To return to England's problems. Players have to be found this summer to take part in the Prudential (World) Cup and the four Test Matches that will follow against Australia. The time would seem to be ripe not only to look at the constitution of the team but also the make-up of the Selection Committee, which might include Charlie Elliott, a man of vast experience who is no longer on the Umpires' panel. Personally, I was disappointed that England relied on so many of the old brigade for the tour of the Antipodes. The side was rich in experience, but the three youngest, Willis, Old and Hendrick, were 25. Kent have three men, besides Denness, Knott and Underwood, looking for a chance-- Johnson, opening bat and off-spinner, Woolmer, batsman and medium pacer, and Ealham, a stocky hard-hitting bat and possibly the best outfielder in the country with a deadly return to the stumps.
Trevor Jesty, of Hampshire, is another all-rounder, and others who come to mind are two tall Somerset youngsters, Ian Botham, a 19-year-old opening bowler and splendid batsman, and Peter Denning, a left-handed bat. Another left-handed bat who looked very good last summer is Kennedy of Lancashire, and at Northampton there is Willey of upright cultured strokes. Challenging Underwood, is Edmonds, a former Cambridge University captain, who has shone for Middlesex with left arm slows of impeccable length and flight. Two years ago, high opinions were held of Randall, of Nottinghamshire, a tall stylish bat, but he fell away. Perhaps his confidence will return in 1975. I would particularly like to see Botham given a chance while he is young and enthusiastic.
England found only one new Test batsman in 1974, David Lloyd, the 27-year-old Lancashire captain and left hander. Much satisfaction was felt when all three Tests with India were won comfortably, but the side led by Ajit Wadekar possessed no fast bowler and when Denness's men faced Pakistan they were severely troubled by two hostile experts, Asif Masood and Sarfraz Nawaz, just as they were the previous summer when opposed to Keith Boyce of West Indies who was adequately supported by Holder, Sobers and Julien.
Unfortunately in a cold and wet summer not only were county matches affected, but the Indians failed to do themselves justice and all three Tests with Pakistan were spoiled at some stage by the weather. Consequently, the rain seeped into cricket's profits. The distribution to counties in 1974 was down to £460,000, a drop of £135,000 on 1973. Several counties found themselves in serious financial difficulties. Gloucestershire reckoned a loss of about £30,000 on the year, Hampshire £10,000, Middlesex £15,000, Nottinghamshire£9,000 and Yorkshire £7,000.
Gloucestershire launched a fund to raise £25,000 to overcome the worst financial crisis in the county's history. An appeal was made to business firms suggesting that one hundred each donate an interest free loan of £250, the proposed sale of the Bristol ground having been abandoned. The Middlesex president, G. C. Newman, wrote to the 7,000 members appealing for a minimum donation of £10 from each as the county would face bankruptcy by the end of this summer unless an additional £20,000 was forthcoming. Hampshire proposed increasing membership fees, but they will not play at Portsmouth because a stand at the United Services ground which screened the railway has been demolished.
Four of the first eight counties to finish in the Championship, Worcestershire, Hampshire, Surrey and Lancashire were each fined £1,000 by the Test and County Cricket Board for failing to average 18.50 overs per hour during the 1974 season. The fines were shared equally by players and their clubs. Only Middlesex (19.80) managed to surpass 19.50 whereas in 1973 four counties, Derbyshire, Essex, Glamorgan and Middlesex achieved that target. Three of the four counties were challenging strongly for the Championship throughout the season; Surrey tailed into seventh place and Lancashire were the only unbeaten side in the Championship and in all first-class matches.
Norman Gifford, the Worcestershire captain, said he believed in the principle of penalising counties unable to keep up a rate of 18.50 overs an hour, but he was not particularly happy about the players having to pay £500 of the fine out of the £3,000 they had won for finishing champions. It is the price we have paid for success. Our three quick bowlers have all been successful and while they have bowled out teams in the first innings our over rate has suffered, Gifford remarked. He considered that a modification to the rule was necessary and thought the answer might be for a side to have time deducted in instances where they bowl out the opposition in under 100 overs.
