A strangely varied experience of the vicissitudes of cricket has England undergone during the past few years. In the spring of 1930, with a visit from Australia impending, England's most recent tour in the Commonwealth had resulted in four wins being registered to set against one defeat while, during the summer of 1929, out of five Test matches with South Africa in this country, the only two brought to a definite issue had each yielded England a victory. Different indeed is the International situation to-day. Of three games with Australia played out in 1930, two ended in brilliant triumphs for that country and in the ensuing winter when in South Africa only one Test could be finished, that encounter saw the Union successful by 28 runs. In neither of these series of contests was the superiority of the Dominion players so pronounced as that of the Englishmen had been just previously and in connection with the close issue in South Africa, the point could be urged that the England side was not fully representative of the strength of the Old Country and that it laboured under severe handicaps but there is no gainsaying the fact that in the course of the last two years England, engaging in rubbers with their two chief rivals, have suffered defeat in both.
At the end of the forthcoming season we have to send a team out to Australia and it would be idle to suggest that the undertaking is being approached with great confidence. Likely enough in looking round for batsmen, the Selectors may discover the men required even if it is impossible to conceive of Hobbs' place being filled by a player of anything approaching the class of the Surrey man. The bigger difficulty threatens to lie in the choice of bowlers. Of those who shared in the triumph in Australia during the winter of 1928-29, Larwood is still in the twenties, but Tate, if no more than 37, has gone through a tremendous amount of work during the past eight years, Geary will be 39 in July and J. C. White is already 41. Larwood, provided he keeps sound, would appear an obvious choice and Tate, with his splendid stamina, may yet have further success awaiting him in the Commonwealth but clearly some men younger than he must also be found, men not only of recognised skill but men who, if necessary, can stand the strain of a series of seven-day matches. At the moment there exist undoubted possibilities about Peebles, Mitchell of Derbyshire, R. W. V. Robins, Verity and F. R. Brown of Cambridge University in the matter of slow bowling, while the prominent candidates as all-rounders include James Langridge, perhaps Sinfield of Gloucestershire and possibly Harris, the Nottinghamshire colt. From this field a reasonably powerful attack should be developed but scarcely one likely to prove particularly deadly on Australian wickets. The forthcoming summer will throw more light upon a most difficult problem but at the moment it is scarcely right to say that any bowler is absolutely essential.
Now that Hobbs has retired from representative cricket and that the authorities, having passed over Frank Woolley four years ago, are scarcely likely to call upon the famous left-hander, there are some notable vacancies in batting to be filled. The big need is the discovery of a first-wicket partner for Sutcliffe. Neither Bakewell of Northamptonshire nor Arnold of Hampshire quite filled the bill in this character last summer but as they are both young players of undoubted skill, as well as brilliant fieldsmen, one or other of them may during the next few months make good his right to that position. To follow the first pair we should have Hammond and Duleepsinhji and, quite possibly, Bakewell or Arnold--the one failing to impress the authorities with his qualifications to share in opening the innings--might yet play well enough to be given a place in the side. Furthermore no reason exists why Leyland should not regain his best form, Hendren must still be regarded as a candidate, and James Langridge is a more than likely run-getter, irrespective of what he may accomplish in bowling. For first wicket-keeper there is at the moment no need to look further that Ames who seems much in favour with the authorities, while as reserve for that all-important post, Duckworth and Farrimond of Lancashire, Brooks of Surrey and Price of Middlesex all have considerable claims.
There remains the big question who shall captain the side. A year ago everything pointed to the probability of the post being offered to Jardine. The old Oxonian not only possesses the experience born of a tour in Australia but can look back upon a series of fine performances accomplished out there and, if he was out of first-class cricket in 1930, he showed last year that he has lost nothing of his qualities as an exceptionally sound watchful batsman. On the other hand he does not seem to have impressed people with his ability as a leader on the field. Whether Jardine lacks some of the essentials for a successful captain or not, the impression appears to be widely entertained that Chapman, were he in form, would again be given charge of the team. Unhappily Chapman, while still unsurpassed as a fieldsman near the wicket and in that way capable of setting his men a brilliant example, has apparently lost his judgment in batting. Remembering the triumphs of his early manhood, he has been very disappointing for several seasons and last year he accomplished practically nothing until the summer was nearly at an end. Of course, he may find his game in 1932 and next winter lead our players in Australia for the second time but at the moment England's captain and the bowlers likely to find favour with the authorities are matters of pure speculation.
