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I suppose that if England had won back The Ashes in the summer of 1964 many of their supporters would have considered that all was well with first-class cricket. The issue was settled by the barest of margins and perhaps by E. R. Dexter's decision to take the new ball in mid-afternoon on the second day of the Headingley Test. Frankly, much of the cricket provided by England and Australia was commonplace with too much emphasis once again placed on the determination not to lose. Cricket is a game to be enjoyed by the players. If they enjoy themselves they entertain the spectators who provide the wherewithal which enables the leading cricketers of all countries to travel around the world and experience a life of luxury, though how many of them really appreciate their good fortune?
To me, the season was one of missed opportunities by both England and Australia. It fell flat by comparison with the exhilarating displays of West Indies under Sir Frank Worrell in 1963. For the most part West Indies did not score their runs any faster, but they certainly conveyed the impression of enjoying themselves. In contrast, too many England and Australian cricketers appeared to be governed first by commercial interests and cricket suffered accordingly.
Unfortunately in a summer notable for glorious sunshine, the odd days of rain coincided with three of the Tests. In the first two, at Trent Bridge and Lord's, the playing time was cut by half and when the fifth at The Oval stood in an intriguing position, not a ball could be bowled on the last day. Hence, the weather could be blamed to some extent for the fact that only one Test was brought to a definite conclusion.
That Australia won the rubber and, by virtue of their victory at Headingley, retained The Ashes was due mainly to the ability and leadership of their captain, Bobby Simpson. England looked to be the more likely winners at Trent Bridge and Lord's, but when the weather kept fine at Headingley, Simpson had already imbued his men with a fine team spirit and Burge played the innings of his life, being splendidly supported by Hawke and Grout. Simpson took over the Australian captaincy when his country's resources had been weakened by the departure of Benaud, Davidson, Harvey and Mackay. Then, coming to England, he lost the toss four times to Dexter, but won it when it mattered most, in the vital fourth Test at Old Trafford.
With Australia then one up in the series with two to play, Simpson knew that he had only to avoid defeat in one match to keep those Ashes. So he defied the England bowling for hour after hour while compiling his memorable 311; but by batting into the third day he played into the hands of those critics who see little that is good in cricket. Some blamed the pitch; it was too placid; it lasted too long, and so on. The fact of the matter was that there was a deficiency of bowling in both teams. No one complained about the pitches when Lindwall and Miller were about, or Larwood and Voce, or Tate. Nor when Hammond and Bradman were batting.
Where did England go wrong? Firstly, in not finding a settled team and possibly in the choice of captain. As I have already written, Australia possessed one of her finest leaders of all time in Simpson and they chose the same eleven for all five Tests, although Norman O'Neill had to stand down a few minutes before play began at Headingley. England were always an experimental combination. The uncertainty began at Trent Bridge where Edrich twisted an ankle at practice on the eve of the match and there was no reserve batsman to take his place. So England played five bowlers and relied on Titmus to open the innings. Then, at Lord's, the selectors left out Flavell from the chosen twelve and Dexter, on winning the toss, sent in Australia to bat. This surely indicated either mixed thinking or no settled policy. England again included five recognised bowlers at Old Trafford and, if one counts Barber, there were also five at the Oval. Moreover, in listing the number of bowlers I have not included Dexter, who confined himself to 49 overs in the series. Altogether, England called on 20 players for the five matches.
The dearth of top-class all-rounders and the failure to produce fast bowlers to take over from Trueman and Statham have seriously handicapped England in recent years. Since the retirement of Peter May, the batting, too, has declined, for apart from a few sparkling contributions by Dexter it has lacked authority and initiative. Barrington has proved a great tower of strength by his dependability but so far he has not been a match winner against Australia.
In examining England's failures, one must pay heed to the captaincy. Dexter is a grand natural cricketer; indeed, a fine all-round sportsman, but has he managed to get the best out of his men? He has now led England in losing rubbers against India, Australia and West Indies. Dexter, for his part, could excuse his failures by pointing to the weaknesses previously mentioned here. It is pretty easy to skipper so talented a side as the one A. P. F. Chapman took to Australia in 1928-29 and one has to admit that Dexter has been far from blessed with a galaxy of stars. No one who knows him could suggest that Dexter has shirked his duties. He gives a tremendous amount of thought to the game, including tactics, bowling changes and field placings. He prefers to act alone and is usually reluctant to take advice. His decision to place his faith in Trueman and Flavell and the new ball when Australia were foundering against Titmus and Gifford at Headingley evoked a storm of criticism. I thought this was a dangerous move, because Trueman and Flavell had performed disappointingly earlier in the innings. Had they been in devastating form it would have been a different matter, but both had bowled so short that it seemed risky especially with such a punishing batsman as Burge at the crease.
