Surely the season of 1975 will go down in the annals of English cricket as one of the best of all time. England did not regain The Ashes, but the presence of the Australians, coupled with the tremendous success of the Prudential World Cup during weeks of glorious sunshine, created new interest and brought back the crowds to the best of all games when the right conditions prevail.
At the beginning of August when England and Australia were engaged at Lord's in an intriguing contest it was hotter than in North Africa at 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature in the London area since July 1948. The Australians were also here then, so perhaps there was some excuse for the streaker who filled with Australian liquor, invaded the pitch while England were building up their second innings total of 436.
It was the Prudential Cup which first captured the public's attention with its wide coverage through the press, radio and television. On successive Saturdays, Australia and West Indies were locked in thrilling struggles; first when West Indies headed their group table above Australia with a great victory at The Oval. That day Fredericks and Kallicharran took delight in hooking the bouncers of Lillee and Thomson. Then seven days later the same two countries met again in the Final which began at 11 o'clock and finished nearly ten hours later with West Indies once more victorious, but only by the narrow margin of 17 runs. The gross receipts from a paying attendance of 20,452, came to £66,950, a record for a one-day match in Britain.
That was in mid-June and the way the whole World Cup series had commanded attention through the length and breadth of the country was evident in the increased crowds which gathered at the various county matches besides the games played by the Australians. After England's unhappy experiences earlier in the year in Australia, where Lillee and Thomson carried all before them, it was obvious that the crowds would flock to see these two splendid fast bowlers, bouncers and all. Yet, except when two small and plucky batsmen from Sri Lanka were laid low at The Oval I saw little to complain about in the methods of the five pronged Australian speed attack, which besides the leading pair also contained Gilmour, Walker and Hurst. Possibly the return of John Snow helped to place things on an even keel. To prevent negative tactics in the World Cup matches, the short-pitched over-the-head bouncer which virtually prevents a scoring stroke, was ruled out and this move, I felt, helped towards a reasonable pattern for the season.
When the England batsmen failed so lamentably in the World Cup semi-final at Headingley--the first seven wickets perished for 37 runs on a bad pitch--one had visions of Australia carrying all before them when the real Test Matches began. That a silver lining did eventually appear was in no small way due to the work of the selectors, of whom Sir Leonard Hutton, Charlie Elliott and Ken Barrington were new to the panel, chaired by Alec Bedser. I thought England made two vital errors during the four matches, the decision to put Australia in to bat in the first Test when rain was in the offing and the dropping of Woolmer for Fletcher at Leeds.
Some serious thinking had to be done following the hollow defeat in the first Test at Edgbaston. Denness, the captain, had already stood down once at Sydney owing to his poor form with the bat, and I understand that he made the same gesture during that match at Edgbaston. So the selectors turned to Greig, the tall volatile captain of Sussex, born in South Africa of a Scottish father. As a tactician, Greig, in my opinion, has yet to prove himself, but he has many splendid qualities. These were manifest on the very first day he took over the captaincy at Lord's and won the toss only to see Lillee and Thomson strike first and take the first four wickets for 49. At the crisis Greig rose supreme. His 96 in two and a half hours while David Steele was the sheet anchor, lifted England out of distress and when in turn seven Australian wickets tumbled for 81, there were visions of The Ashes coming back to England.
If Greig was an obvious choice as captain, the selectors showed a touch of genius in placing their faith in Steele and Woolmer as the men to plug the holes in the batting order. Long before the summer ended five of the run-getters who went to Australia: Amiss, D. Lloyd, Fletcher, Denness and Luckhurst, were discarded and only Edrich kept his place. Amiss is such a fine player on his day that one hopes his disappearance from the Test scene is only temporary and that he will find his best form again.
With the ball bouncing less in England than in Australia, the selectors looked for men whose main line of resistance was NOT on the back foot. So they went for Steele and Woolmer and the former at 33 years of age, bespectacled and grey--he might be taken for a University professor--made one wonder how many other reliable county cricketers might have served England well down the years had they not been left on the shelf.
