England reach the cross-roads, 1954

Notes by the Editor

Norman Preston

It is a great pleasure to record in this issue the return of the Ashes to England during the Coronation year of our Queen. Unfortunately our joy changed to sorrow all too soon at the pitiable displays of our batsmen in the West Indies. Possibly our men may have redeemed themselves by the time this article reaches the reader, but I am writing at the conclusion of the Second Test in Barbados where it seems that after the match had been virtually thrown away on the third day-- England scored only 128 runs in five hours--some degree of sanity was shown in the second innings by L. Hutton, P. B. H. May, Denis Compton and T. W. Graveney. No one expects batsmen to play recklessly, particularly in a Test match; the occasion demands concentration and skill, but I hope the M.C.C. players who went to the West Indies realise that they caused all cricket-lovers at home to seethe with indignation at the negative methods which were adopted at Kensington Oval.

The Wrong Attitude

Even if that grand batsmen C. L. Walcott did make 220 England achieved a fine performance in dismissing West Indies for 383. Four days were left and immediately England played for a draw. To my mind not sufficient credit was given to Hutton last summer for his part in lifting England out of the long period of depression which began when Australia took the Ashes in 1934. The first professional to captain England since the days of Shaw and Lillywhite, Hutton led his men conscientiously against Australia and, in addition, he shouldered the main responsibility of the batting. He scored nearly 100 runs more than any other player on either side. True, he had one unfortunate period in the field at Lord's when he missed four catches, but not until afterwards did we discover that he was troubled with fibrositis. His 145 in that very match was easily the finest innings of the whole series. Moreover, Hutton then showed the enterprise we expected, yet as soon as he reached the West Indies with a triumphant team he went back to the ultra-cautious policy that he showed and was condemned for when he first captained England in 1952 against India.

Hutton has only to look back to his early days in cricket to remember that when Sir Don Bradman and Walter Hammond were in their prime they rarely allowed the bowlers to dictate to them and certainly never when the conditions were so ideal for batting as they were on that Tuesday in Barbados. I feel certain that much of Hutton's anxiety about his fellow batsmen would disappear if he would encourage them to play their natural game, particularly by his own example. In any case it would be far better to lose playing attractive cricket than go down the way England did at Kingston and Bridgetown.

There is also another aspect to this problem. How can England produce batsmen of the highest class if as soon as they are chosen for Test cricket they are not permitted to reveal their true talent? For years a sort of paralysis has crept into our batting and it was for this reason that I asked F. R. Brown to write the article that follows these Notes. I thank Brown for his ready response and I hope that all cricketers, and especially the youngsters, will follow his advice.

Well Done, West Indies

The full account of the M.C.C. tour in West Indies will of necessity have to await our 1955 edition, but I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without congratulating J. B. Stollmeyer, the captain, and his men on their success in the first two Tests. They are all Saturday afternoon club cricketers and they are not afraid to introduce the spirit of the village green to their Test cricket. We remember how brilliantly they played in England in 1950. E. D. Weekes, F. E. Worrell and C. L. Walcott are all glorious stroke players and those two slow bowlers, S. Ramadhin and A. L. Valentine, can drop the ball on the same menacing length hour after hour against timid batsmen. It was the bouncer which undid the West Indies in Australia in 1951-52. Then Australia won the rubber by four matches to one, but the margin may well swing the other way when the West Indies receive them in 1955-6.

It would appear that at the moment England stand at the cross-roads. A great welcome surely waits the team when they arrive in Australia next October and I trust that we shall endeavour to play the game with the same measure of enterprise as did Lindsay Hassett's men in this country a year ago. That England eventually emerged victorious was due largely to the wet summer which did not allow the Australian batsmen who were here for the first time to find their home form. The batting of both sides fell below expectations, yet surely it was that very factor which produced so many thrilling moments.

Instead of long and possibly monotonous stands, the bowlers, for once, were the dominant personalities. A. V. Bedser and R. R. Lindwall performed admirably and left no doubt as to their fitness to rank with the giants of all time. In the end victory for England was clear cut by the handsome margin of eight wickets, but all those who followed the five Tests will long remember how close Australia went towards success at Lord's and Leeds.

The England- Australia Tests aroused tremendous public interest not only in England but in all parts of the world where cricket is played. Modern publicity in the shape of television, sound radio and the Press, which brought even Sir Donald Bradman across the high seas again, gave the game a new impetus by introducing it into the homes of countless thousands of strangers. If their newly-won affection for cricket is to be retained first-class players must always strive to provide the public with something worth seeing.

