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At a time when adverse criticism of English cricket has received extensive publicity, the general pleasure given by all that happened in 1949 calls for special comment. Beyond question the real summer weather which prevailed in most parts of the country helped to increase public interest and enjoyment. The New Zealand team proved very popular. Hoping to fare better than their predecessors, they came to England without any exuberant propaganda, but the optimistic feeling expressed by A. H. H. Gilligan was more than fulfilled. By drawing all four Test matches, and undergoing only one defeat on a rain-ruined pitch at Oxford, they established records for their country. The profit of roughly £10,000 came after pecuniary losses suffered by previous sides from New Zealand. These highly satisfactory features of the tour for the team captained by W. A. Hadlee were fully appreciated and the brilliant batting of the two left-handers delighted everyone. Bert Sutcliffe, a newcomer to England, is dealt with as one of the "Five Cricketers of the Year," and M. P. Donnelly, who enhanced his already well-known skill shown in war-time matches and more recently for Oxford University, which he captained in 1947, and for Warwickshire, is the subject of a special article by R. C. Robertson-Glasgow.
In this connection it is highly satisfactory to learn that the good play by Hadlee's team in England has greatly increased interest in the game in New Zealand during this current season. Clubs which struggled hard to attract members now have to turn applicants away, and Canterbury, Hadlee's club, may be mentioned as an example.
While the touring team, as customary in these days, received most attention, the counties, almost without exception, found more than a continuation of the improved support shown directly after the war, when thousands of people became aware of the interesting nature of cricket as a sporting spectacle, giving full value for the turnstile fees. Never has there been a closer struggle for the Championship, with several counties always in the running. Yorkshire, in their last match, beat Glamorgan, holders of the Championship, at Newport, and got equal with Middlesex on the post. This created a division of honours for the first time since 1889, when, under very different scoring conditions, Surrey, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire finished level. Of these three, Nottinghamshire have fallen to a lowly position, very different from their experiences twenty years ago when they finished at the top.
The state of the Trent Bridge turf accounted largely for the number of unfinished matches in which Nottinghamshire were concerned. Declarations after heavy scoring became a habit at Nottingham, and the home side gained four of their six victories by hitting off the runs when set an exceptionally heavy task. This happened in the course of five consecutive engagements at Trent Bridge, the other being drawn after Lancashire closed their first innings with a score of 423 for three wickets.
Since the general instruction for groundsmen to avoid overpreparation of pitches, Trent Bridge alone deserves the description of being exceptionally easy for batsmen, and considerable time must elapse before doped turf can be restored to anything like a natural condition. Beyond question, lack of life in the turf brought about the change of tactics by bowlers from the first principles of attack. Length and direction with varied speed and spin gave way to a large extent to out or in-swingers. The special use of the seam for this purpose induced the trial of an extra strand of thread on the ball, but without any noticeable increase of swing even in heavy atmosphere upon which bowlers of this type largely depend for effectiveness. This is all so different to the wonderful doings of fast bowlers like Tom Richardson and Lockwood, and the cleverly disguised art employed by George Lohmann in great performances for England against Australia at a time when batting generally reached a far higher standard than that shown for several years since the introduction of the "two-eyed stance," the short arm hook and other ugly methods adopted by many of the chief run-getters wearing absurdly wide pads. A return to natural pitches on every ground would encourage all bowlers to make direction, length and finger spin their principal means of beating the bat with the new or the worn ball.
The series of indecisive matches played by New Zealand influenced the Board of Control of Test Matches at Home to recommend that five days be allotted to each of the four Tests with West Indies this summer. An unbroken run of draws makes a series almost farcical and demonstrates clearly the want of clever hostile bowlers. Whether the extra two days will help towards decisive results depends upon how the competing teams, and notably the captains, face the new conditions. Already there are suggestions that the selectors of our visitors will give preference to batsmen of the stolid type and bowlers capable of keeping opponents on the defensive rather than rapid run-getters and bowlers always seeking the dismissal of a batsman by direct methods instead of using the ball asking for punishment with a field placed for catching the erratic stroke.
Meanwhile we must wait the course of events, but I cannot help recalling how three days usually sufficed at The Oval, best ground for batsmen, in the eighties, Lord's and Old Trafford. All three games in 1896 brought definite results, but with the increase in the "rubber" to five engagements three years later the draw became more frequent, though both in 1902 and 1905 three games brought victories. Everything depends upon the methods adopted by the players. Their approach to each contest with the determination to go all out for victory would mean more than the state of the pitch and weather and the time at their disposal. The longer the period for play, the greater the temptation to make sure that you will not lose, and then, if you can see the way to victory as the match proceeds, put forth the special effort needed to achieve that end.
