England's chance to regain the Ashes, 1953

Notes by the Editor

Norman Preston

This summer of 1953 promises to provide a splendid opportunity for our cricketers to place England on top again. In 1926, one of my predecessors, Mr. Stewart Caine, began his Notes: "In view of the near approach of yet another visit of Australian cricketers, it is interesting to note that there prevails a much more hopeful tone in relation to English cricket than has existed for several years." That was almost eight years after the end of the first world war and as every follower of the game knows England did recapture the Ashes at The Oval under the captaincy of the youthful A. P. F. Chapman, who at that time had less experience of leadership than L. Hutton, our probable captain this year.

It has taken English cricket the same period of time to rebuild after World War II, and we await the five Tests against Australia with the same hopeful expectancy of 1926, knowing that we possess players who, providing they show their true form, should prove worthy opponents to our old friends and foes.

Australian Reverses

I do not think we should be so optimistic if Australia could still call upon Sir Donald Bradman, but since he retired from active participation in the game at the end of 1948 the pendulum has begun to swing the other way. Our victory at Melbourne in the fifth Test in March 1951 under F. R. Brown ended Australia's long run of complete supremacy, and since then their colours have been lowered by West Indies, once, and South Africa, twice. So Australia suffered four defeats in eleven matches. For the time being some of the solidity in the Australian batting seems to be missing, and with the banning of the persistent bumper by the Australians in their own country much of the fire disappeared from the bowling of Lindwall and Miller in the recent Tests against South Africa. Past experiences have taught us that it would be unwise to underestimate the Australians, for if they are not handicapped by injuries or illness they may not take long when on tour to develop into a powerful combination.

Rather can Englishmen be optimistic because of the improvement that was evident here in Test and County matches in 1952. True, India, who encountered wretched luck in the matter of weather in the last two Test matches, failed to extend us, but there could be no denying that, while allowing for the weakness of the opposition, England looked to be a capable side, particularly in the field. It is a long while since anyone saw an England side give such magnificent support to the bowlers as did our men in the Test at Manchester. Here was evidence of the sound work accomplished by the Selectors, N. W. D. Yardley, R. E. S. Wyatt, F. R. Brown and L. E. G. Ames, and the new captain, L. Hutton. In breaking with tradition and choosing a professional as captain the Selection Committee made a vital decision in the interests of England, because it should mean that in future no man will be picked as leader unless he is worth a place in the side.

On the other hand, the time may not be far distant when England will have an amateur in charge again if P. B. H. May and D. S. Sheppard continue to improve. The task of captain is seldom a sinecure, and for a professional it could be onerous if disciplinary action was necessary against a fellow professional.

Happily, Hutton showed the ability to command confidence and respect from his players. He must be complimented upon insisting on and obtaining the highest standard of fielding. Not only did he see that the team maintained the improvement begun under F. R. Brown, but he himself retained his splendid batting form. That was not surprising to those who know Hutton, but he has yet to prove himself in the heat of the battle when the position demands the highest qualities from the leader. By nature Hutton is cautious, yet that characteristic which has been so invaluable to England and Yorkshire in certain circumstances could upset all calculations if carried to the extreme. I trust that should a spirit of enterprise be required at any time during the coming Tests with Australia, Hutton will be bold enough to make the right decision and that he will not make safety-first his one and only principle. He must be ready to snap up the golden opportunities and be fearless of the consequences. In other words, I do not want to see a repetition of his tactics at Lord's last summer when, with England wanting 77 to win in the last eighty minutes of the fourth day he was content to let the total reach only 40. True, the weather was perfectly fine, but in our uncertain climate Hutton took an unnecessary risk in waiting until the fifth day for victory.


Trueman Arrives

The big surprise of last summer was the fast bowling of F. S. Trueman. Full justice has been done to him in the Almanack, where he appears as one of the Five Cricketers of the Year. In some quarters he was hailed as another Larwood. Only time can confirm that prediction, but it is refreshing to know while we still have A. V. Bedser at the height of his power there is Trueman available as the youthful spearhead. And should for any reason Trueman be out of action, the Selectors will not have to look farther for a capable substitute than J. B. Statham or T. E. Bailey. In any case Bailey may prove invaluable to England as an all-rounder going in at number seven or eight.

