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Replete with events that deserve permanent record in cricket history, last summer brought the most remarkable performance by any touring side, a close contest among the counties with the championship going to the youngest first-class county, larger crowds than ever before assembling in England, and the biggest benefits rewarding several of the professionals. All this despite much bad weather.
Beyond question the Australians took pride of place by going through the season unbeaten, and the honour of Knighthood bestowed upon their captain, now Sir Donald Bradman, came as a distinction never before awarded to a cricketer while still active in the game. In other parts of the book the tour is dealt with thoroughly, and the choice of five Australians as the Cricketers of the Year, together with the special article on the captain detailing his career, conveys the wonderful way in which our guests dominated the proceedings. Yet in accepting with the best humour possible the lamentable lowering of England's colours to a degree never inflicted before in the Motherland, reference to previous tours shows clearly that Australia on some occasions underwent treatment just as rough. The fifth Test Match brought a humiliating finish to the contest for The Ashes, but, taking this particular rubber as a case for comparison, we find that ten years before England amassed 903 for seven wickets at The Oval, victory being gained by the magnificent margin of an innings and 579 runs, because of all-round superiority, just as marked as that in any triumph ever gained by Australia. Leonard Hutton in that match set up a personal record for all Test matches with 364 runs in a display marked by perfect mastery in the stylish manner peculiar to himself, in strong contrast to most modern types of batting with the two-eyed stance, large pads covering all the stumps, and the preference for the hook rather than the artistic off-drive or cut. But the rubber was drawn, Australia retaining The Ashes.
Then we must remember that in June 1896 Australia fell at Lord's for 53, and in August that year at The Oval they were dismissed for 44 in the last match in which W. G. Grace led England to victory; while in 1902, at Edgbaston, Australia suffered their severest collapse--all out for 36, but saved from defeat by rain.
These valuable references in the history of the long series of Tests between England and Australia are not meant in any way to belittle the doings of Bradman and his merry men, not only in the great representative encounters but in going through the season with a record unsullied by defeat. Truly the gallant captain proceeded from match to match with the happiest result no matter how the play seemed to be going against him. Surely he must have been born under a lucky star, with the most beautiful and effective Sponsor in Dame Fortune.
The tour might even have been staged-managed with Don Bradman the hero and no villain able to check his doings; he took his curtain after a century in the final first-class fixture and bowled the last over at Scarborough, where he received the honorary life membership of the Yorkshire County Club with a silver memento noting his wonderful Test Match performances at Leeds. And so to Scotland, where the King and Queen received him and the team--a truly great finale.
Besides the influence of Bradman, the firm yet happy way of Keith Johnson, the manager, acted as a powerful incentive for all the Australian side to concentrate on the great objective of the tour, to retain The Ashes and to win every match or to avoid defeat. By so doing they increased their obvious enjoyment of playing the game.
A delightful farewell message came from Keith Johnson, whose appreciation of the visit of the team to Balmoral is quoted in the introduction to the tour, besides his acknowledgment of public support which produced a profit of £70,000 on the summer's working.
The complete analysis of the tour by my colleague R. J. Hayter brings out the all-round strength of the Australians and our obvious weakness in the want of such a splendid pace bowler as Lindwall. He commanded real speed with length varied enough to keep the best batsmen subdued; but while giving the highest praise and congratulations to our successful foes I would emphasise some reasons for England's complete failure.
We did hope that, after our ineffective struggles in Australia in 1946-47, better results would be achieved, but the previous post-war rebuffs were repeated, and to some extent through a similar cause. Our Selection Committee--much to be pitied--were inclined to act on suggestions whenever any player accomplished a good performance, irrespective of such a batsman having appeared in any representative games--a very desirable blooding for anyone about to take part in the most arduous encounters imaginable. And at Manchester Hutton was left out.
The idea that a left-handed batsman was necessary outdid the arguments in favour of determined men capable of parrying the attacks of confident Australians imbued with the knowledge of ability to assert themselves to the same advantage shown by their captain, whose morale and perfection in play permeated the whole side. It would be a good plan, I think, to choose carefully the Test trial teams and then pick fourteen men upon whom to rely for the England eleven throughout the season. Knowing their responsibilities, the men concerned would ensure their own fitness in preparation for the big occasions. A manager would be valuable to make arrangements for all the side to have proper hotel accommodation booked and be taken to the ground in good time for the match.
