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The English season of 1959 will be remembered by all lovers of cricket as one that brought a renascence to the game, especially in county circles. It was a wonderful summer with days on end of glorious sunshine and one in deep contrast to the miserable wet days of several preceding years. Just as the weather behaved so benignly, so did our cricketers respond. From the very beginning of the season there was a different attitude by all concerned. The captains adopted a positive approach and sought definite results. True, there were many declarations, and on occasion the side which had established a definite superiority suffered defeat; but in the final summing-up the better sides had little to complain about in the matter of their positions in the Championship table.
One could not have wished for a closer struggle at the top. The issue remained in doubt until the first day of September when Yorkshire, by daring batsmanship of the highest order, beat the clock at Hove and terminated Surrey's seven-year reign as title-holders. Praise must be given to J. R. Burnet, the Yorkshire captain, on his success in reviving Yorkshire so thoroughly in only his second year in charge of the team. A moderate cricketer, he placed himself among the great by his personality and high quality of leadership. Burnet has now retired, but he may well have begun another era of prosperity for Yorkshire, as they were a young side who could do even better.
Gloucestershire and Warwickshire were two counties in particular who enjoyed a change of fortune through pursuing enterprising cricket. Both were near the bottom of the table in 1958, yet twelve months later they were among Surrey's keenest challengers. Gloucestershire prospered under the professional captaincy, of Tom Graveney, a batsman blessed with much ability and an abundance of strokes, who thrives when not labouring in the grim atmosphere of Test cricket. He imbued his men with the true spirit of cricket and when he was away through injury, George Emmett emerged from retirement to carry on in the same way. No wonder Gloucestershire were popular wherever they went.
For many years Warwickshire had been noted for their cautious methods. Their batsmen made defence the first principle and rarely departed from playing down the line of the ball no matter how perfect was the pitch or how easy the bowling. Last year, under the captaincy of M. J. K. Smith, they discarded their safety-first ideas and decorated their cricket with a gay abandon. Their performances were worthy of the well-equipped new home they have built for themselves on their old site at Edgbaston. No longer did they play in front of empty terraces; even on the third day the crowds went to watch them with the certain knowledge that there would be entertaining cricket to enjoy.
After England's disappointing performances in Australia in 1958-59, when they lost the Test series 4--0, Mr. G. O. Allen, chairman of the Test selectors who included two new men in Herbert Sutcliffe and D. J. Insole, announced on the eve of the first Test against India at Trent Bridge that they were embarking on a three-year plan with a view to producing a side worthy of challenging Australia for the Ashes when they visit England in 1961. In the process several heads have already fallen, including those of P. E. Richardson, Graveney, Watson, Milton, Evans, Bailey, Laker and Lock.
In such a fine summer when firm pitches were generally the order--for the first time in England covers were permitted after play had begun--batsmen came into their own again. In marked contrast to 1958, when only 146 hundreds were recorded in first-class cricket, the year of 1959 yielded 337 centuries and as many as 23 batsmen reached an aggregate of 2,000 runs, M. J. K. Smith topping the list with 3,245. Never before had so many men succeeded in making 2,000 and, moreover, with the improvement in the pitches, batsmen everywhere unfolded their strokes to the enjoyment of the crowds so that all counties reported better attendances.
Happily for England, three men, M. J. K. Smith, G. Pullar and K. F. Barrington, came into the Test team with marked success. Pullar, the Lancashire left-hander, was the big find, for he filled one of the opening positions in the batting order to everyone's satisfaction, though it must be admitted India did not present formidable opposition. Indeed, for the first time in the history of Test cricket in England the same team made a clean sweep of all five Tests, England being handsome winners on each occasion.
If England were flattered by the weakness of the opposition, it should be borne in mind that P. B. H. May, the captain, missed the last two Tests because he was compelled to undergo an operation. His absence might well have been a calamity in an Australian year. The break in May's Test career occurred when he had just equalled Frank Woolley's record of 52 consecutive appearances for England and afforded M. C. Cowdrey an opportunity to show his qualities of leadership. At once Cowdrey found himself the central figure in a controversy because on the third morning of the Test at Old Trafford, when England had already established an apparently unassailable position, he announced he would not enforce the follow-on if given the opportunity, because he felt the match should, if possible, be prolonged over the week-end for the benefit of the spectators. The more vehement critics assailed him on the ground that no Test captain should allow his opponents any chance to recover, but should endeavour to win as decisively as possible in the shortest possible time. Against India it did not matter, but against Australia it would have been incomprehensible.
India did, in fact, fight back splendidly and at one time A. A. Baig and P. R. Umrigar, who seized the chance to hit the only centuries credited to their country in the Tests, threatened to upset Cowdrey's calculations; but an amazing piece of fielding by that most promising natural cricketer, E. R. Dexter, ended Baig's onslaught and England regained the initiative.
