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The fifth season of war-time cricket showed even more clearly than did any of the previous four what a wonderful hold the game has on England and her offspring. Despite bad weather in all parts of the country, and the menace of fly-bombs, particularly in London, cricketers indulged in their favourite pastime whenever offered the opportunity; references to the game came from every-where. We, at home, were fortunate in having with us the very good Australian Air Force side; the Dominions, New Zealand, Canada and West Indies, also put elevens in the field.
Even before these teams engaged in representative matches and so gave practical reminders of the game throughout the Empire, Mr. John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, when becoming a Freeman of the City of London on May 10, made these historic remarks:
"The stock from which Australia has come gives to it its fibre, its physical stamina, the endurance of its people in adversity, and that unconquerable spirit which refuses to acknowledge defeat. You have had some evidence of that at Lord's now and again. Lord's is to Australia what it is to this country. We would refuse to contemplate a world in which there would be a jurisdiction over Lord's which would prohibit the playing of Test matches. While we may argue about whether or not the game is played according to the rules, we most certainly decline to permit some intruder to decide what the rules should be. We are defending the City of London and those 22 yards of turf which we hope will be used time and time again, so that the Motherland and Australia can decide whether the six-ball over is better than the eight-ball over."
Almost as a sequel to this tribute to the happy feeling that exists between the chief cricket countries, Lieut. Colonel A. G. Moyes sent me the latest news of Australian prospects for the next meeting with England. Moyes played for South Australia and Victoria some thirty years ago, and for Dominion sides in England during the last war. As a journalist on the Sydney Sun, he has kept in close touch with the game, notably when on visits to England with the last two Australian teams: his opinion deserves careful consideration, particularly as it expresses what is thought in Australia.
He, like other ardent critics, advocates a resumption of Test cricket directly the conditions in Europe permit, but I cannot forget the unfortunate experiences undergone by England after the last war. At the urgent entreaty of Australia we sent out a team in the winter of 1920 with disastrous consequences. Australia won all five matches, and in 1921, when still not recovered from the effects of the war, we again suffered a lamentable loss of the rubber. It may be argued quite fairly that Australia is as much in this war as England, and for that reason neither would undergo any special handicap; but many of the leading players are spread over the world on Service duty, and possibly those most wanted would not be available at short notice to the detriment of each side. The risk of any apparent unfairness to either country in this respect may seem a small matter compared with the joy of getting the best possible cricket at the earliest moment, and Sir Pelham Warner, at the Middlesex County meeting, said: "There are an extraordinary lot of good Australian players in this country, and while they are waiting to return home or go to the Far East they could play some matches here. They may not have many well-known names, but all Australians are natural cricketers. I could pick a good eleven on Bondi Beach."
An arrangement like the tour of The Australian Imperial Forces team in 1919 would be admirable; but a real Test series remains on the records years after the prevailing conditions are forgotten, and so may convey an incorrect idea of the relative strength of the countries during the whole period of these encounters.
This remark applies to Ivo Bligh's team winning The Ashes in 1882-83, an event of which the death of the Dowager Lady Darnley in August last came as a reminder.
Doubts have arisen about The Ashes being won then because in the summary of Test results the 1882-83 record is given as England 2, Australia 2. The explanation how The Ashes were won from W. L. Murdoch's team which beat England, captained by A. N. Hornby, on that historic day, August 29, 1882, was given clearly in an interview with W. E. Bettesworth in 1894, when Ivo Bligh said: "Some verses were published in Punch to the effect that English cricket had been cremated at The Oval when Murdoch's team beat England and that 'St. Ivo' was taking a team to bring back 'The Ashes.' When we had beaten Murdoch's team the second time a number of Australian ladies presented me with a pretty little urn containing ashes, which, according to the title written on the urn, were 'The Ashes of English Cricket.' We played Murdoch's Australian XI three matches, winning two and losing one. A fourth match which was arranged to give two other men a chance ended in defeat." One of those ladies, Miss Florence Rose Morphy, of Beechworth, Victoria, married the Hon. Ivo Bligh in 1884, and after the death in 1927 of her husband, who became the eighth Earl Darnley in 1900, Lady Darnley gave the urn to the M.C.C. and the trophy was placed prominently in the pavilion long room at Lord's.