We must bear in mind also that when, after the 1914-18 war, the Australians desired an immediate visit of an England team we agreed, though our well-tried cricketers needed far more time in which to recover their form, and young players of merit required finding. So we suffered under the opposition led by W. W. Armstrong and were beaten five times in Australia without making one good fight. Then at home the same inequality prevailed in three encounters before England excelled in two drawn matches. No fewer than thirty men appeared for England in those five Tests. Not until February 1925 did victory reward our efforts in one match, and honours still remained with Australia. Our latest war-time experiences found England still less ready for the keenest conflicts in Test cricket, but we responded to a similar request, with the result that Australia retained The Ashes by three victories and two draws, after which last season's catastrophes at home were still more unfortunate.
That our leading players suffered from staleness as the outcome of going through our busy seasons and then proceeding on tour with little rest, notably the failure in West Indies, was obvious. This does not trouble the Australians, whose seven Sheffield Shield matches a season for the busiest States are trivial by comparison. The M.C.C. have recognised this disparity by announcing that a reduction in tours was decided upon at a meeting of the Imperial Cricket Conference, of which a full report appears under The Laws of Cricket at the end of this book. The team captained by F. G. Mann touring South Africa experienced trying ordeals owing to climate and travel to a degree accentuating the heavy burden carried by our players.
The match-winning strength brought to the Australians by Lindwall, Miller and Johnston told us more emphatically than ever how England have suffered from the lack of class bowlers of pace, and how accurate fast bowling, with length and the stumps for targets, can win matches no matter what the weather and the state of the pitch. In that final Test at The Oval it did not appear possible that bowlers would get a firm footing, but Lindwall made all the England batsmen, except Hutton, look helpless. Varied pace with swerve caused by heavy atmosphere when the bowlers used the seam with shine on the ball helped to bring about that collapse, and did not represent the value of fast bowling in fine weather on hard turf. Under such conditions in 1896 at Lord's, Tom Richardson, of pace with off-break, took six wickets for 39, and George Lohmann helped to dismiss Australia for 53. Three weeks afterwards at Old Trafford Richardson bowled 110 overs and three balls and took thirteen wickets at a cost of 244 runs. Unchanged in Australia's second innings, he dismissed six first-rate batsmen at a personal cost of 76 runs, and wanted to complete his 43rd over, not believing that the match was finished-- Australia victorious by three wickets. We have no one of such stamina and precision in these days, but are not without first-class players as some critics suggest.
It has been said that with our far larger population than that of Australia we should be able to raise more players of real merit; instead of this the greater number from whom to choose magnifies the difficulty of finding the right men; but the county clubs are increasing their efforts to train youngsters who show merit, and M.C.C. have appointed a Special Committee under Major H. S. Altham to stimulate boyhood interest in cricket.
The emphasis used by Dr. Evatt in his inspired article on the value of cricket in bringing together many countries and arousing unanimous feelings of enjoyment and happiness could not be more opportune than at this time. In the present volume of Wisden we have particulars of many tours in different countries and references to the game almost all over the world. It is good to remember that India came here in 1946, and then England went to Australia and New Zealand in 1946-47. The visit of South Africa the next season brought further reminder of the joy of cricket to England. In the winter of that year England toured West Indies, so completing the contact of the Mother Country with the various Test cricket countries where long before the war the game was already firmly rooted as an integral part of the life of the peoples concerned. In addition India have toured Australia and received West Indies, and Australia have visited New Zealand.
Last summer there came the continuity over a period numbering seventy years of Australia sending teams to England, which began in 1878, two years before the first match between fully representative England and Australia elevens at The Oval. England have just completed their tour of South Africa, and now New Zealand follow for their tour in England.
