Cricket's place in war-time, 1944

Notes by the Editor

Hubert Preston

To borrow a phrase used by the Prime Minister in his speech at the Guildhall on Lord Mayor's Day, we have passed the fourth milestone in war-time cricket; and have not lost sight of the first-class game, to which we all hope to return before much more effort is expended in keeping the flag flying. This symbol of activity on the playing fields, as hoisted above the Pavilion every match day at Lord's, is suggested for each club--a small matter but helpful in showing the zeal of all concerned in providing an antidote to war-gloom, far more than in the similar period of four summers over which the last war extended, cricket has proceeded alike for the recreation of all men in the various Services both as players and spectators, while the general public in their thousands flocked regularly to the grounds where any men of known fame were expected. These opportunities accorded with the desire of the Adjutant General of the Forces. Mr. Stanley Christopherson, President of the Marylebone Club, emphasised this before the 1940 season, and there has not been any relaxation of this stimulus, Mr. Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, last summer asking that cricket should be encouraged in every way.

Indeed, the efforts of M.C.C., the organisers of London Counties and British Empire teams, found splendid support with corresponding energy forthcoming in every part of the country. Civil authorities and Town Councils welcomed cricket as an aid to their "Holidays at Home" efforts, and the public of all types, many new to the game, found it entertaining--a real recreation worth studying in its intricacies.

Such modern war-time evidence of the great hold cricket has attained and the insistence of its lovers to indulge in their favourite pastime takes us back 150 years. We read in The Cricket Field, by the Rev. James Pyecroft: "Let us trace these Hambledonians in all their contests from the 1786 to the 1800, the eventful period of the French Revolution and Nelson's victories, and see how the Bank stopping payment, the mutiny of the Fleet, and the threatened invasion, put together, did not prevent balls from flying over the tented field in a far more innocent and rational way on this than on the other side of the water."

That period reminds us of the foundation of M.C.C. and, if debarred from a sight of the tented fields, typical of Canterbury Week and other Festivals, we have revelled in many hits for six, some out of the ground at Lord's, where the Tavern was often bombarded, and once a full glass perished from the blow of a robust batsman's pull. The lost drink was not of the kind described by Nyren as on tap at Hambledon: "Barleycorn Ale--genuine Boniface! vended at twopence per pint."

Perpetual Memorials

For closer links with the distant past I would mention first the purchase by East Molesey Club of their part of old Moulsey Hurst, the historic sports ground commemorated in an oil painting by Richard Wilson, R.A., of a match played there in 1780. The picture belongs to M.C.C. The first record of a match at Moulsey Hurst dates back to 1732, and twelve years later Surrey met there a team got together by Frederick Prince of Wales. This summer the King, through his secretary, expressed to the East Molesey Club the hope that their match with Buccaneers, played in aid of the fund to purchase the freehold of the ground as a perpetual memorial to Captain F. E. Smith, other members and visiting players killed in the war, would be in every way successful; so the close touch of our Royal Family with cricket repeated itself in the personal interest taken by our King in a match on the same ground. And His Majesty is Patron of both M.C.C. and Surrey.

For over sixty years the East Molesey Club have used the five acres now acquired permanently, and the Robins family, of whom R. W. V., of Cambridge University, Middlesex and England, is best known, maintain their intimate and active connection with the doings of the club. Mr. E. W. Kent, who stroked the Oxford boat to victory over Cambridge in 1891, was one of the Trustees who agreed to sell the land to the club at a reasonable sum for use as a cricket ground for all time. This will be gratifying to lovers of the game, as declared in this cable from General Freyberg, V.C., Officer Commanding New Zealand Forces, Middle East: "All comrades of F. E. Smith will approve Molesey Cricket Club's fitting memorial to brilliant all-rounder who fell in gallant action at Alamein." Frederick Edward Smith was the club's best all-rounder. Captain of Waitaki, in New Zealand, he came to England in 1936, and for East Molesey scored 1,000 runs and took 100 wickets in two consecutive seasons. He hit centuries, did the hat-trick, and took all ten wickets in an innings.


