The Oval is saved and more, 1989

Notes by the Editor

Graeme Wright

Two years ago, when writing the Notes for the 1987 edition of Wisden, I took as a centrepiece the Palmer Report; the Report of the TCCB Enquiry into the Standards of Play of English Cricket in Test and First-class County Cricket. It would be appropriate to do so again, for the background to the enquiry remains as apt now as when it was first commissioned. It was the widespread disappointment and genuine concern about the standards of play at Test and county level following England's performances between 1982-83 and 1984. Given the wisdom contained in that report, there should be even greater concern that, in the two years following its publication, the problems and the causes which it highlights remain.

Little has been done to solve the problems. In some instances, as with county pitches, there has been further deterioration rather than a serious attempt to bring about an improvement. But if it is any consolation, little of this is new. And because of that, it might be possible to look forward with a little optimism, if not necessarily with any great confidence.

A familiar story

Much was made of the fact that in 1988 England fielded as many as 23 players in the series against West Indies. For this, and for choosing four captains for the five Tests, the England selectors were castigated.

In 1966, when West Indies beat England by three Tests to one, and their victories were as overwhelming as any achieved last year, England called on 24 players. (When John Price withdrew from the side for the final Test, which England won, John Snow regained his place.) Moreover, of the three England captains that summer, M.J.K. Smith and Colin Cowdrey were replaced following innings defeats inside the distance. Of England's captains last season, only John Emburey could be said be to have lost the captaincy because of his form or because his side lost heavily.

"Before the summer ended, the selectors themselves came in for adverse criticism," said Norman Preston in his Notes to the 1967 Wisden. But, he went on to say, "Examining the facts, one must remember that compared with other countries England have many more first-class players on the fringe of Test standard, yet few who can be termed automatic choices."

A similar view was expressed by Peter May, in an interview with the editor of the Cricketer magazine, following his retirement on November 25 after seven years as chairman of selectors. "We have more players of a certain standard than any other country," he said. "It's often easier to pick a team if you have fewer players to choose from." What is of interest as much as the similarity of views is that Mr May was also an England selector in 1966.

Critics of England's recent record, in which they went eighteen Tests without a win, might consider that from 1963 to 1966 England won only twice in eighteen home Tests against Australia, South Africa and West Indies. One of those victories was against West Indies at The Oval in 1966; the other, also against West Indies, was in 1963 at Edgbaston where Trueman had match figures of twelve for 119, his best analysis in Test cricket.

In that series, won 3-1 by West Indies, Trueman at the age of 32 took 34 wickets at 17.47 each from 236.4 overs. This remained the record for an England-West Indies series until last year, when Malcolm Marshall claimed 35 wickets at 12.65 from 203.1 overs. By way of contrast, England's strike bowler, Graham Dilley, had fifteen wickets at 26.86 from 136.1 overs in his four Tests last year, although he did have fewer innings in which to bowl.

"The shortage of high-class batsmen and bowlers in English cricket could be a passing phase - or is it bound up with current conditions?" asked the editor of Wisden after the 1963 series. The old songs always were the best.

The consolation of history

It is because of what happened after 1966 that I ponder the possibility of looking ahead with some optimism. I am not necessarily forecasting success for England. There is no reason why, in a country where it is often impossible to have building work done or a motor car serviced properly, its sporting tradesmen should perform any better.

But just as craftsmen can sometimes by found, so it is in sport. England, from defeat by West Indies in 1966, went on to win in the West Indies in 1967-68 and did not lose a series, home or away, until 1971, when India won at The Oval and brought to an end England's record run of 26 Test matches without defeat.

This summer brings an Ashes series and, against Australia, the chance for England to re-establish their credentials. For both countries it is an important series. But for England, at the end of it, there is the prospect of a tour of the West Indies, and this should not be ignored. I can see only too clearly a situation in which England play well against Australia under Graham Gooch, only to go to the Caribbean with a new captain.

