|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Fantasy||Mobile|
Shortly after lunch on the first day of the Edgbaston Test in 1993, Shane Warne was bowling leg-breaks to Alec Stewart, who had momentarily discarded both his helmet and his faded baseball cap in favour of a real, old-fashioned, three lions of England version. As he pushed forward, he looked the image of his father at the crease. Behind the stumps, there was Ian Healy wearing his baggy cap and air of ageless Australian aggression. And there was Warne, bowling beautifully with a method thought to have been relegated to the museum.
For a moment the years seemed to roll away. The detail of the cricket was suspended; the game was overtaken by the timelessness of the scene. It was summer in England and all was well. Then, of course, Stewart got out and everything became secondary to the fact that we were being licked again. Of England's national traumas, more later.
In a number of respects cricket had a very good year in 1993. In England, India and Australia, crowds showed they would respond to the thrill of an exciting Test series, as well as to the gimcrack appeal of one-day cricket. Warne was the most talked-about player of the year and single-handedly did a huge amount to switch cricket back into a game where the batsman's fear is of mental torture rather than physical.
South Africa and Zimbabwe began to play more of a part in the comity of Test-playing nations. The women's World Cup was a success, and a success for England at that. And, cautiously, the game began to show signs of expansion round the world. It is best not to get over-excited about the prospects: soccer is not on the brink of being dethroned.
Indeed, in some of cricket's heartlands, in the West Indies and the English cities, the game is under threat from simpler, cheaper pastimes: basketball on the one hand, computer games on the other. But when Malaysia talks of achieving Test status by the year 2020, it would be wise not to be too dismissive: things happen in that part of the world when they put their minds to it.
The year also saw the transformation of the International Cricket Council, newly independent of MCC and with its headquarters in a discreet little office on the other side of Lord's in what used to be the staff canteen. This, rather than the pavilion, is now the centre of power in world cricket. But it is the new secretary of MCC, Roger Knight, who gets the room with the view. From his office, the ICC chief executive, David Richards, can see about a square yard of the outfield.
In other respects, the new world order has brought changes, starting with the arrival of what they would prefer us not to call "neutral" umpires (all umpires are neutral, these are "third-country"), one in each Test for at least the next three years. This seems to me as essential a rite of passage for cricket as the change in ICC itself.
However, 1993 was also the year when the system of umpiring by video spread to engulf the Test-playing world. I may be in a minority; I remain utterly convinced that this is a disaster. Umpires can now call for help from a third official watching the TV replay on run-outs, stumpings and, sometimes, boundary decisions; indeed, they can hardly not do so.
It is true that last year one or two players in Test matches may have been given in or out more accurately than would otherwise have been the case. What we also saw was very good umpires virtually giving up on their duties at square leg, knowing there was no point in even contemplating making a judgment: it could only get them into trouble; why take the risk?
Remember that it was a couple of outrageously wrong decisions that led to the demand for this system, not a lot of marginal ones. We saw players starting to pressurise umpires if they did not call for a replay. And we saw increasing demands (sometimes on the field) for the system to be extended to close catches as well. The heart of the game, the finality of the umpire's verdict, is being eaten away.
In another way, 1993 was an especially poignant year. In a full lifetime the diligent cricket-watcher might expect to watch four generations of players. Normally the change is imperceptible, as old soldiers fade away and new ones emerge. In 1993 one sensed the torch being passed from one generation of players to the next at frightening speed.
Three of the greatest cricketers of our time, perhaps the three greatest, all announced their retirement: Ian Botham, David Gower and Viv Richards. The tributes begin on page 33. The magnificence of their best days will live for ever - and for that we should be grateful to the technology that brought us video umpiring (though in each case certain aspects of their game should perhaps be prefaced by the kind of warning they give when Superman jumps out of a window - Children: do not hit across the line like Viv, it's dangerous). It is always hard to imagine that a new generation will ever again produce players of such character.
Gower's retirement was accompanied by a particular sense of futility, because it was so unnecessary. As he proved in the closing weeks of the season, he was still a beautiful batsman; it would be too much to hope to see such an instinctive timer of a ball again. But I think the selectors were as right to ignore him for the 1993-94 winter tour as they were wrong 12 months earlier: with a new England captain, Mike Atherton, it was time to move on.