All these events provided unlimited pleasure to hundreds of thousands of adherents to cricket, and for further evidence of the invaluable propaganda furnished by cricket in taking the very best influence of the English character to every part of the world has come the formation of an Asian Cricket Conference. By arranging a series of tours that will develop cricket in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Malaya, this new move surely will do immense good in each of these Far-Eastern countries, some of which cannot know England as thoroughly as could be desired. Cricket, the English game, assuredly will furnish the liveliest impulse for the various natives of these countries to become more closely acquainted with the pastime that remains unsullied in its imperative adherence to fairness and honest dealing in any circumstances and under all conditions. Inaugurated by the Indian Board of Control, this Asian Conference, as announced by Mr. A. S. de Mello, stated that "Through cricket we will try to spread goodwill and fellowship among the different countries." Details of the programme already arranged will be found in "Overseas Cricket" following particulars of the several tours that come in the scope of the era now covered.
An interesting innovation was the visit in February 1948 of a team from Fiji to New Zealand, where in seventeen matches the touring side showed themselves capable of playing clever cricket. Fiji suffered only three defeats, gained seven victories, and the other seven fixtures were drawn.
The triumph of Glamorgan reminds me of the time when St. Paul's School, "One and All", and other clubs were tenants at The Oval. My brother, who was at St. Paul's, took me for a "pick-up" game one August morning, and when we were settling down, Shepherd, the groundsman, came to us and said, "Now, boys, pull up your stumps, there's a match to-day." "What is it, Shepherd?" "Surrey Club and Ground v. Eighteen of Glamorgan." And from such a humble start about seventy years ago the Welsh county have become champions, thanks largely to victory on the second day by an innings and 24 runs at Cardiff in their one match of the season with Surrey. Such a defeat for the county who finished second to them, only four points behind, clearly indicated Glamorgan's worth as a team moulded steadily into shape by J. C. Clay during twenty-seven years in the first class and led with inspiration by Wilfred Wooller to their triumph.
J. H. Morgan, who has reported all Glamorgan's first-class home matches, does full justice to their merits in his Welsh-headed article. By "carrying" the Championship out of England, Glamorgan have thrown light upon our weaknesses, particularly the lack of determination and close attention, with zest, to everything happening in the field. All the sixteen English counties should note this example from Wales and turn their thoughts to these details which are indispensable to a high pitch of all-round excellence--the absolute essential to greatness in anything.
That each of the three top counties, Glamorgan, Surrey and Middlesex, concluded their programme of twenty-six fixtures with no more than thirteen victories apiece indicates a want of resolute finishing power. Bad weather caused many drawn games, but generally the superiority of the bat over the ball could be called the chief hindrance to definite results.
This brings me to the suggestion by R. W. V. Robins that the bat should be narrowed in the interests of bowlers--a very broad subject for many arguments. I have heard bowlers say that a batsman did not play well enough to get out because unable to touch the ball until he got his eye in and settled down. On the other hand, great batsmen through the ages have met the ball with the middle of the bat--no fear of edging a catch to the slips. For this same reason the wider wicket and taller stumps did not prevent the superlative players scoring at will--the one thought of such experts is the ball and how to make the stroke according to length. They contact the ball with the middle of the bat.
The desire, announced by M.C.C., for all counties to try balls with enlarged seams is a move in the same direction, but already the changed size of the ball has failed to bring about the desired help to bowlers. These alterations are intended to reduce scoring and so bring every match to a definite conclusion; but more important in this direction would be the insistence of each captain to instil into his team the necessity of rapid scoring without risking too much, and the dynamic attitude in the field as urged by the Special Committee which a few years ago inquired into the weaknesses of English cricket. Adherence to the regulation hours of play, without so much thought about getting to the next match, would keep interest alive on the third day and bring about results, instead of would-be spectators being advised of stumps drawn as early as four o'clock. Difficulty in travel need not occur in these days of speedy transit. The match of the moment should be the first consideration. We want results! To this end I would make a special plea for still less artificial preparation of pitches. Water and the roller should suffice for the production of turf ready for fair play during three days. If bowlers do receive some help, all the better; but let them be true sportsmen and avoid intentional use of the bumping ball.
The desire of Devon for promotion to first-class rank raises many points bearing on the County Championship. It may be urged that all the seventeen competitors do not reach the desired standard, and, in order to equalise the programme without making the fixture list too large, only ten counties meet each other twice--last season Glamorgan played only one match each with Surrey and Yorkshire, two of their closest rivals for the Championship. When considering the case of Devon, it would be well to discuss the advisability of making two first-class divisions, both of twelve clubs, all of which could play each other twice, making twenty-two matches--quite enough for a season of roughly four months. This plan would allow of more representative matches between picked sides, such as Test Trials, Gentlemen v. Players, North v. South, Under Thirty v. Over Thirty, elevens from the two divisions, and a Championship match between the two leading counties.