The right captain for England

If anything constructive emerged from England's performances against West Indies, it was their attitude under Gooch's leadership at The Oval. There seemed to be a positiveness which, to me, had been absent in recent times. I can understand why the selectors wanted to retain him as captain, however disingenuous it was to expect the Indian government to accept him as a touring captain.

There is an authority about Gooch's batting which earns the respect of his colleagues and his opponents, and I think he has an ability to distance himself sufficiently from his team-mates to gain their respect also as a leader. He will not need to be one of the lads. I do not share the concern that Gooch's batting will suffer from his being captain. Essex consider he is capable of doing the job, and they are a county who plan carefully and have a commitment to success.

When, some twenty years ago, I first watched county cricket, what struck me was the discernible gap between the county game and a Test match. This will sound as if I am stating the obvious. But it had not been obvious to me, from the game's literature or from the little international cricket I had seen, that first-class county cricketers did not play to their full potential day in, day out. I think I expected professional cricket to be like the professional theatre, in which one could expect a first-class performance, even at a matinée.

In time I became accustomed to the inertia of county first-class cricket; the game, after all, has many charms. However, it has become more noticeable that players, when selected for England, are not bridging the gap. Their approach in Test match cricket seems little different from the way they play much of their Championship cricket. It is imperative, therefore, that the captain and the cricket manager are men able to lift the players out of their usual mode and keep them playing to the peak of their ability over five days. Little I have seen convinces me that many players are capable of this transition on their own.

The county programme

Achieving this transition is not made easier in home Test matches by the county fixture list. The players have a day together before the Test match and are away to another county game soon after it finishes. The match becomes little more than an interim in what Peter Roebuck calls the "continuum" of county cricket.

Given Test cricket's importance both to the financial welfare of the English game and to the morale of the country generally (remember 1981?), a Test match should be seen as more than just an occasion which brings in revenue. It should also be an occasion for pride; not for cynicism and despair.

There is a developing argument in favour of a sixteen-match, four-day County Championship. If the standard of English cricket is to be improved, it should be supported. Not all the county secretaries and treasurers will agree. If such a programme were implemented, it would mean eight fewer days of cricket per county. What will need to be resisted is any attempt to fill those eight days with more one-day cricket; indeed, cricket of any kind except net practice.

Men and women in other professional sports take time between fixtures to practise; the cricketers of other countries do not spend all their time playing and travelling. One would like to think that players could sort out their problems in the middle, but the modern game, in its various forms and with its pressures for success, does not allow this luxury. Consequently, English county cricket contains a good number of journeymen who make their way from one season to another contract by means of a satisfactory method, rather than the techniques required for Test cricket.

It is true that there are promising youngsters to encourage hope for the future. But other countries also have promising youngsters. As may be seen elsewhere in this Almanack, England, with a squad containing nine players with first-class experience, finished fourth behind Australia, Pakistan and West Indies in the Youth World Cup in Australia last year.

If standards are to improve, so that English cricket is again an example to the world, it will require dedication and discipline. Players will need to work at their game with coaches who can pinpoint and correct the faults that creep in during the season.

Matthew Maynard provides an example of this. When I first saw him in 1986 he stood still at the crease, had time to move back or forward to play the ball, and he timed his strokes. He looked a potential Test cricketer. Last season, he was shuffling about at the crease as the bowler was delivering the ball. While some top-class batsmen do make an initial movement, few get away with fidgeting about like a tennis player receiving service.

County v country

It cannot be simply coincidence that a number of overseas players in county cricket have been critical of the commitment of their English colleagues. Career professionalism should be English cricket's strength, and yet it is arguable that it is its weakness. In that it gives cricketers of other countries the opportunity to develop their skills, and do so in English conditions, it might be said to be a double weakness.

Yet I would be reluctant to advocate a total restriction on overseas players. They remain an attraction, which was a reason for having them initially, and county cricket generally is richer for their presence. On the other hand, a limit of one overseas player per county does seem sensible. Unfortunately, while paying lip-service to a restriction, the chairmen and their committees put county before country as success is seen in a local rather than a national light.

