Unfair bowling, 1901

Notes by the Editor

Sydney Pardon

I had intended to write at considerable length on the subject of unfair bowling and the no-balling of Mold and Tyler by James Phillips, but before I had started on my task the announcement appeared that at the meeting of county captains at Lord's, on December 10, an agreement had been made to take united action in the season of 1901, for the purpose of ridding English cricket of all throwing and dubious bowling. Up to the time of these lines being written - December 14 - full details of the method to be employed have not been officially made public, but I am assured on the highest authority that very strong measures have been determined on. Some bowlers will not be put on at all in county matches and others will receive a significant warning. "Better late than never," but I cannot help thinking what a number of scandals and an immense amount of grumbling would have been avoided if, in the middle of the "eighties," the county captains had taken concerted action. At that time, however Lord Harris alone had the courage of his convictions, and really tried to grapple with an admitted evil. It will not be forgotten that in 1885, Kent at Lord Harris's instigation, dropped their return match with Lancashire on the grounds that the Northern county employed unfair bowlers. Things have never since been so bad as they were about that time, when on one occasion three unmistakeable throwers took part in a Gentlemen v. Players' match at Lord's, but within the last few years there has unquestionably been great laxity. I think that the necessity of doing something was first brought home to the M.C.C. committee and the county authorities when Jones and McKibbin so flagrantly disregarded Law 10, during the Australian tour of 1896. Even the least observant of cricketers must have been struck by the change that had come over Australian bowling since Spofforth, Boyle, Garrett, Palmer, Turner and Ferris earned their laurels on English cricket grounds. The mortifying fact was that the deplorable change was due entirely to our own weakness in not having the laws of the game carried out. The Australians only did against us what we had over and over again done against them. Now that at last English cricketers are taking steps to put their house in order, I think I may, without undue egotism, take some small credit to myself for having tried, year after year to get rid of unfair bowling. I denounced Crossland as a thrower the first tine he ever played at Lord's, he being then quite an unknown man; and since that time I have in various newspapers, as well as in " Wisden," urged our cricket authorities to make a firm stand on behalf of fair bowling. To the argument that it is impossible to distinguish between throwing and legitimate bowling, I attach no importance whatever. I wonder what my old friend Bob Thoms would say if anyone told him he could not tell a throw from a fairly bowled ball. A throw may be difficult to define in words, but to the eye of a practical and unbiased cricketer it is, I think, very obvious. James Phillips holds to the opinion that when a bowler strikes one at first sight as being a thrower, the odds are a hundred to one that he is not bowling fairly. In support of his opinion there is the fact that no bowler with an unimpeachable fair action has ever been accused of throwing. I have heard hard things said of Phillips for having no-balled Jones in Australia, and C. B. Fry, Mold and Tyler in this country, but in my opinion he has done splendid service to the game of cricket. He proved to our formerly timid officials that an umpire could enforce the law without any detriment to his professional position, and his good example was quickly followed by W. A. J. West, Titchmarsh and Sherwin. As to the no-balling of Mold at Trent Bridge, and Tyler at Taunton, I can say nothing at first-hand as I was not present at either match. Mr. A. C. MacLaren defended Mold in the columns of the Manchester Evening News, but the defence did not amount to much. Anyway, he did not commit himself to the opinion that Mold was a strictly fair bowler. Knowing what I do as to the opinions expressed in private by several of the greatest batsmen in the country, I regard Mold as the luckiest of men to have gone through nearly a dozen seasons before being no-balled. The no-balling of Tyler was valuable in another way, as it emphasised the often neglected truth that a slow ball can be just as much a throw as a fast one.

Although the matter does not greatly concern the public I cannot pass over without comment the treatment of the Press representatives at Lord's on the occasion of the Oxford and Cambridge, and Eton and Harrow matches. It was an ungracious and uncalled for act to shift them from the grandstand to the roof of the ground bowlers' house in the corner of the ground. Happily the protest in the newspapers was so loud and unanimous that the M.C.C bowed before the storm, and at the Gentlemen and Players match - immediately following Eton v. Harrow - the unhappy experiment was given up. I cannot see why the M.C.C should be so reluctant to build a proper Press box - commanding an end on view of the game - as a continuation of the new Mound stand. The plans for such a box were, I understand, passed by a sub-committee nearly a twelvemonth ago, but afterwards rejected by the general committee on the grounds of expense. The M.C.C have spent thousands of pounds during the last few years to increase the accommodation for their members and the public and they might surely do for the newspapers what has been done at Manchester, Leeds and Nottingham. At all these three grounds within a comparatively short space of time a commodious Press box with an end-on view of the cricket has been put up. It is hardly the thing for the first cricket club in the world to thus lag behind the counties in such a manner.

As if to strengthen Mr. Jephson's contention that fielding in 1900 left a great deal to be desired, Mr. George Booth has sent me some curious figures as to dropped catches in first-class matches. In collecting his statistics he put down during several weeks in the season all the chances mentioned in the sporting papers as those that might reasonably have been held, taking no notice of things that were described as just possible, and the results proved astounding. I have not room for all the figures, but perhaps the worst week in the season was the one beginning on July 16th, the week in which the Gentlemen v Players' match came off at Lord's. In the course of the six days cricket forty-nine fair chances were missed and the batsmen thus favoured scored amongst them, after they had been left off, 1,439 runs. In the month of August 125 catches were missed and the lucky batsmen afterwards scored 3,560 runs. It has been said with perfect truth, that if fieldsmen accepted a fair proportion of the chances offered them, we should hear very little about the necessity of altering the game of cricket.

© John Wisden & Co