ridicule if a county wins the championship by exceedingly good cricket, but its over-rate does not fall into line and it is heavily fined. Moreover, is it fair on our own bowlers, when apparently nothing will be done to compel a touring team to attain the same high rate? The Australians, for instance, fell far below that 18.5 over-rate last season. While the new ball can be taken every 85 overs how can any improvement be expected? If only one ball was permitted each innings--this the counties frown upon--more use would be made of slow bowlers and we should get the spinners back into the game. A curb on the excessive long run-ups of some pace bowlers would also help. I reckoned Australia averaged 15.5 overs an hour in the Tests last summer.
Freak storms from the Continent swept up over the South Coast a week before the Headingley Test and one of these flooded the Headingley ground at the week-end prior to the match. Consequently, the pitch was a slow turner which angered the Australians. The Pitches Committee of the T.C.C.B. cleared George Cawthray, the groundsman, of any blame for the condition of the pitch. Fuserium disease which spread while the covers were on during the deluge killed much of the grass before Cawthray and his staff had an opportunity to treat it. It was established that mowing was in no way to blame.
Bill Bowes tells me that the Leeds club changed some of their late summer venues so that work on the affected part of the ground could begin before the end of August. The centre strip on the square, comprising three pitches to a width of 30 feet, was dug out to a depth of around 18 inches and filled with soil, etc., recommended by the Research Institute. This was seeded and in October, apart from the deeper fresh green, was difficult to tell from the rest of the square. It is not intended to use the new strip until 1974 when the soil will have completely bedded down and the grass firmly rooted. This does not mean that the 1973 tourists, New Zealand, need have any doubts about the pitch. The normal type of club pitch at Headingley is well suited to four-or five-day games and George Cawthray will be anxious to show what he can do given a fair crack of the whip by the weather.
There will be more than usual interest in the doings of Lancashire this summer. Now that Jack Bond has gone into retirement and David Lloyd has taken over will the Red Rose representatives retain their flair and power at one-day level? Many studious followers of the game believe it was the inspiring leadership of Bond that made Lancashire such a force in both the Gillette Cup and John Player League in recent seasons. Is that fair to either Bond or Lancashire?
The dynamic little cricketer from Bolton certainly proved himself the ideal leader of a side determined to enjoy and succeed in one-day cricket. From his own enthusiasm stemmed the great efforts his side produced in several memorable Cup and League battles, but Lancashire were never a one-man team. In Clive Lloyd they had the ideal one-day batsman and a fieldsman who set an example to be copied. The West Indies left-hander, now happily named as vice-captain under the other Lloyd, was regarded by many as the key-man and it was his tremendous skill that Bond harnessed so well for limited-over cricket.
In his five-year tenure of office, Bond made splendid use of his resources. He used the brilliance of Clive Lloyd and the showmanship of Farokh Engineer to spotlight the kind of cricket he considered necessary for success. More important, Bond never lost sight of the fact that he had youngsters keen enough, and good enough, to take their cue from two world-established stars. David Hughes did not become a superb fieldsman and tremendously big hitter by accident. He always had Bond behind him, citing and stressing the advantages to be gained from copying Clive Lloyd. He used the same kind of coaxing to get the best out of Jack Simmons. Many regarded Simmons as merely a useful cricketer. Bond knew better. He realised Simmons would respond to prompting and encouragement. It was the same with Barry Wood and with David Lloyd. Frank Hayes and John Sullivan were also told to watch Clive Lloyd in action and encouraged to copy his spirited approach. For sheer professionalism Bond turned to Harry Pilling and Peter Lever and when the occasion arose for the skipper himself to play his part he usually succeeded. For five years Bond managed rather than led Lancashire from the depths of despair to the heights of success in one-day cricket.
From the county championship point of view, twice in third place in successive years was no mean achievement by Lancashire and their ever-demanding captain. On bad days and good days Bond never read the riot act. He was shrewd enough to know that no cricketer fails on purpose. There were times when plain speaking was necessary, and Bond seldom failed to make his point. He dreaded cricket on a Monday morning, often before rows and rows of empty seats, after a Sunday match in front of a big crowd tense with atmosphere. It was this aptitude for understanding men and the way they reacted that made Bond such a remarkable leader. He shrugged off praise heaped upon him with the suggestion that he had a grand bunch of fellows alongside him. Yet it was he who created team spirit and guarded it jealously. If things went wrong he took the blame and always defended his men. Often he rated an innings of 20 or so more vital than a century or half-century, and would say so. Any bowler who broke a vital partnership or accepted an important catch was sure of recognition.
Now that Bond has gone and David Lloyd has taken over there will be something missing from Lancashire cricket, but wisely the committee have elected their successor from the ranks and chosen one of Bond's most ardent disciples. What is more important they have given their old skipper a key position on the coaching staff. Bond is on hand to help and advise at all times. He will not seek to interfere, but there is not one man at Old Trafford, player, official or spectator, who does not appreciate that Bond's influence will remain the main characteristic of the team that David Lloyd now takes over.
The Post Office are issuing on May 16 three postage stamps to mark 100 years of English County Cricket. The Test and County Cricket Board--representing the 17 first-class counties--together with the M.C.C. are making arrangements for various souvenirs and the whole set will cost £12.50. The year 1873 has special significance because before that time a few leading cricketers played for more than one county in the same year. It was not until June 9, 1873--the middle of the season--that the new rules were finally resolved at The Oval. These were:
1.That no cricketer, whether amateur or professional, shall play for more than one county during the season.
