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C. Stewart Caine
In view of the near approach of yet another visit of Australian cricketers to this country, it is interesting to note that there prevails a much more hopeful tone in relation to English cricket than has existed for several years. On the face of things, the record of the M.C.C. team in Australia last winter - one win and four defeats - is not a very substantial basis upon which to build expectations of success. The narrowness of the margin by which on two occasions the Englishmen lost, coupled with the bad luck experienced in tossing for choice of innings appears, however, to have persuaded many people that the actual difference between the two sides was small, and that better times are in store for England. The enthusiasts may have forgotten the lack of solidity in the English batting displayed in several matches last winter, and may fail to realise the tremendous run-getting possibilities of the men Australia is sending over, yet there is no gainsaying the fact that a strong belief is widely entertained that the dark days are coming to an end. This spirit of optimism will possibly receive a rude shock during the next few months, but at the moment it is all to the good.
Three things should certainly improve our chances. In the first place the Englishmen will not have to conserve their energies for a long drawn out struggle, but will be able to play the game natural with men who are accustomed to three-day matches. What difference - if any - this will make I do not pretend to say but obviously a contest unlimited in its duration must call for the exercise of qualities which would serve little purpose in a three-day fixture. There is the further consideration that in the forthcoming games the over will consist of six instead of eight balls - as is now the practice in Australia. The Englishmen when in Australia could perceive no quickening up of matters as a result of the extension and themselves found it an additional and tiresome strain, so the six-ball over will certainly be welcomed by them. Of more importance, perhaps than either the three-day match or the six-ball over is the support which will be available for Maurice Tate. Out in Australia Tate, while he bowled grandly himself, had no colleague who could be relied upon to keep a length during a long spell of work. At home, even if no fast bowler of first-rate ability can be found, he is sure of steadier assistance than he enjoyed last winter.
England's chances of recovering the "Ashes" will, of course, depend largely upon an intelligent choice of players to take part in the Test matches, so it is to be hoped that the authorities may be happily inspired in picking the members of the Selection Committee. Not only did this most important body work unsatisfactorily five years ago, but, further back, there were other Selection Committees which made strange blunders. Indeed, it is scarcely too much to say that since the practice of appointing special Selectors began there have been more palpable mistakes than in the days when with the programme of Test games restricted to three, the teams were picked by the committees of Marylebone, Lancashire and Surrey in turn. We shall hope for better things this year - the appointment of men sound of judgement and firm of purpose who, having once decided upon the constitution of the England Eleven, will not depart from it except for the strongest of reasons, and certainly will not allow their choice to be affected by the momentary success or failure of a player. The new body will enjoy an advantage over their predecessors inasmuch as a Test Trial game is to be played at Lord's early in June. By that time cricketers will have had several weeks in which to show their form and although there exists the chance of some embarrassment being caused by the England Eleven suffering defeat, the advantages derived from a side playing together ought to outweigh any risks.
A further point the authorities may well take into consideration is the provision of accommodation for the England players on the occasions of Test matches. Five years ago in a northern town a leading cricketer on the eve of one of these games was seen wandering about late in the evening in the search for a bed. Matters were better when the South Africans came here in 1924, but still the arrangements left something to be desired. Players chosen for England should be allowed to travel at a reasonable hour on the day preceding the match and on arrival should find themselves comfortably housed. Indeed the appointment of a special manager for such occasions might be taken into consideration. Possibly, too, some advantage would accrue if all the team stayed together for the period of the match.
A suggestion put forward by the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe and warmly supported by Mr Arthur Gilligan that in such years as the Australians visit this country the championship should be suspended or largely curtailed, has not proved acceptable to the first-class counties. It would have been surprising had the idea met with general approval. The demand upon the counties, with their heavy responsibilities, was much too great. Everybody, of course is anxious that when the Australians come here, English cricket should be given full opportunity of maintaining its reputation, but that endeavour need not entail such drastic self-denial as the suspension of the championship. The purpose could surely be served if the leading counties were to reduce their programmes slightly, and so arrange fixtures that on the days immediately preceding Test matches they did not encounter really formidable opponents, or still better, left the dates vacant. Such a departure would naturally not be popular with the weaker counties but these would have compensation in their share of the profits of the Test games.
