Donning the helmet and more, 1981

Notes by the Editor

John Woodcock

This leads us to the much greater question of the desirability of further altering the Law of leg before wicket. (1934)

As to the events of the past year, the happiest man in the country must have been the born pessimist. In the course of 16 months our cricketers have lost a rubber in Australia, West Indies and South Africa in turn. (1936)

Of great leg-break bowlers there was none. (1939)

The fast natural pitch, made as level as a billard table by mowing, rolling and watering, would increase greatly the likelihood of a definite result in county matches. (1944)

In short ... English cricket needs an injection of culture and enterprise. (1952)

These extracts are taken from this corresponding article on the last five occasions that a new editor of Wisden has taken over, and they all, to some degree, apply today.

The Law of leg before is still under discussion; England are still losing successive rubbers to Australia and West Indies; there are now no English leg-break bowlers, let alone any great ones; fast natural pitches remain as elusive as ever; and English batsmanship is in need once again of an injection of culture.

So when I sound a cautionary note, or a sombre one, it will be in the established tradition of these notes. Deja vu you may think. There is one aspect, even so, of the year under review which is new and of great concern. This is the manner and frequency with which famous players have flouted the authority of the umpires.

In all the years that Wisden has been published, there can have been no more shocking photograph than that, to be found in the illustration section, of Michael Holding, the distinguished and richly talented West Indian fast bowler, kicking the stumps out of the ground in a Test match in New Zealand - for no other reason than that he disagreed with an umpire's decision.

Unbridled Dissent

Nor was this an isolated example of such unbridled dissent. In the same Test series Colin Croft, another of the West Indian fast bowlers, having lost his temper, sent an umpire flying as he ran into bowl. In India, at much the same time, the umpires were being denounced by the touring Pakistanis; in Perth, Dennis Lillee, the great Australian, held up play for ten minutes in a Test match between England and Australia while he argued with the umpires and his own captain over the use of an aluminium bat in which he had a proprietorial interest.

Technically Lillee had a point, there being nothing in the Laws at that time, though there is now, to say that a bat must be made of wood; morally, as he must have known, he should have done as the umpires asked him.

As disconcerting as these individual cases of defiance was the way in which they were glossed over by those whose responsibility it was to make an example of the players concerned. In New Zealand, the West Indian manager, himself a former Test player, blamed the umpires for what was happening. No wonder that when the West Indians left for home the New Zealand cricketing public, to quote R.T. Brittenden in his summary of the tour, "was glad to see the back of them".

In Australia, the Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board said that he could not understand what all the fuss was about over Lillee's insubordination. Ian Chappell, an outstanding batsman and conspicuously successful captain of Australia, was suspended once, and subsequently given a second suspended sentence, for tilting at the precept that the umpire's decision is final; but in Australia, as elsewhere, the standards of cricketing discipline have in recent years been regularly compromised.

Towards the end of 1980, however, it began to seem as though those who administer the game were themselves seeing the red light. In West Indies Gerry Gomez, a member of the West Indian Board of Control, advocated a series of fines aimed at calling the players to order. There was a move among members of the International Cricket Conference to appoint independent observers to Test series.

From Pakistan came a suggestion that Test umpires should be empowered to send players off the field. Even in Australia the senior players, or most of them, were looking for ways of keeping the hoodlums at bay.

Formidable West Indians

English cricket is certainly not blameless. Many young players, upon entering the county game, are surprised by the language they hear and the distractions they encounter. However, in England last season, among all those who played first-class cricket, there were signs that attitudes were being rethought. The Test matches against West Indies, and later the Centenary Test against Australia at Lord's, were played in a good spirit.

Only the weather prevented West Indies from beating England more comfortably than by a single victory. The West Indians, remorseless in certain tactical respects, were a powerful side and less prone than most of their predecessors to self-destruction. They and their manager, Clyde Walcott, were on their guard against such a collapse of morale and discipline as had undermined them in New Zealand earlier in the year.

There can never have been a side more heavily reliant on their fast bowlers than these West Indians, or better served by them. When the fifth Test match ended in August, West Indies had played ten Tests in 1980 and included a spin bowler in only one of them - that when, against all the odds, they lost to New Zealand in Dunedin.