It has been the same with pitches. When the ball behaves quite differently in a three-day game and a limited-overs game, yet at only a few strips' remove, something strange is happening. No-one, apart from batsmen perhaps, is looking for plumb pitches. But pitches which allow the ball to deviate laterally and bounce unevenly, as we have seen recently, serve only the ego and the averages of the bowlers. Certainly they do not help the selectors in their search for bowlers able to do something with the ball on a truer Test-match pitch.

For a batsman, it is important that he can trust the bounce, which means the pitch must be firm. I wonder if pitches are rolled sufficiently - and with a roller heavy enough to iron out the grasses which, we are told, produce erratic bounce.

Most grounds I have seen in the last three years could afford also to get rid of some grass - not just from the pitch but from the outfield. The modern cricket ball, with its generous seam and longer-lasting shine, already favours the bowler whose ambition is to hit the seam and hope that the ball will deviate off the pitch. A less lush outfield would roughen the ball. Bowlers might then have to swing the ball, even the old ball, and in the absence of such artists there might be a place for the slow bowler. If wickets were hard, that slow bowler might also have to spin the ball and/or flight it.

But all this has been said before. In the meantime, some action has been taken to penalise those counties whose pitches do not meet the TCCB's specifications. In the event of a pitch being found unsuitable, 25 points will be deducted from the home county's points in the Championship.

Not the happiest of years

That decision was made at the Winter Meeting of the TCCB. Perhaps my optimism is without foundation, but I felt after that meeting that the counties were taking stock. After all, it had not been the happiest of years for the professional game.

In the train of England's tour of Pakistan late in 1987, England's representative cricketers became the focus of media attention. This in itself should have ensured exemplary behaviour. It did not. In Sydney, in Australia's Bicentennial Test match, Chris Broad knocked down a stump with his bat after being bowled and was fined; in New Zealand, Graham Dilley's language, when appeals for a catch were turned down, also resulted in a fine.

The trend was sufficiently for the TCCB to direct the England selectors to take into account a player's behaviour as well as his form. If you don't behave, you don't play was the Board's message to the country's cricketers.

None the less, when Broad was seen on television, expressing his obvious disappointment after his first-innings dismissal against West Indies at Lord's last summer, what happened? The England cricket manager, Micky Stewart, defended Broad on the grounds that he was annoyed with himself, and Broad remained in the team for the Third Test, although he was subsequently omitted from the final eleven because of his poor form.

The selectors are the appointees of the TCCB; indeed, Mr Stewart is an employee. The Board ought to ensure that its selectors are acting according to its instructions, not acting in isolation with no brief other than to select the best possible team. If that is the selectors' view, it is a blinkered one.

Gatting's term ends

Given the Board's strictures on behaviour, it was not surprising that Mike Gatting's position as captain of the England team became untenable when he was named in allegation of sexual impropriety by the Sun and Today newspapers. On June 8, the day after England had successfully fought to save the First Test, the Sun carried a story alleging a sex orgy involving two unnamed England players. The next morning, June 9, Gatting was named as one of the players, and that afternoon he was relieved of the captaincy.

While he admitted inviting a young woman to his room on his birthday, June 6, Gatting denied that there had been any impropriety. The selectors, representing the Board, accepted Gatting's version of the events but, in the words of Mr May, felt that "Gatting had behaved irresponsibly during a Test match by inviting female company to his room for a drink in the late evening." Much wrath was directed at Mr May, the selectors and the TCCB.

I feel they had little option but to pursue the course they did if they were to expect certain standards from the England captain and his team. As it was to illustrate over the matter of English players working in South Africa, the TCCB has a responsibility wider than the playing of cricket. In this instance, it had also to consider the game's sponsors, local as well as national, who are attracted to cricket because it has, or has had, an image with which they wish to be associated.

