Forward play the first essential, 1954

Batsmen must be bold

F.R. Brown

Len Hutton was one of the England batsmen who didn't please everyone with the pace of his play © The Cricketer
The 1953 Test series against Australia resulted in a glorious victory for England, a victory which will give a tremendous fillip to the game throughout the country. Considering that twenty-seven years had passed since England beat Australia in a home rubber, I am sure our friends in Australia will not begrudge us the success.

One thing of which we can be certain is that the swing of the pendulum will bring about and exhaustive search throughout Australia to find players for the 1954-55 series there. Another is that the interest in the M.C.C. visit will ensure large crowds at all the Test Matches.

Having watched every ball of the five 1953 Test Matches and discussed the games with many players and keen students of cricket, I found an almost unanimous disquiet about the lack of attack in the England batting. This is a matter on which I hold very firm views.

I know some will say that as England virtually won the series by defensive batting, the end justified the means. Nobody could have been more delighted with England's Test triumph than I was, but I strongly believe that it would have come with greater ease by the employment of more attacking batting tactics.

Let me go back to 1930, when I first played for Cambridge University and then for Surrey. I think it is fair to say that I bowled the leg-break faster than most at that time, but I soon found that I could not afford to be without a deep field. Very often I was forced to have a deep extra cover as well. Such field placing was necessary because the batsmen looked for the half-volley all the time, and were always ready to play forward and drive it either over the bowler's head or through the covers. Batsmen such as Wally Hammond, Charles Barnett, Patsy Hendren - to name a few - were typical examples of the straight hitters. I could never bowl to them for any length of time without a deep field.

The position is far different to-day. I do not bowl my leg-break quite so fast as I did then and yet only rarely do I have to place a man in the deep field. Maurice Tompkin and Harold Gimblett are about the only two batsmen who force me to do so.

I know some will say that as England virtually won the series by defensive batting, the end justified the means

Since returning to county cricket in 1949 I have noticed that the whole technique of batting has changed. So often the first movement is to put the right foot back, often before the bowler has delivered. From this position no batsman can hit the half-volley. He will find that he will not be able to get to the pitch of the ball with his left foot. I guarantee that as many half-volleys are bowled to-day as in 1930, but nothing like the treatment they received then is given them to-day. I would emphasise to all batsmen that, should the ball be not quite right for hitting, to change from an attacking to a defensive position is far easier than to change from a defensive to an attacking position.

As a bowler I can also testify that as a race we bowl only as well as the batsmen allow us. Equally I assert that bowlers much prefer bowling to a batsman who is nearly always on his back foot. Whether the ball is turning or swinging away towards slip, the more the batsman goes forward the less chance he gives the ball to deviate towards the edge of the bat.

Often during the past few seasons I have seen a batsman in the lower half of the order come in and play forward to everybody, fast, medium and spin bowlers. Provided such a batsman plays straight he becomes extremely difficult to dismiss.

This was perfectly demonstrated by Trevor Bailey in the 1953 Tests. Ray Lindwall and the other Australian bowlers must have been thoroughly disheartened by the sight of him pushing down the line and smothering the ball before it had time to deviate.

Surely, by employing this technique and adding to it the attacking strokes which they possess, the acknowledged batsmen, that is, from numbers one to five, would become more aggressive, and by so doing dictate the policy to the bowler instead of allowing him to dictate to them.

What is the cause of modern defensive batting? I believe it began with time-limitless Test Matches, and even to-day, with a standard playing time of 30 hours, English batsmen seem to be infected with a defensive virus. Some of this defence has been caused by the tactics employed by many fielding captains and bowlers.

So often in these long drawn out struggles the tempo has been slowed by a fielding side which has experienced a period of attacking bowling without success. Then the captain instructs his bowlers to bowl on the middle and leg stumps just short of a length, with the field split five and four, and only the wicket-keeper and slip in a wicket-taking position. He as good as says to the batsman: "I can't get you out, so I'm going to stop you scoring." To which the batsman replies: "All right, I'm not going to take chances by trying to hit your bowlers over the heads of the fielders. I'm staying put."

The game then becomes a battle of attrition hingeing on whether batsman or bowler is first to lose his patience or concentration!

I contend that the batsman must take the chance, endeavour to dictate the policy of the play, and by so doing make the game easier for those to follow.

The fast scoring in so many fourth innings in county cricket proves how well English batsmen can attack when they are compelled. If only they would approach the first innings in a similar frame of mind I am certain the team would make at least as many runs as by the more defensive means. Moreover, the bowlers would receive more time in which to bowl out the other side.

