From almost every point of view, except the weather, one can look back on the season of 1963 with satisfaction. True, England did not win the rubber with the West Indies, but victory should never be put above everything else. The honours went to the West Indies. Their players and supporters enriched the game with their exuberant cricket on the field and their infectious enthusiasm and incessant banter in the background. Approximately half a million spectators were present at the five Test Matches and receipts came to nearly £200,000.
The year was also notable for the successful introduction of the Knock-Out Competition, which in future will be called The Gillette Cup. For years there was talk of introducing such a tournament, but the die-hards always had their way because of the obstacles of solving a drawn tie and particularly in finding gaps in the Championship programme and suitable grounds. Happily the modern generation decided to take the bold step, but I doubt if anyone anticipated that the Final at Lord's in September would attract, as it did, a full house of 23,000--the first all-ticket cricket match with a sell-out before the first ball was bowled. Another innovation to twentieth-century cricket was the also successful Single-Wicket Competition sponsored by Carling Lager over two days at the end of the Scarborough Festival.
Wisden itself made an indelible contribution to the summer by the appearance on April 19 of the 100th edition of "The Cricketers' Bible". The newspapers, television and sound radio were lavish in their praise and they treated it as a national event. I don't think I am giving away any secrets when I say that even the publisher was surprised by the public demand for the Almanack. It ran into three impressions by the printers before everyone was satisfied. Naturally, Wisden, which specialises in cricket facts and records, established its own record of sales.
The firm of John Wisden and Co. Ltd. commemorated the event by launching The Wisden Trophy, with the approval of M.C.C. and the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, to be played for perpetually between England and West Indies in the same way as England and Australia contest the Ashes. West Indies have become the first holders of the trophy, which is being kept permanently in the Imperial Cricket Museum at Lord's. All the members of the West Indies touring team received a silver replica and, as a personal souvenir to mark the efforts of the Editor, the directors of the firm presented me with a replica suitably inscribed. It has a prominent place in my home and is something I and my family will always treasure.
The Daily Express treated the One Hundredth Edition of Wisden generously by launching a Better Cricket Competition. It was possibly the widest inquiry on cricket conducted during the lifetime of the Almanack. Their readers were invited to make five suggestions to improve cricket. The top entry received tickets for one of the Tests between England and West Indies and one hundred others each received a copy of the hundredth Wisden. Three judges, D. J. Insole, A. V. Bedser and myself, shared the task of perusing over 2,000 letters and we were astonished at the quality of the comments these contained. An analysis showed that the reformers wanted:
In the opinion of the judges, the most constructive letter came from Mr. H. Ball, of Worcester. This was his letter:
I suggest that l, 3, 4 and 5 should be implemented immediately. They would create more interest within the clubs having little hope of the Championship and prevent sides trying to gain an unfair advantage when going for a win.
Spectators would enjoy the game being speeded up and the wider competition would attract more.
All three judges agreed that the great need in the modern game was to eliminate time-wasting.
The West Indies cricketers provided a much-needed tonic to English cricket, just as their Australian visit revived interest in Australia. There can be no two opinions that at the present time they stand unrivalled for the manner in which they play the game. All of them are natural cricketers, unspoiled by excessive coaching. Cricket is a game for enjoyment and the West Indies certainly convey the impression that they enjoy playing. They rise to the big occasion and thrive in the Test-Match atmosphere of big crowds, and extensive newspaper and radio publicity. Much of the credit for their popularity and their achievements must go to Frank Worrell, a captain in every sense of the word. With nearly twenty years of big cricket behind him, Worrell led his men with dignity and tenacity. A sound tactician he imbued his talented team with confidence and when a difficulty arose he soon poured oil on troubled waters. How fitting it was that on the eve of their departure for the Caribbean, The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Ralph Perring, invited the team to the Mansion House, where he said, "A gale of change has blown through the hallowed halls of cricket." A few months later the cricket world rejoiced again in the news that in the New Year's Honours the Queen had bestowed a Knighthood on Worrell. Sir Frank, we salute you.
Worrell considers there is a rosy future for International cricket and that the spirit of adventure encouraged by R. W. V. Robins is coming back. He said that the most exciting match he had played in was the tie with Australia in Brisbane and that the best series was that of 1963 in England. He stressed that every game was keen and tough, but played in the right spirit by both sides with no incidents and no friction. One wonders how much this satisfactory position was due to the umpires and particularly J. S. Buller. One recalls some hostile bowling with a liberal dose of bouncers by Hall at Lord's and Griffith at Headingley and The Oval. At times, the England batsmen found Griffith, with no sightscreen behind him, nasty with his ability to mix the yorker with the bouncer. Some people questioned whether his arm was bent when he put down his quicker and shorter ball. Instead of a full arm-swing from which the batman judges the pace of the ball and its length, there was occasionally a reduced arm-swing and that meant the ball did not have the length expected. By the time the batsman realised what was happening he was compelled into a hurried stroke. In the last Test at The Oval, Buller twice intervened when he considered the bouncer was dangerous and being used excessively. The incidents are fully reported in the description of the match elsewhere in the Almanack.