What cricketers got up to in the past is irrelevant. There was a time when the yellow press was prepared to wait until a celebrity had written his or her memoirs before entering the bedroom. Today it makes the bed.

I suppose it is money that makes a newspaper prepared to destroy a man's name and his career. It cannot argue any public service in this case, because English cricket would have been better off without the revelations in the Sun and Today. I suppose there is no connection between their proprietor being an Australian, albeit a former Australian, and the fact that Australia, beaten out of sight by M.W. Gatting's England team last time around, come to England this summer.

It was a journal from the same stable, the Sunday Times, which printed a preview of Gatting's autobiography and landed him deeper in trouble with the Test and County Cricket Board. The book, Leading from the Front, contained a chapter dealing with England's tour of Pakistan the previous winter; this had not been sanctioned by the Board as a player's tour contract excludes him from writing on recent tours.

Gatting was asked to withdraw the chapter, but this was not done. Instead it was rewritten, in the third person, by Gatting's co-author, a subterfuge which did not pass muster with the Board. Early in August it fined Gatting £5,000 for publishing the chapter without its consent. The sagas over the book and the barmaid ran more or less concurrently and placed a question mark over Gatting's suitability as captain of the England team. Corollaries with other public figures will be resisted.

England's tour to India cancelled

Gatting did not play in the Second Test against West Indies, and after doing little in the Third, he asked the selectors not to consider him for the rest of the summer. He also withdrew from consideration for England's tour to India in the winter. Whether or not he would have been missed there became academic when the tour was cancelled on October 7.

The Indian government would not grant visas to eight of the players whose names appeared on a list of sportsmen with links with South Africa, and the TCCB, holding to the International Cricket Conference's principle that no country should be allowed to influence the team selection of another, refused to replace those players.

The team which England selected was as follows: G.A. Gooch (captain), J.E. Emburey (vice-captain), R.J. Bailey, K.J. Barnett, J.H. Childs, G.R. Dilley, N.A. Foster, D.I. Gower, E.E. Hemmings, A.J. Lamb, D.V. Lawrence, P.J. Newport, S.J. Rhodes, R.T. Robinson, R.C. Russell and R.A. Smith. The players about whom objections were raised were Gooch, Emburey, Bailey, Barnett, Dilley, Lamb, Newport and Robinson.

Even before the team was announced, on September 7, there had been speculation that the tour might be in jeopardy following the appointment the previous week of Gooch as captain. Gooch had captained the first of the rebel tours to South Africa, for which he (and Emburey) had been banned from Test cricket for three years. Both he and Emburey had been admitted into India and Pakistan for the World Cup in 1987, an expediency which led to accusations of hypocrisy. These did an injustice to the strength of feeling in India against the apartheid policy of South Africa's elected government.

Gooch and Emburey, with others, had gone virtually straight on to South Africa from a tour of India, which had been in doubt because the Indian government found unacceptable the inclusion of Geoffrey Boycott and Geoff Cook, who had recently played in South Africa. Boycott moreover played a part in setting up the team for South Africa, as well as being a member of it.

In the circumstances, it should not have been surprising when, on September 9, India's Foreign Ministry announced that no player having or likely to have sporting contact with South Africa would be granted a visa.

Gooch, it was by now known, had intended spending the winter playing in South Africa for Western Province, rather than touring India with England. When he was persuaded to tour as captain of England, he was released from his South Africa contract. It was a situation made, if not designed, to aggravate the Indian government.

In his interview with the Cricketer, Mr May was asked if he and his fellow selectors had considered the political repercussions of appointing Gooch. His view was that the selectors' brief was to select the best possible team from the cricketing point of view. "We don't pick teams for political reasons. In any case Graham Gooch had been perfectly acceptable to India for the World Cup ...." More apt, perhaps, to say that he had been an exception then rather than acceptable; and is it not naïve of the chairman and his selectors, at the end of the 1980s, to think it unnecessary to look beyond the cricketing point of view?