So the summer gave England five batsmen in Pullar, Cowdrey, May, Barrington and Smith, but, well as Dexter and Swetman performed, one was left with the feeling that the departure of Evans and Bailey had left a void and that the bowling did not generally reach the required standard. Statham and Trueman, both approaching 30, were the mainspring of the attack. H. J. Rhodes, of Derbyshire, rather similar to Loader, could come right to the fore if he would put his left shoulder to the batsman, for he was capable of considerable pace, but this was not a summer for bowlers. No one took 150 wickets, the best being D. Shackleton with 148. Of the slow bowlers, hopes centred mainly on T. Greenhough, R. Illingworth, J. B. Mortimore, K. F. Barrington and D. Allen, a late find. Greenhough looked the best of the wrist-spinners, though his season was interrupted while he eradicated his tendency to finish his run on the pitch. Illingworth had a great summer for Yorkshire; he blossomed into his full powers as a batsman with ability to suit his game to the occasion, and I would be surprised if the last has been heard of D. B. Close who, given only one Test match, finished the season in great style for his county.
The dry weather exposed the shortage of leg-spinners and slow left-arm bowlers. Both types can be invaluable on overseas tours and now that piches are being protected at home and the in-slant and off-spinner can no longer pack his leg-side field, the counties may again be inclined to encourage and develop slow bowlers of the Hedley Verity and D. V. P. Wright mould.
Two almost unknown batsmen came to the front in 1959, namely J. H. Edrich, the Surrey left-hander, and Abbas Baig, the Oxford Freshman from Hyderabad. Edrich, a nephew of the former England and Middlesex batsman, averaged over 50 in his first full season, and probably only a broken finger prevented him getting 2,000 runs. He appeared to be blessed with the right temperament and when C. A. Milton, K. Taylor and W. G. A. Parkhouse were regarded as unsatisfactory openers, the claims of Edrich were put forward in some quarters; but the selectors, no doubt wisely, preferred not to promote him too soon. Baig did get his chance for India owing to a knee injury which put V. L. Manjrekar out of action, and he proved an acquisition to the tourists, but to the Dark Blues went the distinction of introducing him to English first-class cricket. He reached Oxford only in time to play in the final trial, but Alan Smith, the captain, at once noted his possibilities and put him straight into the team. Within two or three weeks, he hit centuries in successive matches against Lancashire and Yorkshire and his future was assured. During the Christmas vacation, Baig flew to India for three Test matches and played an important part in helping his country gain their first victory over Australia. That success should be an inspiration to the youth of India to concentrate on the fundamentals of the game and to practise determination and concentration, not omitting the vital part of fielding.
After all the controversy over throw and drag during the last M.C.C. visit to Australia, it is most satisfactory to know that these matters are being considered at such a high level as the Imperial Cricket Conference. All countries are searching for common solutions so that in future the Laws framed by M.C.C. can be interpreted uniformly in various parts of the world. If any uncertainty existed in the past umpires now know they will receive the fullest support from M.C.C. when they "call" bowlers with illegal actions. At various times during the last eighty years Wisden has drawn attention to the evils of throwing. It is a menace which crops up from time to time and must be stamped out. The legislators in both England and Australia are to be congratulated on having the courage during recent months to define a throw. Never before had this been attempted by cricket bodies. Whether it was wise to remove the word "jerk" from the dictionary definition, only time will tell; but one must remember that the decisions, as set forth in the special article on "Throw and Drag," are experimental and will not become permanent unless they prove satisfactory.
Some umpires are firmer than others. The majority are former professionals who dislike endangering a cricketer's livelihood, but there were genuine efforts to curb throwing last season in county cricket. In the first match at Worcester, umpire Buller "called" Pearson several times, and Aldridge, of the same county, was checked in another match. Lock amended his action but slipped back and was "called" by P. A. Gibb. I would emphasise that these were isolated incidents and that all these bowlers adjusted their methods.
The members of the Imperial Cricket Conference took another step in the right direction when they decided that 30 hours' playing time should not be a rigid rule for Test matches. Some years ago Wisden supported the plea for longer Tests, and indeed the five-day schedule, but experience has shown that the longer the time allowed, the less inclined are the players, and particularly the batsmen, to get on with the game. South Africa suggested four days for each match in the forthcoming series, but the counties, no doubt with one eye on their share of the gate receipts, refused. In my opinion this was a mistake and a short-sighted decision. Much of the dull play which crept like a paralysis into three-day county cricket before the awakening of last summer was due to the example set mainly by Test players. Can anyone imagine anything more futile than some of England's stone-wall batting, especially that of Bailey, in Australia two winters ago, or that by Worrell and Sobers for West Indies in the six-day Test at Bridgetown last January? Such tactics could in time kill first-class cricket.