It is a pity, none the less, to see them so committed to speed. A balanced attack adds to the joys of watching cricket; to sit through a day's play in which only 74 overs are bowled, as happened in the Oval Test match, does not.

In England last year Croft, Garner, Holding, Marshall and Roberts, the West Indian fast bowlers, were formidable in attack and effective in defence. Vivian Richards, one of the two Antiguans in the West Indian side, remains the world's most brilliant batsman. Sir Gary Sobers was the last most powerful single influence on the game; before that, Sir Donald Bradman was.

Rain and More Rain

The summer of 1980 was the wettest since 1958, when the New Zealanders, in England on a full tour, lost the equivalent of a month's cricket. In 1954 the first visit of the Pakistanis took place in a disastrously wet year. While in the 1932 Wisden, the editor in his Notes wrote of such deplorable weather being experienced in 1931 "that coming on top of the almost equally wet season of 1930, the loss of money rendered the position of several of the less wealthy counties serious to a degree. ... In first-class games there were 111 days on which not a ball could be bowled. ... The wet and cheerless weather not only discouraged people from attending matches owing to the discomfort it created but, in delaying play and destroying interest, exercised a further prejudicial effect upon the receipts."

In 1980 a colleague from the provinces went for six consecutive Saturdays without seeing a ball bowled. After a cool but uncommonly dry May it rained for most of the rest of the season.

The Sponsors' Rôle

That the same seventeen counties which made up the County Championship 50 years ago still do so today is due to a large extent to the generosity and abundance of the game's sponsors - from those who invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in it to others who pay perhaps once a season for the players' lunches on a county ground.

Each year cricket becomes increasingly dependent upon patronage. In a sense it is on a life-support machine, kept going by good will but threatened, like so much else, by the current recession, and the doubts concerning the future of cigarette advertising. Such happenings as those which made a travesty of the Saturday of the Centenary Test match are also of no encouragement to would-be sponsors.

The Centenary Fracas

This great jamboree, arranged to celebrate 100 years of Test cricket between England and Australia in England, had been eagerly awaited. Its counterpart, at Melbourne in 1977, had been a wonderful success. As will be clear from the account of it elsewhere in this almanack, last summer's match was ill-fated from the start.

Some would say that the hours from eleven o'clock until six o'clock on the Saturday were like a nightmare. So incensed were certain members of MCC by the middle of the afternoon that play was not in progress, owing, as they thought, to the obstinacy of the umpires, that a scuffle took place on the steps of the pavilion, in which the umpires, one or two members, and the captains were involved. As a result of it, the umpires were shaken, the reputation of MCC was damaged and the occasion impaired.

Two and a half months later, following what MCC described as a thorough inquiry - which included taking the evidence of the umpires, the captains and a number of members, and studying a BBC film recording of the incident - Peter May, President of MCC, wrote in a letter to all members of the club that "appropriate disciplinary action" had been taken. He made the point, too, that it was no more fitting for members of a club publicly to question the decision of the umpires, let alone abuse them, than for players to do so on the field.

If good is to come from a sorry affair, it will be to see that efforts are redoubled to provide the best possible covering on all first-class grounds, especially those where Test matches are staged. As many have said, it seems laughable to be able to land a man on the moon yet to have discovered no adequate way of protecting the square at Lord's.

Who Would Be an Umpire?

One way and another it was a difficult year for umpires. With such large amounts of prize-money at stake, and a levelling-out of standards in Test and other first-class cricket, the game is becoming ever more fiercely competitive and the umpire's job correspondingly more demanding. Not only that. Every decision a Test umpire makes is subjected to a slow-motion television replay. In the Jubilee Test Match which England played in Bombay on their way home from Australia in February (50 years had passed since the Board of Control for Cricket in India was officially constituted), an umpire was constrained to change a decision. Having shown his surprise at being given out to an appeal for a catch at the wicket, Taylor, the England wicket-keeper, was reprieved upon the request of the Indian captain. That this, however well intentioned, was a misguided gesture became more clear in England's second innings when the same umpire, having given Boycott out, leg before wicket, changed his own mind when the batsman stood his ground. An umpire without confidence is worse than no umpire at all.