If the cricketing point of view were all that mattered, it would be possible to ask why Gatting was stripped of the captaincy. Sad though it may be, cricket cannot operate as a business without an awareness of the messy world beyond the boundary.

Pakistan refuse to play ball

When the tour of India was cancelled, the TCCB agreed to pay the players selected a substantial portion of their £12,000 tour fee. They also tried to arrange a replacement tour. With most countries already committed, this was not an easy task. Eventually, New Zealand arranged a seven-week tour in February and March incorporating two Test matches against England and a triangular limited-overs tournament involving Pakistan, their scheduled touring team.

However, when Pakistan changed their mind and refused to play against England in New Zealand, this tour too had to be abandoned. New Zealand, whose finances had suffered the previous season, felt they could not afford to stage secondary tour involving England which did not include the three-way one-day competition. Pakistan, like India, objected to the presence in the England team of players who had worked in South Africa; yet Pakistan's cricketers were playing at the time in Australia against at least one player, Terry Alderman, who had toured South Africa with rebel sides.

ICC decide on South African connections

India's decision to exclude the England eight left the TCCB in little doubt that it would have to make concessions on the subject of links with South Africa if it was not to find itself isolated internationally. Certainly it was the opinion of the Board's executive that English cricket could not maintain its current financial health without a regular programme of Test matches at home and away.

Some counties, no doubt, would have liked to call the bluff of those countries opposed to links with South Africa, but such thinking did not take into account the political opposition in the other ICC countries to apartheid. The reality of the situation demanded a solution. Only time will tell if the solution agreed on will prevent further interference by governments in the composition of touring teams.

At its meeting at Lord's on January 23 and 24, the ICC resolved that, as from April 1, 1989, any cricketer who visits South Africa as a player or coach or in an administrative capacity will automatically be suspended from Test cricket for the following terms according to the player's age: over sixteen and under nineteen, three years; nineteen and over, four years. In addition, players participating in an organised tour will be suspended for five years. A register of ineligible players will be kept by the ICC secretariat, and a second or subsequent visit to South Africa could increase the suspension.

The resolution, which was proposed by West Indies and seconded by Sri Lanka, was unopposed and carried by 32 votes: two votes each by the seven full members and one by each of the eighteen associate members. It was preceded by much negotiating, and no doubt there were some on either side of the divide who saw it as a compromise. It is; and the test will come when England tour West Indies this coming winter with players who worked in South Africa before April 1. For the moment, England's cricketers can be thankful that the resolution was not retrospective.

Nevertheless, an important principle has been conceded. If there remains any euphoria that international cricket has been saved - and with it, arguably, England's fully professional circuit with some four hundred employees - the citizens of the United Kingdom have had a freedom curtailed at the insistence of other countries. It can be argued that a freedom which allows trade with an unjust society is not so valuable a freedom. None the less it is a freedom within British law. If it is expedient to accept restrictions on legal freedoms, how simple it will be to restrict freedom legally.

The future of cricket in South Africa

Freedom is a strange word to use in any context involving South Africa. Cricket, however, is not free of South Africa. There remains, as I write these Notes, the threat of legal action against the ICC and perhaps the TCCB, the cost of which will be borne by English cricket, not by those countries which instigated the ban on players who ply their trade in South Africa. There is also the possibility that South Africa will continue to attract cricketers from abroad. It would be ironic if this affected England less than other countries, whose seasons are the same as South Africa's. In a material age, money is a powerful persuader.

What the member countries of the ICC have not said in recent years is what they want of South Africa. Perhaps they hope that, as it is no longer on the agenda, the question of South Africa will cease to exist. I wonder if an opportunity has been lost by ignoring what is being done by the South African Cricket Union in taking cricket into the black townships. South Africa has to change if justice is to prevail and each child, regardless of colour, is to begin life equal with the next. That change can come through bloodshed or through the political will of the South African electorate. The second way will take time and education.

