While cricket flourished financially in England last summer thanks to sponsorship, fees from T.V. and Radio, and immense public support for the big events, bringing another surplus of £600,000, one could not be enthusiastic over the performances of the England team. After wriggling clear of awkward situations in two Tests against New Zealand, England were overwhelmed by the West Indies at the Oval and Lord's. Apart from the early days in May, we enjoyed a wonderful summer of sunshine, but the serious decline in batsmanship in recent years at Test level was not halted. I write just as our men under the new captain, Mike Denness, are beginning their tour of West Indies and maybe the awaited upward trend will have already taken place before we receive India and Pakistan this summer.
For years over-emphasis on defence has been a characteristic of England Test and County cricket. Hence the decline of interest in the Championship. This necessitated the introduction of one-day matches which have revitalised the game and encouraged some batsmen to reveal their natural stroke play. Considering the rather mediocre talent Ray Illingworth had at his command he served England creditably during his four years as captain, but at the age of 41, having led the side in 36 Tests, his reign ended with England's crushing defeat at Lord's. Both Leicestershire, his adopted county, and England turned to Illingworth at the time of a dearth in natural leaders and he responded in full with his sound knowledge of the game, his tactical skill and his own ability as a player when crises occurred. Under Illingworth, England recovered the Ashes in Australia in 1970-71 and retained them against Ian Chappell's men in England in 1972. But in 1972 Dennis Lillee shook England's batting to its foundations with shock speed and bounce and twelve months later Keith Boyce and Vanburn Holder proved just as devastating.
In looking for a successor to Illingworth, the selectors were wise to appoint a successful county captain. Whereas Yorkshire have been down in the doldrums under Geoff Boycott, Kent have thrived since Denness took over from Colin Cowdrey. Denness had also shown his capacity for leadership as vice-captain of the M.C.C. team the previous winter in India and Pakistan when Tony Lewis was in full command. It was in some ways a pity that unfitness caused Denness to withdraw from the Test Trial at Hove in May for he did not appear subsequently in any of the six Tests, but on the other hand he has taken charge without prejudice, not being previously a regular member of the England team.
While on the subject of captaincy, it was regrettable that Kanhai showed such open dissent on the field of Edgbaston when umpire Fagg turned down an appeal against Boycott for a catch at the wicket. Fagg threatened to quit the match, and indeed it took a lot of persuasion behind the scenes before he agreed to resume next morning after missing the first over. The reaction of Fagg while at boiling point met with much criticism, and it would certainly have been better had he grappled with the situation through the Test and County Cricket Board representative who was on hand for just such an occurrence rather than in the Press, but at least it brought the matter to a head. For too long, and not only in this country, players from junior to senior standing have been reflecting their dislike at umpire's decisions almost with disdain. Now the T.C.C.B. have taken a firm stand by declaring at their December meeting that umpires will receive full support in reporting, as is their duty, any pressurising on the field. I am afraid Kanhai lost his way, of all places, on the ground where for years he has proved such a popular figure. Maybe he did so in his anxiety not to let slip any chance of capitalising on his team's victory in the first of the three Tests, but that cannot excuse his behaviour. Captains more than anyone hold the key to clearing up a bad habit which has no place in the game of cricket.
This summer we welcome the return of India and Pakistan after an interval of only three years and again they share a dual tour. I wonder whether the England batsmen will still be mesmerised by the Indian spinners, B. S. Chandrasekhar, B. S. Bedi and S. Venkataraghavan. The last two now play for English counties, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire, and our batsmen should be better acquainted with them, but the fact remains that India come with the knowledge that they have beaten the West Indies in the Caribbean, won the rubber at The Oval in 1971 and only two winters ago overcame Tony Lewis's M.C.C. team in a five-match rubber by two victories to one.
Twenty years have passed since Pakistan won for the first and only time in England and that victory was also at The Oval just before Len Hutton set forth on his triumphant tour of Australia and New Zealand. England cannot treat Pakistan lightly. Only rain prevented a decisive win for Pakistan in the first Test at Edgbaston on their last visit when Zaheer Abbas played that amazing innings of 274. Pakistan will certainly know all about the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents for most wisely they have named Intikhab Alam, the Surrey all-rounder, to be captain. He led them shrewdly enough in 1971, but when they were playing a Test Match in New Zealand it was announced that Majid Khan would be captain in the home series that followed against England. Again England will be severely tested by three spinners, the leg and googly pair, Intikhab and Mushtaq Mohammad, and the slow left-hander, Pervez Sajjad. But it seems that India and Pakistan can offer little in the way of hostile speed unless there have been some recent discoveries.
