Fates fought against the Triangular Tournament, 1913

Notes by the Editor

Sydney Pardon

The Fates fought against the Triangular Tournament. Such a combination of adverse conditions could hardly have been imagined. To begin with, the Australians, who had been allowed to have everything their own way in choosing the time for the first trial of Sir Abe Bailey"s ambitious scheme, quarrelled so bitterly among themselves that half their best players were left at home. In the second place the South Africans, so far from improving, fell a good way below their form of 1907 and, to crown everything, we had one of the most appalling summers ever known, even in England. In the circumstances it was not surprising that the Tournament, as a public attraction, failed to realise the expectations of its supporters. The result is that the experiment is not likely to be repeated for many years to come--perhaps not in this generation. The arrangements provisionally made at the Imperial Conference at Lord"s in July for the future inter-change of visits for English, Australian, and South African elevens extend to 1917, and beyond that there is at present no need to look. Personally I could never get up any real enthusiasm for the Triangular scheme. To my mind there always seemed a great danger in crowding so much first-class cricket into a season of little more than four months. Still I am bound to admit that, if we had had a fine summer and the Australians had sent over their best team, the Test matches themselves, despite the weakness of the South Africans, would have proved a substantial success. The objections to the Tournament apply not so much to the big events as to the general run of the season"s play. Two visiting elevens must, in the nature of things, stand in each other"s way, the fixture list being extended far beyond the limits demanded by the public.

It is no business of mine to go into details with regard to the squabbles and quarrels in Australia. In the special circumstances I think all personal considerations should have been put aside and made subordinate to the prime need of sending over Australia"s best men for the Tournament. However, all attempts at compromise failed. The personal differences went too deep to admit of adjustment. The Board of Control carried its point, but as regards the prestige of Australian cricket the victory was dearly won. It says much for the all-round strength of Australia at the present time that with half-a-dozen crack players left behind such a good all-round team could be sent to England, but there was no way of making up for the absence of Trumper, Armstrong, Ransford, Cotter, and Clem Hill. Even Australia cannot manufacture champion players at five minutes" notice. When the wet weather came, Bardsley and Macartney, with Kelleway to help them, had in match after match to carry the rest of the side on their shoulders. I venture to predict that when the Australians pay us their next visit they will send over their strongest team. In saying this, I am thinking far less of patriotic considerations than of the stern force of money. The experience of last summer showed that in the matches with the Counties and the Universities an ordinary combination was not good enough to attract the public in any great numbers.

The South Africans were frankly a disappointment--not much above the level of a strong county eleven. They often played well in their less important games, but in five of their six Test matches they failed dismally. Apart from his innings of 122 not out at Manchester, Faulkner--their one great batsman--let them down badly on the big occasions, and their bowling suffered much from lack of variety in pace. One bowler with real speed would have been invaluable as a contrast to Pegler and Faulkner. It was significant that in summing up the play of his side, when the tour was over, Frank Mitchell practically gave up the case for googlie bowling, expressing a hope that the South African bowlers of the future would model themselves on Pegler and not on Faulkner. I doubt if Mr. Mitchell will carry public opinion with him. In effect, he asks for nothing less than the abandonment of the individual style of bowling which caused South African cricket to be placed on a level with that of England and Australia. This does not seem quite wise or reasonable. The googlie failed in Australia, but though it has not had the devastating effect on cricket that certain extremists predicted, it is still a power on the matting wickets at Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. To ask South African bowlers to give it up is like telling them to part with their birthright. In judging the South African bowling last season one must remember that Schwarz was a mere shadow of his old self, and that Gordon White scarcely bowled at all. Inasmuch as he only turned the ball one way Schwarz was never in the full sense a googlie bowler, but in the art of bowling the off-break with, to all appearance, a leg-break action, he at his best touched perfection. Had he been able to bowl last summer as he bowled in 1907, the Test matches might not have been quite so one-sided.

Following the triumph of the M.C.C."s team in Australia during the winter, victory in the Triangular Tournament left England unquestionably at the top of the tree. Success did not mean so much as it would have done if Australia had been fully represented, but for that there was no help. I heard disparaging things said by more than one famous cricketer about the England eleven, but in the face of expert opinion I am not afraid to speak up for the side. In my humble opinion we had a first-rate combination-well adapted for all conditions of weather and wicket. We always wanted one more great batsman--a batsman of the class of Hayward, Jackson, and MacLaren at their best--but this was our only weak point. Even as things were our batting came out very well. Not once in the six Test matches did the team have the luck to bat on a plumb wicket--the nearest approach to anything like ideal conditions was in the second innings against the South Africans at Leeds--and yet the run-getting was so consistent that on no occasion was there cause for anxiety. In scoring so well on slow wickets our men, to my thinking, were entitled to far more praise than they received. In some quarters there was a curious tendency to attribute their success not to good play but to the weakness of the opposing sides. So much having been done under difficult conditions, I think it is only a fair assumption that in a summer of sunshine and hard wickets we should have made a heap of runs in the Test matches. The fact that C. B. Fry did not assert himself until the last match with the Australians at the Oval made our batting look far less formidable than it really was.

