The summer of 1961 brought much satisfaction even if England failed to regain the Ashes from Australia and small attendances at County matches caused alarm. The presence of Richie Benaud and his Australian team contributed to a rekindling of all that is best in cricket. The pattern was set at the end of the previous year at Brisbane where Australia and West Indies played the first tie in the history of Test cricket.
As soon as Benaud arrived in this country, he said his aim was to do away with dull cricket by keeping the game moving and bowling as many overs as possible. He promised there would be no dawdling in the field; the players would move briskly to their positions and in this way keenness and efficiency would be attained. On all controversial issues he and his players intended to leave matters entirely in the hands of the umpires. Benaud proved as good as his word.
Good fellowship and friendliness pervaded the tour and for once the importance of winning a game or a series was not allowed to impinge upon the true spirit of cricket. I have been watching Test cricket for forty years and I cannot recall a more pleasant atmosphere. I am sure that all cricket-lovers will say: Long may it continue.
As for the standard of play in the Tests, both England and Australia have been represented in the past by much stronger sides; yet day after day the struggle was intense, first one side and then the other gaining the upper hand. Surely, there can have been few more dramatic days than the last at Old Trafford, where twice England appeared to have obtained a stranglehold only for Australia to fight back in great style, first with the bat and then with the ball.
I have dealt fully with the Australian aspect in their own section of the Almanack. Where did England come to grief? In my opinion it was by pursuing the same defensive methods which contributed to defeat in the last tour of Australia. Since the days of F. R. Brown I would say that England have been found wanting in courageous leadership. The batsmen, generally, steadfastly decline to hit the ball. The Australian fast bowlers sent down plenty of loose deliveries that were allowed to go unpunished. As an opening pair, the left-handers, G. Pullar and R. Subba Row, were disappointing. In the five Tests only two of their partnerships yielded as many as 50 runs, the best being 93 in the second innings at Edgbaston. Subba Row gained distinction in making a century on his first appearance against Australia and also on his last--unless he changes his mind about retiring from first-class cricket--but for all the runs he scored, he never gave the impression of being master of the situation. In no sense did he shape like a Hobbs or a Washbrook or a Woolley.
There were few outstanding innings played for England. The best two were E. R. Dexter's glorious 180 at Edgbaston and dashing 76 at Old Trafford. In both, Dexter played cricket of the highest class. His driving was a sheer joy, worthy of the great masters. One looked in vain to M. C. Cowdrey to treat the Australian bowling in similar fashion in the Tests. He did so in the less important encounters with the touring team, making 115 and 68 for M. C. C. at Lord's, and he was equally brilliant in getting two centuries, 119 and 121 for Kent at Canterbury, yet in the Tests he usually surrendered the initiative to the Australian bowlers. In the matter of technique Cowdrey had no superiors, as he showed in his fighting 93 which contributed so much to England's win on the false pitch at Headingley.
Cowdrey captained England in the first two Tests, and Peter May, having played under him at Lord's, resumed control for the last three. I felt that May got the best out of his men when they won at Headingley, but there was not the same response at Old Trafford and The Oval. Dilatory running between wickets-- Murray was a notable exception--emphasised England's negative attitude. They did not appear to derive pleasure from the game as did the Australians.
Some people felt, and I was inclined to agree with them, that the omission of T. E. Bailey from the England team eased Australia's task. Still the leading all-rounder and the finest strategist among the county captains, Bailey would have strengthened the middle batting and his bowling might have made all the difference on the "ridge" at Lord's.
The general lack of top-class cricketers in county cricket was emphasised in these Tests with Australia. The selectors could not find two recognised opening batsmen and there were no young challengers to Statham and Trueman as users of the new ball. Instead, when another fast bowler became a necessity, the choice fell first upon the 40-year-old Jackson and next on the 32-year-old Flavell.
Godfrey Evans monopolised the position of Test wicket-keeper for so long--91 Tests and 219 victims--that one feared his absence would be felt against Australia. During his time he had many understudies-- Andrew, Brennan, McIntyre, Spooner, Griffith, Swetman and Parks--but in the end John Murray, who had been knocking at the door for at least five years, received his chance. He proved the find of the season so far as England were concerned. Everything about him was right. He bore the stamp of a real cricketer with his neat, trim figure, his perky attitude, his confident bearing, his clean taking of the ball, his competent batting, sound as well as aggressive, and, as I mentioned earlier, his willingness to run his first run quickly in case there might be another. Unfortunately, not for the first time in his career, he was troubled by varicose veins while touring India and Pakistan during the winter. His many admirers will wish him a speedy recovery in the hope that he will be able to go to Australia next winter.