A more pressing matter than the constitution of the team England may send to Australia in the autumn is the condition of County Cricket, or rather of the clubs responsible for that all-important phase of the game. Such deplorable weather was experienced last summer that coming on the top of an almost equally wet season in 1930, the loss of money rendered the position of several of the less wealthy counties serious to a degree. Some of the counties have not yet published their figures but as Leicestershire are nearly £3,000 down on the year's working, Lancashire over £2,000 and Warwickshire something like the latter sum, it may be confidently asserted that, even if other organisations have been much less heavily hit, the seventeen first-class counties must between them have dropped quite £20,000. Circumstances, admittedly, were quite abnormal last summer for if the number of matches in the championship competition left unfinished--118 out of 238--was slightly lower than that recorded in 1930--125 out of 238--there were ninety-one days completely lost when championship games should have been in progress and altogether in first-class games 111 days on which not a ball could be bowled. The loss, moreover, was not limited to the occasions when no cricket at all proved possible. The wet and cheerless weather not only discouraged people from attending matches owing to the discomfort it created but, in delaying play and in destroying interest, exercised a further prejudicial effect upon the receipts. Were there probability of a third consecutive wet summer, the situation would, I admit, become really desperate but, unless the climate has entirely changed, the weather must be more favourable this year. To the best of my recollection--as a follower of cricket--there have not been in succession two such unhappy seasons as those of 1930 and 1931 for more than half a century so we may reasonably look forward with some measure of confidence to a happier state of affairs.
Fearful that the counties so badly hit during the past few years are not, under the regulations at present governing the Championship, likely to extricate themselves from troubled waters, people associated with these struggling organisations and others keenly interested in the future of county cricket are urging the adoption of various courses to remedy the prevailing state of affairs. Some of these worthy folk contend that the time for three-day cricket has passed and that everything must be taken at a greater speed than that which satisfied previous generations. Possibly they overlook the fact that cricket in the twentieth century has, in lawn tennis, golf and other games, powerful rivals as popular attractions that in the nineteenth century the game was not called upon to meet and, further, that the demand upon the public for the support of county cricket is twice as large as it was forty years ago. Also that the cost of running a county club is two or three times as big as it used to be now that paid players receive twice as much as their predecessors and that out-goings generally have so largely increased.
No mere admission or explanation of the troubles which beset County Clubs in these times will, however, better the situation and, while many of us believe that a really fine summer would solve or, at any rate, materially lessen the difficulties which unquestionably exist, the authorities are obviously well advised to take measures calculated to meet such situations as are brought about by the vagaries of the climate. One element strongly urges the reintroduction of the two-day match which--tried in 1919--proved so sorry an experiment. Naturally the prolongation of the hours of play until half-past seven was very unpopular with the professional and the fact that the public did not want the extra hour was shown by the way in which, soon after six o'clock, the grounds practically emptied. The suggestion by the advocates of two-day matches now is that the hours of play which at present obtain be still observed but that the county match be reduced to a one-innings affair. Against such a radical departure as this I do not know that anything completely convincing can be urged. Certainly up to now important cricket always has meant a two-innings match and the sponsors of the suggested change would, I think, have to bring forth very powerful arguments before the cricket community could be persuaded to accept so drastic an alteration. While one-innings games might furnish satisfactory trials of the respective merits of two sides, it is clear that the two-innings encounter must provide a more convincing test and, if the latter can be arranged without risking the stability of a club, the old order of things should surely be observed.
Other courses put forth as likely to ease the troubles of the more embarrassed counties are the reduction in the number of fixtures arranged and the cultivation and encouragement of the amateur element. As to this latter suggestion, I see no salvation in that direction. County clubs have always been keen to play as many amateurs as possible, provided that the quality was adequate and that the introduction of the unpaid player did not mean the supersession of a capable professional by a less efficient performer. Admittedly in the days of long ago, the Middlesex and Gloucestershire elevens were mainly composed of amateurs but the former club was largely the personal hobby of the Walker family and the latter, brought into being by W. G. Grace and his brothers, could not be advanced as an illustration of what generally obtained. On the other hand there existed half a dozen other counties whose teams were nearly always composed mainly of professionals. Indeed counties, at all ambitious of gaining distinction, have nearly always had to trust largely to the paid player. In 1895 when the field for Championship honours was extended from nine to fourteen counties, Surrey, Lancashire and Yorkshire each depended for the majority of their games upon two amateurs and nine professionals. By all means let us have in county cricket as many amateurs as possible but teams prominent in the battle for the Championship must not be pulled about late in the summer to bring in the unpaid player.