On the form the M.C.C. cricketers displayed in the West Indies under Mike Denness and in the home Tests this summer will depend the party which the selectors will pick to go to Australia in the coming winter. Even the present captain has to prove himself. England may be lacking in class batsmen and bereft of leg-spin bowlers, but there are plenty of good fast bowlers in Bob Willis, Geoff Arnold, Chris Old and Mike Hendrick, besides John Snow who could find himself back in the side if he has the enthusiasm for another tilt at the Australians. There is also a wealth of wicket-keepers starting with Alan Knott and Bob Taylor, the current favourites, with David Bairstow and Roger Tolchard among others knocking at the door. Perhaps some talented all-rounders will come to the fore in the summer to challenge Tony Greig or even keep him company.
There is a strong body of opinion that the serious decline in the number of high-class batsmen and almost the total absence of quality spin bowlers among home-bred county players is due to the way the County Championship is conducted, yet the imported players from overseas flourish in this environment. While I feel some promising young talent may be lost by the mass coaching system which can stifle natural genius, the quest for first innings bonus points has not proved of much benefit either to young county batsmen or spin bowlers.
During my twenty-odd years of editing Wisden, I have seen the decline in English cricketing standards. In my opinion the main cause of the trouble has been the approach of the professional, and until we get the captains and the players performing in the way we enjoyed when cricketers like Beverley Lyon, Walter Robins, Brian Sellers and Stuart Surridge were leading their men I wonder when the down-hill slide will be arrested. Certainly, frequent alteration of playing conditions has not helped and I hope that the latest effort to balance the three-day game better and still encourage enterprising cricket will be successful. The new Championship regulations, given fully under Meetings at the end of the Almanack, limit the two first innings to a total of 200 overs and, I am most pleased to see, make a new ball available after 100 overs instead of 85. How different from the 55 overs which obtained immediately after World War II. That began the ostracising of the spinner, and the 75-yard boundary completed it.
Another variation in the County Championship is a new method for gaining bonus points which permits a maximum of four points each for batting and bowling and so equals the reward available in the two facets of the game. The 1973 batting system, allowing one point for 75 runs within 25 overs; 150 runs within 50 overs; and one point for each 25 runs above 150 in the first 85 overs, enabled Warwickshire to set up a record 25 points in winning against Worcestershire at Worcester in June which Worcestershire equalled on the same ground against Nottinghamshire in their last match of the season. Hampshire, too, gained 15 bonus points against Kent in their final match that was drawn.
Behind these reforms lies the determination of the Test and County Cricket Board under their chairman D. J. Insole to give the maximum incentive to the fielding side to get the other team out. Not only has half an hour been added to each of the first two days of a county match, but if one side can dismiss their opponents for fewer than 100 overs in the first innings then the balance can be added to their own innings. It means that if Yorkshire can put out Lancashire in 75 overs then the Yorkshire innings can extend to 125 overs instead of 100. The practice of contrived finishes on the third day has led to the Championship becoming a two-part affair with the last day resembling the one-day thrash for runs against a containing field bent on saving runs with wicket-taking a secondary consideration. And that certainly is not the way to develop young Test players.
In order to equalise as far as possible the three sessions in County Championship matches, play on the first two days will be divided as follows:
With the march of time changes inevitably occur in high places and so there will not only be a new face or two at Lord's but important changes in the general administration at headquarters. Whereas Mr. S. C. Griffith is only tenth in the distinguished line of secretaries since the club was founded in 1787, the President of M.C.C. is named annually by his predecessor. For this year, Aidan Crawley (Harrow) chose an old friend and opponent in H. A. Caccia (Eton) of the 1924 match, whom I remember as a dashing centre-threequarter for Oxford. In 1929 Lord Caccia (as he has since become) joined the Foreign Office and in due course was British Ambassador in Washington for five years and head of the Diplomatic Service. His reign at Lord's comes at a vital time.
At the beginning of October last when Lord Caccia became President, two M.C.C. assistant secretaries, D. B. Carr and J. A. Bailey, became wholly engaged as secretary and assistant secretary to the Test and County Cricket Board. Until then S. C. Griffith had held four positions, being Secretary of The Cricket Council, T.C.C.B., M.C.C., and the International Cricket Conference. As Mr. Griffith is due to retire on June 16 this year when he will be 60, much time and thought has been given during the winter not only to finding a successor, but deciding how cricket and its complicated business side shall be administered in future at Lord's.