England Needs All-Rounders

England, unlike Australia, were severely handicapped by the lack of all-rounders. Consequently, for the first four Tests the selectors chose only three bowlers plus T. E. Bailey as an all-rounder. Not until the fifth Test did the policy turn to attack and then the presence for the first time of F. S. Trueman made all the difference. One could sympathise with F. R. Brown and his fellow selectors, especially as Trueman with his limited opportunities in the R.A.F. gave them little encouragement, but clearly it was inviting trouble to enter a match with only four bowlers. Bailey did enough to emphasise that when possible all-rounders should be given preference.

Time after time, Bailey stood between the Australians and victory. It was suggested in these Notes a year ago that "Bailey may prove invaluable to England as an all-rounder," but he was not among the favourites for a place in the team until he saved M.C.C. at Lord's in May by defying the Australian bowlers for three hours, forty minutes, for 64 not out. A few weeks later and again at Lord's he engaged in that memorable stand in the second Test with W. Watson when he himself batted four-and-a-quarter hours for 71. Then at Headingley in the fourth Test Bailey once more thwarted Australia by staying at the crease for four hours twenty minutes while making 38. Finally, in another grim struggle with Lindwall and company he took three and three-quarter hours over 64 runs in the first innings at The Oval. Besides his performances with the bat, Bailey put in many useful spells of bowling and was always one of the best fielders. As assistant secretary to Essex, he does much useful coaching for his county and by his example in the Tests he truly carried out his own precept, for no one could fault his style and methods.

Wonderful Bedser

I think Hutton would be the first to admit that England would not have succeeded without the wonderful bowling of A. V. Bedser. The Surrey man was at the top of his form in his benefit year and he can look back with pride on the part he played in helping his country as well as his county to finish triumphant against all-comers. His 39 wickets in the five Tests is a record for any England- Australia series and he now stands above all other Test bowlers with an aggregate of 221 wickets. There are still one or two milestones Bedser has not reached. Whereas his total of wickets against Australia is 103 in 20 Tests, S. F. Barnes took 106 in the same number of matches and W. Rhodes 109 in 41, while for Australia against England, Hugh Trumble claimed 141 wickets in 31 matches, M. A. Noble 115 in 39 and C. V. Grimmett 106 in 22.

The way history has repeated itself in cricket following two wars is remarkable. As in 1926, England conquered Australia eight years after the end of hostilities but, as on that former occasion, we may have found only the nucleus of the next team to do duty in the Antipodes. Four of the men who took part in The Oval victory of 1926-- F. E. Woolley, G. T. S. Stevens, W. Rhodes and H. Strudwick--did not go to Australia with A. P. F. Chapman's men in 1928-29. Their places were filled by W. R. Hammond, D. R. Jardine, J. C. White and G. Duckworth and all met with such success that four of the five Tests were won.

This time the gap between the two series is lessened by one year, yet it seems that the side cannot be regarded as complete. It appears that numbers 2, 4, 5 in the batting order--held at The Oval by Edrich, Compton and Graveney--are the problem places. As batsmen go Graveney is still a young man and he has the ability. He looked a great player in the Lord's Test and I feel that with more determination and concentration he can yet fulfil his early promise.

Candidates for Australian Tour

Strong challenges for batting places on the tour to Australia should come from W. Watson, the Yorkshire left-hander, and M. C. Cowdrey, captain elect of Oxford University. Last summer at the age of twenty, Cowdrey made 1917 runs in such impressive style that his admirers have much confidence that he will reach great heights. Three left-handers, and all much younger than Watson, are K. G. Suttle (Sussex), P. E. Richardson (Worcestershire) and R. Subba Row (Cambridge University and Surrey), and among right-handers mention must be made also of J. M. Parks (Sussex), C. H. Palmer, the Leicestershire captain and M. Tompkin of the same county.

