Empire teams take the field, 1946

Notes by the Editor

Hubert Preston

Empire Teams Take the Field

After five seasons of what may be called impromptu cricket the sudden end of the European war came just in time to permit a partial resumption of the first-class game last summer. To celebrate Victory, three days were allotted to the Whitsuntide match with the Australian Services at Lord's; then the M.C.C. and the Combined Services Committee further extended this start into five Victory matches of three days each between England and Australia. The remarkable success that attended this spontaneous gesture of renewing the happy accord associated with contests of this nature emphatically proved the enormous value of keeping the game going during the uphill years of strife. The R.A.A.F. players of 1944, augmented by the A.I.F., soon ripened into a capable all-round side that underwent little alteration in this rubber series of 1945. England, on the other hand, seemed to experience difficulty in finding the best of the available players. This was more noticeable at Lord's than at either Sheffield or Manchester. Some of the chosen men, coming almost straight from battlefields to the headquarters of cricket, must have regarded the first encounter primarily as a reunion with many old friends, so that a thoroughly serious view of the game, such as the Australians clearly held, was too much to expect. In the first match the onus of attack for the final stage was borne by two fast bowlers of mature age, A. R. Gover and Colonel J. W. A. Stephenson, both tired from their exertions on the previous day; and C. G. Pepper made the winning hit just at seven o'clock in the last over of this very much enjoyed contest. For the third match--the second at Lord's--the choice of three youngsters without any experience of representative cricket afforded the strongest contrast; and again England lost. The work of George Pope, Pollard and Phillipson--kept out by injury until the final match at Old Trafford, which England won comfortably--showed that good bowlers of pace were available. This result, which divided the honours, came as a happy conclusion, and everyone could feel contented, especially as the last expressed wish of Mr. John Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, for an immediate resumption of Test cricket, became practically an accomplished fact during the summer, even before his death in July.

Directly after the end of the season Dr. H. V. Evatt, Australian Minister for External Affairs, appealed to the M.C.C. to send a side to Australia as soon as possible, with the natural outcome of the acceptance of a definite invitation from the Australian Cricket Board of Control for England to visit Australia in the 1946-47 season. On the same occasion Dr. Evatt stressed that the tour of the Australian Services team which sailed in October last to India was official. So, with the Dominions, West Indies and New Zealand putting teams in the field, the whole British Commonwealth of Nations became identified actively with cricket almost before the joyous shouts for peace, raised on the collapse of Japan, ceased to echo. And now a very powerful side from India, under the leadership of the Nawab of Pataudi, further accentuates the happy relations which cricket brings to all competing countries.


Big Hitting

Of the eleven matches, each of three days, played last summer which the M.C.C. ranked as first-class, that between England and Dominions at Lord's rivalled as an attraction those in which Australia took part, and we saw in M. P. Donnelly, the left-handed New Zealander, who toured England in 1937, a batsman ready to join company with the best exponents of the game now that he will have regular first-class experience while at Oxford University. His fine stroke play, notably to the off, provided some of the best cricket seen last season, and for arousing spectators to enthusiasm was exceeded only by gigantic hitting in which C. G. Pepper and Keith Miller emulated the giants of the past--not in the rate of scoring but in the carry of their big drives. In that same Dominions match at Lord's, Miller on-drove a ball to the roof of the broadcasting box over the England dressing-room at a height said to exceed that of the record hit by Albert Trott which cleared the pavilion. That was one of seven 6's by Miller in a score of 185. Pepper hit six 6's while making 168 in two hours and a half at Scarborough against H. D. G. Leveson Gower's eleven. He revelled in straight drives, one of which off Hollies cleared the four-storied houses and landed the ball in Trafalgar Square. In this he rivalled the historic efforts of C. I. Thornton in 1886, when A. G. Steel was the bowler and Thornton's 107 included eight 6's. While these tremendous drives remain chronicled because earning six runs, one may doubt if the length of carry and height of any of them equalled that by G. J. Bonnor in the first England and Australia match at the Oval in 1880. Always associated with the superb catch which G. F. Grace made, this hit was described to me quite recently by Mr. S. F. Charlton, an Old Cranleighan, who saw all the match. He wrote that Shaw, the bowler from the Vauxhall end, signalled with a gesture of his hand for G. F. Grace to look out, and the next ball with this guile in it brought about the catch near the sight screen--most certainly an amazing piece of cricket. The youngest of the three Graces playing for England just waited while the batsmen twice ran up and down the pitch before the ball fell into his safe hands. Hitherto my efforts to discover in what position G. F. Grace was fielding always failed.


Laws of the Game

Until the M.C.C. publish the Laws of Cricket as re-drafted, mainly under the direction of Colonel Rait Kerr, the provisional decision for a declaration on the first day of match when 300 runs have been scored, and the optional use of a new ball after 55 overs, must help towards definite decisions, and will be acceptable in all grades of cricket. The necessity for a closer observance of the laws became apparent when G. O. Allen, playing for South of England against the Australians at Lord's on June 30, was given out by Umpire Fowler handled the ball on an appeal by A. W. Roper, the bowler. No matter what Roper thought or intended, he may be congratulated on bringing about the dismissal of a former England captain for an obvious infringement of Law 29 at the headquarters of cricket. The rigour of the game cannot be too strongly impressed on all young players; and I may feel some personal satisfaction in having described in my notes last year what I saw at Weston-Super-Mare, where a batsman picked up the ball, tossed it to the bowler, and took his guard as if this was a regular procedure--a sad reflection on strict match play. Close followers of the game will remember previous cases of handled the ball, some of which may be mentioned. A. D. Nourse, the South African left-hander, paid the penalty at Hove in 1907, when he stopped the ball that might have rolled on to the stumps. Then in February 1930, at Auckland, E. J. Benson, of the M.C.C. Australian touring team, was given out when he stooped as if to pick up the ball, though the wicket-keeper said that Benson did not touch the ball--a still stronger warning for a batsman always to leave the ball to the fieldsman.

