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Although handicapped by execrable weather, both wet and cold, the resumption of first-class cricket showed in every way how ready players and public were to welcome their favourite pastime. Clearly M.C.C., many of the counties and impromptu war-time clubs reaped a full reward for their efforts in the knowledge that within a year of peace declaration we were prepared for the championship competition and the visit of India. Teams generally put zest into the game; spectators gave such splendid support that the counties fared well financially and the touring team paid their way. Record attendances came to many grounds and club membership mounted to new heights, notably in Hampshire and Somerset. All this satisfaction was enjoyed in spite of conditions described as the worst ever experienced even in our notoriously uncertain summers. Comparisons always are difficult, but was the weather worse than that of 1888? My memory took me back to that year because of a statement that Yorkshire created a record with four players in the England XI against India at Lord's. I had in mind the occasion when John Shuter captained England at The Oval, and with him were W. W. Read, Robert Abel, George Lohmann and Harry Wood--the wicket-keeper--making five of the champion county side of that year and 1887. At that time the county on whose ground the match was played chose the England XI, and Shuter was the Surrey captain. I saw most of that match and recall two grand slip catches by George Lohmann. Victory by an innings more than balanced defeat in a hard struggle at Lord's, and England also won at Manchester without batting a second time, so taking the honours in a rubber of three games, each of which ended on the second day. This was the third series of three games in England after the seven runs victory which originated The Ashes at The Oval in 1882. Charles F. Pardon, editor of Wisden, referring to the weather in 1888, wrote, June was detestable, July indescribable; August was better. Reference to 1912 shows that the fourth month of that season was lamentable. In eight county matches late in August play was spoiled by rain and most clubs suffered financial loss; but for cold, and discomfort on grounds needing much restoration, 1946 may be written down as the worst in living memory. Yet all the counties prospered.
Seldom have the counties provided such a close struggle. Yorkshire won with something to spare, but they gained pride of place only a few days before their one defeat, near the finish, furnished evidence of the possibilities invariably lurking about, no matter what sides were in opposition. Hampshire brought off the surprise of the season and deserve high praise for that performance; but Middlesex, once more, and Lancashire gave Yorkshire most reason for anxiety before the honours remained with the conquerors in seven of the nine tournaments immediately preceding the war and twelve times from 1919 to 1939.
The new arrangements for the competition drafted so carefully that all the counties met each other without an embarrassing extension of the full programme for any side, and, for some teams a curtailed list of fixtures, proved in every way successful. The intention of tightening up the game with different awards at stake inspired shrewd and venturesome captains to go all out for victory by declarations with the barest first-innings lead. Great efforts to hit off runs against the clock produced many exciting finishes.
The advisability of the captain who wins the toss always taking first innings received more than one contradiction, the most noticeable example of the reverse action proving effective being the occasion when E. D. R. Eagar put Yorkshire in at Bournemouth and Hampshire won by ten wickets. That clever and successful venture earned full reward and popular praise, but that same captain and P. E. Murray Willis, of Northamptonshire, mixed matters sadly when, at Portsmouth on June 20, they tried a freak declaration scheme with the idea of producing a satisfying struggle but staged a farce. The visitors declared on the second day and Hampshire in the pavilion were prepared to do the same as arranged, but their action would have come too late in the day for this to be permitted, and Northamptonshire continued their innings from the position 38 for one wicket. The umpires would have taught a valuable lesson by insisting that that first declaration must stand; and Hampshire, batting against such a total, might well have gained a complete victory on the third day instead of Northamptonshire taking the points for the first-innings lead.
That was not the only case of an attempt to overcome the vicissitudes of the weather by a freak declaration; and one created a situation which brought condemnation from Headquarters. Reproof from M.C.C. meant that the extreme care in framing the laws exercised by the special committee, representing all parts of the country, was nullified when captains made arrangements in the manner of proceeding with a match interfered with by rain. At Pontypridd, J. C. Clay very rightly wanted to give pleasure on the third day to the crowd seldom able to see county cricket, and he agreed to declare when Glamorgan's total equalled Somerset's 51 for one wicket. After this was done the visitors fell in their second innings for 53; Glamorgan gained an easy victory by eight wickets and so received 12 points. This, of course, was unfair for all the other competitors, and with either side well placed for the championship might have influenced the result of the competition. Surely Somerset, with 51 runs scored, could have striven to force a victory by ordinary means on the Tuesday; and Glamorgan, seeing that Matthews took seven wickets for 12 runs, could very likely have triumphed in a straightforward fight without any subterfuge. Keen matches have been finished in one day, and, with real zest for victory without any waste of time over the declaration business, one could imagine a struggle with real cricket delighting the crowd. It comes to this, "It isn't cricket" will cease to be a rebuke if means are adopted to obtain false results to matches. Another case came to nought. Brian Sellers declared with a score of 171 for three wickets, the idea being that when Lancashire equalled that total they should declare and the remaining time be equally divided in a fight for a result; as it happened, the visitors, batting slowly at Bramall Lane, could not reach the Yorkshire score, and there was a very flat termination to a no-decision match.