Another memory of Test cricket was aroused by correspondence in The Cricketer regarding the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton bowling lobs in the England and Australia match at the Oval in 1884. I saw every ball on the Monday and Tuesday, the first two days, and my recollection of the incident in the first Test which I watched with the keenness of a schoolboy, received verification from Captain E. J. B. Wynyard, who in a letter to me said that his father, Major E. G. Wynyard--famous in Army, M.C.C. and Hampshire cricket--told him, when quite young, that Lyttelton, for England at The Oval, was the only wicket-keeper in big cricket that he could recall who bowled lobs without removing his pads, and not only took four wickets, but continued his duties of wicket-keeper to the other bowler. The last four Australian wickets fell to Lyttelton at the cost of eight runs. That happened on the Tuesday after his failure with over-arm stuff on the first day of the match.
Looking back on these events and thinking of international cricket generally makes one feel how casual the authorities were about classifying matches between representative teams of any home country and an English touring side, no matter what their credentials. For many years now our Dominions have not received Test status until playing England in this country; but statisticians long ago credited the first visiting team to South Africa in 1888-89 as playing two Tests. Yet, though South Africa sent a team here in 1894, not until 1907 did their fourth visiting side play England, and so come on international terms with the Mother Country.
The professional team captained by J. Lillywhite in 1876-77 no more represented the full strength of England than did the amateurs with George Ulyett and Tom Emmett taken out by Lord Harris two years later, when the Walkers could not fulfil an invitation from the Melbourne club for a team of amateurs to visit Australia. Yet the results against Australia in these tours head the list of Test records.
A matter of great importance in connection with the future of cricket in England is the prosperity of the county clubs. Despite the inevitable lapse of the championship, many counties have improved their financial position, thanks to the membership undergoing comparatively small reduction; but several deplore a big drop in their muster-roll and feel anxious as to how they will obtain the money required for putting their grounds and buildings in proper order, notwithstanding the growth of cash reserves kept ready for meeting the heavy expense. The satisfaction of helping towards this is already some reward for those who through the war years have paid their fees, with little, if any, return in the way of class cricket to watch. They will see the full fruit of their generosity more readily if old adherents rejoin the clubs and bring with them new members. Many people fresh to cricket have appreciated the recreation afforded them by one-day games, and they will find increased pleasure in the stern struggles of the two innings a side match with something more than the joyous pleasure of the game involved. A fight for championship points, bringing out resolute nerve as well as skill and strength, will cause all the greater thrills with the resumption of the best cricket by the old favourites, together with the newcomers brought to the front during the war by the chance afforded when finding a place along-side their seniors of proved ability.
Sir Home Gordon, by his voluntary work as honorary secretary, seems to have saved Sussex from absolute penury; and he urgently appeals to former members not only to resume their subscriptions but also to bring in recruits. A moment's thought will show doubters what splendid value membership gives to anyone able to visit their county ground even a dozen times in a season. No waiting at turnstiles; better accommodation with more personal interest in the welfare of the club; and the boon of using the pavilion, not only when your team play at home but also when away. In these war seasons the M.C.C. have opened Lord's pavilion to members of all county clubs, a privilege remaining in force that should induce many waverers to support now, in the most practical manner, the game that affords them so much enjoyment.
Last summer some counties improved their programmes and expressed readiness to resume their places in the championship competition directly world conditions remove the paramount obstacle, or to engage in the emergency plan on a regional basis as decided by the special M.C.C. committee whose report appeared in last year's Wisden. Many prominent players have kept in practice with Service teams and several of high promise profited in the same way, so that confidence may be felt in the possibility of every county putting an eleven in the field. The urgent need will be for all to resume without worrying about getting together a team fully worthy of the county's strength--and, from what one hears, that is the general desire and resolution.