I am opposed to the idea of neutral umpires for Test matches. By the very nature of their job all umpires are fallible, whoever they may be, and on the rare occasions that I have wondered about the integrity of an umpire it has usually been because one side or the other has been harassing him. Remember, too, that if ever neutral umpires are introduced into Test cricket, England will never again have the benefit of playing under those who by common consent are the best of all umpires - the two dozen or so, that is, who stand day in and day out in the English county game. By the John Langridges of the world, that is. After 52 years as player and umpire in first-class cricket, Langridge has gone into honourable retirement.

The Over-rate Problem

Before moving on to other matters, I do enjoin umpires to keep a close eye on over-rates, especially in Test matches. For fear of being fined, as now happens, for dropping below nineteen overs an hour, English county sides are conscious of the need to keep moving. Unfortunately the International Cricket Conference allowed their annual meeting at Lord's last August to pass without giving more than a shadowy undertaking to keep an eye on what is becoming a cause for serious concern in the Test game. Meeting as they did immediately after a Test series in which England and West Indies had seldom bowled more than fifteen overs an hour and sometimes as few as twelve, the time was ripe for taking firm action. But nothing positive was done.

The Passing of WSC

On the surface, the end of traditional cricket's acrimonious dispute with Mr. Kerry Packer brought a reasonably harmonious return to normality. But at what cost to the game? Cricketers who were previously paid too little are now, in some cases, being paid more than the game can afford or they themselves are worth. Money has become the talk of the first-class dressing-rooms, with the average county cricketer feeling that Test players are getting a disproportionately large slice of the cake.

In Australia, one worrying aspect of the settlement which led to the running-down of World Series Cricket is the new structure of the first-class game there, this now being devised to accommodate commercial television. When England were in Australia in the winter of 1979-80, a tour they shared with West Indies, such was the confusion of fixtures that attendances and authenticity both suffered. The public seemed not to know what to expect next, or indeed for what trophy any given match was being played. As for the players, they were given little chance to settle down to any one type of cricket, whether one-day, four-day or five-day, all of which call for different tactics and not necessarily the same skills. It is important that before England tour Australia next, in 1982-83, they should negotiate resolutely for the itinerary they consider to be in the best interests of both countries.

Too Much Test Cricket

The reason most often given for the decline in interest in the first-class game in Australia is that it has reached the point of saturation. The same applies to association football in England. There is too much of it, just as there is now, to my mind, too much Test cricket. Between the middle of July 1979 and the middle of February 1980, a matter of seven months, India played seventeen Test matches. A series between them and West Indies, due to have taken place in March and April 1980, was cancelled simply because both countries were surfeited with Test cricket. Between December 1974 and the first week of September this year, England will have played Australia no fewer than 31 times. This is more than twice the rate at which they met until only a few years ago. In 1981, for the first time in England, Australia are playing six Test matches. We must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Also for the first time in England there will be Test cricket on Sundays in 1981 - not in every Test but at Trent Bridge, Edgbaston and Old Trafford. The case for this, by those keen to make it, was strengthened by the loss of so much play on the first three days of last year's Centenary Test. Both captains expressed the view then that the Sunday should have been set aside for making up time lost. The decision now taken to implement Sunday play means that in three of this season's Test matches there will be no rest day. Thinking, as I do, that both players and public need one, and being opposed to the advancing tide of Continentalism on Sundays, this is a barrier which I would rather had not been broken down. So, no doubt, would John Player and Sons who, since their Sunday League began in 1969, have had Sunday afternoons more or less to themselves.

The Night Experiment

New to the English scene in 1980 was night cricket, played on football grounds. Though the cricket itself was of no consequence, a germ has been implanted. There are, in cricketing administration today, marketing men whose desire to bring money into the game causes them to trifle with its origins and gamble with its charm. Night cricket in Sydney, being on a genuine cricket ground, indeed a great one, can be a dazzling spectacle, not far removed from the real thing; at Stamford Bridge it smacks of gimmickry. Should it ever catch on, it may have to be given another name, which is not to dismiss it as being of no threat to the present game. I have not included in this edition of Wisden the scores of the three night matches played in England last summer because they were meaningless.