Trevor Bailey was known for playing defensive innings © The Cricketer
The score-board must be kept moving, and, while I agree that many occasions arise when a batsman finds difficulty in scoring, one method which would bring runs, but is very much neglected to-day, is the use of the sharp single. Every batsman's duty is to be on his toes and to look for every possible run, and, with a little practice, a whole team should work up an understanding whereby these runs can be taken swiftly and surely. Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Washbrook and Paynter come to mind as supreme examples, but to-day only Watson and Bailey seem to accomplish the sharp single with any degree of certainty and confidence.

By and large I contend that aggressive batting is essentially a question of mental approach. The batsman who is thinking in terms of scoring runs and getting on top of the bowling will do so more often than the man who sets out to graft for his runs and try to wear down the attack.

I frequently hear England and county cricketers declare that the glare of limelight from the press, radio and television is now so intense that they become over-anxious about making mistakes. Sometimes a batsman will say: "You tell us to hit the ball, but if we get out trying to play strokes we are accused of throwing away our wickets." To my mind this is a very lame excuse.

The Australians receive more criticism from their press and radio than do English players. Yet most of them bat the same in Test matches as in other games. The attacking player still attacks. What could have been more exhilarating than some of Neil Harvey's innings in Test cricket? Obviously, by his aggressive methods, he gives the bowlers more chance, but when he does come off he is the complete dictator.

I well remember Len Hutton and Charles Barnett at Trent Bridge in 1938 when they made 169 together before lunch and Barnett completed a memorable 100 from the first ball after the break. One of the only two instances of similar aggression I have seen by an English batsman in recent years was Reg. Simpson's 156 not out in the Fifth Test at Melbourne in 1951. He and Roy Tattersall put on 74 for the last wicket, Reg. Simpson obtaining all but four of these. If only Simpson had realised his value as an attacking batsman from that day, I believe he would have been assured of his place in any England XI for years.

Unfortunately, nearly every time he has played in a representative game since then he has fallen back to the now-established defensive and wearing down tactics and, not surprisingly to my view, he has failed to score the runs of which, with his high degree of skill, he is capable.

The other occasion was at Lord's in 1953 when Len Hutton and Tom Graveney made their inspiring stand of 168 in England's first innings. Nothing better in the rubber was seen than Graveney's straight driving of the fast and slow bowlers. As with Simpson, however, afterwards he appeared to decide that defensive batting was his role, and in the last three Tests he did not make another really aggressive stroke.

What a contrast that innings at Melbourne by Simpson provided with so much of England's batting earlier in the 1950-51 series, particularly in the Second Test, played on the same ground two months previously.

Tom Graveney was a vital part of the England side © The Cricketer

In a game of low scores, England, left with three whole days to make 179 to win, tried to get the runs in singles and two's. As a result Australia dismissed us for 150, and so put themselves two up in the rubber.

As England captain I hoped in vain that one batsman at least would move out and hit the ball hard. The sight of Ian Johnson, a slow off-spinner, bowling with a silly mid-on and a silly mid-off but no deep field behind him was hard to bear. On a wicket certainly no worse than that Australia had galloped to a winning total of 404 for three wickets in the second innings of the Leeds Test in 1948.

Time and again at Melbourne, England batsmen went out to the pitch of the ball but, having done so, played a timid push stroke. A lofted straight drive or cover drive would have been just as safe and much more productive.

The rate of scoring per 100 balls in the last Test series provides interesting reading:--

Balls ReceivedRunsRuns per 100 Balls
1st Test78810812403623033
2nd Test152816446136934042
3rd Test7208092603423642
4th Test17236954213912456
5th Test12388004224173452

As will be noticed, the England batsmen received 968 more balls than the Australians, but scored 249 runs less. This meant an average of 33 runs per 100 balls as against 44 by the Australians.

Given reasonable batting conditions, I would rather see a batsman make a dashing 25 or 30, brought to an end by a genuine effort to hit the ball, than a grafted 50, and I am positive that the first method gives him a better chance of being selected again for the next game. Selection Committees seldom consult figures.

The question remains of how aggression can be instilled into our county and Test match players. To me the answer is clear. The county captain must give the lead by telling his batsmen that he expects a rate of scoring of at least 60 runs per 100 balls from the first morning of the match.

The aim of every county side should be to make between 300 and 340 in five hours' play, declare or be all out, and bowl at the tired opposition for the last hour. If this object were pursued relentlessly perhaps we should find the aggressive approach return to Test Matches as well.

Then we must think of the cricketers of the future. For them the all-important factor is coaching, and I beg all who instruct schoolboys in the art of cricket to teach them first how to play forward and then to hit the half-volley. I would repeat that to fall back to a defensive position from an attacking position is far, far easier than to change from a defensive position into one of attack. I maintain that as long as cricketers of the future are taught this results will be forthcoming.

Let the county cricketers realise the part they can play by showing to the thousands of schoolboys who watch them on every county ground in the country just how the game was meant to be, and should be, played. The finest game in the world deserves the highest standards.

© John Wisden & Co