More enterprise needed, 1952

Modern county cricket

Colonel R.S. Rait Kerr

The following article which deals with some of the problems connected with present-day cricket was first given as a speech by Colonel Rait Kerr, Secretary of M.C.C., at the annual meeting of County Secretaries at Lord's on December 11, 1951.

Many people are highly critical of modern cricket and are asking if all is well with it. Following the First World War cricket boomed only to fall into the doldrums after a few years. This was the reason why, before the Second World War ended, a Select Committee sat to look into the dim future. It might be salutary if we all re-read that report from time to time, and in particular the following section:--

We are agreed that no recommendation in regard to many of the proposals standing on the agenda in connection with the conduct and administration of County Cricket can be fully effective unless the game is played in the best possible manner and spirit. In the few years preceding the outbreak of war cricket was increasing in its appeal, and the credit was due to County Committees, Captains and Players.

We consider that a satisfactory standard was attained in 1939, and we do not believe that any radical changes in the conduct of the game are called for.

In 1937 the report of the Findlay Commission stressed the importance of attacking play and in our view a wholesome rivalry and determination can be demonstrated to the benefit of the game in ways other than batting and bowling. For example, in the past teams who have paid attention to good fielding and efficient running between the wickets have always been attractive. In particular, we wish to stress the importance of avoiding any delay in changing the field. We do not advocate that County Cricket should develop into displays of unskilled hitting, but rather that the batsman's task is to demonstrate the full artistry of the game by his stroke play, and that the bowler's first duty is to take wickets.

We RECOMMEND that Counties before each season should make it clear to their Captains and Players that it remains the policy of their Committee that:--

  • The team shall aim for victory from the first ball of a match, and maintain an enterprising attitude towards the game until the last over is bowled.
  • The players shall adopt a dynamic attitude towards the game, whether batting, bowling or fielding.
  • The intervals and Hours of Play as provided for in the Laws of Cricket or in Match Regulations must be strictly adhered to. In particular, the two minutes allowed for the incoming batsman to take his place is a generous allowance which should rarely be utilised to the full, and never exceeded.

That these recommendations were largely taken to heart would certainly seem to be suggested by the verdict of the Editor of Wisden on the 1947 season. It read as follows:--

In every way the season of 1947 bears favourable comparison with any year within living memory. Attendances which rose beyond those known in the past, with obvious appreciation by ever-increasing multitudes, clearly demonstrated the great hold the game takes on spectators once they are aware that both sides and every individual mean to expend all their energies striving for a definite result. The fine weather enjoyed, notably in August, might have meant that with batsmen supreme, drawn games would have predominated, but actually about three-quarters of the County Championship matches were won outright.

I can hardly imagine that his view could be so sanguine to-day especially were he to look at the graphs shown here. The curve for finished matches omits all those in which no decision was reached on the first innings, thus removing one factor which might otherwise have given a distorted picture.


N.B. Attendance figures before 1947 not available

We naturally would all expect attendance figures to reflect the weather conditions experienced during any season, and it has generally been held that in a wet season the percentage of unfinished matches tends to rise. I have made an attempt to examine the overall effect of weather in order to ascertain what bearing it has on the incidence of drawn matches.

Before the introduction of the present scoring system in 1938, a correlation between bad weather and a high percentage of drawn matches appears to have existed, and a similar correlation can be seen in the years 1948, 1949 and 1950, but exactly the opposite effect is found in 1938, 1939 and 1947.

I think it is fair to say, therefore, that, after eliminating matches in which no decision was reached on the first innings, the incidence of drawn matches depends by no means entirely on weather.

If you look the similarity in the trends it is at once apparent and remarkable how the decrease in matches finished appears to be so closely reflected by a decrease in attendance. The fall in gates is due, besides weather, to a combination of causes, for example, personal incomes, other attractions and the way in which the game is played.

It is surely alarming that the average of 25 per cent of drawn matches in 1938, 1939 and 1946 has steadily risen by the end of the 1951 season to about 50 per cent. The percentage of drawn matches in earlier years was one of the problems specially studied by the Findlay Commission in 1937 and the scoring system for the Championship which they recommended and which was introduced in 1938, was specifically designed to reduce the number of drawn matches. It had an immediate effect and it is therefore all the more disturbing to find that the percentage of finished matches in 1951 was the lowest since 1930.

All of us--and I do not exclude the M.C.C.--are only too keenly aware of our financial problems and if, as I suggest, this marked increase in drawn matches has a powerful bearing on them, surely the cause for such an increase is well worth seeking.

Ultra perfect pitches are often blamed, but this can hardly be the primary cause for the recent increase in drawn matches as they are certainly no more perfect than in 1938 or 1939 and are probably less so in most cases. Much has been written and spoken about the desirability of faster wickets. The dead pitch invites negative cricket. The faster the pitch the more must something happen, runs or wickets. I was interested the other day to hear a very distinguished cricketer repeat in almost identical words what was said by an equally great cricketer many years ago. He said:--

Cricket, to maintain its hold on the national character, must be eager, quick and full of action. To-day it is the reverse.... Fifty per cent of the matches are drawn and the game itself, becoming listless and dull, is bound to suffer. When cricket ceases to provide excitement for the spectator and player, when it not once but continually allows whole days to be monopolised by two or three batsmen, the rest loafing in the pavilion, then it will cease to attract and spectators and players alike will go elsewhere.

So wrote A. G. Steel in Wisden in 1900.

In recent years we have seen the rate of scoring in Test cricket under easy conditions of pitch as low as 40 runs per hour, and if the rate reaches 50 runs per hour it is considered satisfactory. No doubt the bowling is accurate and the fielding splendidly tight, but can the game in this country really survive the emphasis on security first and last?

Modern cricketers have been known to maintain that it is better to be 70 for 0 at lunch on the first day than 120 for 3. I would suggest that a match is often made or marred by tea-time on the first day. Made if a match-winning rate of scoring has been maintained, or marred if the reverse has made it probable that only declarations in the later stages of the game can instil any life into it. Unfortunately, much of the most laborious play is seen on the first day of a match. Saturday is a first day, and Saturday gates are vital to finances.

I know, too, that some players will maintain that modern batting technique has been forced upon them as a result both of the off-side L.B.W. Law and of a definite development in the art of field setting. I would ask them to remember that the present L.B.W. Law has been in existence for sixteen years and whatever truth there may be in these arguments they cannot entirely explain why, when required, batsmen can score quickly on a Tuesday from the same bowling, supported by the same fielding, as had appeared to make the game so difficult on the previous Saturday.

A friend, whose judgment in cricket matters is always balanced, stressed two points, which appeared to him to be fundamental. First, that the technical developments since the war have all been defensive, especially in bowling tactics and field placing--with a leg-side bias. The game must be brought back on to the off-side if we are to recapture its beauty and appeal. Second, that county cricket is now a professional game, but the average professional does not seem to realise that in the long run his livelihood depends on the appeal of the game to the public.

There are no doubt other ills for which cures can be sought, but to me the problem of the drawn match transcends all others. The counties unanimously accepted the Report of the Select Committee in 1944, and as a first step I feel that nothing but good could follow from carrying out the recommendation I have quoted that each season committees should encourage their captains and players in the belief that cricket must be eager, quick and full of action.

© John Wisden & Co