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From an English cricket point of view there was no more fitting event in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year than the recovery of The Ashes in England for only the third time this century, and always on Royal occasions: in 1926, the year The Queen was born; 1953, Coronation year and 1977, the Silver Jubilee. Moreover, England beat Australia at home in three consecutive Test Matches for the first time since 1886. I felt optimistic about England's chances after their successful tour of India a few months earlier but in the event the overthrow of Greg Chappell's Australia by such a convincing margin was almost too good to be true.
In the first instance much of the credit for England's revival over the eighteen months belonged to Tony Greig, but when as England's reigning captain he did his secret deal with Packer, the authorities at Lord's instructed Alec Bedser and his fellow selectors to choose another, although none of the Packer signatories was precluded as a candidate to play against Australia. The honour of leading the team went to Mike Brearley, the Middlesex captain, who had been the vice-captain on the tour to India, Sri Lanka and Australia. And Brearley followed in the footsteps of Percy Chapman and Sir Leonard Hutton in regaining the Ashes at home.
In the process Brearley equalled the feat of Peter May, whose achievements as captain in 1957 were without parallel. Never before had the same man led England successfully through a Test series (West Indies) and his county (Surrey) to the top of the Championship in the same year as did May. Now, Brearley led the winning England team and he kept his county, Middlesex, at the top of the Championship. Lord Hawke, captain of Yorkshire, led England on tour but not at home. F. S. Jackson led England but not his county, Yorkshire. A. W. Carr provides the nearest approach to May and Brearley. In 1929 he captained the successful Nottinghamshire side and he also led England against South Africa at Manchester and The Oval, but not through the whole series.
An Astute Captain
Brearley, a totally different captain from the volatile Greig, led his men with quiet efficiency. He is clearly a master in the art of cricket. He handled his bowlers skilfully and was ahead of Greig in field placing. As a batsman, with his special headgear for protection against the bumper, he averaged only 27, but was nevertheless the obvious man to take England on a winter tour of Pakistan and New Zealand. Unfortunately a broken arm caused him to return home and miss what would have been his first visit to New Zealand.
It is a long time since I first saw Brearley in action. Back in 1961 when at the age of nineteen he was a Freshman at Cambridge and playing primarily as a wicket-keeper, he made 73 and 89 against the Australians at Fenner's. He batted number eight in the first innings, but opened the second and hit fifteen 4's, scoring altogether 162 runs in five hours, twenty minutes. This was a superb performance for a young man with only three weeks' experience of the first-class game. At times his academic career kept him in the background as far as cricket was concerned.
England's Splendid Fielding
One of England's priceless assets in mastering Australia was the fielding, which for once was in a higher class than that of the opposition. Scarcely a catch was missed in the first four Tests. Brearley, Greig, Hendrick and Willis clung like leeches to some in the slips and Randall excelled in the covers. Two other vital factors were the return of Geoffrey Boycott to the Test Match scene after three years in the wilderness and the lively fast bowling of Bob Willis, who took 27 wickets in the series.
Mixed Weather Spoiled Two Tests
The first and last Tests which were drawn suffered much interference from rain. Only 24 overs were bowled on the second day at Lord's; at The Oval the first day was blank and only seventy-five minutes' cricket was possible on the third. Indeed, the weather at the beginning and the end of the season was very bad, but the sun poured down in the middle of the summer as England won the three contests in the provinces. There were tremendous crowds for all five matches with full attendances of 389,856 and gross receipts £735,995.
Boycott The Stubborn Resister
England, by winning the second Test at Manchester after the draw at Lord's, established their superiority before Boycott's return. Woolmer, 79 and 120 at Lord's, and 137 at Manchester, dominated the England batting and there was good support from Randall and Greig, but Amiss made only 43 runs in four innings and so the way became open for Boycott's return at Nottingham. It was only a few days before the first Test that Boycott informed Alec Bedser that he was willing to be considered for the England team.
