1945

Views and values

While the fate of the world was being determined, English cricket was the scene of an interesting little battle, which ended in the rout of the hustlers and the triumph of conservatism over the heresy that progress and speed are synonymous. The defeat of the soi-disant progressives, with their programme of one-day and time-limited matches for first-class cricket, was a certainty so long as the issue of debate rested with the majority opinion of practising cricketers. In truth, it was an easy victory, as their opponents for the most part consisted of a few honest, if deluded, zealots, a few showmen, always ready for any change that might bring them into the light of publicity, and a few columnists, who instinctively hammer tradition.

Cricket reform has always attracted the attention of the eccentric. Golfers rest content with an unfinished argument about the weight and size of the ball. Rugby football sometimes regurgitates an ancient question concerning the points-value of a dropped goal. Association has flirted with the notion of one referee for each half of the field. But neither code has so far proposed that a match should consist of fifteen minutes play each way.

The cricket reformers should be more honest about their aims. They talk much about improving cricket, in the same way that some talk about improving the breed of race-horses. But what they are really talking about is money. They are not considering the art and technique of the game. They speak as financiers, not craftsmen. To them faster, faster means richer, richer. They believe that one-day cricket would mean more spectators. I believe it would empty the grounds as surely as the rain. A whole season of it, and there would be a clamour compared with which the sound of the reformer would be as a piccolo among a thousand cymbals.

Note that these crude plans for so many runs in an hour and so many hours for an innings are concerned entirely with the batsman. They are framed on the postulate of standard pitches, standard weather, and standard bowling. Note, too, that they attribute slow scoring to the batman's ineptitude, never to the bowler's excellence. The brighter cricketers, for their one-day carnivals, cannot allow for an hour in which survival with twenty runs is a far finer performance than five wickets gone for sixty. They have, literally, no time for the artistry of defence. To them a drawn match is a wasted match, no matter what skill, resource, endurance, have gone to its achieving.

The three-day match is a thing of hope. It gives time for recovery and surprise; as in that game at Edgbaston in June of 1922, when Hampshire, after being bowled out by Howell and F. S. G. Calthorpe for 15 ( Mead 6 not out!), scored 521 in the follow-on and won by 155 runs. Besides, if cricket were to be reduced and levelled to a thing of one day only, it would lose those pleasures of old acquaintance and social entertainment that raise it above all other games which, so often, are just ninety minutes of mud and energy, a boiled face over a tea-cup or beer-mug, and a hurry for the station. Three days mean three evenings; and, as I look back, if I may, to Somerset scenes, I reflect that, without the three-evening match, I should never have seen Yorkshire's Arthur Dolphin, with his rufous face set off by a whitish apron, selling fried flat-fish in the twilight, at a whacking profit, to the citizens of Taunton; I might never have listened to Sam Wood's nightly conversation on cricket and the world, compared with which all books that have ever been written on sport are like cocoa and hot water; I should never have asked Jack Hobbs how he felt on the Monday morning after sitting out the week-end with six runs wanted to equal W. G. Grace's 126 centuries, and he would never have answered by hooking my third ball that morning to the boundary.

And now to wander in the paths of speculation. Suppose that we were to play Australia in 1946, who might be picked for England? After the last war it took five years to find an England team, as opposed to eleven people playing for England. After this war it may take as long again. Of the England team that overwhelmed Australia at the Oval in August of 1938, two have been killed in their country's service, Hedley Verity and Kenneth Farnes. These are the others, with their age as in June, 1946, appended: L. Hutton (30), W. J. Edrich (30), M. Leyland (45), W. R. Hammond (captain) (43), E. Paynter (44), D. C. Compton (28), J. Hardstaff (34), A. Wood (47), W. E. Bowes (37). Of these, Hutton, Edrich, Compton and Hardstaff would form a nucleus of batting. Hammond must be a doubtful candidate, as, in spite of a wonderful war-time season in 1944, he has been battling against fibrositis. Then there is L. E. E. Ames, verging on forty, but still the best wicket-keeper-batsman in the country.

There should be no lack of batsmen, established or on the eve of performance. There are C. J. Barnett (35), J. D. Robertson (29), N. Oldfield (35), H. E. Dollery (31), A. V. Avery (31), A. Fagg (31), H. Gimblett (31), D. Brookes (30), L. B. Fishlock (39), G. Cox (34), J. F. Crapp (33), B. H. Valentine (38), J. Arnold (38), H. T. Bartlett (31), C. Washbrook (31), C. B. Harris (37), J. G. W. Davies (34), N. W. D. Yardley (31), A. Nutter (33), the incalculable L. J. Todd (39), and the most promising R. T. Simpson, of Nottinghamshire. Where ages are given, they refer to date June 1946. I have doubtless left some partisan chewing on an omission, but these names cover most of the batsmen who are in or near the England class. Enough to cheer the gloomiest selector.