An equal or even greater offence by a batsman is kicking at a ball wide of the stumps. Very rightly leg-byes may not be scored in this way, but surely to kick at the ball is obstructing the field; and merely pushing out the pad comes under the same category when no attempt is made to use the bat for a stroke. The wicket-keeper is prevented from taking the ball and so is obstructed. I will cite Keith Miller, the Australian, as being guilty of this ugly gesture--a strange weakness for so fine a batsman--and he was admonished for it by the umpire at Lord's.

So long ago as 1888, at the General Meeting of the Marylebone Club at Lord's, it was recommended by the Committee that the practice of deliberately defending the wicket with the person instead of the bat is contrary to the spirit of the game and inconsistent with strict fairness, and the M.C.C. will discountenance and prevent this practice by every means in their power. Yet batsmen have been guilty of doing this on several occasions to my own knowledge, and once Frank Chester sent back a batsman who ran after kicking the ball through the slips.


Troublesome Last Over

More finishes on time caused the last over to remain a bone of contention, and I was taken to task by R. E. S. Wyatt for my remarks about play ceasing at Coventry in 1944 when a wicket fell to the second ball of the over with ten runs wanted for victory by the side having four more men to bat. Mr. Wyatt thought that I condemned him for allowing the umpire to pull up stumps instead of letting another batsman come in. He explained that neither he nor the captain had power to over-rule the umpire. My intention was far from criticising Wyatt, the captain; or the umpire, but to call attention to difficulties bound to arise in such circumstances, and to strengthen my plea for a clear ruling that the last over should be finished in order that either the fielding or batting side could have the opportunity to snatch a victory and so bring about a definite result--always desirable in every contest. The difficulties of deciding the precise time for calling last over and allowing another batsman to hasten to the wicket are obvious. Umpires' watches or outside clocks may differ from those inside the pavilion, and if that last over were played out there would not be any hopeless discussions or heart-burnings. Another point: Who decides that it is to be the last over? Notes on Law 13 state that an over should always be begun if 'time' has not been reached. This applies to lunch and tea intervals and the close of play each day without any specific reference to the last over of the match--and that is what matters most.


Entertainment Tax

While we have Australia emphasising the value of cricket in cementing the brotherhood of all countries in the British Empire and the imperative desire to maintain the happy gestures always apparent when England and Australia take the field in the keenest of Test matches, the Government cannot see that entertainment tax charged on gate receipts, not on profits, of a match is a heavy drag on county cricket, besides handicapping the organisations responsible for the international fixtures which mean so much for the general welfare of Great Britain and our various Commonwealth visitors-- Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and India. This continuous drain on revenue becomes all the more serious now when all the counties face the heavy cost of renovating their grounds, re-building blitzed pavilions and stands, with improved accommodation necessary to meet the requirements of the large crowds which are certain to assemble. True, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has reduced the tax on some outdoor sports, a concession partly turned by cricket clubs to the benefit of the paying public. We may hope that more may be done in this direction, so helping the clubs which foster cricket as a game for recreative amusement and not for financial gain.

War-time experiences showed, not only that good cricket maintained its hold on the affection of old lovers of the game, but also could be said to have given enjoyment to many people hitherto lacking clear knowledge of a pastime full of intricacies and yet easy to understand in its fundamentals. Their fancy for cricket must be fostered. Some Committees prefer to canvas for a much larger membership roll, but county clubs generally have raised their subscriptions and increased the price of admission at the turnstiles. This emphasises my remarks in last year's Wisden that membership gives splendid value besides comfort in all circumstances, and the privilege of introducing a friend to the pavilion. Various efforts for bringing in new members afford convincing evidence that officials all over the country will leave no stone unturned in the campaign to keep their clubs solvent, no matter how heavy the expenditure that must be met in the interests of making cricket a self-supporting entertainment for the general public, as well as a highly enjoyable and health-giving recreation for all concerned.

Mr. Stanley Chritopherson, President of M.C.C. from 1939 throughout the war years, surpassed the record established by Lord Hawke during 1914-18 war. Kindly answering an inquiry from me he wrote that he was the only survivor of the ten sons who, captained by their father, played as an eleven for several seasons from 1877 on Blackheath. The youngest brother, the Rev. Derman Christopherson, received his colours at Rugby from Sir Pelham Warner.

When finishing these notes during the marvellous spell of summer weather that marked the start of spring, a visit to Lord's revealed everything in preparation for a resumption of first-class cricket under the best possible conditions. The turf looked superb--a real green carpet without a blemish, in as good order as ever could be wished--encircled by the stands receiving a new coat of white paint, with Old Father Time in position once more--a resplendent golden figure looking down with benign expectancy.


© John Wisden & Co