Until this January when he officially retired from M.C.C., another assistant secretary, J. G. Dunbar, was wholly occupied as secretary of the National Cricket Association, a post he is continuing to hold. M.C.C. required someone between 40 and 50 with first-class or otherwise notable cricket experience and associations, together with administrative experience in business management, including property. Two expensive property developments being conceived at Lord's are a sports complex on the practice ground and a residential project on club-owned land in St. John's Wood.
Another retirement at Lord's was that of R. T. (Dick) Gaby, the Club Superintendent after serving M.C.C. for 44 years. The family association began in 1873 and will not yet be broken as his brother Joe who has been at Lord's 51 years, continues. Their father, also Dick, was lawn tennis professional there and later chief dressing room attendant before he finally took charge of one of the scoreboards. He retired in 1936 after 66 years with M.C.C. Also on the ground staff were two other brothers, Charles and George, but both were killed while on active service in World War I. M.C.C. commemorated the Gaby's century with a reception at which Mr. Aidan Crawley, President, presented a silver salver to each of the Gaby brothers bearing the M.C.C. monogram and inscribed: In appreciation of the Gaby family--1873-1973.
Cricket owes much to the Wrigley Cricket Foundation, which was formed in June 1969 for an initial period of five years to support the National Cricket Association in developing and fostering the game at its grass roots level. For this purpose the Wrigley Company made available £10,000 each year and now they have agreed to extend the period for a further three years. The aim of the Foundation is primarily to stimulate and encourage an interest in the playing of cricket by the young. It is achieved by providing grant-aids towards the coaching courses for boys and girls and for the training of coaches under the N.C.A. Award scheme. Over £16,000 has been spent on visual aids, including instruction films, which I consider every budding young cricketer ought to see: The Basic Bowling Action with Graham McKenzie; The Off Spin with Pat Pocock and The Leg Spin with Intikhab Alam. There is also a film, First Things First, in the N.C.A. Film Library operated by Warwickshire C.C.C. at Edgbaston.
Aidan Crawley, M.C.C. President in 1972-73, and chairman of the Foundation, tells me it has also supported research into non-turf all-weather pitches, a Proficiency Award scheme and representative youth and schoolboy tours at home and abroad. Tests for youngsters in basic skills were introduced in 1973 and the finals at Lord's illustrated the good work achieved by the coaches and the enjoyment these youngsters gained in participation.
As far as England and Australia are concerned the Test Match calendar remains incomplete while one of their oldest rivals, South Africa, remains in the cold through apartheid. The break came in cricket over the refusal in 1968 by the South African Prime Minister, Mr. John Vorster, to accept Basil d'Oliveira, a Cape Coloured, as a member of the M.C.C. team. Strides in a sensible direction towards solving these difficulties seem to have been made during the tour of South Africa by Derrick Robins' team just before Christmas. This was the second successive winter tour there by Mr. Robins and an account with scores of the first will be found further on in the Almanack. The second finished too late for inclusion in this edition.
For this second venture a party of nineteen included Younis Ahmed (Pakistan) and John Shepherd (West Indies) and two Australians, John Gleeson and Bruce Francis, together with Leslie Ames, the Kent manager and a member of the Cricket Council. They met no difficulty from one end of South Africa to the other. Invitations to functions were always collectively to the team who stayed together in the best hotels. They went to parties and barbecues, and were entertained by the Mayor and Corporation of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth and there was never the slightest embarrassment.
Shepherd and Younis were two of the big successes of the tour and the team returned home under the impression that there is a big change of heart taking place in South Africa towards all cricket players irrespective of race, colour or creed. This tour certainly demonstrated that the Government policy requires to be changed and there seems little doubt, now, that it will be changed. Another hopeful sign is the formation of a joint cricket council by the Bantu South African Cricket Board and the White South African Cricket Association and one waits to see more progress towards multi-racial cricket which would then lead to the coloured Board of Control also joining the Council and opening the way for South Africa coming back into world cricket.
The season in New Zealand ( 1972-73) provided two exceptional bowling feats concerning pairs of brothers. At Lancaster Park, Christchurch, during the Christmas period, the Hadlee brothers, Dayle and Richard, playing for Canterbury, took nine Otago second innings wickets. Then at the New Year at Eden Park, Auckland, the Howarth brothers, Hedley and Geoff of Auckland, took eight Otago first innings wickets.
One recalls two notable feats by the Bedser twins. Playing for Surrey against Yorkshire at Bradford in 1947, they shared fifteen wickets in the match, Alec taking four for 18 and three for 59; Eric four for 15 and four for 47. Two years later against Middlesex at Lord's they again shared fifteen wickets, but on a different basis. Eric took seven for 99 in the Middlesex first innings but he did not bowl in the second when Alec, nought for 55 in the first innings, came up with eight for 42.