As Dexter stood for Parliament in the Autumn election, the selectors had to look elsewhere for the captain of the M.C.C. team in South Africa and they reverted to M. J. K. Smith, who led the side the previous winter in India and Pakistan. At once, "Mike" Smith welded his men together and instilled confidence. As captain of Warwickshire for eight seasons, Smith had already proved those qualities of leadership first displayed at Oxford, where he became the only cricketer to hit a century in each of his three University matches. Supporting him was D. B. Carr, the M.C.C. assistant-secretary, another former Oxford captain and successful captain of Derbyshire. Between them they formed a happy partnership which greatly benefited English cricket and may have begun an up-surge of England's Test fortunes.
During the coming summer England play three Tests against New Zealand and three against South Africa. While these matches are important in themselves, they will provide the basis from which M.C.C. will choose the team to visit Australia next winter. Again, the problem of producing a capable set of pace bowlers is likely to be uppermost in the minds of the selectors. Smith is surely the right man for the captaincy and one hopes that the continuous chopping and changing of the England team will cease.
Since 1962, England have taken part in 33 Tests, three home series and three abroad, and called on more than 40 players including close on 20 different pairs of opening batsmen. Extenuating circumstances can be advanced in the continuous all-the-year-round strain put on the players as well as illness and injury, but when we remember that at times two of the finest batsmen, M. C. Cowdrey and T. W. Graveney, were shelved, the lack of success, particularly against West Indies and Australia, is not surprising.
It was also remarkable that for the first time since M.C.C. in 1903-4 took over the responsibility of overseas tours not a single player of the County Championship winners, Worcestershire, was honoured with a place in the side in South Africa, although Middlesex who having won only half as many matches, finished sixth, 79 points behind the leaders, were given five representatives.
One omen for the future is the number of extremely promising young cricketers around the country. The majority, if they can avoid being over-coached, could go far. Surrey possess quite a crop of them and here I would emphasise that the youngsters have a wise mentor in A. J. McIntyre, the official coach at The Oval. R. I. Jefferson, the all-rounder from Winchester College and Cambridge University, possesses plenty of height for a seam bowler and while he delights in prodigious hitting he suits his batting to the occasion. R. Harman, left-arm spin, P. I. Pocock, off-spin, G. Arnold a fine medium-fast bowler, A. Long, wicket-keeper, and M. J. Edwards, a stylish batsman, could all help to restore Surrey to her former glories. Looking at Yorkshire, we find J. H. Hampshire of polished style, and R. A. Hutton, another all-rounder, to supplement the promise of G. Boycott. Lancashire, for all her worries, can call upon two talented opening batsmen in the Oxford Blues, D. M. Green and the left-handed, D. R. Worsley. Two Cambridge Blues, J. M. Brearley (Middlesex) and M. G. Griffith (Sussex) appear to be destined for high honours and among the many fine cricketers in Northamptonshire one must mention M. E. Scott, the left-arm slow bowler. Then, Essex have K. Fletcher, a stylish bat, and R. Hobbs, a leg-breaker, Kent have found another fine wicket-keeper in A. Knott, who is also a spin bowler as well as a neat batsman with twinkling feet. Derbyshire have high hopes of M. Page, a batsman, and Leicestershire look to G. Cross, a natural games player; but where are the fast bowlers?
Perhaps too many youngsters have been discouraged by the front foot rule, but steps are being taken to give them more room to land forward, and if only groundsmen can prepare the faster pitches everyone desires, then the counties may again hope to furnish their ranks with bowlers of genuine pace. In that event there would be a return of the old policy of attack by keeping the ball well up on the off stump as did F. H. Tyson and J. B. Statham under Sir Leonard Hutton when England retained The Ashes ten years ago.
Changes and experiments with the Laws having generally failed to improve first-class cricket, we are now faced with a possible alteration in the structure of the County Championship. The Knock-Out Cup Competition has proved a money-spinner in filling some grounds, but no one can pretend that the cricket, excepting a few instances, has been any better. In this one-day tournament most captains aim to bowl defensively to keep down the run-rate, for with the number of overs limited in each innings, there is no need to make a special effort to dismiss the opposition. Now, it is proposed that, on four Wednesdays and Thursdays in 1966, instead of the usual number of three-day county matches, two separate one-day matches be played to be incorporated in the Championship. How will this help to shape Test Cricketers? To my mind five-day Tests and the caution these entail have infected the County Championship. Why not try shorter Tests and leave three-day cricket to be enjoyed by the County members whose subscriptions keep the game alive?
The Championship Pennant will fly regularly for the first time on the banks of the Severn in Worcestershire's home games this season. No honour in cricket has been more worthily won and it is most appropriate that Worcestershire are now celebrating their Centenary, the present club having been founded on March 5, 1865. More than 600 people were present at the Championship Dinner held in Worcester last November when Mr. G. O. Allen, President of M.C.C. in 1963-64, said that unquestionably Worcestershire were the team of the year. He pointed out that seldom was the Championship won by as many as 41 clear points--61 more than the side finishing third, Northamptonshire.
