No season could have opened in much more promising fashion than that of 1927. For the general comfort of cricketers and those attending matches the weather, no doubt, might have been warmer, but it was often bright and usually fine. On the many fast wickets which obtained in May, batsmen, despite the general use of the smaller ball, piled up runs to a most pronounced extent. So favourable, indeed, to scoring were the conditions which prevailed that during the first month of the season no fewer than five players accomplished the feat of registering two separate 100's in the same match. This, perhaps, is no exceptional performance in these times. It has been done upon no fewer than eighty-seven occasion during the past twenty-four seasons, but prior to the year 1900 the records of English cricket furnished no more than thirteen instances of this kind of double century, while up to 1892 it stood to the credit of only two men--to W. Lambert who made 107, not out, and 157, at Lord's in the summer of 1817, and to W. G. Grace who between 1868 and 1888 reached three figures in each innings upon three occasions. Still, even although scoring is now so much higher, the putting together by five different men of two separate 100's in a match during the month of May was something quite out of the common.
June, too, held fine until the month was well advanced, but then the weather broke up so completely that the summer of 1927 will probably be regarded as one of the worst in the history of cricket. Whether it deserved that evil notoriety only weather experts can definitely determine, but certainly it had big claims to be so regarded. Apart from Oxford v. Cambridge--and the weather for that encounter was far from cheerful--practically all the big games were either interfered with or ruined by rain, and the end of the season brought with it a sad tale of the financial losses of the large majority of the first-class counties. Thanks to increased membership, most of these organisations could meet their troubles more or less satisfactorily, but how serious matters were will, to, some extent, be realised when it is mentioned that in the course of the summer there occurred, in various parts of the country when, in ordinary circumstances, championship cricket would have been in progress, no fewer than ninety-seven instances of the weather proving so adverse that not a ball could be bowled. What this, coming on the top of other days when rain, allowing of little cricket, kept people away, meant to clubs in the way of reduced receipts it is, of course, impossible to say, but Yorkshire, with nine blank days in home fixtures, make the announcement that their takings at county matches were more than £3,000 less than in the previous year. Games, in few, if any of the other counties, are quite as well supported as in Yorkshire, but still it is no exaggeration to suggest that last summer the up-keep of competition cricket suffered in diminished receipts to the extent of £20,000 while, as a matter of fact, the amount may well have exceeded that sum by a considerable figure.
Much more depressing than any loss of revenue was the havoc the weather played with the fight for first honours in the county championship. According to the programme arranged in the previous December, 240 matches were to be played in connection with the competition. In five of these, not a ball could be bowled. In twenty-eight other instances the total period of play did not reach six hours, and the drawn games numbered ninety-seven. Thus, of the 240 contests no fewer than 130 could not be finished. Despite the vagaries of the weather, seven of the seventeen counties succeeded in playing out half or more of their engagements, but the other ten did not enjoy even that measure of good fortune, the sorriest experiences in this respect being those of Glamorgan and Warwickshire. Glamorgan decided no more than nine games out of twenty-six, while Warwickshire had an even more unsatisfactory time, no definite result being reached in twenty-one out of the twenty-eight fixtures which constituted their programme.
Curiously enough, despite the wet weather, the second half of the season produced a measure of run-getting which, given similar circumstances, would in the old days, have been regarded as practically impossible. As to whether this came about as the result of the more elaborate preparation of wickets, the extremely cautious methods employed by many batsmen or to the inability of so many bowlers to-day to spin the ball, opinions will probably differ. To the general result probably all three contributed in some degree. With many bowlers in these times making the ball swerve is such an obsession that they lose command of length as well as of spin, and to make the most of a soft pitch these qualities are, of course, essential. In these circumstances watchful defence, not being so severely tested as it used to be, often prevails whatever the conditions. Possibly the big thing in favour of the batsmen is the more elaborate preparation of wickets. On such occasions as sunshine followed rain, one could, in other days, be practically certain that bowlers would dominate the situation. No such general conclusion can be safely arrived at in these times. The sticky wicket does, no doubt, obtain on occasion, but often when such might be confidently expected the pitch is merely greasy. The ball comes along at different paces and turns to some extent, but it plays no such pranks as, on a caked pitch, used to render the best of batsmen helpless.
In connection with this matter of wickets it may be recalled that well into the eighties, no sweeping or rolling of the ground was allowed except at the start of a match, and prior to the commencement of an innings. Accordingly there was always great keenness to get one's opponents in overnight. Next morning bowlers were helped by worm-casts and any other roughness which might have developed as the result of the weather during the night. Nowadays batsmen are so happily placed that, when an innings has been begun overnight, they find themselves on a pitch which has not only been swept but improved by a second rolling.
Once again much dissatisfaction has been expressed at the method of reckoning in the County Championship. Some half dozen plans or more have been tried, and while all had drawbacks, everyone of them worked out fairly well until that now in vogue which--the season producing no real match winning side--decided first honours on the fraction of a percentage. There is talk of increased programmes, and, if equal programmes cannot be arranged, of only certain matches counting for championship points, but whatever scheme is devised it will certainly not meet with general approval. Cricket, as a matter of fact, is not a game which leads itself to systematic competition. I don't know that any of the earlier plans really failed in their purpose except that which gave first place to the side suffering the smallest number of defeats. And that, by the way, was no system laid down by cricket authorities, but merely a conclusion arrived at by the public. Indeed the County Cricket Championship, as such, did not really begin until the summer of 1887.