Lascelles Hall

Coincidences occur with the march of time, and the Lascelles Hall Club, which celebrated their centenary in 1925, with the help of cricket lovers, especially Yorkshiremen, also have saved their ground from the hands of builders. I recall walking to Lascelles Hall when on duty for a Yorkshire match at Huddersfield. Every Yorkshireman knows Lascelles Hall as the home of the Thewlis family, who put an eleven on the field and won a match in 1866, the year when the ground, as it is now, was opened. Ephraim Lockwood, of high fame, came from this rural spot. He toured America in 1879 with Richard Daft's team, and when at Niagara, looking at the falls, Lockwood exclaimed, "Well, if this is Niagara, I think now't of it; I'd rather be at Lascelles Hall."

Cricket always will be enriched by the retention for futurity of these two old grounds as examples showing the growth of the game both among players and those who support it. So when the question of war memorials is under discussion, nothing could prove more appropriate than the acquisition of the local cricket ground as perpetual reminder of what this greatest of games has done for the youth and manhood of Great Britain and her offspring in all parts of the world. Already Club Cricket Conference are concerned at the danger of many club enclosures being used as a help towards solving the housing problem; consequently an immediate move would seem advisable to secure such well-kept places as health resorts for the players and people of all ages, besides those already zealous in watching over the future of cricket.


Tilford Green

When away from London for "a change", I found myself within easy distance of Tilford Green, home of the cricket immortal William Beldham, "the finest batter of his own, or perhaps of any age," -- "Silver Billy". This recalled to me how F. S. Ashley-Cooper used to address Sydney Pardon as "Lumpy", nickname of Edward Stevens, "finest bowler of the day", and signed himself "B/B"--heroes of Hambledon during their long association with Wisden. The Tilford club could not play on Saturdays last summer because their members carried out war duties, but on Sunday afternoons they relaxed; and more innocent recreation and amusement could not be desired. "Sixes" over the road were plentiful; some drives sent the ball into the front garden of Billy Beldham's cottage, and when the fight to beat the 120 made by Frensham, a nearby village, became intense, a hen approached the bowler's umpire as if to protect the last two batsmen from the fear of "ducks"--the spell worked, Tilford won by two wickets. Cows going from a farmyard to pasture provided another happy episode for me, ignorant of such rural cricket. They took their habitual leisurely course over the end of the green past "B/B's" cottage, and seemed conscious of a desire not to cross the bowler's arm. So the game went on unchecked, and the one thing wanting for a complete reverie of old times was the cry of "tich and turn" to encourage batsmen to run out their hits--the boundary signal seemed an anachronism in that delightful age-old setting. Tilford club dates back to Hambledon days without boasting to have upon its green of undulating pitfalls, outside the well-kept pitch, such a smooth level as Broad Halfpenny Down. Less rustic but possibly older places of cricket fame come to mind like the Sevenoaks Vine ground and Mitcham Green, also surrounded by public roads, but a more delightful, even romantic spot than Tilford of hallowed memories could not be desired for the sheer joy of cricket, as known for nearly a century by Billy Beldham. He died in the one cottage overlooking the green in 1862 at the great age of 96.

The pleasure expressed about such cricket is not meant to convey approval of suggested play on Sundays in County or other important matches with vast crowds looking on. Everyone engaged in cricket throughout the week needs a rest and the occasion for that is Sunday. If that rule were infringed thousands of present supporters would never again go to a County ground.


Iceland Cricket

For a complete contrast to this example of the beauty of the game in England there is a call to Iceland, where in August Royal Air Force twice beat Royal Navy--by 36 runs and 24 runs. As described in The Cricketer, The King of all games extended his sovereignty and hoisted his flag in far-off Iceland. Those matches in a neutral country on a football stadium lent by the authorities at Reykjavik gave recreation to our fighting forces when free from duty for brief spells.