I know nothing of the work of the South African Cricket Union except for what I have read. It may be propaganda. But if black South African children are being taught a game which brings them into regular contact with white South African children, might not the latter come to acknowledge the rights of the former and grow to vote out a government which maintains apartheid?

Undue optimism? Probably, but I prefer subversion by the cricket bat to subversion by the Kalashnikov. If, however, the will of the voting class is not for change, no amount of cricket in the townships will destroy apartheid. And it is the ending of apartheid, not the number of black cricketers, which will influence world opinion.

Another problem to be solved

It is, of course, easier to ignore South Africa altogether, as the problem of short-pitched bowling has been ignored. At the moment it is primarily the West Indian fast bowlers who give cause for concern, but the day will come when some other country possesses similar firepower. Currently, countries try to counter the West Indians by preparing pitches unresponsive to fast bowling. This strikes as being just as contrary to the spirit of the game.

Again, as in the past two editions, I advocate an independent panel of umpires for international cricket. Law 42.8 already empowers umpires to prevent such bowling, but as long as umpires are associated with the home authority, regardless of their neutrality they do not seem to find it easy to utilise these powers. Sadly it is no longer possible to expect all cricketers to respect the Laws or the spirit of the game.

I am not suggesting that the game needs policemen; rather, men who understand cricket and cricketers; men who have played at least first-class cricket themselves.

Worcestershire and Hick dominate the season

That Worcestershire were the team of the year is beyond dispute. They won the Britannic Assurance Championship, retained the Refuge Assurance League, and were runners-up in the finals of the NatWest Bank Trophy and Refuge Assurance Cup.

In Graeme Hick, they had the cricketer of the year. His batting feats caught the imagination of the cricket world and led to calls for a reduction in the qualification period so that he could play for England. The TCCB Executive Committee proposed such a move, but it was rejected at the Board's Winter Meeting last December. The counties expressed their determination that, as far as possible, English county and Test cricket should be played by Englishmen; and presumably by the other nationalities of the United Kingdom.

The Oval is saved

Towards the end of last season, the Surrey members voted to allow their famous ground to be renamed the Foster's Oval as part of a sponsorship agreement with the brewers, Courage. For some time Surrey had been struggling to achieve the target of their "Save The Oval" appeal, and this sponsorship allowed them to commence work on their £5.8 million development planned for the ground.

Without major renovations, it was said, The Oval's place as a Test match venue would be in jeopardy. Stands which were condemned by the fire authority are now being rebuilt, and the development plans include a cricket school and facilities which will benefit the local community. The ground will be known as the Foster's Oval for a period of fifteen years.

MCC honours Sir Donald Bradman

On the occasion of his 80th birthday, Sir Donald Bradman was invited by MCC to become an Honorary Life Vice-President of the Club in recognition of his unique contribution to the game of cricket. J.G.W. Davies, the Club's President in 1985-86, was also elected an Honorary Life Vice-President last year, bringing to ten the number who have been accorded this honour.

MCC's other Honorary Life Vice-Presidents have been Sir Pelham Warner (elected in 1961), R.H. Twining (1969), Captain The Lord Cornwallis (1971), Sir George Allen (1980), R. Aird (1982), F.R. Brown (1983), S.C. Griffith (1983), and C.G.A. Paris (1985).

Finally, these Notes should not end without a word of commendation for the work of Field-Marshal The Lord Bramall and the ICC secretariat at Lord's in helping to bring about a solution to the South African question. They have again shown that MCC, in its stewardship of the ICC, has a continuing and influential role in the affairs of world cricket. It is not a role the Club's members should discount lightly, although some might look upon it as an encumbrance.

In international matters, MCC through the ICC is able to offer counsel which extends beyond parochial issues. Were it ever to content itself simply with its own affairs, MCC would be little more than a cricket club with a Long Room, a long tradition and a long waiting-list.

© John Wisden & Co