And the bitter truth, as his financial advisers must have told him, is that Gower had to give up playing. The income available to him for writing about cricket (which he does adequately) and broadcasting (which he does tolerably well) was probably about four times as much as he could earn simply by playing (which he could still do sublimely).
In such a year, it is easy to overlook a lengthy list of other very, very good cricketers who have retired. Richards, Botham and Gower played for seven counties between them. Derek Randall was perhaps the last of the true local heroes - it was impossible to imagine him playing for anyone except Nottinghamshire. Yet his fame spread from Retford round the globe. On the 1982-83 Ashes tour, I met a man in a bar in a South Australian bush town. "That Randall," he said, "he bats like an octopus with piles."
He did too, but he also brought a wonderful impish delight to all his cricket, his fielding most of all. Standing on the boundary in Palmerston North in 1983-84, he dived to his right and stuck out an arm to catch an extremely hard-hit shot. It would have been an amazing catch on its own. But in the same movement Randall switched the ball to his left hand and tossed it over his left shoulder. He might have been practising the trick all his life.
On the 1982-83 tour Chris Tavaré and Derek Pringle both became sort of folk-villains: Tavaré because of his slow play, Pringle because of his look of slightly gormless insouciance. They never quite shook off the reputations they won then, though in later years Tavaré would whack the off-spinners back over their heads far more often and Pringle's professionalism was good enough to keep him in the England team even under that stern judge, Graham Gooch.
Either of them, had the wind blown slightly differently, might have been runners for the England captaincy, at least in 1988 when everyone had a crack. (Indeed, Pringle did do the job for a few hours at The Oval when Gooch was injured.) Tavaré, I think, might have found the limelight too blinding; Pringle's batting never flowered in county cricket as it did when he was such a commanding undergraduate at Cambridge and, anyway, he was far too lateral a thinker.
Neil Foster has also retired: he was a very fine fast-medium bowler, though his body and (on occasion) his temperament rebelled against the demands placed on them. I shall miss too Kris Srikkanth, whose practice of opening Test matches as if he were Gilbert Jessop on speed finally laid to rest the idea that Indian batsmanship was inherently boring, and the New Zealander John Wright, not only for his batting, but for having the most beautiful manners of his generation. Most cricketers grunt when yet another ghastly hack introduces himself; when I first met Wright, years ago, he not only smiled, he stood up.
Goodness knows how they will all be replaced, though Pringle is another who will not be far away having, like Gower, given up the game prematurely for the apparent greater security and reasonable money of a cricket correspondent's job. Soon cricketers, the moment they have made a reputation, will go off and cash in on it by doing something else, in the way that Derby-winners are immediately sent to stud.
When Richards and Botham met on the field in Championship matches, their presence did little to help the attendance. Put them on stage to banter with each other (a form of entertainment for which their gifts are less obvious), call it a roadshow, and the crowds flock in. The air is filled with the sound of ex-first-class players making a decent living from after-dinner speaking. The interest in hearing about cricket, as opposed to watching it, is enormous, which is one reason why the death of Brian Johnston in the first days of 1994 was felt so keenly.
The rewards at the top level of cricket may sound enticing. But how many Australian sportsmen are better-known than Allan Border? Greg Norman, perhaps. Last year 20 of them earned more money than Border, including a 16-year-old baseball pitcher, two golfers in their late 50s and a tennis player ranked outside the top 100. According to a survey in the Melbourne paper, the Sunday Age, Border earned $A848,000. That's not far off £400,000, but half of it came from book sales and a quarter from endorsements. It may beat working but Border, remember, is at the very top, and, according to the survey, it only just beats being a fairly obscure footballer playing in the French First Division.
One can hardly expect every professional sportsman to be as well brought up as John Wright. But if cricketers do want to be better-paid they could work harder at justifying it. When actors take their bow at the end of a performance, they do not turn round and face the wings. It is hard to imagine anything more insulting to the paying public than a batsman who scores fifty or a hundred and waves his bat only at his team-mates.
Since many modern cricketers are so anonymous, it might also be in their interests - as well as good manners - to take their helmets off as they do so. It should certainly be accepted etiquette that players remove their helmets before leaving the field, especially after a long innings, so spectators can see them as they applaud them in.