It is possible that the last has been seen of Peter May as a Test cricketer, although he hopes to continue to play for Surrey for many years. At the age of 32, May has made what he terms two irrevocable decisions. Firstly, he has decided that he will not take part in any more major tours abroad and, secondly, that he does not wish to be considered again for the England captaincy. The necessity to devote more time to his business has induced May to turn his back on winter cricket overseas and he feels it would not be right from the point of view of continuity to remain captain of England at home, although he would be willing to play if the selectors wish it. Many amateurs have faced the same problem as May and some, indeed, never went abroad for this very reason.
May can look back on his record as England captain with a degree of pride. He led England in 41 of his 66 Tests with 20 wins, 10 losses and 11 draws. In the matter of victories, only his immediate predecessor, Sir Leonard Hutton, also reached double figures, 11. Undisputably one of the world's greatest batsmen, May has afforded much pleasure with his stylish, upright and forceful stroke-play. Surrey have missed him as a regular player in the last few years and, if he does appear more often for them, they could again be a power in the Championship.
England now have to find a captain as well as a team to visit Australia in the autumn. Two names come readily to mind. Cowdrey, who has led his country eleven times, and Dexter, who took the side on the recent arduous mission to India and Pakistan where eight Tests were crammed into the space of fourteen weeks. In the words of the Prime Minister of Australia: "Colin Cowdrey has a quality of batsmanship, a capacity for power and stroke-making not excelled by any contemporary cricketer. He is handicapped only by a charming and inveterate modesty; he doesn't know how good he is!" Thus wrote Mr. Robert Menzies in the foreword to Cowdrey's Cricket To-day, a book which gave me much pleasure.
Another possible candidate for the leadership is the Rev. David Sheppard, who may be persuaded to take a holiday from the valuable work he is doing with the Mayflower Youth Centre in London's dockland. Twelve years have passed since Sheppard went as a youngster to Australia with F. R. Brown's side. In every sense he would be an acquisition. England could do with his forthright approach in batting and leadership; both would balance the loss of Peter May. England need to shake off the negative approach which is crippling cricket, and Sheppard is among the very few who could infuse a different spirit into the general approach to the game.
Many of the problems confronting cricket in England have been examined by the Cricket Inquiry Committee whose interim report appears in this section of Wisden. Some counties would like to see the Championship reorganised on a week-end basis so that more amateurs would have an opportunity of taking part in first-class cricket. Such a step would lead to an enormous reduction in the number of full-time professionals. Only the best would be retained and there would be a big saving in salaries.
The remedy lies with the professionals themselves. They must cast away their cautious methods and enjoy their cricket. It is all very well to say that the motor-car and television have taken spectators elsewhere. Last summer, large crowds welcomed the Australians almost everywhere they went. The public knew they would be entertained by Richie Benaud's men. The benches would not be so empty at county championship matches if lovers of cricket could be sure that the batsmen on both sides would make a genuine attempt to hit the ball. That is the game of cricket, not the caricature presented by the deflectors and the plodders. I remember S. P. Jones, the Australian cricketer of the 'nineties, telling me when I met him in 1946 that Dr. W. G. Grace never allowed a ball outside the off-stump to pass his bat. He either drove it or cut it.
Hampshire possess one of the few enterprising opening batsmen in the country in Roy Marshall of the West Indies. He is now qualified for England and he could go to Australia. That Hampshire won the Championship for the first time in their history was due largely to his virulent and exciting attitude to each and every bowler he faced. There has never been any diffidence in Marshall's batting. He has courage and whenever he goes to the crease he displays the authority of the master. He gives short shrift to the negative meagre length bowler and he relishes a good struggle for supremacy with men like Statham and Trueman. Just as one key-man like Marshall made the Hampshire batting, so did one quality bowler in Derek Shackleton make the attack. The eleven were bound together by an ebullient captain in Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie. Hampshire's success was extremely popular and rightly so, but apart from Marshall and the captain much of their cricket was of the defensive type which is causing the authorities so much concern.
For the last twenty-five years, beginning with the Findlay Commission in 1937, County cricket has carried on in a state of despondency and alarm. We have had numerous experimental laws, limitation of the leg-side field, the 75-yard boundary, bonus points, the abolition of appeals against the light, the discarding of the follow-on in the County Championship and none has solved the problem. Now, some people, with the aim to revive interest advocate a complete reorganisation of the Championship with half the matches on a three-day basis and the others restricted to one-day or two-day affairs with the amateurs receiving payment on a broken time basis. Room has been found for a one-day knock-out competition to be inaugurated in 1963. That will be a diversion and should provide some fun if approached in the right spirit, but the game may be killed stone dead if this continuous tampering with the laws does not cease. The return to the percentage system two years ago was a negative step and I am pleased that will be revoked in 1963 when all counties will play 28 matches.
