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No serious matters of a controversial kind disturbed the cricket world during the past year. Indeed nothing more important has been discussed than the method of carrying out the Test Matches in the forthcoming season. As regards the management of the game, however, an important step has been taken in the formation of the Advisory Committee of the Counties. This body was brought into existence for the purpose of putting the counties in closer touch with the M.C.C., and though not so stated in any official way the cause that led to its being got together was obvious enough. Twice within the last few years a proposed alteration in the Laws of Cricket has failed at Lord's to obtain the two-thirds majority required - very properly - to effect a change. In 1901 after an admirable and exhaustive debate the proposal to amend the law of leg before-wicket by removing the restriction as to the ball pitching in a straight line between wicket and wicket received very large support from the older members of the Marylebone Club, and secured a numerical majority of 71, the members being - for the proposition 259; against 188. The majority - a bigger one than had been expected - was very encouraging to the advocates of the change, but nothing more has been heard of the matter. Many of the leading amateurs now taking part in first-class cricket were strongly opposed to the alteration, and the M.C.C. were no doubt influenced to some extent by the opinion of the second class counties, the majority of whom, after giving the suggested new rule a trial for one season, expressed a with that the law should remain as it was. As regards this matter of leg-before-wicket the M.C.C. committee, being divided among themselves, left the question open, not taking as a body one side or the other. In 1903, as my readers will readily remember, a proposal - suddenly sprung on the cricket world by the county captains - was brought forward to widen the wicket from eight to nine inches. After having held several meetings during the winter the M.C.C. committee lent all the weight of their authority to this proposition, which at the special General Meeting was moved by Mr. A. G. Steel and seconded by Lord Harris. As in the case of the leg-before-wicket debate, a numerical majority was obtained, but it only amounted to 16 - 215 for, 199 against - and the matter of course fell to the ground. The proposal, which to my mind never gave promise of any result at all commensurate with the amount of inconvenience it would have involved at providing new stumps all over the world, had practically no chance of being carried after it had become known that wickets as ordinarily pitched often measure 8 ¼ to 8 ½ inches instead of the legal 8 inches. It was certainly rather damaging to the prestige of the M.C.C. committee that a proposal to which they gave such strong support should have utterly failed to secure the two-thirds majority required, and as a guard against any similar fiasco in the future, and the formation of the Advisory Committee of the Counties was a very natural measure. No important proposal to alter the Laws of Cricket will, under the new state of things, be brought forward at Lord's till the M.C.C. and the counties have really made up their minds on the point at issue. When the county captains suggested widening the wicket they spoke only for themselves and were far indeed from expressing the views of the committees.
With regard to the arrangements in the Test Matches this year there would be no utility in my saying much, the one point on which opinion is divided having long ago settled. Four of the five matches are to be restricted as in former seasons to three days each, but the fifth, in the event of the rubber depending on it, is to be played to a finish. This is a compromise between the views of those who think that all matches in England should be kept to three days and those who, like Mr. MacLaren and Mr. P. F. Warner would like all the Test Matches in this country to be finished as in Australia without regard to the time occupied. Being rather afraid of the cricket likely to be produced by matches indefinitely extended, I hope the compromise will work well, but in the event of three of the first four matches being left drawn, as in 1899, it may easily fail in its object. If it should happen that the rubber this year remain undecided, I think, whether we like it or not, the force of opinion will be so strong as to compel our authorities to have the Test Matches played out when the Australians pay us their next visit, presumably in 1908. In that case the old plan of having only three Test Matches might have to be reverted to.
I had intended this year to say something about the preparation of wickets, but as Mr. MacLaren has dealt with this subject no purpose would be served by my going over the same ground. A strong argument in favour of Mr. Maclaren's contention that wickets should not be prepared with such elaborate care will be found in the fact that of the eleven county matches played last season at Old Trafford, where simpler methods are adopted, eight were brought to a definite result. One of the two matches at Liverpool was finished and the other left drawn through rain. In all, Lancashire played out nine of their thirteen county fixtures at home, and I cannot help thinking that if other counties could manage to have such a proportion of completed games cricket would gain immensely in interest. It is quite clear that, whatever may happen in the future with regard to England v. Australia matches, more than three days cannot possibly be allotted to ordinary county games and every means should be taken to avoid draws. Already there are signs of improvement, the artificial wicket - as a result of the M.C.C's expression of opinion on the point - being much less in evidence than it was two or three years back. I have often thought that as regards the County Championship it would be an advantage to put a greater premium on the actual winning of matches. Under the present system of counting points one defeat makes such a difference to a side that there is a strong temptation to play for safety.
The promotion of Northamptonshire to a place among the first-class counties is to my mind a very good step and one calculated to increase the harmony of county cricket. If the second-class teams realize that if they show sufficiently marked superiority over their rivals promotion will follow as a matter of course, and we shall hear no more of proposals to adopt the system of the Football League. I have not a word to say against that body, but the system which answers very well with football would not do at all for cricket. The idea of a county with the traditions of Surrey or Notts being relegated to the second-class as the result of one bad season could not be entertained for a moment.
In last year's Wisden an error crept into the section "Cricket in Australia," Noble being credited with an innings of 117 for New South Wales when, as a matter of fact, he only scored seventeen.