All over the country from the end of April to early in October good matches proceeded in the happiest manner, and in many districts "Holidays at Home" again aroused special local efforts with gratifying success everywhere. Service charities received commendable support, and the Edgbaston Festival showed a clear profit of £1,036, of which a considerable portion went to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham's War Relief Fund. That splendid financial success might be attributed partly to the efforts made by Lieut. Colonel R. I. Scorer to interest the crowd by using a loud-speaker for explaining points in the game not always discernible by spectators no matter how well placed. Between overs, at the fall of a wicket, and during lengthy intervals after an innings and at lunch time his messages gave valuable information--enlightening to those new to cricket and explanatory of anything doubtful to those well versed in the intricacies of the game. All this without any suggestion of interfering with the cricket. If not quite a novelty, this was a valuable expansion of formal announcements made on some grounds before the war, and far more than a copy of anything of the kind done at football matches. Should this broadcasting become general, care must be taken to avoid hilarity that might distract the attention of any player from the actual proceedings at the wicket. I recall a case at Lord's in a Test when Frank Woolley made a sad stroke after an incident outside the actual game.
The contention raised in my notes last year that the final over should be completed even if time does expire while runs are coming or wickets falling has received strong support, and many close finishes again emphasised the need for a definite ruling by M.C.C. in the Laws of the Game. References to certain possible situations given under Law 13 generally favour the batting side; but at Coventry in July, when ten runs were wanted for victory and a wicket fell to the second ball of the over, a fresh batsman was denied the opportunity of getting these runs off R. E. S. Wyatt, the bowler in action. Moreover, the bowler might have dismissed the last four batsmen! The result was in the balance, and, since everyone agrees that we play cricket for the joy of the game, why should not Wyatt have continued instead of allowing the umpires to pull up the stumps? The batsman definitely was entitled to try for the runs, because a note under Law 13 reads, "If a wicket falls within two minutes of time the umpire shall call 'time' unless the incoming batsman claims his right to bat for the time remaining." Surely either side should be allowed the opportunity of gaining a victory until that last over is finished!
The urgent need for strict adherence to the laws of the game on all occasions cannot be emphasised too strongly. Under the M.C.C. every nicety is observed, but carelessness does creep in, even at Lord's. Handling the ball by a batsman should be avoided in all circumstances, no matter if asked by a fieldsman or on his own initiative. A flagrant case at Weston-super-Mare, where a batsman played the ball dead at his feet, picked it up and threw it to the bowler, made me gasp. And this happened a few minutes after another batsman asked, with a look of annoyance, that a chicken should be removed from behind the bowler's arm; a fieldsman in the deep did this before another ball was bowled! To show that this occurred in a match of some class I may add that the Weston-super-Mare club have secured their ground for ever for local cricket--a notable achievement in war-time when amalgamation with their neighbours of Uphill for the duration was necessary to keep the game alive.
We want definite results as an additional attraction to the form of the players, and a really glaring case of a match being abandoned fifteen minutes before the expiration of the time advertised occurred at Gloucester on June 3. B. H. Lyon led the West of England team off the ground at quarter to seven when, with four wickets in hand, R.A.F. required only three runs for victory. Surely the umpires should not have permitted that. And other cases of inefficient officials came to my notice. This was the more unfortunate because there were available retired players waiting the opportunity of umpiring in good matches, and many on the roll of first and second class county umpires might have been called upon and paid fees which would have been acceptable.
Taken by way of contrast, such incidents helped to set out more strongly the many good matches that took place in all parts of the country, with Lord's continuing to stage the best cricket and some of the closest struggles. As a tense finish nothing could have excelled the victory at Whitsuntide of Australia over The Rest by one wicket a few seconds before seven o'clock off the fourth ball of the last over--begun when five runs were wanted. W. R. Hammond captained The Rest, and on Whit Monday he led England to victory by six wickets over the same eleven of Australia. These games are described in Matches at Lord's, but I must mention here that on the Saturday Hammond declined to take a tea interval for which the umpires were preparing. This sporting action, after his declaration with eight wickets down, increased the likelihood of a definite result and made the day memorable for a crowd of 28,000 people. In all the games that I saw, and especially those in which the best players were engaged, the return of the six-ball over, as decided by the special M.C.C. Committee, gave general approval. It enlivened the cricket by keeping fieldsmen more alert and saved time because bowlers did not dally owing to tiredness often shown when concentrating on the longer over.
