Swanton, Arlott and more, 1996

Fifty years of the cricket writers' club

Derek Hodgson

In the autumn of 1946, as the MCC touring team, under Walter Hammond, arrived at Perth aboard a ship containing 14 British cricket correspondents and 600 war brides, there appeared a gap in the schedule of about a month before the first post-war tour of Australia began, a delay caused by the necessity of having to adhere to transport schedules disrupted by what was still described as "the late emergency".

To fill the time correspondents, joined by Australian writers from the eastern cities, formed a cricket club. Arthur Mailey proposed it should be named the Empire Cricket Writers' Club and its first club tie - believed to be the only one immediately available in bulk - featured a skull and crossbones.

The old ECWC could field a formidable XI, including Fingleton, Whitington, Grimmett, Richardson, Mailey, O'Reilly, Oldfield, Sellers, Bowes, Duckworth and Wellings. At St Kilda they attracted a crowd of 15,000 to watch them play Victoria Past and Present and the public address announcer (a racing man) delighted the dressing-room by announcing how pleased he was to see Bill O'Reilly bowling again, all arms and legs. It was Bill Bowes.

The notion of such a club was too good to be discarded. At the Trent Bridge Test the following summer, 1947, a more permanent structure was erected: the Cricket Writers' Club, with E. W. Swanton as chairman, Charles Bray secretary and Archie Ledbrooke treasurer. The CWC thus became the forerunner of many other clubs in different branches of sports writing. National prominence was achieved in 1948, when Bradman and his Australians were invited to a dinner attended by the Duke of Edinburgh. There were six speeches, and those by Bradman and Sir Norman Birkett were broadcast by the BBC, causing the nine o'clock radio news to be delayed.

Club dinners in those days were lavish affairs, often held in liveried halls. Not that dinners were always formal and polite. Basil Easterbrook, chairman in 1965, remembered before he died how "an attempt was made to ban drinking until after the AGM which used to precede the annual dinner. There was much noise, calls for order and the singing of a ribald chorus of 'On Rosenwater's doorstep, down Leytonstone way' to the tune of Mother Kelly". Irving Rosenwater was a leading member at that time and some of the club's elder statesmen were angry enough to walk out. Dicky Rutnagur believes John Arlott was the chairman at that meeting and, as was his custom, had taken the odd sip of wine: "John tried hard to bring some order to the proceedings by banging the table with a spoon, but he missed the table."

The serious work consists largely of consultation, now on almost a weekly basis, with the TCCB, MCC and the first-class counties. The club's most famous contribution has been the Young Cricketer of the Year award, started in 1950 at the instigation of Archie Ledbrooke, who was to die in the Munich air crash. Out of 47 winners (there was a tie in 1986) only six have failed to become England players, though Andrew Symonds, the 1995 choice, might be a seventh if he opts to play for Australia instead.

A newer award is named after a former much-loved chairman, Peter Smith, and is presented "for services to the presentation of cricket to the public." The chairman of the sub-committee making the award is the editor of this Almanack and recipients so far have been David Gower, John Woodcock, Brian Lara and Mark Taylor.

The Club now has a "home" in the press box at Lord's, marked by a handsome Honours Board and by portraits of past luminaries, presented by MCC. Plaques have been placed to commemorate such rich local characters as Dick Williamson and Fred Speakman, at Headingley and Northampton. Another plaque, at Lord's, will honour Reg Hayter.

In 1952 there were 58 members, of whom 16 were still with us at the start of 1996. Now there are 244, ninety per cent of everyone working in the cricket media. A recent nomination for membership was dismissed by one senior member with the words: "We can't possibly have him. The man's a prat." When this was reported to the chairman, Jack Bannister, he commented: "Sadly, if that were a disqualification we would have many fewer members." While we can continue to laugh at ourselves, we shall prosper.

Derek Hodgson has written on cricket for most national newspapers and currently writes for The Independent. He has been secretary of the Cricket Writers' Club since 1986.

© John Wisden & Co