County Championship won by a penalty and more, 1990

Further notes by the Editor

Graeme Wright

Living in a country not one's own, one has a different perspective of it from that of the natives. Last season, as England were handsomely and decisively beaten by a well-prepared Australian team, I could see no reason, other than wounded nationalism, for the hollering and head-hunting that followed each Test defeat. What was new? In the four years I have been writing these Notes as editor of Wisden, England's cricketers have lost every home series, beaten by India, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and now Australia. Only victory in a one-off Test against Sri Lanka interrupts the story tale of England's failure to win a Test match in England since 1985.

Nothing had changed to indicate it would be any different in 1989. All that happened was that the Australians were better than many had expected. And yet, man for man, were they that much better than England's cricketers at the start of the series? It was in their attitude and their approach that they were superior. They played with a purpose that was missing from England's players. As Allan Border once said of his own team, they had forgotten the reason for playing Test cricket: the feeling of national pride.


Style or character

Not that David Gower, England's captain, would have said such a thing. It was not his style - and as Ted Dexter said when announcing that Gower would captain England for the series, he was looking to him to set the tone and style for the team. For the man who, at the end of the series, said he was not aware of any errors that he made, this was probably his first mistake.

It later emerged that Gower might not have been the first choice of Dexter, chairman of the newly formed England Committee, and Micky Stewart, the England team manager. I will return to that.

It is the call for tone and style which interests me, for in the context of England performances in recent seasons, character and not style was the requirement. The two are not synonymous, though it has often seemed to me that in England style is mistaken for character. By character I mean mettle: a combination of ability, mental toughness and judgement. Style is apparent; and it has its place in, among other things, the arts, in the art of batting, in fashion and in good manners. Nevertheless, when inner reserves are required, it is character and not style which sees one through.

Gower has shown this in his batting; his leadership has never been so clear-cut. It has been said of him that the quality of life is important to him, but it has seemed sometimes that it is the quality of his own life which is important: his lifestyle. When defeat began to sour his life, Gower was not able to dig deep into his own character to make his players respond to the crisis. Instead, they were carried along by the air of despondency which enveloped him. It was not the tone and style Dexter had envisaged.


A new chairman of the Board

Image, however, has an important part to play in Dexter's life. As a public relations consultant, it is integral to his professional life, and he knew how to employ the tricks of his trade to advance the argument for a new style of selection and management of the England team. In this, he had the support of the chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board, Raman Subba Row, another whose business is public relations.

Both men appreciate the value of the media when it comes to promoting a client - or an idea. Subba Row's objective, in wanting to do away with the old-style selection committee, was to put the management of England's cricket on a more professional basis, streamlining the organisation with the aim of achieving success on the field. Whether this is the right way to go about it, and whether Dexter is the right man, remains to be seen. His vision is wide-ranging; but so are his interests. In its current state, English cricket needs more than just a dash of enthusiasm.

Not all the counties were happy at the way the issue was presented to the public in advance of any decision being made by the TCCB. Some county chairmen felt that a strategic press conference had left them with little option but to rubber-stamp a fait accompli or be seen as standing in the way of progress.

Nor was this an isolated instance. In January, six days before the Board met to discuss its policy for the ICC special meeting on South Africa later that month, details of the Executive's recommendations were made public while still under consideration by the counties. They were explained to the media by Subba Row. "TCCB concedes over South Africa" said the banner headline in The Times the next morning. There was also the little matter of the £1,000 bonus, given without any authorisation from the Board, to the England cricketers in Pakistan in 1987.

Throughout the summer, in the shires, there were murmurs that the chairman had assumed greater powers than the counties were prepared to give him. It came as no surprise when, early in October, Subba Row informed the TCCB that he would not be available after October 1, 1990. He had been chairman since 1985 and said he believed that five years was the maximum anyone should serve.

At its Winter Meeting, the Board elected W.R.F. Chamberlain to succeed him as chairman in 1990. Aged 64, Frank Chamberlain had been chairman of Northamptonshire since 1985 and had served on the TCCB Finance Committee. Unlike Subba Row and the previous TCCB chairmen, he played little first-class cricket, his experience being limited to six games for his county in 1946 when, as a middle-order batsman, he scored 67 runs.


Mr. Wheatley exercises his veto

It was another of Subba Row's initiatives which led to the TCCB giving its Cricket Committee chairman a power of veto within the England Committee when, in March, it superseded the Selection Committee. He felt that, while those responsible for selection should be allowed to concentrate on cricket matters, one of the committee should be able to take a broader view which took into account the overall interests of the Board.