The newly arranged Laws of Cricket, which will not come into force as finally approved until the 1948 season, clarify some details and make one change which is specially pleasing to me. The last over of a match shall be played to a finish at the request of either captain. I first urged this in my notes in the 1944 edition of Wisden, and each subsequent year emphasised the possible unfairness to the fielding side, so I may take some credit for bringing about this alteration which makes the balance even in a close finish on time.
Cricket in every form or grade should be played as a recreation, and, after the second world-wide war, there seemed a call for relaxation from the inevitable strain endured during two prolonged struggles such as Great Britain and the Commonwealth experienced. The real pleasure of the game came to England last season with India providing visiting adversaries, who were welcome in every way and played each match for true sporting enjoyment besides showing zealous endeavour to win. Unfortunately, happy gestures have evaded some of the doings in Australia during the tour in progress at the time of writing. Desire for victory can be carried too far, and, while every strictness must govern the play, there should be restraint in expressing opinions both by spectators and Press reporters. When England acquiesced in the desire of Australia to send out a team in 1920, before we had settled down to first-class cricket, five defeats were suffered, and we did not recover fully until 1928-29. Now the invitation cordially expressed by Dr. H. V. Evatt met with a similar response, despite the still more serious upset of everything connected with the game in England. Besides players lost or wounded in the war, many others did not find in 1946 the old form necessary for competitive cricket of the most arduous kind.
In such circumstances the choice of players most suitable for Australia was bound to be largely a matter of chance. Some prominent members of county teams on returning home after long absence found re-union with their families and their cricket colleagues of chief importance. I heard of more than one who was glad that he did not quite meet with approval of the selection committee; they did not want another winter abroad. Pleased and proud of the honour, those making the trip probably endured more difficulties than encountered by any previous touring team.
After mentioning last year the happy gestures always apparent when England and Australia take the field in the keenest of Test matches, I would avoid elaborating incidents that have happened during the present tour. Opinions expressed strongly lay the blame on newspaper correspondents, some of them famous players. From all one has read I would sum up the situation in these words: This Test series has not recaptured the spirit of cricket. The tour will be dealt with in Wisden 1948 by my son, who has represented Reuter and Exchange Telegraph Company throughout the tour.
The plan for limiting play to thirty hours in each Test, whether in England or Australia, meant a change from time-limitless matches down under when resuming contests with our oldest opponents, and possibly this influenced each side in their approach to the game to seek a position of safety if victory became out of reach. At any rate, extreme care by batsmen, no matter what the state of the match, reduced the likelihood of a definite finish, and when rain interfered this waste of time--as it could be called--became aggravated. This negative type of batting, often against bowling just short of a length, may well account for some of the leg-before decisions which roused so much comment. Batsmen covering up, so that their absurdly large pads completely obscure the stumps from the umpire's vision, cannot expect always to receive the benefit of the doubt; and the deliberate use of the pad outside the line directly between the wickets increases the official's difficulty in deciding if a ball would hit the stumps. When a batsman prefers not to attempt a stroke for reasons of safety, he should not thrust out a leg. This action is quite adverse to the recommendation made by M.C.C. in 1888, which I quoted in last year's Wisden, 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. First-class batsmen ought to apply the bat to every ball unless a wide, or a short bumper which often should be called wide by the umpire; then they progress with the game and help towards a definite issue. Sitting on the splice should be taboo. These remarks were on paper before R. C. Robertson-Glasgow so delightfully doubted if I would agree with his diagnosis of much present-day batting on the big occasion. I heartily endorse all his remarks.
Some further points. Australia have special rules for cutting and rolling the pitch markedly different to those always followed in England. Thus Don Bradman did not have the pitch mown on Monday morning when Australia continued batting, and England soon went in on a hard turf carrying an appreciable week-end growth of fresh grass. Also, after rain late in the afternoon the groundsman rolled the pitch, so influencing the conditions for the next day's play. Here in England the pitch must be mown each morning before the resumption; rolling is permitted only before play is due to start and between innings. We know that turf in Australia and England differs too much for an attempt to explain, but such important points as these mentioned must apply to any strip of earth; the controlling committees of the two countries should definitely decide what is best wherever a match is played. The eight-ball over continues in Australia, whereas we soon reverted to six, after finding strong opposition to the change when given a long trial. And this difference cannot have helped the English attack; but full praise to the victors.
As the outcome of the tour, and in accordance with form shown, Australia retain The Ashes won in 1934 by the team captained by W. M. Woodfull and held without a break. So England must look to 1948, when, let us hope that the cricket in every game will prove interesting, without leaving the only important features of the season to the five Test matches: in these may the members of each side go all out for runs and wickets within the limits of common sense and true sportsmanship.
In reply to a cable from Sir Ronald Adam, President of M.C.C., offering congratulations to the Australian Board of Control and to D. G. Bradman, Mr. R. O. Oxlade, chairman of the Australian Board, said that the Tests were most successful from all points of view and that Australia had the deepest admiration for the M.C.C. team. He particularly referred to the excellent impression made by all members of the side and paid high tribute to W. R. Hammond, N. W. D. Yardley and Major R. Howard.