Notes by the Editor, 1959

England's feet of clay

An eventful year has passed since I last wrote the Notes. The Ashes, won by England at The Oval in 1953, were deservedly won back by Australia at Adelaide in 1959. Hanif Mohammad, of Pakistan, created a new world record for an individual score by making 499 at Karachi, and Garfield Sobers achieved the highest personal Test innings by scoring 365 not out for West Indies against Pakistan at Kingston, Jamaica. At home, Surrey again dominated the County Championship and won the title for the seventh time in succession, a feat without precedent.

The fight for the Ashes held the attention of the cricketing world in recent months and not for the first time it produced a good deal of controversy. England went to Australia with the unofficial title of "World Champions." At the time no one could deny that they ranked above all their rivals; yet when they went into action their standard of play bore no relation to their exalted position and they were toppled off their pedestal.

So, after an interval of six years, Australia regained the Ashes and England can look forward to a hard struggle when they attempt to turn the table in England in 1961. To the millions of enthusiasts who got up early in the morning to listen to the news from Australia, England's failure came as a bitter disappointment.

Defeat can be as honourable as victory when a side has gone down after giving of their best; but during those cold winter months we at home felt that England had been badly let down by the batting and fielding. The bowlers performed admirably, particularly Statham, Trueman and Laker, but apart from May and Cowdrey all the specialist batsmen failed.

Lately, the dice have been loaded far too heavily against the batsmen in England. Consequently the bowlers have not been compelled to toil for their wickets. No wonder things go wrong when our men go abroad. We have destroyed our breed of professional batsmen and at the same time extinguished the leg-spin and googly bowlers, besides producing a generation of fielders who show up poorly in the deep. Moreover, all-rounders like R. Benaud, Australia's new and inspiring captain, and A. K. Davidson are non-existent because of the modern fetish to rely solely on specialists. So England carry a long tail these days.

Time and again over the past eight years I have drawn attention to the decline of professional batsmanship in England and now I wonder if some of the amateurs have not become too complacent. It would be foolish for any batsman to develop an inferiority complex, but a sunny temperament does not compensate for flaws in technique, as P. E. Richardson, for one, must have discovered.

The brittleness of England's batting was exposed first by West Indies at Birmingham in 1957 and again by New Zealand on the same ground in 1958 when, after winning first innings, the whole side were dismissed for moderate totals on perfect pitches that offered no help to bowlers.

Yet, when the seventeen names were announced for the Australian tour, many of us were of the opinion that M.C.C. had chosen one of the strongest sides ever to be sent overseas. I am afraid that since then those ideas have been completely shattered. To my mind England's troubles began when the M.C.C. Committee found it necessary to withdraw their invitation to Wardle. That was a bold decision and one which M.C.C. took in the best interests of the game; but in the first place they should never have been placed in that embarrassing position. Yorkshire must shoulder the blame, for no sooner had they informed M.C.C. that Wardle would be available to tour Australia than the county decided to dispense with his services.

Wardle's name having been withdrawn, the selectors then committed an error in not producing an immediate replacement. They had decided to take seventeen players; yet a few weeks later they reckoned Laker and Lock could shoulder the slow bowling alone. Again, when Watson broke down on the way to Aden, instead of getting a deputy immediately, many weeks passed before the decision was reached to bring the party up to full strength. Then, Subba Row had also been put out of action through injury. So Mortimore and Dexter had to fly out at the time of the first Test, having been deprived of the chance of getting themselves acclimatised or of having adequate practice. In other words, things were mishandled from first to last.

To be fair to Richardson and to many other English batsmen, it must be remembered they have had to prove their worth on the modern sporting pitches which have been the vogue in this country since the war. It was very satisfactory to outplay our visitors on these uncertain surfaces, but the fallacy has been revealed in our most recent tours to West Indies, South Africa and Australia where England failed each time to win the rubber.

It would seem that the time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our ideas in regard to pitches, batsmanship and the general conduct of the game. Indeed, after all the reports from Australia of suspect bowling actions and the continued slowing down of the game, so that as far as Tests are concerned run-making has come almost to a standstill, it would surely benefit cricket if all the members of the Imperial Conference would tackle the various problems which confront the game.

A special committee appointed by M.C.C. examined some of these aspects and issued a report which can be found in Wisden, 1957. I would also commend to those people interested in these matters the opinions that Wisden gathered from various personalities and which were given in the 1956 and 1957 editions.

© John Wisden & Co