In very different surroundings--Stalag Luft prison camp in East Prussia-- Australia won a Test match by three runs, the last England wicket falling to a wonderful catch off the last ball of the final over. The fieldsman at point lost his balance but rising with the ball in his right hand claimed victory as his reward. That catch gave J. E. Connolly, who was cricket secretary of Sydney University before the war, a match record of 13 wickets for 60 runs. At another prison camp, Stammlager, Australia won a triangular tournament, defeating England in the deciding match after a victory for each over New Zealand.

In Spain, too, enthusiasts from the British Embassy played a match on a polo ground with sadly deficient implements; but keenness, enjoyment and a close finish, with La Granja beating Madrid by seven runs, made up for any handicaps; and Spaniards fell to the allurement of cricket.


Activity at Lord's

At many important places in England the game proceeded on much the same lines as in the three previous seasons; and at Lord's, where I saw most of the best matches, much happened for the general benefit--performers, onlookers and charity funds. Incidents in the play provided many subjects for discussion. Putting in the opposition became almost a habit with captains winning the toss in one-day matches, to the horror of some unswerving adherents to firmly-established customs. Double-summer-time meant moisture remaining on well-grassed turf, and more important than the opportunity thus afforded for bowlers to make the ball lift and dismiss a side cheaply was solving the problem when a successful batting side should declare. Then came the sporting effort for victory which often would prove the wisdom of fielding in the morning, particularly at Lord's, where in the past superstition of some nervous influence brought about many a failure of great batsmen at the start of a match. The fall of C. B. Fry and K. S. Ranjitsinhji each without a run to the Australian A. J. Hopkins in the 1902 Test may be cited as a case in point; a bowler seldom used by Joe Darling, Hopkins did not take another wicket in that series of Tests.

A marked instance of triumph gained after a "you bat first" decision came last June when Ames sent in West Indies and the England Eleven won by seven wickets with time to spare. In less easy circumstances, if run-getting is not fast enough for sure victory, a fight for safety may finish with a race in the last few overs, as when B. H. D. Robinson, in the first match of the season at Headquarters, hit to the boundary the eighth ball of the final over and United Hospitals beat London Fire Force by three wickets. The University match provided an instance of just avoiding defeat after putting in the adversaries. G. E. Dixon, with presumably the weaker side, gave Cambridge first innings. Unlike his predecessor's experience in 1942, when W. J. H. Butterfield, apparently well set, was bowled by the seventh ball of the last over, Dixon did not go to the crease because the ninth wicket fell to the fifth ball of the last over just at seven o'clock, and Oxford, 87 behind, drew the match.


Eight-Ball Over Favours Batsmen

These cases bear strongly on the advantage afforded to the batting side in a race with the clock by the over of eight balls--used on trial in 1939 and retained during the four war-time seasons so far endured. Present-day hitters like Gimblett, Ames, the Comptons, Dempster, or Bartlett might easily score 30 or 40 runs from an over and bring off a startling victory; but unless two minutes remained the last batsman need not face the risk of disaster. On the other hand, with a few wickets to fall, another batsman could race to the crease and go for the runs without fear of his team losing. How one-sided this arrangement is derives emphasis when recalling September 7, 1940--an air raid afternoon during the Battle of Britain. The Government regulations as to "taking cover" meant a prolonged delay and an unfinished match seemed certain; but "all clear" sounded, and the closely observed rule at Lord's to play out time brought about an amazing climax. L. Gray, fast bowler, took four wickets in seven balls at the cost of one run and a leg-bye, A Middlesex XI beating A Lord's XI a few minutes before seven o'clock by 32 runs. These results, which I saw, present a complicated conundrum difficult to solve; but surely the last over, whether of six or eight balls, should be played to a finish no matter if time does expire while runs are coming or wickets falling.