2.Every cricketer born in one county and residing in another shall be free to choose at the commencement of each season for which of those counties he will play, and shall, during that season, play for that county only.
3.A cricketer shall be qualified to play for any county in which he is residing and has resided for the previous two years, or a cricketer may elect to play for the county in which his family home is, so long as it remains open to him as a place of residence.
4.That should any question arise as to the residential question, the same should be left to the discretion of the Marylebone Club.
5.That a copy of these rules be sent to the Marylebone Club, with a request that they be adopted by the club.
In the same year the M.C.C. offered a silver cup to be called The County Challenge Cup for a knock-out tournament to be played at Lord's, but only one match took place, between Kent and Sussex. Several other counties changed their minds and withdrew their support. Kent won by 52 runs before 2 o'clock on the second day.
Cricket matches betweeen counties go back much further than one hundred years. The first county match is recorded as in 1709 between Kent and London. The subject of the County Championship was fully dealt with by Rowland Bowen in Wisden for 1959, 1960 and 1964. In these days Wisden lists the Champion County from 1864, the year overhand bowling was legalised and the modern concept of the game came into being under the aegis of W. G. Grace, who in that year made his first appearance, two days before his sixteenth birthday and scored 170 and 56 not out for South Wales Club v. Gentlemen of Sussex at Brighton.
Just as county cricket developed in a small way the same can be said of Test cricket. Three teams of English Twelves blazed the trail in Australia: H. H. Stephenson's in 1861-62; George Parr's in 1863-64 and W. G. Grace's in 1873-74 before James Lillywhite's men in 1876-77 played the first representative game and this was staged as James Lillywhite's Team v. New South Wales and Victoria and the Combined XI won by 45 runs. It was begun on March 15, 1877, at Melbourne, where the second match also started, on March 31 and this time the All-England XI won by four wickets. When the Australians came to England the following year they played 40 matches between May 20 and September 17, but they never faced an England side and when they came a second time in 1880 only one Test Match was played and was properly entitled England v. Australia. That was the first official Test, but those two of 1877 and one in 1879 have always been included in the list, as have other unofficial Tests down the years. And there they must stay as part of the record.
After an interval of four years, New Zealand and West Indies return to England this summer. Twelve months ago New Zealand surprised Gary Sobers' men in the Caribbean by holding them to a draw in all five Tests and all the other first-class matches produced similar unsatisfactory results. The full story of the tour is told towards the end of the Almanack by Henry Blofeld, and no doubt many of the personalities who distinguished themselves for both countries will be seen here. One hopes that Sobers, for 20 years such a great all-rounder, will thrill us again although he is said to be a doubtful starter because of his knee trouble. Sobers relinquished the West Indies captaincy before the recent visit of Australia. He had led his team in 39 consecutive Test Matches--a record for any player of any country.
In recent years some of the most irritating hold-ups have resulted from complaints that the ball has lost its shape. Now this is something very much connected with Wisden, which was first produced in 1864 to advertise the goods for sale by John Wisden, and among those commodities down the years have been the best quality cricket balls. Wisden and Dukes are now in business together, manufacturing cricket balls at Penshurst. They say that there are no reliable records of years past, but judging by the complaints received the number of balls which develop faults is very small. The laws of cricket have long provided for a ball proving unfit for play. After the war a new ball could be taken at 200 runs, or after 65 overs. This was extended to 75 overs, and since 1961, 85 overs has been the custom. These changes are difficult to reconcile with the charge that balls are now inferior.
To the majority, a cricket ball is red, round and hard but in fact there are considerable differences in hardness. The essential properties in a cricket ball are that it should be hard enough to retain shape and please the bowler, yet at the same time as soft as possible so as to cause the minimum of danger to bats and the fielders' hands. The English best quality ball is the only serious attempt to meet this compromise; this ball involves the separate skills of at least ten different craftsmen. The materials, cork, worsted and leather, being natural substances, are variable, and this can affect the fianl product. Unfortunately, this variation becomes apparent only in play.
Methods and materials have changed little in the last hundred years. Only the best is good enough, but, for example, who can say what effect modern breeding and feeding may have had on the leather? With so much to contend with it is not surprising, say the manufacturers, that there are failures, but that they are so few. Other factors which should be borne in mind are concrete buildings and surrounds, gamesmanship and exaggeration of the blemishes from various quarters.
Finally, the manufacturers point out that despite all the urging from Lord's on the counties and other bodies to return these balls for examination the complaints which are due to manufacturing faults are so few that they are unable to deal with this as a problem. At present they contend that they are being charged, judged and condemned without the evidence being presented.
Conduct on the field is something everyone connected with the game can control. A year ago the Cricket Council, while not mentioning names, made an official condemnation in regard to incidents during the M.C.C. tour of Australia in 1970/71. Since then have come reports from Australia that umpires have complained to the Australian Board of Control about the behaviour of players in a Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Western Australia at Sydney. The report was said to have complained of bad language on the field and bowlers badgering the batsmen; the local Umpires Association secretary said: "It has been a growing trend in the last six or eight years and young players are apeing better known players." Another form of gamesmanship evident here last summer was the increase in frivolous appeals. It seemed the object was to disturb the concentration of the batsman. I can remember when appeals for lbw were left solely to the bowler or the wicket-keeper or both. Now-a-days, sometimes the whole eleven in the field leap in the air. This is unfair to the umpires who have to put up with such antics for six hours of each of five or six days of a tense Test Match. Unless common sense prevails, silence may have to be enforced and the whole matter left solely to the umpires, without appeal by the contestants.