Science is at the expense of enjoyment, 1965

Cricket an art not a science

Sir Learie Constantine

Sir Learie Constantine, who provided spectators with so much enjoyment whether batting, bowling or fielding, bemoans the science which has come to cricket at the expense of enjoyment. Averages in his 18 Test Matches do not show the debt the game owed to Constantine for about 15 years before the last World War. He is one of the few touring cricketers to score 1,000 runs and take some 100 wickets in a season in England and people still recall with awe some of his memorable all-round performances. Constantine was awarded the M.B.E. in 1964, became Trinidad's High Commissioner to Britain in 1961 and was Knighted in 1961. He watched all the Tests in 1964 between England and Australia.

Cricket is an Art, apart from the fact that it is a Game. To hold any contrary view is wrong and is a disservice to the game. ART is an expression of the emotions and creative imagination in terms of line, form and colour; or in sound, gesture and rhythmic movement. This definition is not mine, although it fits aptly into my cricket philosophy. I am indebted to Annandale's large type concise English Dictionary.

I am inspired to write under this heading in order to arrest a trend, or at least to make exponents of the "Scientific" approach hesitate a little, for if the whole of West Indies cricket were to accept this as their way of life, it is bound to spell the death-knell of our beloved game. This scientific germ, dangerously contagious, has already penetrated into the blood-stream of the game in Trinidad, and Jamaica, not to speak of England, Australia, India, Pakistan.

The pattern was set by Sir Leonard Hutton whose success, at a period when Australia, under Sir Donald Bradman dominated the field, set the cricket-world alight. All those countries which opposed Australia while Sir Donald was rampant were common victims of his skill as a player, and his genius and technical direction as a captain. England, New Zealand, South Africa, India, all went down under this great Cricketer.

The West Indies did not come under his lash as a Captain, for we had visited before he took over, or after he had retired. It is a pity that we too did not get our lesson and experience in ruthlessness, the quality and method of approach for which Sir Donald Bradman became famous. One man alone who could have matched him, and might in fact have inspired Sir Donald -- Douglas Jardine left the field soon after the West Indies tour of 1933.

Whatever may be said of Sir Donald and his period of domination, he never abandoned the true spirit of cricket. In fact his exploits never extended beyond the law and rules made under it.

So that the story of his acceptance of Verity's challenge at Lord's on a doubtful wicket, when the bowler removed his deep mid-on -- leaving the space wide open and getting Sir Donald caught trying to find the opening is characteristic of the man's temperament. That is the spirit of dedication, that is the spirit of which I speak.

Sir Leonard wrested the laurels and the Ashes from Australia by devising and putting into operation a defensive mechanism which carried all before him. And even when it did not succeed, it so often did not lose.

This may have been the only answer that English cricket could find at the time to break the Australian domination, and it is now generally accepted that crises throw up the man; but what was not foreseen -- the general adoption of this new caution -- was the manner in which it would be used to plague players and spectators alike. And it would not be an exaggeration to state that this success heralded the extension of this new approach -- a quasi-automation -- trying to reduce the game to one of the exact sciences.

The scoring rate was almost controlled, and this had as its main objective the elimination of risks, with an important subsidiary consideration, that of occupying the crease for not less than a minimum period of time calculated on the basis that such occupation closes the door to defeat -- bar accidents.

It became necessary to evolve a technique consistent with the new approach -- that of the elimination of risks, and there and then playing down the line became the vogue of the period. Playing across the line became a dirty phrase.

So now the left foot instinctively moves forward -- before the ball is bowled, the left elbow cocked, and in that position -- unless the ball is pitched up to the batsman he cannot drive, nor can he hook, and the cut, provided he chooses to make it, becomes a slash. In fact almost all the strokes in that early movement increase the margin of error, and because the intention is to reduce -- not increase the margin, the stroke is entirely eliminated.

On the other hand the bowlers who have been trying from time immemorial to equate the situation between batsmen and themselves, finding that only bad balls are punished -- if at all -- have devised the scheme of bowling short of a length, waiting for the prods and pushes which have become the standard shots of the day.