The form of all potential candidates will be watched closely in the early weeks of the season, and before the Selectors tackle their job of picking the team for the first Test at Nottingham in June they may gain valuable information from the Test Trial arranged to be played at Edgbaston at the end of May. When the last Trial was held at Bradford in 1950 the remarkable cricket which occurred may have perplexed the Selectors. On a pitch of the stickiest nature Laker took eight wickets for two runs. In the Manchester Test which followed he claimed only one victim, and was not again picked until the third Test in 1951 against South Africa, also at Manchester. Since then Laker has confirmed his Bradford form, which placed him indisputably as England's best off-spinner. Given reasonable conditions, this Trial should afford an opportunity of assessing the ability of the best twenty-two players and help those unaccustomed to representative matches to become acquainted with players from other counties.


Surrey Champions

After an interval of 38 years Surrey finished Champions and no one could challenge their right to the title. In W. S. Surridge, their new captain, they possessed an exuberant personality who by his own fine example in the field extracted the very best from all his men. It was only at the end of the previous season that Col. R. S. Rait Kerr urged the counties to throw off their lethargy and make their cricket "eager, quick and full of action." Surrey certainly answered the call, and their enterprise was fully rewarded, as they equalled the feat of the brilliant Yorkshire pre-war team that gained 20 Championship victories in 28 matches in 1938 and 1939. In some quarters it was suggested that the Surrey total of 256 points was the highest ever obtained under the present system of 12 points for a win. Yorkshire not only achieved that number in 1938, but in 1939 surpassed it with 260. It was significant that at the Surrey celebration dinner in December, Surridge thanked H. Lock, the groundman, for providing pitches which gave the bowler a fair chance. For years officials, players and writers have linked the problem of keen attractive cricket with the preparation of the turf. It is to be hoped that this year's Test matches will not be ruined because all life has been extracted from the pitch in the effort to ensure the contests lasting the full five days.


Hobbs's Hundreds

Before leaving Surrey, I must place on record not only the remarkable reception Jack Hobbs was given at the Championship dinner, but also the really wonderful tributes he received from almost the whole of the English press and the B.B.C. when he reached his 70th birthday on December 16. Hobbs himself remained as modest as ever, but he did remark "They are making more fuss now than when I beat W.G." The Daily Express approached me with a view to recognising as first class three of the hundreds he made for the Maharajah of Vizianagram's Xl in Ceylon in 1930. After consulting M. C. C., I came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to alter cricket records that have been accepted for over twenty years. In arriving at this decision I was guided mainly by a ruling of the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1947, when, in reaching agreement in regard to the definition of a first-class match, the six countries concerned stated: "This will not have retrospective effect." The wisdom of that ruling of six years ago is clearly shown in this question of Hobb's 100's. If three were added to make his number 200, there might be a clamour for the records of other players to be changed, perhaps even to the extent of deducting some of the hundreds which were recognised in the past (not Hobbs) but according to present-day standards would not come in the first-class category. Hobbs himself is against any tampering with the established figures.


Seven All-Rounders

One of the most satisfactory features of 1952 was the re-appearance and success of the all-rounder. As many as seven players, D. B. Close, R. Jenkins, G. Tribe, B. L. Muncer, Ray Smith, T. E. Bailey and J. E. Walsh, performed the double, whereas since 1949 Ray Smith provided the solitary previous instance. Moreover, F. R. Brown, who first accomplished the feat twenty years ago, missed it this time by only one wicket, and this was due probably to the weather, for in his last match of the season in Dublin no play was possible on the third day when Ireland waited in vain to begin their fourth innings against M.C.C. To my mind the dearth of all-rounders has been one of England's biggest post-war cricket problems. Although no Surrey players figure in the above list, it was the ability of so many of them to do well something outside their recognised sphere that made the team so powerful.

Another pleasing aspect of last summer was the development of more personalities in county cricket. I can remember some years when the Editor of Wisden found his field of choice for the Five Cricketers of the year extremely limited, but no such problem confronted me this year. Instead a good case could have been made for nearly twenty players, but I feel satisfied that in the end I found the best and most deserving five. The rise of Leicestershire after being threatened with extinction was most gratifying. It was their best playing season for seventeen years and, like most other counties, their crowds were larger compared with 1951. They thrived under the splendid leadership of C. H. Palmer, who also distinguished himself in hitting a brilliant century for Gentlemen against Players at Lord's.