Such thinking was occasioned by the cancellation of England's tour to India in 1988-89 following the appointment of Graham Gooch as captain, and would appear to have had some currency among Board members prior to their March meeting. Tony Lewis, chairman of Glamorgan and cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, previewing the possible developments at the forthcoming meeting in that newspaper, hinted at the need for a veto and suggested it lie with the chairman of the Board.

In the event, as we now know, though were not informed at the time, the power of veto was given to Ossie Wheatley, chairman of the Cricket Committee, a former captain and chairman of Glamorgan, and a contemporary of Dexter's at Cambridge.

Towards the end of last year it came to light, in Dexter's report to the Board, that the veto had been used to block Mike Gatting's appointment as captain when his name was put forward by Dexter and Stewart. Wheatley, it transpired, felt that the time was not yet right for the Middlesex captain's reinstatement because of events which happened during his term of office as England captain, principally his public dispute with the Pakistani umpire, Shakoor Rana, in Faisalabad in 1987-88.

Though not informed of this decision at the time, the Board backed Wheatley's use of the veto, and at the same time regretted the fact that Dexter's confidential report had been leaked to the press. However, as governments repeatedly discover, usually to their embarrassment, secrets of public interest have a habit of finding their way into the public domain.

As much a surprise as the veto was the discovery that Dexter should have wanted Gatting as captain in the first place. That Stewart would is more understandable. He and Gatting had been in charge when England retained the Ashes in Australia in 1986-87 - the only series won by Stewart in his time as England's cricket manager - and had taken England to the final of the World Cup in 1987.

Gatting, however, never struck me as Dexter's man, in the same way that it seemed obvious from the time of Dexter's appointment that Gooch would not be retained as captain. The style was wrong.

In the three weeks before the new committee met to choose the captain, Gower was generally thought to be Dexter's favourite for the job; he was the one the new chairman singled out for mention. However, no decision was made at that meeting, which was said to have contained detailed discussion. Five days elapsed before Gower was accorded a press conference at which Dexter announced that he was the committee's choice to captain England for the series. There was just a hint that he might not have been everyone's choice.

The trouble, when things are kept secret, is that people start to look around for explanations other than the authorised version. I've always been one for conspiracy theories. For example, if Dexter wanted Gower, and knew that his No. 2, Stewart, wanted Gatting, the veto could not have been more in Dexter's favour. It gave him the captain he wanted and prevented an initial disagreement with Stewart.

The existence of the veto was known from the outset to the four men on the committee, and Dexter looks the sort who is at home walking the corridors of power. Of course it is equally possible that, some time in March, Stewart persuaded Dexter that Gatting was the man for the job. As I write these Notes, Gatting, the man they apparently wanted, is leading an unofficial tour of England cricketers to South Africa; Gooch, whom they relieved of the captaincy in April, is taking England to the West Indies; and Gower, the man they appointed, is contemplating his future on a health farm.


Time to take stock

In this edition's review of another unhappy Yorkshire season, the saddest comment is that the players had made it clear they took no particular pride in representing Yorkshire and would just as soon offer their talents elsewhere if the money were right.

"A strong Yorkshire means a strong England" goes the old adage. The reverse appears just as apposite. Playing for a county, for some professional cricketers, will not always be the same as representing their country. But Yorkshire has been different in that it has remained exclusively the county of Yorkshiremen. A call to introduce cricketers born outside the county was rejected; almost certainly, not for cricketing reasons.

Equally disturbing is the strained relationship that has developed between county cricketers generally and the TCCB. It stems, I suspect, from Gatting's troubled tour of Pakistan and the subsequent treatment of a player who is popular with and respected by his fellow-cricketers.

It may even go back farther. The paradox is that relations between players and their employers, the county clubs, are in the main excellent; and yet it is the counties who make up the Board. I am reminded of the conflicts between management and workers that bedevilled British industry; perhaps still do. Mutual understanding and better communication might be in order before things became more sour.

I have been critical of players' attitudes. At the same time I do believe there is a need for better understanding of cricketers and their aspirations. The game is different from when those now administering it were playing. Many of them went into it as amateurs, while for the professional there was a time when the life of a cricketer was an improvement, if only temporary, on a menial existence.

Today's professional enters cricket as a career, albeit a brief one. A number of other occupations require fewer skills, have better hours, and often pay better. The player needs to feel he is being treated with respect, not simply as a piece of stock to be discarded when a new model comes along.


Losing sight of the Beautiful and Good

"This is not a religious age," Thomas Carlyle wrote more than 150 years ago. The infinite, absolute character of Virtue has passed into a finite, conditional one; it is no longer a worship of the Beautiful and Good, but a calculation of the profitable. Profit is important, but it is not all, and in its concern with the checks and balance of profit and loss, the TCCB is always in danger of losing sight of the beauty of cricket itself.

This is a legacy of the decision to make county cricket fully professional; to make it a business. The game is no longer an end in itself; it has become in several respects the means to an end.