Leslie Compton's Catch

The two-day match between England and The Dominions at Lord's provided an example of the risk run by applying the declaration after taking first innings. R. W. V. Robins won the toss, declared with nine men out, and secured a lead of 209; yet he preferred to bat again, and his second declaration, after a collapse of batsmen who were forcing the pace, produced a grand finish: Robertson dismissed two men in the only over he bowled and England won by eight runs at a quarter to seven. The effort to get 360 in four hours and a half only just failed, and the result might and probably would have been different but for the left-handed catch by Leslie Compton leaning on the Pavilion rails which dismissed Constantine. That grand catch aroused much discussion, but it was perfectly fair because Compton was standing within the boundary when he held the ball.


Notable Events

Much of the cricket in many matches reached a high standard, and splendid fielding often gave special pleasure to the most exacting critics. Besides fine catches mentioned incidentally, others that come to mind were two by Gimblett--one near the screen when he lost sight of a high drive until apparently too late, but, thrusting out his left hand, he clutched the falling ball in amazing style yet with apparent ease as if taking it in a basket; the other at deep square-leg, where he ran across a hard skimming hit and seized the ball ankle-high with his right hand. Those spectacular efforts, remarkable as they were, deserve less notice than the performance of K. C. James, New Zealand and Northamptonshire, who, playing at Lord's for R.A.F., caught consecutively four Army batsmen at the wicket off A. D. G. Matthews of Glamorgan. This sequence by a wicket-keeper off one bowler at the start of an innings, recalled how in 1901 at Leicester, Whiteside stumped the first four Essex batsmen off Geeson. Reports do not state if they were the first four wickets to fall. Probably not, because Charles McGahey, the number four, was highest scorer with forty. The first catch by James ended an opening stand of 66, and Matthews took his four wickets in 23 balls at a cost of only four runs. Over 22,000 people saw that Whit Monday match, which provided another instance of victory after putting in the opponents as R. E. S. Wyatt did. Edrich and Berry actually hit off the last 114 runs in 44 minutes, and R.A.F. won by nine wickets with ten minutes to spare in face of a declaration at 168 for eight wickets. That happened two days after The Army suffered defeat from Civil Defence, who won by six wickets, thanks largely to James Parks and Harold Gimblett putting on 200 at two a minute. Another Army game went quite differently in September when Major A. B. Sellers gave National Police first innings. Bad fielding largely accounted for The Army having to face a total of 196, and they were dismissed for 93. Apart from much heavier scoring, the same thing happened when Civil Defence put in R.A.F. and, set to face a total of 319 after dismissing only four batsmen, were beaten by 95 runs.


A Really Tight Finish

Of close finishes such as occurred in all parts of the country perhaps the best instance was at Uxbridge, where British Empire XI beat an R.A.F. team by one run, thanks to Ray Smith taking the last wicket on time. No fewer than 38 wickets fell for 331 runs in that one-day match, which might have ended in four ways, a win for either side, a tie, or a draw, according to what happened to that final delivery.


The Pitch and Tactics

Years ago in first-class cricket greater value attached to batting first when pitches seldom wore well and prior to 1884 were swept and rolled only between the innings. I remember being told how W. G. Grace used to say, "Get'em in overnight," meaning that the batsmen in the morning must do their own "gardening," sweeping worm casts off the pitch in damp weather with their bats and attending to suspect patches under any conditions, as I, when a boy, saw them at the Oval. To bat, obviously, was then the course to adopt on winning the toss; but that did not mean a sure way to victory, and other laws required attention when batsmen threw away their wickets so that there might remain time to dismiss the opposition and win the match.

The routine follow-on, eighty runs behind, gave the side batting second a chance of pulling the game round, their opponents perhaps having to bat last on a worn pitch. Increasing the margin to 120 in 1894 and then to 150 in 1900, with optional enforcement by the side already deriving benefit from batting first, put further value on winning the toss and going in. Now we have found that these changes in the laws react and accentuate the troubles thought to be removed by supposed improvement in the effort to bring about definite results to matches.