Though occupying only tenth place in the County Championship, Essex won a special award last season for finishing top of the News Chronicle "Brighter Cricket Table." This table showed that Essex scored 50.44 runs per 100 balls received, as against 49.96 by Surrey, the County Champions, placed second in the newspaper chart. Yorkshire and Lancashire were close behind with 49.72 and 49.32 respectively. Nottinghamshire, Sussex and Hampshire, the last three counties, each scored less than 42 runs per 100 balls. T. C. Dodds, one of the most enterprising opening batsmen in present-day English cricket, did a lot towards the gaining of this special distinction by his county, for he hit close upon 1,800 runs at an average rate of 40 an hour. It is to be hoped that the News Chronicle scheme, which is to be an annual affair, will provide a genuine spur to county batsmen in general. An interesting comparison between pre-war and post-war scoring rates is provided by reference to the times occupied by the winners of the Lawrence Trophy awarded for the fastest century in each season between 1934 and 1939. J. Hardstaff (Nottinghamshire) headed the list, reaching three figures against Kent at Canterbury in 1937 in 51 minutes. The slowest of the Lawrence Trophy winners was L. E. G. Ames, whose century for An England XI against India at Folkestone in 1936 occupied 68 minutes. As against these, C. Griffiths (Essex) took 91 minutes over 100 from the Kent bowlers at Tunbridge Wells for the fastest hundred last summer, a difference which, to say the least, is substantial!


Throwing

During the English summer of 1952 C. N. McCarthy and G. A. R. Lock were no-balled for throwing. The case of McCarthy occurred when he was playing for Cambridge University at Worcester and that of Lock when India played their second match with Surrey at The Oval. It was stated that the umpires concerned, P. Corrall and W. F. Price, who took this action when standing at square-leg, would report the facts to M.C.C., but so far there has been no indication that the rulers carried the matter further. Although the laws of cricket state that if either umpire be not entirely satisfied with the absolute fairness of a delivery he shall call and signal no-ball instantly, umpires have always been reluctant to take this extreme action. Not only do they dislike jeopardising a player's future in the game, but they know they are unlikely to receive any support from the crowd. This was borne out at The Oval, where Price was subjected to howls of disapproval from both inside and outside the pavilion. Yet in the interests of cricket I would congratulate both Price and Corrall for their efforts to see the game is conducted properly.

This is no new problem. As far back as 1888, when Wisden hailed the proposed formation of the first Cricket Council at Lord's, Mr. Charles F. Pardon wrote: "I have watched for many years with interest, and generally with cordial sympathy, the efforts of Lord Harris to improve conditions under which the great game is played. His crusade against throwing was fully justified, and there is to-day very much less unfair bowling than was the case a few years ago. I have not, nor can I have, any personal feeling in this matter; my only desire is that the game should be played fairly and honourably, and that cricketers, as lovers of a splendid game, should be above suspicion...Prominent umpires have over and over again told me that in their opinion men upon whose style of bowling adverse criticisms have been written, were unfair, but they were not sufficiently sure of support to take the initiative in no-balling them. Now the County Cricket Council is fairly under way any transgressions should quickly be brought before the Executive, and with Lord Harris as Chairman, there need be no hesitation in doing this."


Lock Chosen For England

Now, sixty-five years later, we find ourselves in exactly the same position, chiefly because no one wants to shoulder the responsibility. In fairness to McCarthy and Lock, it must be stated there was not unanimity about the alleged unfairness of their actions. Certainly before the match in which each was no-balled one heard only adverse criticisms, but afterwards there was plenty of support for both men and in addition the cine-film failed to show any throw in McCarthy's action. The week before Lock was chosen for England he bowled in a needle match at The Oval against Yorkshire and must have satisfied both N. W. D. Yardley, Chairman of the Test Selectors, and L. Hutton, the England captain, who batted against him, or they would never have given him his England cap.

Possibly a solution to the problem of dealing with throwing would be the appointment by M.C.C. before each season of a small panel to which umpires could report suspicious cases. If the panel were satisfied there were grounds for complaint they could inform the player concerned that his action had come under their notice and that unless he adjusted his style within a certain time he might be barred from first-class cricket.