This being so, are the interests of the national summer game best served by the Cricket Council as it is now constituted? On page 283 of this Almanack appears the structure of the game's administration in the United Kingdom. While at first glance it appears that the Cricket Council is the governing body, closer inspection reveals that the true power lies with the Test and County Cricket Board, particularly as the chairman has the casting vote and the chairman, since the Council was reconstituted in 1983, has always been the chairman of the TCCB. Effectively, therefore, English cricket is controlled by the professional game.

The late Sir George Allen, one of the foremost administrators of cricket and one of those responsible for setting up the Cricket Council in 1969, resigned from the Council in 1982 in protest at the strengthening of the TCCB's position, expressing his opposition to a national game being virtually controlled by a body that is mainly concerned with its professional side.

Writing in Wisden at the time, John Woodcock drew his readers' attention to what had happened in Australia when the say of the marketing people had taken precedence over that of the cricketers. "Beware the small, executive sub-committee of businessmen," he wrote, "to whom the charm of cricket is little more than a technicality: that was the burden of Mr. Allen's message."

As the business of cricket has grown in the last twenty years, so the TCCB's responsibilities have become manifold. It is an employer of cricketers and executives, it selects the national team, it promotes cricket, and it is also finding itself answerable to a lay membership whose interests are not necessarily those of the game itself.

However, the TCCB does not own English cricket. It administers it on trust, and increasingly it is encumbered by a conflict of interests. Last year, I wrote of chairmen and their committees putting county before country as success is seen in a local rather than a national light. In the twelve months since then, a new element has emerged as county members have opposed the introduction of a sixteen-match four-day County Championship, recommended to the TCCB by its England and Cricket Committees. By the time this Almanack appears, a decision should have been reached, and I fear it will have been reached for the wrong reasons.


National interest or self-interest

It would be nice to think that the county members opposing the proposals for the County Championship had the interests of cricket at heart. But where were their voices as county pitches deteriorated; as one-day cricket led to a decline in batting and bowling techniques; as the Reader ball promoted the seam bowler at the expense of the swing bowler and the spinner? Self-interest seems more the issue here than national interest.

Members pay for privileges not available to other members of the community as well as contributing to the well-being of the clubs. They may request a reduced subscription for a reduction in the amount of cricket available, but they have not purchased the right to influence the way the game is run. What, for example, if the members had demanded a say in the vote on players going to South Africa - or indeed were to support a move for the United Kingdom's withdrawal from ICC? Yielding to the financial pressures of county members could prove to be an unfortunate precedent.

On cricketing grounds, the decision to reduce the amount of first-class cricket, instead of cutting back on limited-overs cricket, is questionable. Commercial considerations obviously carried any debate on that.

On the other hand, does limited-overs cricket have to be played so badly? Put another way, why can't it be played without the artificial restrictions which encourage bad technique, other than limiting the number of overs each team receives? Why limit the number of overs available to one bowler? There could be spin bowling as well as pace so that the over-rate is maintained, and captains would learn to do more than rotate five bowlers.

In the Sunday League, additional points could be awarded for bowling sides out, rewarding attack rather than encouraging containment. With specialist bowlers employed, there would also be a need for specialist batsmen instead of the bits and pieces players currently best suited to the one-day game.


Less seam, more skill

One, three or four days, from 1990 bowlers will have to do more with the ball than simply land it on the seam, following the TCCB's decision to restrict the size of the seam on the ball used in county cricket. Modern manufacturing methods have made it possible to have a ball which, while technically conforming, favoured excessively the bowler who could bowl seam up. Given the kinds of pitches prepared by some counties, such a bowler was more effective than a swing bowler or spinner, being able to make the ball deviate sharply off the pitch.

Indeed, the dynamics of the ball manufactured by Alfred Reader militated against swing bowling, the higher seam probably acting against movement in the air. When England regained the Ashes in 1985, a contributing factor was Richard Ellison's ability to swing the ball away from Australia's batsmen and have them in two minds. Last season, that kind of penetration was absent, and with the Test matches played on reliable pitches, mostly with the lower-seamed Duke ball, there was rarely the sharp movement which the Australians encountered early on at Worcester and Derby.

After the Worcester game, the Australian coach, Bob Simpson, expressed his sympathy for English county batsmen if that was the standard of pitch they played on. But another visitor took a quite different view of English conditions. The South African opening batsman, Jimmy Cook, found himself pleasantly surprised at how quickly he came to enjoy the various English pitches. Cook, of course, played late and was better equipped to play the seaming ball than many English batsmen, who commit themselves early by thrusting the front pad forward.

Perhaps pitches are to cricket what inflation is to the economy: easy to blame when things go wrong, but not so easy to remedy. The past pages of Wisden constantly refer to the poor quality of pitches.