Since then, another umpire, C. Egar, of Australia, has no-balled I. Meckiff in the opening over of the first Test between Australia and South Africa at Brisbane. Controversy has centred on Meckiff's bent arm action ever since he helped to put out Peter May's England team for 87 in the second Test at Melbourne five years ago by snatching six wickets for 38. The ruling bodies in England and Australia are determined to stamp out throwing, but it needs courage on the part of an umpire to take action in the excitement of a big match when perhaps 30,000 or so partisans are present. In Australia the gallant Egar needed police protection whereas the offending bowler reaped a harvest by selling his story and generally being hailed as something of a hero.
One remembers the strong line Buller took against Griffin, the South African bowler, in the exhibition game at the conclusion of the 1960 Lord's Test and the way he was treated at the time. To satisfy the visitors, that was the only Test in which Buller stood as umpire that season but later wiser counsels prevailed and he was restored and paid the fee he would have received. That experience made no difference to Buller. He is a stout-hearted Yorkshireman born at Leeds in August 1909. He played once for Yorkshire in 1930, when he kept wicket against Sussex, and for seven seasons played often for Yorkshire Second Eleven before he went to Worcestershire and became a regular county player. His name first appeared on the Umpires List in 1951 and five years later he officiated in the first Test. That was England v. Australia at Trent Bridge and he has been on the panel ever since. Buller believes cricket should always be played in the best sense of the word and insists that the umpire must act honestly and fearlessly. The players respect his judgment and he has gained the reputation of being one of the best, if not the best, umpire in the world of cricket at the present time.
England, under Dexter, contributed a goodly share towards the excitement the Tests produced, but when the sun shone, as it did in all the matches except the one England won at Edgbaston, the side was not equal to holding the much stronger opposition. One of the most extraordinary things about this abnormally wet and dismal summer was the fact that the majority of the Tests and the rounds in the Knock-Out Competition went through unhindered by the weather.
For years England have been handicapped by the lack of a successful pair of opening batsmen. Opportunities were given this time to Stewart and Edrich of Surrey, Richardson of Kent, and Bolus of Nottinghamshire, but in the ten innings only twice did a first-wicket stand yield fifty: 93 by Stewart and Edrich in the second innings at Old Trafford and 59 by Bolus and Edrich in the first innings at The Oval. Nor did the established middle batsmen make any notable impact. For one thing both Dexter and Barrington looked stale after two or three years of continuous cricket and Cowdrey, just as he seemed to be getting into form, had his left wrist broken at Lord's and took no further part in the season's cricket. Only the two Yorkshiremen, Close and Sharpe, a new cap, emerged with reputations untarnished. In fact, never before had England gone through five Tests in the same series without any of the team hitting a hundred.
England also declined in bowling strength. The side leaned far too heavily on Trueman and when he went lame and delivered only one over in the vital fourth innings at The Oval, the West Indies sailed home virtually unchallenged. Perhaps in the circumstances it was a mistake to drop Statham after the first Test at Old Trafford where he was disappointing on a batsman's pitch, for the next match was at Lord's where fast bowlers usually thrive. Nearly thirty years ago I formed the opinion that it is unwise to judge a fast bowler's capabilities on what he does at Old Trafford and now that pitches there have returned to the former standard, it does seem that Statham was hard done by, particularly as there was no genuine fast bowler to replace him. The selectors, in their dilemma, called on the ageing Shackleton to keep one end quiet while Trueman staged the main assault. One must admire Trueman for the way he carried out this task and set up a new bowling record for an England- West Indies series by taking 34 wickets.
The shortage of high-class batsmen and bowlers in English cricket could be a passing phase--or is it bound up with current conditions? Some people blame the lbw law and say it is giving medium-paced inswingers and the slower paced off-spinners too much help. Others point to the pitches and the turf in general while another group wonder whether some, if not all, of the current experimental laws have not helped to lower English standards. Most probably, all these factors have a bearing on the problems. Some people with experience of cricket in various parts of the world are inclined to the view that the changed lbw law which was first tried in 1935 has had a greater adverse effect at home than overseas. Coupled with this has been the temporary covering of pitches (now permitted only at week-ends) and the lush green outfields.
One has to go back to the palmy days of Sir Don Bradman and follow the course of events to appreciate the effect of his mammoth scores and the speed at which he made them. In trying to provide conditions for a more even contest between bat and ball, we, in England, have arrived at the present state of mediocrity. D. R. Jardine made the first attempt to check Bradman when he introduced body-line bowling to the Test arena, since when the too frequent use of the fast short pitched intimidatory ball with all the ill-feeling it engenders has been one of the curses of modern cricket.
To my mind the sooner we, in England, get back to pre-war standards in the matter of appurtenances the better. We want hard pitches and hard outfields. Shave away the grass and bring on the heavy roller--not the 1964 thirty hundredweight motor. In preparing the pitch for the final Test at The Oval last summer, H. C. Lock, the Surrey groundman, used "Bosser" Martin's mighty three-ton roller hauled by a team of manual workers and what a difference that made.