No such optimism can surround the bowling. Of those who overthrew Australia at the Oval in 1938 we have lost, as above mentioned, both Kenneth Farnes and Hedley Verity, respectively the best fast right-hand and slowish left-hand bowler that we had; and whence can they be replaced? William Bowes, who at the time of writing, is still a prisoner of war, may show us for a few more seasons the art of control and pace from the pitch. Of fast-medium bowlers there should also be W. H. Copson, the brothers A.V. and G. H. Pope, R. T. D. Perks, R. Smith, T. F. Smailes, J. W. A. Stephenson, P. F. Judge, and, some years younger than any of these, C. J. Scott, who, at the age of twenty, took 121 wickets in 1939. Among the known leg-breakers, only D. V. P. Wright and R. W. V. Robins are of true England class, and the latter will be forty in June 1946. Of slow left-handers, I can think of none of the highest standard. Of slow right-handers, there are T. W. Goddard and E. P. Robinson. But there must be a limit to the former's defiance of the years. Memory goes back to the Oval Test of 1939, when England took the field against West Indies without Farnes, Verity and Bowes, and our bowlers were scattered like chaff. But perhaps the hour will once more bring the man. Let no one forget the story of Maurice Tate. One season he was first change for Sussex, the next he was the first bowler of his time. Exoriare aliquis!

The standard of wicket-keeping is high. There is something about the art that keeps men young. Arthur Wood, of Yorkshire, who celebrated the approach of his fortieth birthday by driving down England in a taxi-cab to play against Australia in 1938, headed the wicket-keeping list in 1939 with 83 dismissals. Fred Price, of Middlesex, at 37, came second with 81; Lancashire's W. Farrimond, at 36, third with 72; W. T. Luckes, at 38, fifth with 66; and Harry Elliott, of Derbyshire, who can give them all three years, sixth with 63. Ames did not keep wicket at all in 1939. Of those who have been able to play intermittently during the war, W. H. V. Levett, T. G. Evans and S. C. Griffith are all in the first rank, Evans being a discovery only by those who had not seen his earlier performances for Kent Second Eleven. In the first rank, too, is G. Dawkes, who began for Leicestershire in 1938 at the age of seventeen.

To suggest at this time a captain for England is an adventure. If the office were to be filled now, in the presumed absence of Walter Hammond, the choice might fall on A. B. Sellers, Yorkshire, or E. R. T. Holmes, Surrey, allowing that G. O. Allen, at 42, can no longer sustain his fast bowling. B. H. Valentine, in practice and form, would be a strong candidate. But with all these the years begin to argue. The name of S. C. Griffith comes to mind. He has the character and the position for captaincy. Nor must J. G. W. Davies be forgotten. Business may spike his cricket. But, could he consolidate his natural gifts as a batsman, he has much that goes to make the leader -- acute intelligence, geniality, courage and decision, and his fielding is an inspiration.

But these are mere wanderings in the maze of possibility. Cricket-lovers will hope that the incomparable Hammond will be restored to lead England, if only more, against the best that our old friend and enemy Australia can produce.


MISCELLANEA

General Sir Miles Dempsey, Commander of the Second Army, an enthusiastic cricketer, captained Shrewsbury in 1914 and played for Sussex v. Northamptonshire at Northampton in 1919.

General M. B. Burrows, who, as a member of the British Military Mission, accompanied Mr. Winston Churchill to Russia, scored 42 not out for Eton against Harrow in 1912. At Oxford he played in the 1914 Freshmen's match, and in 1924, when county captain, headed both batting and bowling averages of Oxfordshire. As a fast bowler, he was valuable member of many Army representative sides.

Lieut. Col. Pieter G. Van der Bijl, Oxford cricket Blue in 1932 and South Africa opening batsman against England in the 1938-39 Test match series, was badly wounded in Italy in August. Both ankles and his spine were fractured, but doctors considered permanent disability unlikely. A schoolmaster before the war, he rose to command a battalion, and in February 1943 was awarded the M.C.

George Herbert Hirst, at the age of 72, retired early in 1944 from his position as coach to the youth of Yorkshire. At the annual meeting of the County Club in January 1945 he was presented with a silver salver in recognition of his continuous service to Yorkshire cricket from 1889. The doings of this great all-round player were set out clearly in the 1922 Wisden.

Arthur Fielder, joint holder with Frank Woolley of the record for a last wicket stand, 235 for Kent v. Worcestershire at Stourbridge in 1909, was elected to the Committee of the Cricketer's Fund Friendly Society in succession to the late J. T. Hearne.

Members of the Royal Netherlands Navy cricket team, who arranged fixtures with Club Cricket Conference sides, were given facilities by M.C.C. to use the nets at Lord's once a week.

Three of the Netherlands players -- Neuerberg, Olivier and van der Eb -- visited England with Dutch representative teams before the war.

James Cannon, frequently referred to by Sir Pelham Warner as The King of Lord's, retired on pension after 65 years' continuous service with M.C.C. From ball-boy for the six lawn-tennis courts at the age of 12, he rose to be chief clerk. He recalled that his earlier duties included holding the mounts of members who arrived on horseback at the ground. He was presented with a clock in appreciation of his work for Middlesex County Cricket Club.


© John Wisden & Co
 
Sponsored Links

Why not you? Read and learn how!