While on the subject of the Tests, perhaps the most vital question from the England point of view is--who will be the captain? In recent years this has become the first concern of the Selection Committee, and now it is of extreme importance to find the right man, because their choice must, if possible, be available for the tour in Australia next winter. The paucity of amateurs in all the counties reduces the field of selection to a minimum. The practical retirement of F. G. Mann and the age of F. R. Brown, who led England twice and as captain was instrumental in raising Northamptonshire from last to sixth place among the counties, mean that a man of approved ability as a player must be available for a whole year in cricket--and preferably a longer period. Unless Norman Yardley can be persuaded to return to the exacting task which he carried out under the extreme difficulties inseparable from Tests played too soon after the war, one's vision turns to younger men from the Universities, and of these I see no one with greater possibilities than D. J. Insole. A strong forcing batsman and fine fieldsman, with attractive personality, he led Cambridge to an unexpected victory over Oxford last July; he headed the Essex batting averages with 64.14, highest innings 219 not out, and captained the County in the final fixture against Hampshire at Bournemouth, when his 107 helped materially in gaining a lead of 63 on the first innings. He and Trevor Bailey were prominent in arousing increased enthusiasm for the game in Essex, and the county club membership reached a new record--4,790, apart from 780 special season tickets for children.
The lengthening of Test matches beyond three days causes some counties concerned to lose the support of their England players from eight instead of four Championship matches--and this is specially unfortunate with the addition of two engagements to each county's fixtures--a heavier programme and the best players less often available. It is difficult to follow the ideas of the Committee in enlarging the competition in this way after the general desire for more representative fixtures. Matches of this kind give young players of rising ability the opportunity of introduction to the type of game progressing towards the extreme honour of appearing for England. To earn this distinction, confidence, physique, skill as a player, with dash and certainty in fielding, must be apparent in the tyro. The extension of county fixtures is surprising for a further reason. We constantly hear of overworked players needing rest. Colonel Rait Kerr, in his speech to the county secretaries at Lord's, said that "the New Zealanders became a very tired side by July," yet our men are expected to go through the full season without a suggestion of staleness. In order to reduce the risk of spoiling our leading players by too much cricket--and abroad our men have received criticism for slackness, clearly due to want of rest--the arranged dates for tours were amended; but the fixture list at home is more crowded. This is likely to reduce the quality of our cricket and make the burden of facing touring teams all the heavier for us to bear--and let me repeat that only Oxford University beat the New Zealanders. Nearly all the county secretaries desired the extra fixtures in order to increase the already large receipts, but I would argue that if there were fewer matches, players would be fresher, keener and more capable of producing their best ability. It is good cricket, with the favourite men in top form, that brings the crowds; and gates would swell accordingly--the spectators' appetite does not grow on mediocrity. Not one county could find three days sufficient to overcome a team of players who at home confine their matches mainly to week-ends, and now regular members of each county team find their labours extended to twice the amount required before the large increase of the competitors for the Championship roughly fifty years ago.
Nearly all the county secretaries desired the extra fixtures in order to increase the already large receipts, but I would argue that if there were fewer matches, players would be fresher, keener and more capable of producing their best ability. It is good cricket, with the favourite men in top form, that brings the crowds; and "gates" would swell accordingly--the spectators' appetite does not grow on mediocrity. Not one county could find three days sufficient to overcome a team of players who at home confine their matches mainly to week-ends, and now regular members of each county team find their labours extended to twice the amount required before the large increase of the competitors for the Championship roughly fifty years ago.
To what extent players are affected by constant presence in the field is influenced largely by personality and love for the game. T. W. Goddard, at the age of 48, with 160 wickets at 19.18 each, was least expensive of the regular bowlers last season, and Jim Sims, of Middlesex, 44 years of age, showed a revival of his waning skill by taking 126 wickets and scoring 523 runs; his batting on treacherous pitches more than once extricated the side from difficulties. Another approaching the veteran stage, Joe Hardstaff, the elegant Nottinghamshire batsman, ten years junior to the Gloucestershire slow bowler, averaged 72.61 with an aggregate of 2,251 runs. Thanks to nine not-outs his average surpassed that of Len Hutton, the Yorkshire genius, who with 3,429 reached the fourth highest aggregate ever recorded. Making 1,294 runs in June, he beat 1,281 by Hammond in August 1936, hitherto the highest for a complete month, and 1,050 in August enabled Hutton to equal the performance of twice scoring a thousand runs in a month in the same season standing to the credit of C. B. Fry, K. S. Ranjitsinhji and Herbert Sutcliffe.