It seems unfair that while teams and players in the County Championship labour under a penalty, touring sides can get away with 15 or 16 overs an hour and the same applies to England and their opponents in Test Matches. Possibly the option of taking the new ball should be delayed or better still one ball per innings, which used to be the case. Then more overs would be delivered each hour with more scope given to slow bowlers. This would encourage the re-development of the wrist spinner, who has almost disappeared from the English cricket scene. Too often play is held up by captains who deliberately waste time walking almost down to the sight screen to talk to the bowler or make unnecessary field changes for the purpose of disturbing the batsman's concentration. This is particularly the case in Tests. Cricketers in England and West Indies will be pleased that after only one year's trial the limitation on leg-side fielders which in International cricket was five has been lifted with the exception that no more than two, as now, shall field behind square-leg. Lance Gibbs has posted as many as seven on the leg side in the West Indies, which his skill warranted, and, in England, conditions sometimes call for similar placings.
Among a number of counties that have never won a major competition is Somerset. Could 1975 be their year? One has only to pay a visit to the Taunton area to hear them sing the praises of Brian Close, discard of Yorkshire. He joined them four years ago and was given the captaincy after one season. From a collection of individuals Close has knitted Somerset into a combined unit. He has shed none of his Yorkshire dourness, although he is now 44, nor has he shed any of his talent whether batting, bowling, fielding in a suicidal position, nor his flair for leadership. Bill Andrews, the former pace bowler, coach and general factotum, who was mainly responsible for urging the county to engage Close, says: He plays for us as hard as he ever did for Yorkshire and that's the best compliment I can pay him.
Last July Close was dismissed twice for nought for the first time in his career of 26 seasons by Middlesex at Taunton, and sure enough someone had to pay for it. A few weeks later at Swansea, Close (96) and D. J. S. Taylor (179) made a record fourth wicket partnership for Somerset of 226 in just over three and a quarter hours. This was Taylor's first hundred in first-class cricket and the stand surpassed that of H. Gimblett and G. E. S. Woodhouse who put on 200 against Middlesex at Taunton in 1946.
Close has reached one special milestone as an all-rounder, being the sixth player to complete 30,000 runs and 1,000 wickets. He follows in the wake of W. G. Grace, W. Rhodes, G. H. Hirst, F. E. Woolley, and J. W. Hearne.
During the summer Close also enjoyed the distinction of hitting his fiftieth century--against Leicestershire at Weston--and with nineteen 6's in the season in the John Player League he beat S. E. Leary's seventeen for Kent in 1970. Sometimes Close has caused annoyance, notably in 1968 at Edgbaston when his delaying tactics robbed Warwickshire of victory and led to the introduction of the Law compelling at least 20 overs to be bowled when the last hour has been reached. Also in the vital John Player League match last summer, Somerset's last man, A. A. Jones, took a fearful time to get to the crease. As it happened rain intervened. In such circumstances surely the offending side should suffer some penalty.
During the past twelve months there were six awards to personalities in the world of cricket. In the Queen's Birthday honours K. R. Stackpole, the dashing Australian opening batsman, who had previously announced his retirement, received the M.B.E., which also went to C. R. Hansford, secretary of the English Schools Cricket Association, and to T. E. Smith, the indefatigable General Secretary of the Association of Cricket Umpires. Then at the New Year came the announcement of a Knighthood for Garfield Sobers, the West Indies cricketer, C.B.E. to S. C. Griffith, and O.B.E. to B. E. Congdon, the New Zealand captain, who was one of the Five Cricketers in last year's Wisden. The award to Billy Griffith came following his retirement after 22 years as Secretary of M.C.C. In November, M.C.C. expressed its official gratitude with a dinner at Lord's, given by the 57 men who had sat on the Committee during his 12 years in office, a most difficult period in the history of the game which included all the controversy over South Africa and their indefinite suspension from the Test Match scene. All the changes of personnel which have taken place at Lord's over the past year are given at the beginning of the section devoted to The Marylebone Club.