This summer we welcome the ninth South African team to tour the British Isles. Apart from Australia, the Springboks are our oldest opponents. It was in the winter of 1888-89 that C. Aubrey Smith, of Hollywood fame, took the first English side there, but nearly thirty years elapsed before P. W. Sherwell's South African team played the first Tests here in 1907. Of the 36 Tests played in England, victory has gone to South Africa only four times. A solitary win sufficed to give H. F. Wade's men the rubber in 1935 and ever since the South Africans have proved doughty opponents. One can recall the strong challenges which came from A. D. Nourse's team in 1951 and from J. E. Cheetham's combination in 1955. Now, Nourse comes as manager and the captain is D. J. McGlew, who led the elevens which won at Old Trafford and Headingley five years ago. A solid bat, brilliant cover and a shrewd tactician, McGlew is a tenacious opponent whom England must hold in high respect. If the South Africans can increase the tempo of their batting, they will be welcomed wherever they go, but, like most other countries, they now find that their safety-first methods of the past have left a dearth of stroke-makers.
For the first time for many years, Yorkshire now have a professional captain in J. V. Wilson, who has been appointed to succeed J. R. Burnet. Thirty-five years ago the late Lord Hawke said some strong things about professional captains and during the course of time the leadership of Yorkshire has been linked with them, whereas he was expressing his opinion about England.
In the summer of 1924, C. Parkin, then at his zenith, criticised A. E. R. Gilligan, the England captain, for not calling upon him to bowl on the third morning of the Edgbaston Test when South Africa, dismissed by Gilligan and Tate for 30, followed on. Parkin wrote disparagingly about Gilligan's captaincy in general and said he would never play for England again. At the Yorkshire annual meeting in the following January, Lord Hawke touched on this matter and said:
"Pray God no professional will ever captain the England side. I love professionals, every one of them, but we have always had an amateur skipper. If the time comes when we are to have no more amateurs captaining England, well, I don't say England will become exactly like League football, but it will be a thousand pities, and it will not be for the good of the game."
Lord Hawke did not live to see Leonard Hutton, a Yorkshire professional, restore England's post-war cricket fortunes, nor to learn of the Knighthood Hutton received for his services to cricket.
In the early years of his long reign as captain of Yorkshire (1883-1909) Lord Hawke was often helped by Louis Hall, a professional who at one time was termed assistant-captain and led Yorkshire throughout the summer of 1885 when Lord Hawke was away.
I also wonder what Lord Hawke's reaction would have been to recent suggestions that the present time may be the twilight of the amateur. It is seriously suggested that all players should be termed "Cricketers" and that there should be no distinction between amateur and professional. In the past I may have thought along these lines, but when one remembers the great work done by B. H. Lyon for Gloucestershire, R. W. V. Robins for Middlesex, A. B. Sellers and J. R. Burnet for Yorkshire, and W. S. Surridge and P. B. H. May for Surrey, surely, no matter what the financial set-up, English cricket, and particularly county cricket, cannot afford to lose the amateur. His very independence contributes to the welfare of the game and therefore to the well-being of the professional. Look what M. C. Cowdrey, D. B. Carr, E. R. Dexter, D. J. Insole, T. E. Bailey, M. J. K. Smith, A. C. D. Ingleby-Mackenzie have meant to their sides. True, there are capable professionals who command respect from their men, but I would not like to see the amateur disappear entirely from the English scene.
When the Indians played their last match against Durham at Sunderland, Colin Milburn, 17 years old, of Stanley Grammar School, went in first on his first appearance for the county and hit a sparkling century. This event passed almost without notice. In his younger days Milburn attended the Secondary Modern School at Annfield Plain where they did not run a cricket team. He attributes his success to his love of the game and to the help and advice he received at the various Durham indoor schools and especially from the members of the Burnopfield Cricket Club where he first began to play at the age of eleven. Within three years he was assisting the club's first eleven and at thirteen he was chosen for Durham Schoolboys, after which he appeared two years in succession for North of England against the South. He also played for the Durham Public Schools, scoring 285 runs, average 57. In all games last summer he made 1,955 runs, including five centuries, with an average approaching 50. A well-built lad, standing five feet ten inches, he is a fine attacking batsman. He has already assisted Warwickshire Second XI, but whether his future lies with the Midland county may depend on his scholastic studies, for the teaching profession may claim his chief attention.
Geoffrey Jinkins of the North Melbourne club achieved an astounding bowling feat in a Grade One match. He was playing in the last fixture of the 1958-59 season against Prahran, the club which produced Sam Loxton. Owing to rain, no play was possible on the first day, Saturday, but on Monday North Melbourne gained an outright win by six wickets. The scores were Prahran 53 and 13; North Melbourne 52 and 15 for four wickets. In Prahran's first innings Jinkins took six wickets for 25 runs in eleven overs and in the second innings his analysis was eight wickets for no runs in 4.2 overs, a performance probably without parallel in senior cricket.