Apart from the dearth of leg-spinners the bowling should not provide a difficult problem. Besides Alec Bedser, Trueman, J. B. Statham and A. Moss as new ball experts, there are F. H. Tyson (Northamptonshire) and P. J. Loader (Surrey). After the way H. Tayfield took thirty Test wickets for South Africa in Australia, England surely will not neglect the off-spinners, among whom J. C. Laker, R. Tattersall and Robin Marlar (Sussex) readily come to mind, and there are G. A. R. Lock and J. H. Wardle for left-arm slows. If it is found desirable to look beyond T. G. Evans and R. T. Spooner as the wicket-keepers, any of these four may jump to the front: K. Andrew (Northamptonshire), R. Booth (Yorkshire), M. D. Fenner (Kent) and R. Swetman (Surrey). Serious consideration should be given to taking that fine Glamorgan all-rounder, A. Watkins. He is a man who does everything well.

Importance of Physical Fitness

Meanwhile Australia have been rebuilding. Lindsay Hassett has departed from the scene he adorned so much, but in their hour of defeat the Australians lost no time in taking stock of themselves. England can be pretty sure of a tough struggle but providing they enter the contests physically fit they ought to make a bold bid to retain The Ashes. Did not an unboasted South African team draw the rubber there in 1952-53? They sought the advice of Dr. Danie Craven who trained the all-conquering Springboks Rugby team. When those South Africans reached Australia, J. E. Cheetham, the captain, kept them training at Perth for eight hours a day. People said it was too much--they would break down in a month--but no such thing happened. They turned out to be the best fielding side ever seen in Australia. They were bent on improving themselves. When they reached Adelaide they even persuaded Sir Donald Bradman to give them batting lessons. He had not touched a bat for four years but I am told those eager-to-learn South Africans saw Bradman at his best in the nets for half an hour.

The Toss

After Hutton had lost the toss in all five Tests last summer, or rather Hassett had won it, writers to newspapers put forward, not for the first time, various suggestions for deciding the choice of innings by other methods. At a first glance it might seem unfair that England did not get a chance to bat first--except when Hassett sent them in at Leeds--but Roy Webber in an exhaustive survey of the matter revealed in The Cricketer that in the 163 matches between England and Australia, England have won the toss 82 times and Australia 81. Moreover, Webber produced figures to show that down the years the toss has worked out evenly for all countries taking part in Test cricket. So why clamour for a change?

Slow-Scoring Problems

At the county secretaries meeting in December, Mr. R. Aird, M.C.C. secretary, drew attention to the increase again of drawn matches in the championship. His speech is fully reported in the "Meetings in 1953" section. It is an old problem and Mr. Aird remarked: "If the captains, as the leaders, set about trying to win the game from the start and particularly before lunch on the first day and see to it that the approach of their players is the right one, then and only then, will county cricket gain the support which it appears to be losing and which is so vital to its existence."

The 30-runs-an-hour attitude is not confined to county cricket or to England. It is common in Test cricket the world over and many people think the problem is tied up with the present l.b.w. rule which was introduced, first as an experiment, in 1935. The gradual disappearance of the right-arm leg-break bowler coupled with the new ball being available after 65 overs for six-ball overs (50 overs for eight-ball overs) instead of after 200 runs are other links in the chain of negative batsmanship. It is the day for in-swing, off-spin and packed leg-side fields with the attack mainly on the leg stump.

Bradman's Plea for L.B.W. Law Change

Sir Donald Bradman was much concerned with this problem when he was here last summer. He talked about it and wrote about it, and as one of the world's greatest attacking batsman his opinions should receive deep consideration by all cricket lovers and especially legislators. Bradman asks, "Is defensive leg-theory bowling good for cricket?" It restricts stroke play and is the main reason for the game being deprived of much of its attractiveness.

As a possible solution Bradman suggests an extensive trial might be given to a change in the l.b.w. law whereby a batsman would be given out if he prevented the ball from striking the stumps without the use of the bat, irrespective of where it pitched or the position of his person providing the ball was not pitched outside the leg stump. Such a move might induce the in-swing and off-spin bowlers to move their attack to the off stump and it might encourage the leg-spinner who would have a much better chance of success with the googly. Bradman is not alone among Australians who are dissatisfied with the present laws. There was a move in New South Wales junior cricket to limit the number of fielders behind the batsman on the leg side, but this was rescinded possibly because of the difficulties it presented to umpires. Obviously, no one desires to do anything reckless. Many people think the game was spoiled when the l.b.w. law was altered nineteen years ago, but it appears clear that the off strokes may not be revived while the laws remain as at present.