I would not pretend that we had anything like the batting that we possessed in 1902, but there was nothing to apologise for. Hobbs was magnificent--just as good, allowing for the difference in the wickets, as he had been during his Australian and South African tours--and Woolley proved himself, beyond all question, a Test match batsman. Far more confident and sure of himself than he had ever been before, he was able to play his proper game directly he went in and did not need half-an-hour in which to settle down. Spooner did splendid work against the South Africans, but in the Australian matches he failed as completely as Ranjitsinhji and Fry had failed ten years before. It was a great point in our batting that we had in Hobbs and Rhodes such a splendid pair to go in first. Thanks to constant association in South Africa and Australia the two men understood each other so well that they could with safety attempt short runs that in ordinary circumstances would have savoured of madness. They never seemed to let a chance escape them, and yet they seldom looked to be in any danger. Better running between the wickets has not often been seen.

As regards bowling I think we were better off than in any series of Test matches in England since Lockwood and Rhodes were in their prime. It so happened that our bowlers never had a chance of showing what they could do on fast run-getting wickets, but judging from what F. R. Foster did on perfect wickets in Australia it is very unlikely that the combination would have been found wanting. With the grounds as they were the only failure was when the team, in trying to force a win against the Australians on the third day at Lord"s, attempted the impossible. For the rest the bowlers did everything that was asked of them. Barnes surpassed himself, giving conclusive evidence that he is, at the present time, the best bowler in the world. One did not know before that he could, against first-rate batsmen, be quite so deadly on sticky wickets. Bowling that looked more difficult from the ring than his on the second day of the South Africans" match at the Oval I have never seen. The skill with which he broke both ways, while keeping a perfect length all the time, was wonderful. In a fine summer his best supporters, no doubt, would have been F. R. Foster and Hitch, but as it was Woolley and Dean shared the honours with him.

With regard to the selection of the England eleven for the various Test matches there were none of the blunders that caused such irritation and dismay in 1909. As Lord Harris pointed out in a letter to the Board of Control at the end of the season the absence of adverse criticism showed how well the selection committee--Mr. Fry, Mr. John Shuter, and Mr. H. K. Foster--did their work. Keeping clear of fads and prejudices they nearly always made the best choice possible. Only twice, I think, was their judgment open to question. On the form shown in the Test Trial match a fortnight or so before, Hitch instead of Walter Brearley should have been the fast bowler against the South Africans at Lord"s, and in the match with the Australians at Manchester it seemed a doubtful policy to weaken the batting on a slow wicket by playing Hitch in preference to Hayes. C. B. Fry was a very zealous captain, but I cannot help thinking that the responsibilities of leadership told on his batting. Once at least his management of the side was rather bewildering. No one, so far as I know, has attempted to explain why he did not let Woolley bowl against the Australians at Lord"s. I may add here that, differing from some of our own authorities, Sydney Gregory thought we had a very fine eleven, and that we should have been capable of beating the best Australian side.

The Test matches so dominated the season that there is little else to write about. Overshadowed from the first by the Triangular Tournament, county cricket was ruined by the dreadful weather. Thanks to their share of Test match receipts Kent and Lancashire made a profit on the year, and I believe Warwickshire got through on the right side, but for the most part the various balance sheets tell a sad story of financial disaster. Even the fact of winning the Championship was cold comfort to Yorkshire in face of a loss of £1,000. One fact will show clearly enough the damage caused by the almost incessant rain. Kent"s receipts during the Canterbury week fell £700 below the average. Middlesex, hard hit by Mr. Warner"s illness, had a deplorable season, nearly all their most attractive matches being ruined. From a cricket point of view the feature of the county season was the bold front shown by Northamptonshire. Playing practically the same eleven on all occasions, they had a real side--much stronger than it looked on paper. Their success showed what first-rate bowling will do. In Northamptonshire there is not a single player who would be picked in a representative match for batting alone.

After such a season of financial loss to the Counties one expected to hear all sorts of proposals for altering the game, but except in one direction we have had nothing of the kind. In a letter to the Sportsman in October, Mr. F. R. Spofforth made the astounding suggestion that the best way of improving cricket was to give two runs to the fielding side for every maiden over bowled. Never, I should think, has such an absurd proposition been put forward by a first-rate expert. The proposal would not bear a moment"s examination, and but for the weight that attaches to Spofforth"s name the letter would probably have been consigned to the waste-paper basket. I think Spofforth must have rushed into print without realising what his proposal involved. Leaving aside the encouragement to bowlers to adopt the off-theory, or any other expedient to keep down runs, the whole notion is contrary to the true spirit of cricket. Imagine the position of two batsmen coming together, perhaps on a nasty wicket, with the result of a big match entirely dependent on their success. What could be more grossly unjust than to penalise their side, even if they found it necessary to play for half an hour without getting a run? We are not likely to hear any more about Spofforth"s suggestion, and I only refer to it here because it came from such a source.

Cricket does not stand in need of alterations. When played in the proper spirit--every match on its own merits--the game is as good as ever it was. It must not be tampered with to please people who vainly think that it can have the concentrated excitement of an hour-and-a-half"s football.

© John Wisden & Co