Middlesex Win the Championship

The most coveted prize in English cricket, the Schweppes County Championship, was won for the third time in the last five years by Middlesex, who were gallantly pursued right to the last by Surrey. When they were all fit, Daniel, van der Bijl, Selvey, Emburey and Edmonds comprised as strong a county attack as any since the Bedsers, Laker, Loader and Lock bowled for Surrey in the 1950s. With Brearley, a full-time county cricketer now that he is no longer England's captain, Barlow, Gatting, Radley and the West Indian, Roland Butcher, all averaging over 40, the Middlesex batting was good enough, van der Bijl, a giant South African who had already taken more wickets in South Africa's Currie Cup competition than anyone before him, had been signed during the winter of 1979-80 for one year's county cricket, which was something he had always wanted to have. This was when Middlesex thought that Daniel was certain to be chosen for last summer's West Indian tour of England. In the event, Daniel was overlooked by West Indies and Middlesex were left with not one but two formidable opening bowlers.

The Overseas Influence

Yet even to some of their own supporters, Middlesex's victory meant less than if it had not owed so much to overseas assistance. The extent to which these cricketers from abroad are being allowed to hinder the progress of young English talent has become an intolerable frustration to the England selectors. Time after time in 1980, Alec Bedser, in his nineteenth season as a selector and his eleventh as Chairman, went, as he hoped, to see an England candidate in action, only to spend most of his day watching someone bat or bowl who was ineligible to play for England. At different times during the season ten West Indians, four South Africans, two Pakistanis, two Australians, a Zimbabwian and a New Zealander were to be found opening the bowling in English county cricket.

It was the same in batting. There were days when the first three places in the Gloucestershire order were occupied by two Pakistanis and a South African, and when most of Derbyshire's runs were scored by a New Zealander, a South African, a 38-year-old exile from Northamptonshire and a 37-year-old Yorkshireman who had recently been under suspension for the manner in which he had left Lancashire, his previous employers. Not surprisingly, K. J. Barnett, a Derbyshire cricketer of high promise, was deprived of the opportunities which he needed and England need him to have.

There are many other examples of how counties, in trying to buy success for themselves, are impeding England's prospects. Sussex, heavily overdrawn, were in the absurd position in 1980 of employing three highly paid overseas players, of whom, in County Championship matches, they were allowed at any one time to include only two. Imran Khan and Le Roux, although no doubt they helped to win Sussex a match or two, are both opening bowlers; as such they hindered the advancement of Pigott, a young Englishman who has thrown in his lot with Sussex, and hastened the retirement of Spencer. Wessels, a South African living in Australia, for whom he is now qualified to play, was Sussex's third overseas player.

The Selectors' Difficulties

There must in the circumstances be much sympathy for the England selectors. They are being hopelessly hamstrung. It is the present intention of the counties that they shall each be limited, from 1982 onwards, to one overseas player, other than those who were already registered with them, or in the process of being, in November 1978. Against the day when this happens, towards the end of last season Gloucestershire had their captain, Procter, converted into an Englishman. Although the regulations entitled Gloucestershire to do so ( Procter now has a home in England and it is ten years since he played for South Africa), their motives were purely subjective. As an Englishman Procter will no longer count as an overseas player when, next year, the rules of qualification are tightened.

As I write these notes, a Test and County Cricket Board working party, under the chairmanship of C. R. M. Atkinson, a former Somerset captain, is looking into the idea of introducing some system of compensation to be awarded to counties whose players are lured away by the offer of a more lucrative contract. As the doors close to players from overseas, the richer counties may be expected to look to other counties, rather than other countries, to strengthen their sides, in which case a transfer market could well develop.

Technically, once Procter had been registered as an Englishman there was nothing to stop him from being chosen to go with the England side to West Indies. The selectors had already picked a West Indian ( Butcher) who had lived in England since he was a boy, and on merit Procter was eminently worth a place. There was, of course, a political reason for not taking him: whatever England's cricketing regulations may say, Procter is a South African, and in the West Indies South Africans are taboo. Many fine cricketers frim overseas have enhanced the English county game - by way of entertainment, quality and example. But by their very numbers they have now become an embarrassment.

England's New Captain

Ian Botham's accession to the England captaincy emphasised how much Brearley, his successor, had meant in his measured way to the England side. It was Brearley's reluctance to tour any more that forced the selectors to make a change, and although Fletcher, Rose, David Lloyd, Knight, Hampshire and Boycott all had their advocates to succeed him, Brearley was known to favour Botham, who, once he had been given last summer's six Test matches, was the logical choice to take the side to the West Indies.