That Costly Missed Catch
Perhaps, the destination of The Ashes was determined by a solitary incident at Trent Bridge. On the first day Australia struggled to total 243, but on the second England lost their first five wickets for 82. Boycott's share was 20, gathered in painful fashion in three hours. Then he was badly missed in the slips by McCosker off Pascoe. At that point England could have been 87 for six. Instead Alan Knott stayed to put on 215 with Boycott, who batted on all five days, a period of twelve hours, for 107 and 80 not out.
Boycott's Hundredth Hundred
Boycott was again the key figure in the next Test at Headingly. In a score of 436 he helped himself to 191 in ten and a half hours. He wore down the Australians and England won by an innings and 85 runs. In this personal triumph, Boycott hit his hundredth hundred - a feat accomplished by 18 cricketers, including John Edrich, so often Boycott's England partner, earlier in the season. In five Test innings Boycott scored 442 runs, average 147.33. His perfect technique and application to the task on hand must have been heartbreaking for the Australian bowlers. He fulfilled another ambition in Pakistan when he took over the England captaincy because of Brearley's unlucky mishap.
Botham's Notable Debut
The potential of young talent was proclaimed by Ian Botham, the Somerset all-rounder. At the age of twenty-one he twice shook Australia by taking five for 74 on the first day at Nottingham and five for 21 when Australia were put out for 103 at Leeds. His success was particularly gratifying to me. He caught my eye first in a Gillette Cup tie in 1974 at Canterbury; he made only 19 runs but in a tight match showed his batting class with his upright style and when fifth choice bowler, his persistent attack on the stumps sufficed to remove Cowdrey and Shepherd. In my notes the following year when writing on candidates for the future I said that I would particularly like to see young Botham given a chance while he was young and enthusiastic.
Other Talented Youngsters
Besides Botham, Somerset have Roebuck (22), Slocombe (23), Marks (22) and Gurr (23), all of whom may follow Rose (27), their new captain and latest Test cap into higher spheres. There are also Gower, the young Leicestershire left-hander, and Athey and Love (Yorkshire) who have been in Australia during the winter, and one must not forget Chris Tavare, now through his stay at Oxford and who in his school days was reckoned by Leslie Ames, the then Kent manager, to have a bright future - 1978 could be his year to press his claims. That England should see fit to take Paul Downton on the winter tour at the tender age of twenty suggested that in time Kent may have a wicket-keeper batsman to follow in the wake of Ames, Evans and Knott, while from Middlesex came Mike Gatting of similar age and similar desire to make his mark in the game. It is the enthusiasm of those now entering the scene that makes one hopeful for the future.
Without wishing to detract from the very high status of the best in Pakistan cricket, one cannot help but question the validity of some records set up in that country. One of the most recent was the first wicket partnership of 561 by Waheed Mirza (324) and Mansoor Akhtar (224 not out) in six and a half hours for Karachi Whites against Quetta (Baluchistan) at the National Stadium, Karachi in 1977. For the purposes of history the full score is given elsewhere in this Almanack, but the bowling was of a very moderate standard and even ardent followers of cricket in Pakistan are beginning to criticise the proliferation of national and world records standing to their country's name. They say the blame must be placed on the shoulders of their Board of Control, which, it is said, has repeatedly allowed teams with no first-class status to compete in first-class tournaments. Teams like Baluchistan, Dera Ismail Khan, the former East Pakistan, P.W.D., Customs, Sukkur and Khaipur had or have no batsmen or bowlers who can compete adequately against first-class opposition.
The absurdity of it all is shown clearly by one example, Dera Ismail Khan, during a fleeting entry into the first-class game in the mid-sixties, were swamped by an innings and 851 runs by Railways, who scored 910 for six declared. Pervez Akhtar hit 337 not out and Ahad Khan took nine wickets for seven runs. Hanif Mohammad's 499 not out was scored against second-class bowling and the same could be said of Aftab Baloch's 428, also against Baluchistan. Khalid Irtiza and Aslam Ali's record third wicket stand of 456 against Multan in 1975 provides another example, and my correspondent from Lahore contends that if teams like Baluchistan, Multan and others continue at their present standards in first-class cricket, each and every world record will be broken sooner or later in Pakistan. One can judge the value of the performances in yet another way. How many of those responsible were or will be picked for Pakistan? Pervez Akhtar and Ahad Khan never made the National team and at the time of writing Waheed Mirza, Mansoor Akhtar, Khalid Irtiza and Aslam Ali were all awaiting the call despite the considerable drain on talent by Kerry Packer.