John Langridge showed that 38 is not too great an age for improvement, and he enjoyed a more successful season than ever before. Starting with four centuries, he was the highest scorer for many weeks, and his 2,914 runs put him second in the aggregates, R. T. Simpson coming next with 2,525. Both the Sussex professional and the Nottinghamshire amateur are among the "Five Cricketers of the Year."
Hutton is the subject of a special article by V. G. J. Jenkins in view of his benefit this summer when Middlesex visit Leeds; and regarding this I would mention that a full acknowledgment of his wonderful batting for Yorkshire and England began at Malton in the two days' match always played immediately after the Scarborough Festival. Powerful elevens, got together by Lord Grimthorpe and Herbert Sutcliffe--captained respectively by Len Hutton and A. B. Sellers--put up a splendid contest, Hutton's side winning by 63 runs a few minutes from time. The proceeds, starting Hutton's benefit fund, exceeded £190--a very happy augury for a proper reward for our greatest batsman since Hobbs, an opinion no one can refute.
Trevor Bailey increased his status among all-rounders by scoring 1,380 runs and taking 130 wickets, all ten at Clacton against Lancashire being his chief performance. Captain of Dulwich College before getting his Blue at Cambridge, Bailey, after county experience for Essex and playing for England at the age of 26, should remain a notable figure in the game for many years. He, also, is one of "Five Cricketers of the Year."
J. K. Graveney, of Gloucestershire, inconsistent after a strain, took all ten wickets at Chesterfield in Derbyshire's second innings. His younger brother, T. W., came out third to Crapp and Emmett in the county batting averages, but, after being chosen for Players against Gentlemen at Lord's, he failed to maintain his early form, though earning an aggregate of 1,784 runs.
Eric Bedser improved so much as an off-break bowler that he took 88 wickets, and 1,740 runs made him one of the best all-rounders, with some prospect of joining his twin brother, A. V., as an England player. Last season Alec Bedser showed signs of overwork--not surprising after having a respite in only one winter after he first played for England in 1946. He needed bowlers capable of keeping up one end for long periods, instead of having to do this himself.
Jenkins, in the Gentlemen and Players match, became first to take 100 wickets, and completed a splendid summer with two hat-tricks against Surrey in Worcestershire's last county match. This helped to raise his number of wickets to 183, but at higher cost than the 166 taken by Hollies, who played in all four Tests and, after much discussion, received preference as the bowler for inclusion in "Five Cricketers of the Year." The remarkable performance by Jenkins recalled the unique feat of Albert Trott, who took four wickets with successive balls and did the hat-trick in the same innings for Middlesex v. Somerset at Lord's in 1907--his benefit match! An unparalleled achievement.
Of wicket-keepers last season, Yarnold, Worcestershire, by dismissing 110 batsmen placed himself next to Ames in the records. The Kent and England keeper claimed 127 victims in 1929 and 121 in the previous season. Evans, Kent and England, with 81, was surpassed last season also by McIntyre (Surrey) with 94 and H. W. Stepehenson (Somerset) with 85 dismissals.
In strong contrast to the doings of players of repute, Brian Close created a sensation by being chosen to play for England when only 18 years of age, and going on to accomplish "the double" in his first season with Yorkshire. Such a start suggests a wonderful career. Of powerful build, tall and heavy, he bowled effectively with either the new ball or when the shine wore off; and his hard-hit left-handed strokes gave the ball tremendous carry. As a fieldsman close to the wicket he used his reach with splendid effect.
Last summer Denis Compton fared best in benefits, receiving £12,200, despite rain on the first day of the Whitsuntide match with Sussex at Lord's. Although only £1,000 came from Lancashire meeting Derbyshire at Old Trafford, R. Pollard will get over £8,000. Dollery, the Warwickshire professional captain, also fared well with £6,362; E. A. Watts made a record for Surrey with £5,000; H. L. Hazell, of Somerset, received £2,324; P. Corrall, Leicestershire, derived about £2,500 from the match with Middlesex. H. Yarnold, Worcestershire, the most effective wicket-keeper, was given a gratuity of £100. Ellis Robinson, the Yorkshire slow bowler, who retired at the end of the season, was granted £1,500. In this connection it is pleasant to state that the prolonged testimonial fund to Frank Chester, greatest of umpires, rose to £3,200.
