|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
I could not help noticing last season the effect on all our estimates of English cricket at the present time of the reverses we have suffered since the war at the hands of the Australians. While Wisden was passing through the press there came the news of another Rubber lost in Australia, but that, of course, came too late to affect the point with which I am dealing. In face of so many defeats a certain appreciation was natural enough, but I feel sure that in other and, if I may say so, happier times, much that our players did last summer would have received fuller recognition. There were exceptions in the criticism, but speaking generally the shadow of inferiority to Australia was over it all. As I fully expected the South Africans were not strong enough to put us to anything like a searching test, but still the way in which the Rubber was won straight away showed that we could put a brilliant England side into the field. Again, I think that prior to the disasters of 1920-21 in Australia and 1921 at home a good deal more would have been made of the wonderful bowling in combination of Tate and Arthur Gilligan. Up to the time of Gilligan's accident at The Oval the two bowlers did things together that re-called the most startling feats of Turner and Ferris for the Australians in 1888. In the course of a few weeks they got Surrey out at The Oval for 53, Middlesex at Lord's for 41, and the South Africans at Birmingham, in the first Test Match, for 30. It was a misfortune that Arthur Gilligan, not realising the extent of his injury, should have hit up a hundred only twenty-four hours after having received such a blow over the heart. Acting under doctor's orders he had to stand out of one of the Test Matches, and only once or twice during the rest of the season was he able to bowl in his previous form. To his lack of success during the last few months in Australia I attach no importance. Apart from the additional handicap of the eight-ball over, I never though he would be the bowler for seven-day matches on Australian wickets. Such long-drawn-out battles ask for far more stamina than he possesses. Last May and June his bowling had something of electric quality about it, and hence for a few joyous weeks his astonishing success. To Tate himself the fullest justice was done. Everyone recognised him for the great bowler he is.
I have no wish to dwell at any length on the disagreement between Middlesex and Yorkshire that last season so disturbed the usually cheerful atmosphere of our cricket. For one reason I have only a dim idea of what led Middlesex to say they would not play Yorkshire in 1925. I heard no end of gossip, but scarcely any exact details. Still, one knows that the match which mainly caused the trouble was a thoroughly unpleasant one. The Sheffield public - false to all their traditions of good sportsmanship - barracked for three days in the most unseemly fashion and Butt, the umpire, felt it his duty to report Waddington to Lord's. Waddington duly apologised for his loss of temper and self-control, and there, so far as he was concerned, the matter ended. The quarrel was healed up, and in the coming season the two counties will meet as before. The trouble in Yorkshire cricket seems to have been confined to a minority of the players - from what I have been told not more than four. In this connection some remarks made by Lord Hawke at the Yorkshire annual meeting were very significant indeed. Speaking of individual doings for the county last summer he said Macaulay ought to have been in the M.C.C.'s team to Australia, and that it was entirely his own fault he was not chosen. To that stern condemnation not a word need be added.
Another player who punished himself last season was Parkin. Reading the reports of the first Test match - I was not at Birmingham - I thought at the time he should not have been passed over as a bowler on the third morning and that, being at the top of his form, he had a grievance. Still that did not in any way excuse him for rushing into print and saying he would never play for England again. As a result of his outbreak he was not asked to play in any of the subsequent Test matches and I do not think his claims to a place in the M.C.C.'s team for Australia were even discussed.
For all these difficulties arising from ill-temper and lack of discipline there is one unfailing remedy - the assertion of authority by the captain. The history of Yorkshire cricket in 1897 furnishes the most famous case on record of an indispensable player being dismissed because he did not behave properly. Far more recently we can all recall the case of a well-known player being ordered off the field by his captain and tendering an ample apology the next morning. Long years ago - more that fifty to be exact - Martin McIntyre, who had been living rather carelessly and doing nothing for Notts, was plainly told that if he did not pull himself together the match with Surrey at The Oval would be his last. McIntyre's recovery of form was startling. He scored 88 not out, and took nine wickets in Surrey's first innings - seven of them bowled down. I only recall this old story to show what even the threat of punishment may effect.
It was not surprising that some of the counties, driven to desperation by blank days, should have cast about for a means of escaping bankruptcy, but I am very glad that the new regulation as to covering the whole of the wicket, passed by the M.C.C. is permissive and not compulsory. After all, it may be many years before we have another summer so dismally wet as that of 1924. Avoiding what might have looked like panic legislation, the M.C.C. have asked the counties to do what seems to them best this year and report on their experiences at the end of the season. I notice, by the way, that Surrey have decided to keep the old plan, and not avail themselves of the permission to cover the whole pitch. While admitting the straits to which several counties, Warwickshire in particular, were reduced by the abominable weather, I still venture on principle to deprecate covering the whole wicket as a general practice. It would tend, to my mind, to stereotype the game and, worse than that, it would inevitably tell against the bowlers who in normal summers have already, with the L.B.W. rule as it is, more than sufficient burden to bear. The M.C.C. have been very wise in not allowing themselves, on the strength of one exceptional season, to be rushed into laying down an arbitrary rule. An experiment in which the counties may indulge or not as they please cannot do much harm.
The death of Walter Humphreys emphasised a striking change which has come over modern cricket. Humphreys could not be described as the last of the lob bowlers - Mr. Jephson and Mr. Simpson-Hayward flourished after his day was done - but he was the last who filled the public eye. It was strange that he played for Sussex for nine years before attempting to bowl at all. I am not inclined to think that lobs, however good, would be very effective against present-day batsmen, but their entire disappearance from first-class cricket is a loss. A decently-good lob bowler might still, from sheer novelty and force of contrast, turn the fortune of any public school game or even, perhaps, the University match. As Canon McCormick always insisted, casual lobs are no good whatever. The art of bowling must be studied, as it was studied by V.E. Walker, R.C. Tinley, T.C. Goodrich, of the Free Foresters, A.W. Ridley, and other masters in days gone by. Apparently no one thinks it worth while to give the subject serious attention, but an Eton or Harrow boy who bowled lobs really well would, I fancy, reap his reward at Lord's.
I must not forget to congratulate Mr. Pullin (Old Ebor) on having told so well the story of Yorkshire cricket from 1903 to 1923. His book was published under the auspices of the Yorkshire Committee. On the other hand, Mr. Ashley-Cooper's History of Nottinghamshire Committee, which came out the year before last, was a personal venture on the part of Mr. A.W. Shelton.