In return, spectators could start to behave better too. But cricket has some difficulty addressing the problems caused by drunks: Yorkshire's announcement that they would eject anyone who caused trouble by chanting was printed on a letterhead bearing the Tetley Bitter logo. And I suppose there may be someone, somewhere, who goes along with the notion that the ground is actually called Bass Headingley.
The popularity of the dreary old Mexican Wave remains baffling, especially as its arrival seems to bear no relation to the state of the game. Why it should have started on the Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford when Warne and Mike Gatting were staging one of the most magnificent duels in modern Test cricket is completely bewildering.
From that passage of play sprang all the events of the series: the removal of Gatting as a candidate for the England captaincy; the collapse of English morale and Australia's growing belief that, even without Craig McDermott, they were invulnerable; the selectors' desperate thrashing about; Gooch's loss of authority and his resignation, followed by Ted Dexter's resignation as chairman of selectors and the apotheosis, at The Oval, of a new, young and vigorous-looking captain in Atherton.
The Ashes series of 1993 was extremely one-sided - all of them have been, one way or the other, for many years now - and the season was damp. But it was still entirely riveting. The grounds were full and both nations transfixed - in England by the extent of the horror, if nothing else. Before England's victory at The Oval, they had lost nine Tests out of ten. The summer ranked with the worst years of breast-beating and navel-contemplation: 1989, 1988, 1984, 1976 ...
The 1993 series came immediately after a particularly unsuccessful tour of India and Sri Lanka - one well up with the worst of all time. Someone had to carry the can and both Dexter and Gooch did. The manager, Keith Fletcher, largely escaped criticism, even though the desperate sequence began when he took over from Micky Stewart, while Dexter and Gooch had each been in place since 1989, not without some success.
Fletcher had the sense to keep his head some distance below the parapet. Dexter, in contrast, stood there with a very English, if slightly batty, heroism as shot and shell flew about him. The people responsible for the absurdly overstated and doltishly brutal abuse in the tabloid press will have to answer to their consciences.
My suspicion is that history will regard Dexter more kindly than either the newspapers or the Test match crowd who cheered his resignation. It might then be easier to put his four years in context with the amateurish shambles that preceded them.
Dexter set out to impose a logical system of international recognition for young players, leading up to the England team. He did bring in a more sensible selection system. This did not necessarily mean more sensible selections. But when you see Alan Knott spend an entire match at Abergavenny by the sightscreen with binoculars, to report on whether Colin Metson might be a better wicket-keeper than Jack Russell - something that would have been unthinkable before Dexter - you realise that not every development has been a negative one.
Though Dexter stoically took the blame for everything, he had made a conscious decision to apply a light touch and let the manager and captain take day-to-day control. His touch was almost certainly too light: when he wanted Gatting rather than Gower as captain in 1989 and was blocked by the chairman of the cricket committee, Ossie Wheatley, he should have screamed the place down, not taken it on the chin. I reckon he would have got his way. He should certainly have been more closely involved in 1993.
For a professional public relations man, he was also surprisingly inept at that part of the operation. In public, he kept silent when explanations were required, and kept talking (eventually saying something that was either daft or could be twisted to sound daft) when he should have shut up. In private, he failed - crucially - to win the support of the county chairmen.
They felt slighted when Dexter's system of an England committee, responsible for the best players in all age groups, was first foisted on them, as they saw it, by the TCCB executive. It was accompanied by a great deal of ill-considered propaganda from various sources about the counties being selfish and parochial and holding back the visionaries who wanted to make English cricket great again. Dexter had a powerful vision but he failed to let enough people see the picture.
Part of his legacy will survive: regular A tours, the age-group squads, the system of identifying the best players at every level and giving them the best coaches and facilities. As far as selection is concerned, we now look like returning to a worse version of the old committee-room mess which could lead to the chairman, the manager, the captain and the other selectors all pulling against each other. In the short run, things can only get better than they were last summer. In the long run, I fear the worst.
When the hoi polloi rebelled against the omission of Gower from the Indian tour, the MCC committee fobbed them off with a working party under Lord Griffiths. In January 1994 Griffiths reported and proposed the abolition of the Cricket Council and the merger of the TCCB and NCA, sensible-sounding administrative simplications, but nothing to do with Gower and not of much interest to the hoi polloi. The Report said little about the confusion that exists where it matters most.