The mention of money reminds me of the great success of the end of the season Festivals. Hastings did well for their week with a balance of £261, and Scarborough recorded a net profit of £1,915, the gate receipts amounting to £6,488. The match between H. D. G. Leveson Gower's eleven and New Zealanders produced £3,128, of which the touring team received £1,347. For the first time the concluding event of this Festival was a ladies' match, "Yorkshire and Lancashire v. The Rest." A large company enjoyed the thoroughly interesting cricket. The smartness of the fielding surprised me, and M. Hide batted admirably in scoring 82. The Rest avoided defeat after following-on. When Australian Ladies visit England in 1951 the first Test match will take place at Scarborough.
Alfred Rutherford, the new Secretary, gained general praise for his work in this centenary year of the Scarborough club, of which the members number 2,286. In succession to Sir W. A. Worsley, the distinction of being President comes to Mr. H. D. G. Leveson Gower, who was first associated with the Festival fifty-one years ago and for which he has done so much in choosing the sides for the two fixtures which always follow the last Yorkshire match with M.C.C.
When Barnes, the Australian, received a severe injury from a hard hit, it seemed likely that fieldsmen would take care how they placed themselves standing at silly mid-off or mid-on; but what approaches a transgression of cricket's immaculate reputation for fair play has been seen at Lord's and other places without arousing much notice. An objection by Prentice, of Leicestershire, to Goddard, of Gloucestershire, standing too near the line of bowling in the match at Leicester in August, caused the fieldsman to move back a few yards. This occurrence suggests emphatically that the M.C.C., through the Rules Committee, should set out clearly how near a fieldsman may stand to the line of the ball. Perhaps the simplest plan would be an instruction to umpires to see that the rule as to "impeding" a batsman or fieldsman is carried out in the strictest manner possible. A bad example may be copied by keen scholars, and I can recall such a case in an Eton and Harrow match. A slow left-arm bowler from the practice end at Lord's might have delivered the ball, when fairly directed at the stumps, within a few feet of the fieldsman's head.
As the remarks by E. M. Wellings in last year's Wisden regarding some of the poor cricket at public schools received somewhat hostile comment, I would stress my opinion that the dearth of capable amateurs in county cricket can be attributed largely to faulty coaching at the schools. And I may say that Mr. H. S. Altham, famous for so many years at Winchester, supports this stricture in The Cricketer, though at first he did not see eye to eye with Wellings. Chester, our leading umpire, has spoken disparagingly of school coaching as the reason for so few schoolboys becoming prominent in the game, with the consequent lack of amateurs in first-class cricket. At the same time I am grateful to John Eggar for his interesting article on coaching the schoolboy.
For the first time the Presidency of the Marylebone Club, premier club of cricket, is held by a member of the Royal Family, His Royal Highness Duke of Edinburgh, Consort of Princess Elizabeth, Heiress Presumptive to the Throne. One of the youngest Presidents ever to hold this highest office in cricket, the Duke, after becoming a lively player when at a Cheam preparatory school, has developed into a very useful all-round club cricketer. When speaking at the dinner after his election he commended the move by M.C.C. "to give more and better cricket for the boys of England." H. S. Altham is Chairman of a strong committee dealing with this effort. The Duke is also President of the National Playing Fields Association.
Perhaps the happiest gesture during the year in connection with cricket was the election of twenty-six veteran professionals to life honorary membership of M.C.C.
The centenary of the first match between Yorkshire and Lancashire was celebrated on October 7, at a dinner in Sheffield. Among the large company were fifty-two Yorkshire and forty-one Lancashire players--the oldest were E. B. Rowley, Lancashire, aged 79, and David Denton, Yorkshire, 75. Sir William Worsley, Yorkshire captain in 1928 and 1929 and now a Trustee of the county club, presided.
The passing during the year of Mr. Stanley Christopherson, President of M.C.C. from 1939-46, and of Frank Hearne in South Africa, recalls the victory of Kent in 1884, when they were the only county to defeat the Australians; and Frank Lipscomb can be added to M. C. Kemp and Alec Hearne as survivors of that side. News came recently that Lipscomb, aged 85, well preserved in height and weight, was living at Randwick, a Sydney suburb. His close touch with cricket was shown by his saying that "Bradman would have found it tougher if he had played in Grace's day. I have seen the best for over fifty years and the finest of all was Victor Trumper." He described Bradman as a scoring machine; Trumper perpetual grace and style. In 1882, for The United Eleven captained by W. G. Grace at Tunbridge Wells, Lipscomb took four Australian wickets for 22 runs in 26 overs; rain ruined the match. He went to Australia in 1888 and settled down in business.