Beyond question we need more virility in our county matches, with life and imagination shown by every captain; and the competitive atmosphere could be increased by relegation and promotion of two clubs each season while all twenty-four retain first-class status. The Minor Counties competition would be improved with fewer contestants.
Many anniversaries were celebrated during the season, most notable the centenary of the birth of W. G. Grace, to which I have tried to do justice in an epitome of his marvellous career. Canterbury, with its traditions of splendid cricket by prominent players of Kent, and entertainment, started by "Old Stagers" in 1842, was compelled by the war to wait six years for the celebration of their "Week", which, as it happened last summer, coincided with the fifth centenary of the Mayoralty of the city. Quite appropriately, the Mayor of Canterbury, Alderman Mrs. Hews, can claim close connection with cricket, her son, Robert, playing for Kent Second XI on the ground which is the home of "The Week." Each day The Mayor dispensed hospitality in the happiest manner. "I Zingari", the cricket playing development of "Old Stagers", a hundred years old in 1945, also gave evidence of perpetual life.
To Mr. H. D. G. Leveson Gower the year brought special distinction at the Scarborough Festival, for which he chooses the teams playing in the two matches following the final fixture of Yorkshire. The familiar personal, "Shrimp", still pleases this splendid upholder of all that is best in cricket, and the fiftieth year since he first appeared at the Festival was marked by a presentation to him from the Scarborough Club, with a gift for Mrs. Leveson Gower, a regular visitor with her husband for many years. He described this as his hat trick of half-centuries; he led Oxford to victory by four wickets at Lord's in 1896, and this wonderful match influenced not only a further alteration in the follow-on law but also instigated the declaration as a move to prevent a side giving away runs or batsmen getting out wilfully. Two years later Leveson Gower was elected to the M.C.C. Committee. He has been prominent with Surrey for over fifty years as player, captain, member of committee, and President.
The Scarborough Club reached its hundredth year of activity, having been formed in 1849, and the names of its founders, engraved on a stone shield on the wall of the North Marine Road Ground, include several that call to mind players for Yorkshire and at the most popular end-of-the-season festival in more recent years--notably T. L. Taylor, Cambridge captain in 1900, now President of the County Club in succession to Sir Stanley Jackson; W. McG. Hemingway, Cambridge Blue in 1895; Schofield Haigh, Hunter, Watson and Smailes. This year the Scarborough Club has a new secretary, Mr. Alfred Rutherford, chosen from seventy-one applicants. He succeeds Mr. J. L. Goodall, who resigned the office, to which he was appointed in 1930 after being assistant to Mr. Alfred Leadbeater for thirty years. A membership of some 2,200 keeps the Scarborough Club more flourishing than are some counties, and last year's festival brought record profits when 10,000 people paid and waited in the rain many hours for the Australians, who attracted crowds of 20,000, the largest ever known there.
Nothing gave clearer proof of the increased popularity of cricket as an entertainment for all and sundry than record attendances at most grounds and the remarkable value of benefits for professionals. The record £8,083 made in 1947 for W. E. Bowes, the Yorkshire fast bowler, in his retiring year, was left far behind, over £14,000 being raised for the equally popular Lancashire and England opening batsman, Cyril Washbrook. The gate at the match with the Australians at Old Trafford in August Bank Holiday week was swollen by subscriptions, collections at local functions, and games played in various parts of the county. Leslie Ames, in a second benefit, received £4,336 as a well-merited reward notwithstanding unfavourable weather at Canterbury; T. H. Wade, of Essex, received £3,878; T. F. Smailes, of Yorkshire, and H. S. Squires, of Surrey, were rewarded by valuable tributes. Unfortunately the testimonial fund for Frank Chester, the best of umpires, fell below expectations and has been left open for another year. I sincerely hope that M.C.C. will push this testimonial to the utmost; the cricketing public need only the right directive from Lord's to respond liberally. Chester deserves the fullest reward for all the great service he has done for cricket.