Australia, having gone one up in the series with their win in the First Test, clung tenaciously to their advantage. They batted and bowled defensively except when they ran into trouble, but their downfall seemed probable at the end of the fourth day at Headingley. Then vandals sabotaged the pitch. Half a dozen holes had been dug in front of the popping crease at the pavilion end and motor oil poured over the same area. It was impossible to repair the damage immediately and so Rick McCosker, the Australian opening batsman, 95 not out, was robbed of the chance to complete his first Test hundred as was Alan Knott with 96 not out at Karachi in 1969 when riots on the terraces brought a summary end to the M.C.C. tour of Pakistan.
Few bowlers have enjoyed such a successful Test début as did Phil Edmonds, of Middlesex and Cambridge University on the second day of the Headingley match when at the age of 24 he took five Australian wickets for 17 in his first 12 overs. Taller and different in method from Underwood, Edmonds, born in Northern Rhodesia, with an English father and Belgian mother, learned most of his cricket at Skinners' School, Cranbrook and Cambridge. Edmonds did not fare so well when Australia batted a second time, nor did he cause them much bother in the final Test at The Oval, but he has arrived on the scene and with more experience, especially in the art of setting his field, he should prove an asset to England. More may also be heard of that splendid slip catcher, Graham Roope. Recalled for The Oval Test, he began disappointingly by dropping McCosker and getting a duck, but he redeemed himself with a dazzling catch and played a valuable knock of 77. Again, like Steele and Woolmer, a good front foot batsman.
England's new captain spent the winter in Australia at the invitation of the Dolphins group of fifty sportsmen and cricket lovers who formed a supporters' association to raise money after a fire started by vandals at Sydney's Waverley Cricket Club. Chris Walton, who captained Oxford University in 1957 and is now Waverley's President, emphasised that Greig would not be available for first-class cricket in Australia. He would not disclose the fee, but it was reckoned that Greig netted £12,000 during his stay down under. The Waverley Club is in the popular Bondi Beach district of Sydney and its badge shows two dolphins sporting around a trident.
No sooner had the Australian team returned home to meet the West Indies than another bumper war broke out. When Denness and his M.C.C. team were in Australia the previous year their cracked ribs, broken fingers and bruised heads drew no sympathy from the Australian crowds or players. Yet when the Australian batsmen received similar treatment from Andy Roberts and Co., some Australian players were warning that somebody might get killed, and pleading for the introduction of headguards. In fact, Martin Bedkober, 22, a flat-mate of Jeff Thomson, died in hospital in Brisbane just before Christmas after being struck in the chest by a ball while batting. Little short of twelve months earlier Ewan Chatfield, the New Zealand Test player, had been snatched from death's door when he received a hair-line fracture of the skull in Auckland from a bouncer delivered by Peter Lever, playing for M.C.C.
Over forty years ago during D. R. Jardine's M.C.C. tour of Australia, the Australian Board of Control cabled M.C.C. at Lord's: "Body-line bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best interests of the game. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanslike. Unless stopped at once it is likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia and England...We are deeply concerned that the ideals of the game shall be protected and have, therefore, appointed a committee to report on the action necessary to eliminate such bowling from Australian cricket as from the beginning of the 1933-34 season."
While no one can object to fast bowling--one of the main attractions of the game--nor the occasional bouncer, the International Cricket Conference should pay serious attention to intimidation of the batsman. Too much responsibility is placed upon the umpires as regard unfair play. No bowler has ever been banned for deliberately aiming at the batsmen with the threat of injury. The responsibility surely lies with the captains, but Ian Chappell and Mike Denness, on the last M.C.C. tour to Australia, said the matter rested with the umpires. Dr. R. W. Cockshut, a constant critic of the bumper, has stated that, actuarily, we may expect in 1976 up to ten deaths and forty irreversible brain injuries caused by impact of cricket ball on skull and he hopes that the trouble will be dealt with at source. He suggests that any ball which would hit a batsman standing up on any part of his anatomy on a line above the hips, should be called a bumper by the umpire and 10 runs added to the score. Bumpers would disappear overnight; the batsman could play in the certain knowledge that he would not be attacked by a lethal missile travelling at over 140 feet per second.