Sir George Dowty, the Worcestershire President, singled out Northamptonshire for commendation, for they and Worcestershire had the two smallest populations of any counties in the Competition, one-tenth of either Lancashire or Yorkshire. He recalled the years in the not-too-distant past when there existed great rivalry between Worcestershire and Northamptonshire for bottom position! That was a period when, as a young man, he dreaded the visits of Yorkshire; their treatment of the Worcestershire bowlers seemed inhuman. In those days Worcestershire were regarded as "easy meat" and Charles Hallows, the coach to whom Worcestershire owe so much, recalled that when he was a Lancashire player the team booked their hotel in Worcester for only two nights. "Perhaps they still do," commented Sir George, "but for a different reason."
The rise of Worcestershire can be traced to the advent of their Supporter's Association. Worcestershire were the first county to form such an association and now almost all the counties have followed their example. No longer are there wealthy patrons who can dip into their pockets and these Supporter's Associations provide the life-blood of many county clubs. Gone, too, is the time when cricket was considered by many the exclusive prerogative of the male, for one-third of Worcestershire's membership of 6,500 are women and several of them do outstanding work for the county. Sir George Dowty specially welcomed the ladies at the dinner. There being more novel ways of celebrating victory than by a dinner, the Worcestershire President has named one of his 1965 two-year-old-colts "Champion County."
Sometimes I wonder whether all the wealth that has come to County Clubs through their Supporter's Associations is being used in the best way. The elimination of the distinction between the amateur and the professional has created a danger of there being no room for the young University player or the gifted club cricketer when free to take part in the odd game or two. Are there too many contracted players now that some counties are free from financial problems? If so, English cricket will become over-professionalised and the gay, enterprising spirit which the better type of amateur was able to provide will completely disappear. I was very pleased to hear Mr. S. C. Griffith, secretary of M.C.C., comment on this matter in his annual address to the County Secretaries. The way to find new talent is to leave the door open to cricketers from all walks of life and to encourage them.
When South Africa left the British Commonwealth of Nations in 1961 they automatically ceased membership of the Imperial Cricket Conference, thereby forfeiting official Test status. At the time, New Zealand had already chosen their party who were due to engage in five Tests in South Africa in 1961-62. Since then, South Africa have played five Tests in Australia and more recently have taken part in five Tests with England in their country. To me it seems unfair that the players chosen for their various countries to oppose South Africa should not be accorded the Test status they merit. After all, Australia picked their team to visit England last summer on the form displayed against the South Africans. To omit these performances from the official records would leave gaps in the true records. Hence, once again, these have been included in the list of Test cricketers which begins on page 161 and in the Test section of Cricket Records. Whatever are one's feelings about apartheid, I do not think discrimination over the status of an International cricket match will help to solve the problem.
The Lord's Test is usually the big money-spinner of the season. Last summer the full receipts came to £54,602, of which Australia took £13,883 as their share. The full paying attendance for the five days was 93,032 which includes those who saw no cricket on the first two days owing to rain and the water-logged state of the ground. In an effort to show a token of goodwill to those unfortunate people, M.C.C. on behalf on the Board of Control, suggested that an extra half hour should be added to each of the last three days. No doubt, this proposal surprised Mr. R. C. Steele, the Australian manager, who declined to accede to it. Test matches are conducted under a solemn code of rules in which the hours of play, intervals, times for drinks and so on are strictly defined and any variation without the sanction of the Australian Board of Control would have been unconstitutional and set a dangerous precedent. The Australians might also have risked defeat had play been extended for ninety more minutes for water had seeped under the covers and the wet pitch could easily have helped England. Moreover, it was no fault of Australia that Lord's was not adequately protected from rain, nor that the drainage was inefficient.
Immediately cricket ceased in September work was put in hand to replace the drains laid down at the turn of the century. There is a drop of eight feet from the top side of the ground to the Tavern and except for the square, the whole of the ground has been underlaid with a herring-bone pattern of trenches two and a half feet deep. Given reasonable weather there should be fewer blank days at headquarters in future.
Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, is a familiar figure at Test Matches in his own country and he generally makes a special effort to be present at Lord's when Australia meet England. Last year, with the Prime Ministers' Conference taking place in London in mid-July, Sir Robert watched the Third Test at Headingley and had the good fortune to see Australia gain a splendid victory in the only match of the series brought to a definite conclusion. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who made his name as a cricketer at Eton and for Middlesex when he was Lord Dunglass, paid a brief visit to the Old Trafford Test, as did his successor, Mr. Harold Wilson. Another Prime Minister, Mr. Ian Smith, of Rhodesia, went to Lord's in September when the Mashonaland Country Districts played Cross Arrows.