Advised by certain counties that the programme of twenty-eight matches is more than financial conditions allow of being fulfilled, the Advisory Committee have reduced the minimum list of fixtures for qualifications as Championship competitors in 1933 to twenty-four. This is certainly a step in the right direction even if it brings about a struggle in which the winners may possibly not meet more than twelve of their sixteen rivals. In such an alteration there is no harm. The counties, without towns of huge populations within their borders, will not have dumped upon them more matches than they can reasonably support and those anxious to extend their programmes will be able to do so without engaging in contests outside the Championship. Percentages must consequently be re-introduced but no serious exception need be taken to that development. The particular rules adopted to decide the County Championship matter very little. Cricket with the many elements of luck, unavoidable in three-day games through weather and wicket, could never fit in satisfactorily with a closely regulated competition.
In a season so wet as that of last year, there were, in addition to those matches in which no play at all proved possible, others which fared almost as badly, inasmuch as nothing could be done until the third day. These latter encounters, providing no opportunity of playing out a game in the ordinary way, were seized upon as opportunities for freak declarations of the first innings and for a second innings battle which gave fifteen points to the side making the bigger score during the afternoon. The idea, suggested, it may be assumed, by the big difference in the fifteen points rewarding a win outright and the five registered for leading on the first innings of a drawn match, was certainly ingenious but such a development was obviously not thought of when the Advisory Committee agreed to allow fifteen points for a win and the adoption of it seemed not a little discourteous to those responsible for the drawing up of the latest plan for deciding the County Championship. Clearly the Committee could not have contemplated two farcical processions to the pitch with a declaration in each case after the delivery of a single ball or have intended that a couple of hours hitting, however vigorous, should count as much as a victory achieved as the result of a genuine demonstration of superiority. Possibly no great harm was done and much could be forgiven cricketers kept idle day after day by incessant rain, but such a practice might, in a close struggle for Championship honours, have reduced the competition to an absurdity. As matters went, Yorkshire, participating in two of these freak games, lost and won, the defeat being the only one they sustained all the season, Surrey met with two reverses and Glamorgan gained two victories but the first of these only after a breach of the Laws of Cricket. All told, the instances of first innings declarations at level scores or at no score at all, numbered five.
Among the happier recollections of last summer was the visit of a second New Zealand team. Again under the leadership of T. C. Lowry, the old Cambridge blue, the Dominion players showed themselves a more formidable batting side and better fieldsmen than their predecessors who came here in 1927. As originally arranged they were to have engaged in one Test match with England at Lord's. In this encounter, with the Old Country trying some experiments, the New Zealanders extricated themselves splendidly from an almost hopeless position and in the end effected a most creditable draw. Apart from pecuniary considerations, it was a pity the representative encounters did not end with this one contest. Two other Test games, however, were promptly arranged. In the first of these, with Dempster unable to take the field, New Zealand suffered a crushing defeat and the other was ruined by the weather. Personally the members of the team were again extremely popular.
In conclusion, I have to acknowledge the kindness of Lord Hawke in writing for Wisden an article dealing with his fifty years' association with Yorkshire cricket and telling how various important developments of the game first came about. Lord Hawke, in last year's issue of the Almanack, was stated to have captained the Yorkshire team for twenty-two years. The number should have been given as twenty-eight years.
With this edition of Wisden, as mentioned in the Preface, comes to an end the splendid service rendered to the Almanack over a period of more than thirty years by Mr. F. S. Ashley-Cooper. For Births and Deaths, Cricket Records and the biographical notices of those cricketers who had passed away during the preceding twelve months, Mr. Ashley-Cooper year by year was mainly responsible for more than a generation. No one could have taken more trouble to ensure that these sections of the book should be complete and accurate. Unhappily ill-health and failing sight forbid any attempt on his part to continue the work he has performed so admirably. On behalf of the proprietors of the Almanack and on my own behalf I tender him grateful thanks.