I am grateful to Ralph Dellor for explaining how the career of a cricketer in Berkshire might go. It starts in the Under-11s, where the team is run by the Berkshire Schools Cricket Association, the BSCA; it goes on to the Under-12s, run by the Berkshire Cricket Association, the BCA; for the Under-13s the two bodies run a joint team; then come the Under-14s (controlled by the BCA), the Under-15s (back to the BSCA) and the Under-16s (the BCA again). Clear? I thought not. At Under-19 there are three teams, because the Berkshire County Cricket Club, the BCCC, is also involved. That runs the Under-25 team and the senior team. But the BCA also has a senior team. And it runs the over-50s.
This may sound like boring administrative detail. The effect is ludicrous. And Berkshire is merely a microcosm of what occurs all over England; indeed, in the first-class counties, it can get more complicated. There are few enough gifted young cricketers; but when one gets identified, different organisations fight for his time like warring parents demanding custody and visiting rights.
It is not unknown for different organisations to schedule fixtures involving the same boys on the same day. It is quite common for youngsters to get involved in so many different games run by so many squabbling bodies they find themselves fed up by mid-July.
Meanwhile, millions of other youngsters never even pick up a cricket bat. They cannot play in the streets because there is too much traffic and their parents are terrified of crime. Their schools have given up the game because it is too expensive, too complicated and too boring for 19 children out of 22 at any one time. Anyway, their summer terms are too short. Many school-teachers are also uncomfortable with anything to do with the unearthing of individual excellence.
There are many fine and dedicated people working with young cricketers, using both the traditional form of the game and more child-friendly versions like Kwik Cricket. One fears it can never be enough. The simplistic think England lose cricket matches solely because Boggins was picked instead of Snoggins. More subtle reasoners think it is because the counties are doing everything wrong. The roots of the problem run much deeper.
The 1994 first-class season in England was the first given over to four-day cricket. By the end of it even the most conservative of cricket's constituencies, the county members, appeared to have accepted the principle of the change. Undoubtedly four-day cricket is better than three-day cricket had become on the dead wickets of modern England. There is no evidence yet that it is any better than three-day cricket once was.
The orthodoxy of the moment is that players have to be allowed to build innings of Test-match length. One is now terrified to shout "Get on with it" to a boring blocker, in case this in some way inhibits the development of the poor darling. I believe that if the counties played less one-day cricket their players would be better able to develop classical technique and still entertain the public.
The other changes wrought by the Murray Report, which the counties were forced to accept en bloc, were, predictably, less successful. The 50-over Sunday League was a hopeless compromise between irreconcilable objectives - proper cricket and junk marketing - and was dumped after a season. At least a 40-over Sunday game does not go on too long.
The idea of an all-knockout Benson and Hedges Cup was not wholly bad but it was imbecilic to schedule the opening round in April, leaving the knocked-out teams dismayed before they have had the chance to peel off the first layer of sweaters. That reform will be repealed before 1995.
One-day cricket is purely a revenue-raising exercise and it ought to be staged as late in the season as possible, when the players can cope with it. The main reason for staging it in April and May is to enable the selectors to assess one-day form before the one-day internationals in late May, as if that mattered a jot compared to getting the Test team right.
In 1994 there are once again two Texaco Trophies, one against New Zealand and one against South Africa. How can a trophy have any credibility if it is won twice in a season? In this particular case, I am astonished that the TCCB has never taken the chance to stage a couple of extra one-day games and make the Texaco a miniature World Series Cup. New Zealand v South Africa at Worcester or Canterbury or somewhere, during the period when the teams overlap, would be a nice little earner.
These twin-tour summers are always unsatisfactory. The South Africans - understandably after such a frantic re-introduction to world cricket - did not want a full series in 1994. But great Test cricket needs a full series to boil up, to get the public aware of the characters, for the drama, and all the subplots, to develop. The 1993 Ashes series was a glorious illustration. One hopes that, even with nine Test-playing countries, administrators are not going to lose sight of that.
All being well, there will still be some wonderful moments when the South Africans finally arrive in England, 100 years after their first tour, and 29 after their last. Nothing in cricket has disgraced the game over the years so much as its relationship with South Africa. For two decades after the formal introduction of apartheid, administrators in the white countries did everything possible to avoid consideration of the ethical questions involved, although it was obvious at the time that South African cricket was rooted in a system that was fundamentally evil.