One can sympathise with Yorkshire, Lancashire, Sussex, Glamorgan, Hampshire, Worcestershire, Somerset and Warwickshire. These eight counties have the players and the facilities to meet every other county twice and presumably the members to support them, but most of the other counties prefer 28 fixtures. Six days a week cricket throughout the summer leads to staleness by August, particularly in a hot summer. From the point of view of quality in preference to quantity there is too much first-class cricket in England. Nowhere else in the world is so much attempted. The five Australian States each undertake no more than eight matches a season. The rest of the time, except during a Test series, the players appear for their Saturday afternoon clubs.
One of the most improved counties in 1961 was Leicestershire. In recent years they have cast their net far and wide for experienced talent and an ambitious season-ticket scheme has lightened their financial troubles. To emphasise the importance of the outright win, which should always be the first objective, the players were given a substantial bonus for each victory--I understand it was £20 apiece--with more for two in succession. Nottinghamshire tried a different method. Doing their best to see that the spectators received value for money, they gave £3 a man when the team scored 280 runs in 80 overs.
Pakistan, the youngest members of the Imperial Cricket Conference which they entered only ten years ago--undertake a full tour of England this summer, including five five-day Tests. On their first visit here in 1954, they acquitted themselves extremely well despite a very wet and cold summer. They gained the unique distinction of being the only overseas side to beat England on their first trip abroad. That victory by 24 runs at The Oval in a low scoring game enabled them to draw a four match rubber, the personal honours going to Fazal Mahmood, who took twelve wickets for 99 runs. In those days the Pakistani cricketers showed promise of developing their game along attractive lines. Hanif Mohammad was already a very capable opening batsman--he scored 1,623 runs on the tour--but now they have copied the pattern of most other countries and place the result above everything else. In 1959-60 Pakistan drew every match during a tour of India and recently against E. R. Dexter's M. C. C. team much of their cricket was stubborn and boring. It is to be hoped they enter their second tour of England with a desire to entertain, otherwise irreparable harm could be done to the game in England immediately following the tonic administered by Australia last summer.
During the highly concentrated tour of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, the England team took part in eight Test Matches and won only one. That was sufficient to give them the series against Pakistan, the other two games being drawn, but against India two games were lost and three drawn. So for the first time in history India won the rubber against England. The tour may not have shown English cricket at its best but it drew remarkable crowds, just on two million people watching the 24 matches, with approximately 1,200,000 at the Tests alone. M. C. C. might well have to consider how they can make the most of such enthusiasm, especially as the next full-scale tour to those countries is not due until 1971-72.
The automatic disappearance of South Africa from the Imperial Cricket Conference when the country ceased to be a member of the British Commonwealth has left a complex problem. South Africa's matches against other countries can no longer be classified as Tests. They come second to Australia as England's oldest opponents, the first match having taken place at Port Elizabeth in March, 1889. Efforts are being made to find a means of restoring South Africa to membership of the Conference. This move may receive support from England, Australia and New Zealand, whom South Africa meet on the field, but it is likely to be vehemently opposed by the West Indies, India and Pakistan, who because of the colour question, have never met the Springboks at cricket. The matter will come up for discussion again when the Imperial Cricket Conference next meet at Lord's in July. Pakistan, I understand, are putting forward a novel suggestion to form a kind of "second division" to incorporate all the cricket-playing countries which are not Conference members, such as Ceylon, Malaya, Kenya, East and West Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, the United States of America, Denmark and Holland. In the end, everything may depend upon whether or not South Africa will agree to change their ideas and consent to play against the "coloured" countries.
The wholehearted efforts of J. B. Statham on behalf of Lancashire and England were justly rewarded in his benefit, which yielded £13,047. This highly satisfactory figure comes second only to another Lancashire stalwart, Cyril Washbrook, who in 1948 received £14,000. In each instance Lancashire were generous in giving their portion of the "gate" from one of their matches with the Australians. Some counties, including Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, have now introduced a pension scheme which guarantees a player £1,600 at the age of 40. In some cases there will still be a subscription-list and collections in what would have been the benefit year. There are special provisions to cover players who retire before reaching 40.