Botham's start in what is an increasingly taxing job was inauspicious. Suffering from a back injury which slowed him down as a bowler, and faced with leading a pedestrian England side against the West Indians, he was unable to reproduce the brilliant form that had enabled him, within a fortnight in February, to score 119 not out against Australia in Melbourne and dominate the Jubilee Test match in Bombay. Moreover, owing to a calendar in which so many days are given over to one-day cricket, Botham went from June 4 to August 3 without playing a single first-class innings for his county. It was hardly surprising that he complained of having no chance to bat himself into form for the Test matches.

Donning the Helmet

Last year was the first in which helmets, or reinforced caps, became standard wear in first-class cricket. When, as more often than not, they have a visor attached, they reduce the batsman, or short-leg fielder, to wretched anonymity. I find it sartorially and aesthetically an objectionable trend. It has, furthermore, detracted from the artistry of batting. As you would expect, old players deplore the sight of a helmeted batsman. Yet if their use saves cricketers from serious injury, they must be allowed. Had short-pitched bowling, over the years, not got so out of hand, they would not be necessary. But it has, and because of the protection which helmets afford, there may in future be more bumpers than ever. This, certainly, is something which umpires will need to watch. The game's administrators would prefer to prohibit the use of helmets in the field. Here too, though, there is the aspect of safety. The helmet, it seems, has come to stay - an unsightly adjunct to an increasingly dangerous game.

The Gillette Connection

A word of gratitude to Gillette, who were one of the pioneers of modern cricket sponsorship, from which they have now withdrawn. So smoothly did their knockout cup overcome the objections to one-day cricket that one of their reasons for giving it up was that it had come to be associated not with anything they made but almost exclusively with cricket. Their place has been taken by the National Westminster Bank. At a dinner to mark the end of the Gillette connection, Clive Lloyd was nominated as the outstanding cricketer of their eighteen years in the game.

Full Covering

As the year ended, and to the dismay of many traditionalists, the seventeen first-class counties, through the Test and County Cricket Board, voted that in 1981 pitches should be fully covered in all Championship matches. Although groundsmen are to be asked to prepare drier pitches, which show earlier signs of wear, in order to compensate spin bowlers for being deprived of the occasional sticky dog to bowl on, this will be difficult to implement. At times, inevitably, the weather will prevent it; at others, broken pitches will be an embarrassment to the home authorities no less than to batsmen.

When pitches were last fully covered in Championship cricket, in 1959, the experiment was soon discontinued. Now that it is to be given another trial, it is as well to keep an open mind. I cannot forbear, even so, from lamenting even a temporary loss of a part of the very heritage of English cricket - a drying pitch and a sizzling sun. Some of the great feats of batsmanship have been performed under these conditions. It is to try to make county cricket as much as possible like Test cricket, in which full covering is universally practised, that the Test and County Cricket Board have taken this important decision.

When most concerns groundsmen about it are the ill-effects that come from a strip of turf being too regularly protected from the elements. The danger of disease increases, as was seen at Headingley in 1972 when fuserium fungus so ravaged the Test pitch. However, last December's change to full covering was not recommended without much careful consideration by the Cricket Committee of the Test and County Cricket Board. It had been rejected at the TCCB's Spring Meeting, when the Cricket Committee was under the chairmanship of P. B. H. May; when it was proposed again, and carried, D. J. Insole had taken the place of May, who by then was President of MCC.

A Restriction Ended

At this same December meeting it was decided to dispense with the 100 overs first innings limitation in County Championship matches. For many reasons it was felt to be doing more harm than good to English cricket. Among them were the unreasonable pressure it placed upon middle-order batsmen, many of them the less-experienced members of a side, to hit out wildly as the 100 overs ran out; the tendency for the fielding side to revert to negative tactics in the certain knowledge that their opponents' innings had only a short time to run; and the idea that it discouraged creative captaincy. Although bonus points in Championship cricket are likewise liable to encourage a fielding side to concentrate upon saving runs rather than taking wickets, they, for the moment, are to be retained.

© John Wisden & Co