Meanwhile another self-imposed discipline has crept into play -- that of not lifting the ball. This is logical if risk is eschewed. But it has one fatal consequence so far as cricket as a game is concerned -- it opens up the opportunities for fielding captains to limit still further, the rate of scoring.

The new l.b.w. rule -- a ball pitching outside the off-stump and breaking or swinging in, will on appeal be allowed, if the ball is on the wicket and will hit but for the obstruction by the batsman -- has made its contribution to the forward play attitude, for

  • the batsman has the opportunity of obstructing before the ball gets in a line with his wicket, and
  • (b)

  • umpires are reluctant to uphold an appeal if the left-leg is stretched right down the line of the ball, for there is always doubt as to whether the ball will go past the wicket on the leg-side. The benefit of the doubt is always, and rightfully so, given to the batsman.

So the crux of the situation is that batsmen have cut out all risks, bowlers retaliate by bowling short of a length, and captains set defensive fields, reducing even a well executed placement shot into a single run. To amass a large score in any first-class game involves the absorbtion of time. And if two sides adopt the same policy the match is bound to end in a stalemate. It is in this atmosphere and against this background the game has been mistakenly identified as a Science.

What is a Science? Again I refer readers to Annandale's definition: "A systematic pursuit of knowledge in many fields of study." Does this definition fit the present-day player? If it does, I am only wasting my time, for the knowledge which it is hoped to be acquired depends on application and experience.

On the other hand may I go into the definition of "Game"? Annandale defines it as "Joy, Pleasure, Delight, Gratification". This includes Sport of every kind, jest, play. Some contrivance or arrangement for sport, recreation, or testing skill and the like -- Cricket or Bowls. Has Annandale got it wrong too?

I do not really think it is necessery to remind the older players what the game stands for, but the youngster who is coached and fed by the present-day method, may never truly discover the depth of feeling of joy and ecstasy and often disappointments that Cricket alone can create.

What has happened to the hundred before lunch, is that never to happen again? Is it being suggested that Kanhai and Butcher, Sobers and an uninhibited Dexter have no place in the modern scientific age? Is it true that Sir Donald Bradman would have been reduced to a mere pedestrian if he were playing at the present time?

Those who were not fortunate enough to see Rohan Kanhai make his 190 in 190 minutes at Edgbaston in September against an England team comprising England's top bowlers, missed the treat of their lives. This was an expression of a deeper feeling, a protest against the present-day approach.

Dexter was captain and he indulged in his usual defensive field placing. That did not deter, not did it restrict Kanhai. Fours and sixes flowed from his bat as if he were playing against nondescripts on a Village Green. In fact there was creative imagination and rhythmic movement with perfect timing. We might never see its like again.

Those who concern themselves about the financial angle of cricket might do worse than offer an annual prize of £250, for the best speed-bowling performance through the season. A judging committee could easily be appointed for that purpose. There might even be a penalty for slowing up pitches too much. This decision could be left to the umpires.

In England fast bowlers have to bowl against enough natural disadvantages provided by a bountiful Nature. And when groundsmen add water and toning down fluids to pitches already subdued -- this to me is the end. Like it or not, what people pay to see is fast bowling and fast scoring played in a serious way. It may or may not be cricket, but that is what they pay to see.

I would if I had any authority discard averages and all cricket tables. Players could keep their own averages if they like, but I would not have the public told. Averages have been the bane of cricket in the past twenty years in England.

The plodding, dogged, talented batsmen have shewn us more poisonous stickability at the crease than any one ought to have to witness. Genius has been ruthlessly reprimanded, because a century one day and a duck the next is not what we need in this county. As one great Royal Academician had said -- "some people expect one to produce a Masterpiece every day".

Genius is slightly mad, and most erratic, but this is not what is wanted. What is wanted is averages. Wealth is not wanted in this modern cricket world, nor good friends or bonhomie, nor do they want lighting in the fingers. Elegance or style would be acceptable, but it must fit into the averages. The speed of the convoy is the speed of the slowest ship.

I feel and I know that this is a passing phase. It has happened before, and I expect it will happen again. But I must not be considered intemperate if I want to see the change in my lifetime. It will create joy and the warmth which so often the climate does not provide.

© John Wisden & Co