When at Bradford in July, Hammond showed his desire to give spectators as much cricket as possible in another way. A heavy storm broke immediately after his R.A.F. declaration and few people thought The Army would be able to attempt their reply. But when the rain stopped Hammond and The Army captain, Major A. B. Sellers, agreed to continue on another pitch. Hammond selected the best place and, after the groundman had market it out, The Army batted without the new pitch even being rolled! Consequently another hour of cricket was enjoyed and everyone talked about the enterprise shown by the captains.
Under Law 6, Hammond and Sellers adopted the proper course, but I cannot recall a pitch ever being changed in county or Test cricket. Yet how many hours have been lost in first-class cricket simply through the pitch alone being unfit. I only hope that when we return to first-class cricket more captains will make the most of the opportunities allowed them by the laws. After all, people want to play and see cricket and, providing nothing unfair is done, surely such a thing as moving the pitch helps to keep the game alive and sends the crowd home happy instead of disappointed.
Among the rising talent, F/O R. T. Simpson, already known in connection with Nottinghamshire cricket, showed such consistent form at the beginning of August when on embarkation leave before going to India, that he scored 529 runs in nine innings played in the course of nine days. For England against The Dominions at Lord's he made 79, and his highest innings was 86 for the Festival Eleven against R.A.A.F. at Birmingham. His R.A.F. duties prevented him from appearing often in the field, but he always showed admirable form in freedom of powerful strokes made in beautiful style, strongly reminiscent of Joe Hardstaff junior. This splendid batsman and Denis Compton maintained their skill in many matches before Simpson joined them in India.
H. Halliday, the young Yorkshire opening batsman, repeated his fine form, and among nine hundreds he hit his first at Lord's when scoring 101 not out for the British Empire XI against London Counties. His aggregate in week-end games exceeded 2,000 runs.
No one revealed greater promise at headquarters than did the Hon. L. R. White, the most consistent Eton batsman. After doing well in a losing game for Lord's Schools, he scored 102 against A Lord's XI, and with 77 he made more than twice as many runs as came from anyone else on the strong Middlesex and Essex side in a keen fight with Kent and Surrey. He might develop into a county and England captain.
To those seasoned veterans playing in League cricket during war-time, and also to some young professionals who may feel tempted to forsake their counties in order to obtain a more remunerative and easier way of living, I would stress what Jack Hobbs, who during the last war, when free from duty as an air mechanic, played for Idle in the Bradford League, has said to me. If you have known county cricket or have the ambition to play in it, you will not be content to remain in Saturday afternoon games in which you are hardly likely to improve your form or your status. After a bad spell you are not wanted because you would not draw the crowd. There is nothing like playing for your county and your own country; then you rise to the occasion with assured success.
To conclude on a sad topic:--
Many famous cricketers died during 1944, the most celebrated of past generations being W. M. Bradley, J. T. Hearne, A. C. MacLaren, W. Newham, Sir Kynaston Studd, the Rev. C. E. M. Wilson and W. Reeves, still prominent as one of our best umpires before the war, C. T. B. Turner and C. Kelleway, the Australians.
M. J. Turnbull, of Glamorgan, to whom special tribute is paid by Mr. J. C. Clay, was the sixth county captain to die for his country during this war, the others being P. T. Eckersley (Lancashire), R. P. Nelson (Northamptonshire), G. B. Legge (Kent), F. G. H. Chalk (Kent), and H. W. Dods (Lincolnshire). G. D. Kemp-Welch, Cambridge captain in 1931, who sometimes led Warwickshire, was killed in the Guards Chapel disaster.