Cook, in his mid-thirties and in his first season as a full-time cricketer, had an outstanding season with eight hundreds and more than 2,000 runs in the Championship. It might not be a coincidence that he did not have to worry about failure, because cricket was not his livelihood; he played his natural game and enjoyed his cricket.

Other batsmen, too, found the summer to their liking, despite the concern over pitches and the Reader ball. There were thirteen more hundreds in the Championship, seven fewer instances of bowlers taking ten wickets in a match, and for the first time since 1976, no bowler took 100 wickets in the season. For those who enjoy such things, the highest of the 248 first-class hundreds was Dean Jones's 248 for the Australians against Warwickshire.

The excellent weather must have helped. Last summer was the twelfth warmest since records began in 1659, and while the mean temperature for June, July and August (16.8°C) was not as high as that in 1976 and 1983, only thirteen days were lost in those months because of the weather.

Batsmen should find conditions even more to their liking this summer, given the co-operation of the weather. With the strands of the ball's seam reduced from fifteen to nine, so making it less proud, some ball-makers wonder if life will not become too easy for batsmen. And they have expressed concern that the new machine-twisted flax strands used for the seam will cut into the leather quicker. They fear the ball might not last the 85 overs stipulated for Test matches, let alone 100 overs in the County Championship.

Add to the new ball the determination of the TCCB Pitches Committee to outlaw rogue pitches - backed by the deterrent of the 25-point fine - and bowlers will be wondering what happened to the good old days. It will certainly distinguish the thoroughbreds from the carthorses. And it might need four days to achieve a result without collusion in Championship matches.


County Championship won by a penalty

Two counties, Essex and Nottinghamshire, each had 25 points deducted for providing a pitch considered unsuitable for first-class cricket. There might have been other deductions, but it seems that some umpires were unaware that intent was not a prerequisite for reporting a pitch as unsuitable.

Essex were unfortunate, and not only because the loss of 25 points cost them the Championship. The preparation of the pitch at Southend was outside their immediate control, and after concern over the pitch used for the match against Kent - on which Essex themselves scored 347 runs - they were assured that the pitch for the next match, against Yorkshire, would be better. Instead Yorkshire were bowled out for 115 on the first day and the umpires were on the phone to Lord's for the second time in a week. In future the county's own staff will be responsible for the square at Southchurch Park.

Worcestershire, having faced adverse criticism of the New Road pitch used for the Australian game, called in the TCCB inspector of pitches, Harry Brind, to advise them. Without seeing the umpires' reports on the New Road pitches, it is not possible to know how they were rated, although I understand that the umpires thought the improvement in pitches overall was only marginal. Even so, having accepted Worcestershire's concern about their pitches, the Board might have found it difficult to fine the county for a pitch on which its own inspector was advising.

Historically, the way in which the Championship was decided will diminish Worcestershire's achievement in winning it for the second successive year in spite of Test calls and injuries. Whereas 1988 was the year of Hick, the star batsman, 1989 was very much the year of the understudies. For Essex, the Refuge Assurance Cup was little to show for being team of the year.


And so the common dispositions end

Another of the season's achievements was the Combined Universities' reaching the quarter-finals of the Benson and Hedges Cup. It is necessary to go back to 1975 for the last time the students beat two counties in a season in the 55-overs competition, and three of that Oxford and Cambridge side - Vic Marks, Peter Roebuck and Chris Tavaré - were in the Somerset side which managed narrowly to knock out the Universities in the quarter-finals.

The presence of a strong nucleus of Durham men in the Combined squad brought deserved recognition of that university's cricket; but it should not escape notice that Durham, with their county luminaries, were beaten by Loughborough in the final of the UAU Championship. The game is also strong in other establishments. However, with the two first-class universities providing only four players to the Combined squad, there was further evidence that the focus of university cricket is no longer Oxford and Cambridge, bringing into question yet again their right to first-class status.

Perhaps, too, this is an opportune moment to hope that the captaincy skills of John Stephenson, the Essex opening batsman, who led Durham to the UAU Championship in 1986, will not be neglected. Michael Atherton, able to captain in first-class cricket while at Cambridge, quickly attracted the attention of the media and the selectors, both with his cricket and his special leadership qualities, but Stephenson's ability as a leader has also been singled out. Both players made their débuts for England last year, and both were chosen to tour Zimbabwe with the England A team in February and March. They are two of the cricketers to whom England will be looking in the coming years.

More than that, they could represent the county cricketer of the future: coming into the game after university, equipped to make a career without depending on the game alone, playing to enjoy and to win instead of eking out his talent over the years of his possible playing career. He might not, however, want to play cricket every day of the week.


© John Wisden & Co