Reluctant Batsmen

Again, I would emphasise that one cause for the decline in the rate of run-making is the reluctance of so many batsmen to produce their strokes. In cricket as well as in those two other grand British ball games, Association football and Rugby football, the result has been allowed in recent years to dominate everything. When our fathers played these games their prime objective was recreation and enjoyment and so long as these two essentials were satisfied little else mattered. Even the laws were brief and elementary; they simply knew the right way to play the game and if that was not done the offender was told: "It isn't cricket."

When ninety years ago the cricketers of England and Australia began to visit each other they did so mainly for pleasure. The reverse is now often the case in first-class cricket. Watching some modern batsmen at the wicket one gains the impression they are shouldering the burdens and troubles of the whole world. They certainly give little indication of enjoyment.

A horrible new term has crept into cricket-- "Occupation of the Crease." It means the time has arrived in the day's proceedings when the batsmen shuts out of his mind all ideas about runs and goes back entirely on the defensive. The full toss and the half-volley must be treated with the utmost respect. This period occurs at least three times a day--the fifteen minutes before lunch, tea and the close. One would imagine this would be the ideal time to punish the tired bowlers. With the advent of the 30-hour Test, time has become almost meaningless, yet very few Tests go the full distance partly because the batsman beats himself through not playing his natural game.

A Spur to Enterprise

It will be interesting to see whether the award of trophies and cash prizes has any stimulating effect on the game this summer. A business firm is offering silver mementoes and cheques of one hundred guineas each for the fastest hundred and for certain bowling, fielding and wicket-keeping performances. Such inducements should not be necessary to foster dynamic cricket. As Mr. Aird said, the whole matter depends on the attitude of the players. Possibly the added incentive may help them to develop the right frame of mind in all phases of the game. Speed, of course, is not the first essential in cricket, and it is obvious that the fastest hundred may not be the best or the most valuable of the season. The comparatively small crowd who paid for admission on the fifth day of the Lord's Test last June sat enthralled while they watched the dour batting of Watson and Bailey against the might of Australia. There were few runs but every moment and every ball was vital. This pair saved England that day as surely as did T. G. Evans at Adelaide in 1947 when he spent ninety-five minutes with D. Compton before scoring.

Sir John Berry Hobbs

Cricket and particularly the professional player was honoured when in June the Queen bestowed the order of Knighthood on Jack Hobbs, the great England and Surrey batsman. Hobbs, always modest and a model sportsman, has worn his honours gracefully. When one looks back and recalls men who have enjoyed every minute of their cricket, Hobbs comes readily to mind. It is his approach to the game which is needed in this hardheaded age.

Royal Interest

The Duke of Edinburgh's affection for cricket is well known and it is a happy thought that, in the midst of all the calls made upon him in Coronation Year, he could spare time to take part in a match of unique character. On August 2 he led a side of Test and county players against a team captained by the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, in the beautiful grounds of Arundel Castle, Sussex. The game, which attracted nearly 30,000 people and raised more than £3,247 for the National Playing Fields Association of which the Duke of Edinburgh is president, ended in a win by seven runs for the Duke of Norfolk's team.

This was not the only occasion during 1953 that His Royal Highness showed his interest and understanding for everything associated with the game. In April he opened the Imperial Cricket Memorial at Lord's which is dedicated to those cricketers who lost their lives in two world wars. Subsequently he followed closely the events in the Test series and met both the England and Australian players.

The Duke is a Past-President of M.C.C. and a member of the Committee. The Queen also shares her husband's interest and is Patron of M.C.C., Surrey and Lancashire. The game is indeed fortunate to have two such distinguished supporters.

James Langridge and F. R. Brown

Besides A. L. Hassett, the Australian captain, to whom justice is done in a special section, two notable English cricketers, James Langridge and F. R. Brown, have decided to retire from active participation in the game. In these days of dwindling talent first-class cricket can ill afford to lose either, for each was a top-class all-rounder. Langridge's career for Sussex spanned thirty summers, 1924 to 1953, and he went to the wicket 1,058 times. He figures among that very small band who have scored over 30,000 runs--31,717, average 35, to be exact--and he took 1,530 wickets at a cost of 22.56 runs each. Wisden paid F. R. Brown a special tribute two years ago on his return from Australia since when he has gained further distinction as a member of the Test Match Selection Committee, of which he was chairman last summer. Now he intends to follow Sir Donald Bradman into journalism and if he can infuse into his writings the sparkle of his batting, then he will be most entertaining. Altogether Brown made 12,881 runs and took 1,188 wickets, both averages working out at roughly 27.

© John Wisden & Co