Sometimes when counties are engaged in a vital struggle for Championship points we hear criticism of M.C.C. in inviting key players to take part in representative matches at Lord's. A notable instance occurred last summer when five of the Surrey team were chosen for Gentlemen and Players. Surrey released their men without question, but some of their members and supporters were not pleased about it. Although he did not allude specifically to this case Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr put the matter in its proper perspective in his farewell speech to the county secretaries. He made three points: (i) A central controlling body must exist and it must be stable in every way--not least financially. (ii) M.C.C. is not necessarily the only possible body, but for many years and to the present no obvious suitable alternative has been apparent. (iii) Therefore it is essential for the Counties and Overseas Bodies that M.C.C. should remain powerful and financially sound.


Counties Debt to M.C.C.

Colonel Rait Kerr pointed out that eighty years ago M.C.C. was merely a private members cricket club with no responsibility to counties or countries. To-day at least 50 per cent of a large and expensive staff's time is taken up with work which was never contemplated as part of the duties falling on members of M.C.C. at its formation. He inferred that the Counties must see that M.C.C. can remain financially sound and said that they had always been wonderfully good in supporting M.C.C. and other matches arranged at Lord's. There were three presentations to Colonel Rait Kerr. The overseas bodies, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and India gave him an antique bookcase, to house his set of Wisden, an antique oak chest and other items. The County Secretaries gave him a Crown Derby breakfast service and Mrs. Rait Kerr two Crown Derby china figures of birds. The County Clubs, First-class and Minor, and Combined Services gave an eighteenth-century bracket clock and in addition much help in providing apparatus to make his new home labour-saving.


Six Points for a Tie

I am sure all cricketers and followers of the game will welcome the Advisory County Committee's decision in November that in the case of a tie each county will in future take six points. Previously the side which led on the first innings received eight and their opponents four. Two years ago Wisden drew attention to this unequal award, and it is satisfactory to know that the matter has now received attention.


Arranged Finishes

The fact that last season thirty-six more Championship matches were brought to a definite conclusion showed that the plea of Colonel Rait Kerr for cricketers to adopt a more enterprising attitude did not altogether go unheeded, but there was still a good deal of cautious play by some counties on the first and second days followed by instances of reckless scoring on the third day with strange declarations. At Bristol, Gloucestershire declared 195 runs behind Worcestershire. R. E. Bird, the Worcestershire captain, might have enforced the follow-on, but with one bowler injured and others tired he decided to bat again, and in the end Gloucestershire, scoring at 95 runs an hour, gained a victory which could scarcely have occurred in normal circumstances. Some people argued that the end justified the means because instead of a very small crowd witnessing what would have been a dismal draw quite a goodly number turned up when it was learned in the city there was every chance of a lively finish. I heard of other instances, not necessarily by open agreement, of captains sharing the time left for batting. One commends the desire to achieve results, but the loose type of cricket seen in some places on the third day did not always benefit the superior side of the two previous days. Rather should captains strive for success from the first ball of the match.


Growth of World Cricket

The expansion of cricket overseas was emphasised during the past winter when England alone of the Test match countries took a well-earned rest. Pakistan, newly elected to the Imperial Cricket Conference, began their official Test career with a tour of India, and later India went to the West Indies. South Africa visited Australia and New Zealand. In less than eighteen months India took part in no fewer than nineteen Tests-- five against England in India; four in England; five against Pakistan in India; and five in the West Indies. This extension indicates the healthy condition of world cricket, for which M.C.C. as pioneers must be given credit. At the same time I feel sure M.C.C. welcome it from another angle, for with more countries becoming internationally minded they may be able to enjoy more breaks from close-season commitments. The problem of inducing leading players to tour year after year has been very real since the war. The dearth of talent was particularly noticeable on tours to the West Indies and India. The increase in world cricket also kept alive interest in this country, for many followers of the game found the harsh winter more bearable by being able to follow the progress of the various tours. Few days went by without a match being mentioned by the B.B.C. and in the Press. The climax came on the day Australia chose their seventeen to tour England. South Africa, having faced a first innings total of 520, won handsomely at Melbourne by six wickets. By drawing the rubber with Australia, J. E. Cheetham's men not only re-established South Africa's cricket reputation but showed the value of determination and aggression even when the cause looks hopeless.


© John Wisden & Co