Even after Basil D'Oliveira's exclusion from South Africa they had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards the notion that the relationship must cease; it was the Home Secretary, James Callaghan, terrified that civil disorder would muck up a General Election, who forced the cancellation of the 1970 tour of England.
For the next two decades of formal isolation, cricket's attitude was ineffectual and half-hearted. The culture of the game was such that no odium attached to the players who were so well-rewarded for going on the seven rebel tours though, in their own small and moral pygmyish way, they were acting as agents of apartheid.
That war has now been won. The future of South Africa remains clouded with all kinds of terrible possibilities but this summer it will be possible to welcome their cricketers without reservation. Since the collapse of the last rebel tour in 1990, when South African administrators ceased their equivocation about their real intentions and merged into the United Cricket Board, they have done an enormous amount for the good of the game. No country is doing more to spread cricket to its own people; if only Lord's worked as hard in the deprived areas of English cities.
I am delighted to publish a piece about South African cricket in this year's Wisden (by E. W. Swanton) that has nothing to do with politics. And this summer we can look forward to seeing a team that will represent some of the very best of their country's national traditions: athleticism, spirit and skill.
It is thus bizarre that ICC, whose gallantry in the years of struggle over South Africa was not conspicuous, should now choose to start tinkering with cricket's records to withdraw first-class status from the rebel tours. I will be brief and try not to be boring. The arguments about whether the games should have been regarded as first-class at the time are so complex that, if taken into court, they could make the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce look like summary justice.
Since the written rules are unclear, they depend heavily on one's reading of the intentions of ICC in the 1960s, after South Africa had left the organisation, at a time when its administration (see Jack Bailey's article) and minute-taking were a mite casual.
Bailey, secretary of ICC when the rebel tours began, regarded the games as first-class. So did all statisticians. Had ICC expressed a different view at the time, fine. It did not. It is, however, simply unacceptable to legislate retroactively in an attempt to get in a kick at what is left of the old South Africa. It does not damage apartheid, which is dead; most of the players involved could not care a jot; the only damage is to cricket itself and to one of its most cherishable assets, its meticulously-crafted records.
After much anguish, I have decided that, in common with (I believe) all other serious record-keepers, Wisden cannot accept this decision, and our records thus remain unchanged. This is not intended in the least to offer a challenge to ICC's right to decide what is and is not first-class.
Indeed, I hope one of the changes the new, more professional administration will bring about is greater central control of this matter. At the moment, there are huge gaps between what is acceptable in, for instance, England and South Africa, where the Boards prefer sentiment to rigour, and the much stricter regulations of Australia. What constitutes first-class cricket in Pakistan or Sri Lanka remains, to outsiders, one of life's mysteries.
However, ICC is as wrong to play around with the past records as are those researchers who will have us believe that Jack Hobbs did not really score 197 first-class centuries and W.G. 126. Let us get on with cricket's future. I still have hopes that ICC will be statesmanlike enough to amend its decision, maintaining its political position, if it wishes, but agreeing that, for statistical purposes at least, the games can be treated as if they were first-class. And I hope never again to have to think about this subject.
There have, thank heaven, been some more pleasingly surreal moments in the past year. There was the story about Botham getting into trouble for not going into pubs enough - he was supposed to be doing promotion work for a brewery. Gooch, the man who did more than anyone to push Gower towards retirement, called for his return to the Test team the day before the Israelis and Palestinians signed their peace treaty. The Yorkshire Post ran an April Fool spoof about the formation of an alternative county club, to be led by Geoff Boycott. It fooled me: I have heard many more far-fetched stories in Yorkshire that have turned out to be true.
And then there was the genuine revelation that the late spy Kim Philby kept the 1972 edition of Wisden in his Moscow flat. Did the old traitor particularly enjoy reading about the Empire shuddering as India won a Test in England for the first time? Or did he get nostalgic and regretful pleasure from reading the details of England's recapture of the Ashes?
Perhaps he would dwell, on those dull Moscow evenings, on the obituary of W.H. Copson, the Derbyshire and England fast bowler, who would never have come to cricket but for the General Strike; with the colliery closed, he took part in a game on the local recreation ground. I digress, but then old Wisdens get you that way, wherever you are in the world. I hope the 131st edition will work the same magic.