All these matters came under discussion during last season; diverse remedial suggestions were expressed, but almost always with one conclusion--that over-preparation of pitches by the application of marl, and more recently dope, has for many years put an excessive value on batting, particularly with those points for a first-innings lead as a tempting bait. Opinions received from the Counties clearly indicate this widespread view. Notwithstanding instructions issued by M.C.C., groundmen evidently cannot belittle their important responsibilities by making anything but the best possible pitch. Proper pride in one's work creates a difficult obstacle for the tender of turf asked to reduce the merit of what he produces. But to maintain the excellence of the whole playing area without manufacturing a pitch that will wear unbroken for a week--the boast of one groundsman--should satisfy anyone, even more exacting than Martin of Oval fame or old Walter Marshall of Trent Bridge.


Fast Wickets Wanted

The fast natural pitch, made as level as a billiard table by mowing, rolling and watering, would increase greatly the likelihood of a definite result in county matches. Moreover, the weight of the roller should be limited both in use before the match and between the innings, when umpires and groundman should exercise control rather than leave all the responsibility to the captain of the side going to bat. The call for the heavy roller to bring up the water has ruined many a match in wet weather, a little more rain causing a long wait or even abandonment for the day. The anticipation of county cricket after the war has aroused the sort of criticism that seeks the way for remedying evils, whether imaginary or real, and, beyond question, a fairer fight between batsmen and bowlers would help largely in this direction by the reduction of run-getting without allowing conditions to become in any way dangerous for the batsmen.

Covering all the pitch as protection from rain before and during the match was an innovation of doubtful value as a means to avoid waste of time. If the pitch itself could be kept dry the surrounding turf often became saturated to excess, because of overflow from the covers, so necessitating a long wait because the wet would not soak into the concrete-like turf, and if perfect protection prevailed bowlers never found a glue-pot on which to wreak their vengeance on batsmen so often holding the upper hand in fine weather. Definite objections now expressed to this unfairness to the fielding side again show the danger of altering laws that served so well when everyone bore in mind the joy of the game as played to the best of each man's ability, without any thought of giving anything away, no matter what ulterior object might be served by negation of the true spirit of cricket.


It Is Not Cricket

Another point to remember is that the alterations in the follow-on law with the added power to declare an innings closed were brought about by the adoption of tactics that could be described as "not cricket"--the giving away of runs so that the other side should not bat twice consecutively or the knocking down of wickets to obtain the follow-on. Then the deliberate action of the fielding side to avoid the dismissal of batsmen; also the giving away of runs to influence a decision on the first innings or to obtain the use of the new ball for the swerve bowlers, as happened at Lord's in 1937 when Surrey were trying to beat Middlesex. Such scheming may work against the adventurer. No one can tell what may happen until the match has run its full course. Always we should bear in mind Cobden's hat-trick which won the 1870 University match for Cambridge by two runs, and the Fowler match of 1910, when Eton beat Harrow by nine runs after following-on 165 behind and being only four ahead when their ninth wicket fell. Also the victory of Hampshire at Edgbaston in 1922 after being dismissed for 15 and following-on 208 behind. Truly a match is never lost until it is won! An encouraging thought that should inspire each side to play the game and give nothing away.


The Bishop's Remark

I concluded these notes a fortnight before the special M.C.C. Committee presided over by Sir Stanley Jackson, published their report regarding the future of county cricket directly after the war. It is satisfactory to feel that there is no necessity to alter any opinion that I expressed, and to know that first-class cricket will be resumed at the earliest possible moment. A suggested modified competition among all the first-class counties, who may choose three or two day matches, and a return to the six-ball over afford a good prospect.

Moreover, we are kept in good heart by the knowledge that play has gone on joyously throughout the war in all parts of the world, and a final feeling of satisfaction is aroused by this remark by the Bishop of Leicester on being elected Patron of the Leicestershire County Club in December: "Cricket will always have a stable place in this nation."


© John Wisden & Co