During the past four seasons up to 1976-77, 57 individual innings of 200 or over have been played and of these 30 have occurred in Pakistan. In a list of 103 players since 1859 whose maiden century was 200 or more, nine of the last eleven were scored in Pakistan. Since 1964 three totals over 800 have been amassed and all in Pakistan: 910 for six in 1964-65; 824 in 1965-66 and 951 for seven in 1973-73.
The Hayward Hall
The M.C.C. Indoor School at Lord's, named the Hayward Hall following the generous gift of £75,000 towards half its cost by J. A. Hayward, was officially opened by G. O. Allen in November. It is an extremely fine building situated on the Nursery ground and has seven nets in a spacious area each with a run-up of seventeen yards. The manager, Tony Fleming, said that it had been designed to serve cricketers of every age and ability, the words on the commemorative plaque, unveiled by Mr. Allen. Leading off the upstairs gallery is a bar and the Altham Room for committee meetings and small functions. There is a photographic exhibition presented and arranged by Kodak, containing more than one hundred photographs of distinguished cricketers. The nets were already fully booked from Christmas till April and under the direction of Don Wilson, the former Yorkshire left-arm slow bowler, who is Head Coach, its successful future seems fully assured.
Two other Indoor Schools now flourishing are at the Essex headquarters at Chelmsford, erected at a cost of £100,000, and by Kent at Canterbury, and there are several more in various parts of the country where promising young talent receives every encouragement. Indeed, earlier in the year the Cricket Council set up an enquiry into Junior and Youth cricket under the chairmanship of George Mann, the former Middlesex and England captain. It was decided to approach those bodies and authorities involved in all aspects of Junior and Youth cricket. From the outset the enquiry had the full support of the National Cricket Associations and County Schools Cricket Associations. The project involved participation at all levels of cricket and is seen to be vital to the future of the game in the United Kingdom.
The Wrigley Foundation
At the seventh annual luncheon of the Wrigley Cricket Foundation, the M.C.C. President, David Clark, paid warm tribute to the Wrigley Company for their loyal support for cricket "at the bottom end". The aims of the Foundation", set up in 1969 and administered by the National Cricket Association, are "to stimulate and encourage an interest in the playing of cricket by the young and the achieving by them of a greater proficiency and skill". Mr. Clark expressed a deep concern at "Packer-type developments" which threatened to cream off the top players. This made it more imperative that the game should be supported at youth level.
Rewards For Groundsmen
The Trophy and £150 for Groundsman of the Year went to Ron Allsop of Trent Bridge for achieving the best results amongst grounds staging more than six three-day matches. Other awards, which were instituted by Watney Mann in 1967, went to Harold Graham of Chesterfield and Keith Boyce, Middlesbrough. In addition, the Test and County Cricket Board, whose decisions are based on reports by umpires and captains, commended Peter Eaton (Hove), Lol Spence (Leicester), David Bridle (Bristol), Brian Finch (Canterbury), Malcolm Bristow (Maidstone) and Ron Heeley (Bradford). After fifty-one years as Hampshire's head groundsman, Ernest Knights, aged 71, decided to retire, and Chris Hawkins, formerly at Liverpool, was appointed as Lancashire's head groundsman.
Jubilee and New Year Honours
Recipients among the Queen's Jubilee and Birthday Honours were John Edrich, the Surrey captain, Norman Preston, Editor of Wisden, who were awarded M.B.E's; Ray Steele (Australia) and Sylvia Swimburne, former Chairman of the Women's Cricket Association who received the O.B.E. as did Mike Brearley at the New Year.