The enthusiasm of Mr. Gilligan for the proposal is natural enough. To that fine sportsman and to many thousands of other people, the recovery of the "Ashes" is more important than anything else in cricket, and to him, particularly after his leadership of England in Australia last winter, the proposal makes special appeal. Is there not, however, a danger of this Test match cricket becoming rather a fetish? It produces some wonderful struggles it is true, and is immensely popular not only here but even more so, if possible, in Australia, but it tends to make cricket more of a spectacle than a game and one may question whether the feverish atmosphere it creates is altogether healthy. As matters are, no harm, perhaps, exists but cricket generally must not be made subservient to these hectic struggles, and therefore the counties, in refusing to efface themselves in Test match years, are probably working for what, in the long run will prove to be for the good of the game.
Last summer in England, and later on in Australia, there arose two questions that caused considerable comment. Towards the end of our cricket season a statement appeared that a bowler had been reported to the M.C.C. for having, in the Worcestershire and Middlesex match, lifted the seam of the ball. Whether this is correct or not is immaterial, but it is significant that the Marylebone Club subsequently issued to the first-class umpires a circular that contained among other memoranda of importance, the following: "That the practice of lifting the seam by a bowler is illegal and comes within Law 43." If umpires had previously been in doubt, this ruling clearly pointed the way to them, as to the action they are to take in the future. Viewed from any angle the practice - happily, I think, very rare - is indefensible.
The other point did not come quite within the same category, but admitted of discussion. It cropped up over a statement by Mailey, the Australian googly bowler, that it was quite in order for a bowler to use resin on his fingers as a means of imparting additional spin to the ball.
From inquiries made I found that resin had, in fact, been used at various times by some of our own bowlers. If not actually contrary to the laws, this is quite foreign to the spirit of cricket, and, for that reason alone, it should not be countenanced by the captain of a side. The use of an outside agent such as resin was never contemplated by those who framed the rules. It has been urged that if sawdust is permissible in order to obtain a proper grip, no exception should be taken to resin. There is no analogy. Sawdust is allowed after rain to restore the condition of the ball to normal; resin clearly brings about a condition that is abnormal.
Where a reasonable argument exists is in the fact that wicket-keepers smear the palms of their gloves with an adhesive solution. This practice began some forty years ago when manufacturers produced wicket-keeping gloves with a thin coating of indiarubber outside the padding which protected the palms of the hands. It has continued ever since without, I believe, any protest. If this is allowed then, in fairness, resin must be also. There is danger in both, for to the introduction of adventitious aids there may be no end. Better will it be for the matter to be settled forthwith than wait until much greater issues, perhaps, are involved.
The new regulation, passed by the M.C.C. permitting, but in no way compelling, the covering the whole of the wicket for twenty-four hours prior to the commencement of a match, was seized upon by some counties and ignored by others. The adoption of it, in such cases as it was tried, aroused no pronounced enthusiasm. Necessarily it led to varied experiences - in some instances of play being possible sooner than could have been expected if the wicket had not been covered, but in others the rest of the ground remaining unfit when the actual pitch was firm enough, and now and then - when the covers were removed - of batsmen finding themselves handicapped through the turf having "sweated". Asked, when the new departure was legalised, to report upon the matter at the end of the season, the counties differed so considerably in their conclusions that it was decided to give the system a further trial. There for the moment the matter must be left with the expression of opinion that the general adoption of the practice - however seriously in its absence some counties may suffer - would rob the game of cricket of some of its infinite variety.
Just as the Almanack is going to press comes a letter from Hobart, stating that in a match there between New Town and North-West Hobart "A" Grade on November 21 last, A. O. Burrows of New Town bowled one of his opponents with a ball which sent the bail 83 yards 1 foot 9 inches. The statement is vouched for by no fewer than half a dozen different men associated with the club or the other, among those being Joe Darling, the famous left handed batsman who captained Australia in this country in 1899, 1902 and 1905, and who is now president of the New Town Club. Previously the record was 70 ½ yards by A. F. Morcom for Bedfordshire against Suffolk at Luton in 1908.