Turning to more pleasant matters, cricket in England had to be grateful to the Australians for staying after the Prudential Cup and playing four Tests which yielded gross receipts of £278,805 including £119,692 for the Test at Lord's, a record for any match in Britain. The counties shared a record profit of £625,000 and yet the financial plight among some remains extremely serious. The problem is how to keep pace with continuing inflation.
A new name has been written on the scroll of County Champions with Leicestershire taking the title for the first time in their life span of 96 years. Their rise to the top has been a club effort with their enterprising secretary, Mike Turner, playing a major part behind the scenes. His was a master stroke when he lured Ray Illingworth to Grace Road in 1969. First, England benefited from Illingworth's skilful leadership and now when he has been able to devote the whole summer to Leicestershire, in the space of three years they have twice carried off the Benson & Hedges trophy, the John Player League once, and now the biggest prize of all, the County Championship. And they went to Buckingham Palace to receive the trophy from the Duke of Edinburgh. Only four counties, Essex, Northamptonshire, Somerset and Sussex have yet to be proclaimed champions.
Moves are afoot and may have already been announced by the time these Notes are read to change the conduct of the County Championship. The present limitation of the numbers of overs to 100 in the first innings and the method of awarding bonus points are unsatisfactory. The hectic chase for runs as the day progresses means that bowlers obtain undeserved wickets and this is not conducive to developing promising batsmen or bowlers into Test material. There is pressure for a programme of 24 matches for each county, with, I hope, no restriction on length of innings and no bonus points at all. In fact, proper first-class cricket. The only problem would be how to deal with a shortened rain spoiled game.
Well over forty years ago this would have been no surprise banner-line when Jack Hobbs was in his heyday. Yet it was no relation of the Master, but Robin Hobbs, of Essex, who caught the headlines towards the end of August when he scored a century in 44 minutes against the Australians at Chelmsford. It was the fastest hundred since Percy Fender's all-time record of 35 minutes at Northampton for Surrey in 1920 and according to my reckoning the fourth fastest in the history of first-class cricket. Following Fender's rapid hundred, come two by Gilbert Jessop: 100 in 40 minutes against Yorkshire at Harrogate, 1897 and 100 in 42 minutes for Gentlemen of the South against Players of the South at Hastings, 1907. Some record books place A. H. Hornby, son of A. N. Hornby fourth; his 100 against Somerset at Old Trafford in 1905 is given in 43 minutes, but the official history of Lancashire, published in 1954 with statistics by C. M. Oliver, gives Hornby's time as 48 minutes.
Earlier in the summer, Keith Boyce hit the fastest Championship hundred for 38 years when he reached three figures for Essex against Leicestershire, also at Chelmsford, in 58 minutes. Most of Hobbs's runs came off two spin bowlers, Mallett (off-breaks) and Higgs (leg-breaks), and Hobbs said afterwards that he had no idea of time. He just went out determined to have a good slog and entertain the crowd, which he certainly did. His benefit in 1974 realised £13,500.
Percy Fender, who at the age of 80 still directs The London Wine Exchange, in a charming letter, gave his version to my enquiry during the autumn: "All I can tell you about that innings at Northampton is that when I went in to bat, I knew that Wilkinson (the Surrey captain), was wanting to declare so I looked at the clock to see how long I had before tea (the second day) and it was then seven minutes past four o'clock. When we came in to tea at 4.30, I was 91. That is all I can say of my own knowledge, for the rest I have to rely upon what has been written by others. Boyington was the Surrey scorer then and I have always been told that he wrote against the name of each batsman the time when he went in to bat. The scorebook of the day, if still in existence, would confirm that if it is true." (Neither Surrey nor Northamptonshire still have those books.--Ed.)