There has never been any regulation limiting the weight of the roller, either in the preparation of the pitch or after the match has begun. Once better conditions are provided for batsmen there ought to be a steady improvement in bowling, but will the leg-breaker, or wrist-spinner, as he is called today, come into his own again? And what about the left-arm slow bowler who is also fast disappearing from the game?
One of the experiments introduced seven years ago was the standard boundary of 75 yards and, as I have written before, this suits the fielders because they do not have to chase the ball; otherwise it has not achieved its purpose, which was to encourage big hitting. Instead, it has helped to kill the leg spinner and left-arm slow bowler because they would be too expensive with the short boundary. The old boundaries on the full-size grounds gave the slow bowlers so much more chance and there was a thrill for the spectators in exhorting the puffing batsmen to run four, five, six and even seven while others goaded the fielder pounding after the ball. All that fun has gone; the batsmen have lost an avenue for runs and no longer do we possess outfielders with long, fast returns when we visit such countries as Australia, where they do not keep tampering with the laws. Give us back the long boundaries and give promising young leg-spinners like Hobbs, of Essex, a chance to establish themselves. I would also ask our cricket authorities to decide the number of years any experimental law should remain in force. Surely if, after a period of four or five years, it has not found its way into the permanent laws, it should be scrapped.
Bowlers in England last summer had their first experience of operating with the front-foot as the marker for a legitimate delivery. The experiment was confined to county and university cricket and not to the Tests as the West Indies did not wish to conform until they had had more practice at it in their own islands. Although some bowlers expressed themselves forcibly as being against it most of them soon became accustomed to the new condition and at the end of the season M.C.C. considered the experiment designed to prevent unfair drag quite successful. For the coming summer the M.C.C. and the counties have gone a step further in the control of bowlers in an attempt to avoid the very lengthy run-up. The captains have been instructed to encourage their bowlers to run from a distance of no more than twenty yards, but no action will be taken against anyone who takes a longer run. One of the thrills of seeing a genuine fast bowler in action is his preliminary approach to the wicket, but also one of the greatest bores is when the same man takes an abnormal time to get back to his mark. Fast bowlers are an integral part of cricket and must be supported and not subdued. They are the toilers of the game as well as one of the biggest attractions.
The prevalence of seam bowling produced some words of wisdom from Mr. S. C. Griffith, the M.C.C. Secretary, in his speech to the County Secretaries at their annual winter meeting at Lord's. He said that one could not blame the players for playing a game in the way most likely to pave the way for victory with conditions as they are; grassy pitches, lush outfields and expert ball shining processes--some legal and some not so legal. Mr. Griffith went on to say that he was sure we have got to consider the spin bowler and his needs in such a way as to ensure that he is at least as important to the side as the seam bowler. He felt that the practice of polishing the ball had gone too far and the time had come to add a word or two to Law 46 on fair and unfair play. "As far as the new ball is concerned I am certain that the terms of Law 5, namely that either captain may demand a new ball at the start of each innings only should apply in first-class cricket" and stressed that sides should be able to claim only one ball per innings, adding: "Throughout English cricket the seam bowler rides high and the spinner sinks further into oblivion. We must be concerned with this trend and we would be neglecting our duty to ignore it."
The comment on expert ball shining processes so intrigued me that a few days after this speech I went to the Tonbridge Sports Industries factory where each week hundreds of cricket balls are made. There I met the manager, Mr. Beverley Ives, whose family has been producing cricket balls for four generations. For the very best hand-made balls, those used in England in Test and County cricket, costing £3 0s. 6d. each, the various processes and especially the polishing have not changed down the years. It is when one comes to the lower grade balls which face high competition from those imported duty free from Australia, India and Pakistan that the question of shiny surfaces becomes serious. By giving the outer case special hardening treatment so that it can take the latest synthetic polishes and then applying the same, a smooth shiny durable surface which will last for several matches can be obtained. I saw them banging one of these balls from overseas against a rough concrete wall and then it was handed to me without a mark on it. That is what the home market is up against and hence our lower grade balls receive similar treatment.
One of the "secrets" which go to make the very best ball is the little cork piece in the centre. Another important factor, which governs the success of bowlers who exploit the seam, not those who specialise in swing, is the number of strands that make up the thread. These have been increased in recent years at the request of some county clubs. Some manufacturers including John Wisden and Co., keep in touch with M.C.C. about these various processes but it does seem strange that the one official pronouncement in the Laws about the ball governs only the weight and the circumference. It may be necessary to do something about the thickness of the thread and the use of polishes. I would add that the English manufacturers live in a hard world. Whereas the balls made outside Great Britain all receive subsidies from their national exchequers, overseas a tariff is placed on the English ball made by experts who are paid wages commensurate with their skill.
Cricket lost two famous personalities in 1963. Sir Pelham Warner, one of the game's leading amateurs, died at the end of January and Sir Jack Hobbs, the doyen of the professionals, passed away a few days before Christmas. Their careers ran almost parallel and while they played together for M.C.C. and England they were keen rivals when Warner appeared for Middlesex and The Gentlemen and Hobbs for Surrey and The Players. I was fortunate not only to see them play but to know them personally as sportsmen of the highest character. They excelled in the Golden Era of cricket.