In the forthcoming season, while we may have a new plan for deciding the Championship, we are to have altered hours of play. Games will begin at half past eleven each day, and stumps be drawn at half past six, except on the third day when, in the absence of a demand for extra time, play will cease at six o'clock. Under this arrangement no increase in or diminution of the duration of a match takes place, but the changes will probably appeal to both players and spectators, even if, in some cases, inconvenience may be caused by the necessity of turning out on the opening day half an hour earlier than has hitherto been the custom. By the way is it not a fact that in one season--possibly 40 years ago or more--it was the rule at Lord's--I forget if the practice obtained anywhere else--to commence play on the second and third days at eleven o'clock?
In the course of the autumn, Yorkshire cricket circles were greatly perturbed by the announcement that, in succession to Major Lupton, Herbert Sutcliffe had been appointed captain of the county team. Objection was taken to this action by two different parties. Some people urged the undesirability of having a professional captain; others argued that, if the committee thought fit to choose a professional, the post should be given to Wilfred Rhodes rather than to Sutcliffe. Happily the trouble was eventually settled to the satisfaction of all concerned. Sutcliffe declined the honour and, an invitation being extended to Captain Worsley, that gentleman stepped into the breach.
The matter naturally raised the question whether the practice which so generally obtains of giving the captaincy of a county eleven to an amateur, even of moderate attainments, carries with it greater advantages than the appointment of an experienced professional. Personally I think it does. Professionals, it is true, have in the past often captained leading counties--notably Yorkshire and Notts--but the system possesses more or less certain drawbacks. The professional may have difficulty in enforcing discipline. He would naturally hesitate to suggest to his committee that this player or that should be dropped, and so be instrumental in depriving the man in question of some part of his livelihood. Further, feeling that an error of judgment would prejudice his standing with the committee, he might well hesitate to take risks. The amateur is altogether differently placed. If a man possessed of the qualities of leadership, he can insist upon strict obedience, and silent acquiescence in his orders. His views as to whether a player should be left out are not likely to be determined by any question of that player's earnings, and he can run risks with the knowledge that the worst which can befall him is the possibility he may not be given charge of the side another year.
In view of the objection so generally entertained to the qualifying of Dominion cricketers for English counties, the recent announcement that C. C. Dacre, the brilliant hitter of the New Zealand team, is going to settle in Gloucestershire with a view to playing for that county, caused considerable surprise. It is satisfactory to learn that the first steps in this arrangement did not come from Gloucestershire. Dacre announced that he intended to settle in England and, as his father was educated at a Cheltenham school, he had, naturally enough, a preference for Gloucestershire. In short, he offered his services to the county, and as the New Zealand Cricket Council raised no objection, an agreement that he should play for Gloucestershire was duly signed. These, I understand, are the facts of the case.
The M.C.C. have before them during the coming summer the anxious task of selecting a team to go out to Australia in the autumn. Much in the choice of players will, of course, depend upon the form displayed during the first three months of the season of 1928. Meanwhile, it may be assumed that some six or seven, but scarcely more, of the men now in South Africa will be strong candidates for inclusion in the side, while, among those remaining at home this winter whose names readily come to mind in connection with so formidable an undertaking as a tour in Australia, are those of Hobbs, Tate, Hallows, V. W. C. Jupp, D. R. Jardine, and, as wicket-keepers who are also good batsmen, Lilley and Ames. In this distinguished company Larwood, but for his breakdown last summer would, of course, have figured and although, in view of that misfortune, he cannot be considered until he has shown himself thoroughly sound again, it is good to learn that, following an operation, he has thrown off all sign of lameness. Whether Hobbs will care, at the age of forty-five, to pay another visit to Australia remains to be seen, but he has always kept himself so fit that he is still as great a batsman as ever, and it may be confidently concluded that, if he is willing to go, the Selection Committee will jump at the chance of commanding his services. In any event, there should not be great difficulty in choosing a side powerful enough in batting for the needs of the occasion. The trouble will be the choice of bowlers likely to prove effective upon the heart-breaking wickets of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. These men must possess not only skill and perseverance, but great stamina for the Test matches will presumably average six days apiece. That was the experience of the cricketers who went out to Australia under Arthur Gilligan's leadership, and as Sheffield Shield matches this winter have yielded totals of 793, 637, 631 and several others of more than 500, there is no reason to conclude that conditions are different from what they were four years ago.
Cricket records, as given in Wisden, do not deal with any of those established after the close of the English season. The achievements of W. H. Ponsford during the past two or three months however, have been so remarkable that I must find room for a list of some of that player's performances that has been supplied to me by my friend Mr. Ashley-Cooper. In the first place, Ponsford, making 437 for Victoria against Queensland at Melbourne, has beaten the previous record for an individual score--his own 429 for Victoria against Tasmania at Melbourne put together in the winter of 1922-23. In eleven consecutive matches up to the end of 1927, he always reached three-figures in one innings or another. Four times he has made three consecutive hundreds:--162, 429 and 108 (these were registered in his second, third and fourth matches in first class cricket)--159, 110 and 110 not out--151, 352, and 108--and 133, 437 and 202. On four occasions he has put together innings of more than three hundred--429, 352, 437 and 336. One of the few things he has not done is to equal W. G. Grace's aggregate of 839 in three successive innings--344, 177 and 318 not out--but he came desperately near that achievement last December when he scored 437, 202 and 336 in following matches but broke the run of centuries with a score of 38 in the second innings of the match in which he obtained 202. Up to the end of last year he bad played sixty innings in first-class cricket, twice not out, making 5,582 runs and averaging 96.24.