"I only know that, at tea Wilkinson told me to 'get on with it' as he would make his declaration as soon as I got my hundred. When Peach got his 200, I was 99, and the over was completed. I have always thought that there were two other points of considerable interest that day. First, that Peach and I must have made about 170 runs during the time we were at the wicket together, viz., 42 minutes, and secondly the fact that Northants made nearly 750 runs in their two innings added together, yet lost the match by eight wickets, all in three six-hour days".
This match produced 1,475 runs, still a record for county cricket. The summarised scores are: Northamptonshire 306 (F. Walden 128, C. N. Woolley 58) and 430 (R. A. Haywood 96, W. Wells 71); Surrey 619 for five dec. (H. A. Peach 200*, A. Ducat 149, P. G. H. Fender 113*, A. Sandham 92) and 120 for two (J. B. Hobbs 54, T. Shepherd 42*). Wisden's main comment was that Surrey's huge total was the more remarkable as Hobbs contributed only three runs to it!
While on the subject of high and fast scoring, it was no mean feat by Gordon Greenidge at Southampton at the end of August to hit 259 against Sussex, even if they were without Snow and Greig. Hampshire's total of 501 was the highest for a limited 100 overs innings, and Greenidge's 259 was the best for Hampshire since the war. Also his thirteen 6's set a record for a Championship innings as it surpassed C. J. Barnett's eleven 6's for Gloucestershire against Somerset at Bath in 1934.
By 1980 the Wrigley Cricket Foundation, which was set up in 1969, will have contributed £110,000 towards the cost of running cricket in the United Kingdom. During the winter the Foundation, through its vice-president, Mr. Frank Hoppe, signed a new agreement with the National Cricket Association whereby it will continue to make available £10,000 per annum during the next three years for the development of Youth Cricket. The aims are to stimulate and encourage an interest in the playing of cricket by the young and their achievement of a greater proficiency and skill in the game. Since the middle of 1973 over 12,500 boys and girls have passed proficiency award tests.
The Wrigley Foundation also sponsored the National six-a-side indoor competition which in its inaugural year was completed in March 1976 with the semi-finals and final at the Sobell Centre, Islington. More than 400 clubs from 25 counties entered the competition which received prize money of £750 from Wrigley. £200 went to the winning club; £100 to the runners-up; £50 each to two losing semi-finalists; £25 each to four losing quarter-finalists and £10 each to the winning club in each of the 25 counties. Mr. F. R. Brown, Chairman of the Foundation, said "I am convinced indoor cricket stimulates interest in the game in the close season. It is a logical adjunct of coaching and training because it goes much farther than restricted indoor practice. Emphasis on sharp fielding and physical fitness appeals greatly to younger players".
South Africa's three racially-separate cricket boards met in Johannesburg in January 1976 and, according to Reuter, called for multi-racial cricket at all levels to help put the republic back into international sport. A change to normal cricket, defined as competition between all cricketers regardless of race, creed, or colour in cricket at club level under one provincial governing body was called for in a resolution passed by delegates from all three bodies.
The three--the South African Cricket Board of Control handling Indian, Asian and Coloured (mixed race) cricket, the South African Cricket Association, governing whites, and the South African Cricket Board--also agreed to merge.
Informed sources have indicated that the Government would be prepared to see a gradual change over to sporting multi-racialism, at least in cricket and possibly football. With the frustrations caused by lack of international competition the Government could see the need for change.
The move for multi-racial cricket came from the groups controlling the game. Mr. Piet Koornhof, the Sports Minister, made no effort to dampen the negotiations.
Given government blessing, the resolution could pave the way for South Africa's re-entry into Test cricket because mixing at club level has been a main demand by other countries. But at this stage a mixed-race South African team still seems out of the question under the policy of dividing the country into one white and ten black states.
The resolution said in part: "This meeting resolves that SACBOC, SAACB and SACA hereby adopt the principle that cricket in South Africa be played on a normal basis under the controlling aegis of one united governing body in South Africa, the name and composition and constitution of which will be agreed as soon as possible."
Already there are a handful of non-whites playing in "white" clubs, a few unofficial matches have been played between black and white teams and at least one Indian umpire stands regularly at matches between whites. But to make the resolution work, white clubs must open their doors to black players.