L.B.W. law causing difficult problems, 1936

Notes by the Editor

Wilfrid Brookes

Uneasiness must exist in English cricket circles while the intentions of the Australian Board of Control in relation to the experimental L.B.W. rule remain so obscure. It is impossible to avoid feeling that unless the Australian authorities come into line with England, South Africa and New Zealand by adopting the experimental law for Test matches, a difficult problem will arise.

When after Lord Hawke--quite unofficially--cabled an appeal that Australia should seriously reconsider their decision not to play the Tests against South Africa this winter with the trial rule in force, the Board replied that they had reconsidered the matter and agreed to adhere to their original ruling not to play under the provisional alteration of Law 24. We must remember, however, that when the Board rejected South Africa's invitation, they had no official information before them as to the results of the trial in England last season, nor had the experiment been made in any cricket in the Commonwealth.

The standpoint taken by the Australian Board can be readily understood, but now that the agitation about the abuse of Law 24 which has been carried on for fifty years or more has found M.C.C. and our Counties willing to move in the hope of lessening the mastery of the batsman over the bowler on modern artificially prepared wickets, I hold that the parents of the game should be accorded the fullest support in their efforts by every cricketing country. We can take some comfort from the fact that--after seeking the opinion of the various States by a postal ballot--the Australian Board agreed to the use of the experimental law in the matches played by the M.C.C. team this winter and that it is being used by their States in Grade and Pennant games. The New Zealand Council had previously announced their decision to comply with a similar request from M.C.C. for the matches played by our touring team in New Zealand, including the four unofficial Test matches.

But so far Australia has afforded no opportunity for the front-rank players touring South Africa to gain experience of cricket under the provisionally changed law. Nor has the idea been tried out in Sheffield Shield matches. The South Africans, after readily agreeing to play England in Test Matches with the amendment in operation, as stated in the M.C.C. report in the interests of cricket, have had to revert to the old conditions. Next September an England team will leave for Australia after having played for two seasons under the altered L.B.W. regulation. Australia will by that time have had the opportunity of seeing the idea tried out in grade cricket and a few other matches. Surely England, and in cricket affairs that means M.C.C., will not be asked to go back to the old rule after having received from cricketers such overwhelming proof of the success of the experiment that they have been encouraged not only to continue it for the 1936 season in England but also to issue an appeal throughout the country for the new rule to be adopted in all cricket next season! It may be urged that reversion to the old rule would not be a serious matter, but everyone with the interests of the game at heart will fervently hope that another cricket dissension will be avoided. The innovation has been proved to be in the interests of the game, if only by helping to bring more matches to a definite decision. That being so, considerations of gate money, either in England or elsewhere, ought not to prevail in any deliberations as to the permanent adoption of the changed law.

If what I have read and heard be true, a movement is on foot to alter the allocation of grounds for our home Test matches. The idea, apparently, is to play more than one match at headquarters and to take one away from a provincial centre. So far as I am aware, no concrete suggestion on the matter has been before the Board of Control, but if an attempt matures on these lines I feel sure the governing body can be relied upon to arrive at a wise and just decision. London's population may be increasing and there is without doubt a growing public for sporting events in that district, while Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex all have many members in the Metropolitan area, but other counties help to keep the game on a high plane in England and any move to deprive either Yorkshire, Lancashire or Nottinghamshire of a Test Match would most certainly meet with intense opposition.

When the amount of the receipts from each Test at Lord's is revealed, temptation to support a project for a second game at headquarters may become strong, for all the counties, including second class, share in the profits. But, even if finance were the first consideration, no one could be at all sure that the change would not defeat its special object. The playing of one Test match at Lord's always will command a large appeal according to the strength of the opposition; a second game following quickly upon the first might be a gamble for public support. It must be accepted that the scheme suggested aims at increasing the revenue from Test Matches and nothing more. To my mind, those behind the project would be better advised to urge the advantages of increased accommodation at both Lord's and The Oval. In saying this, I am fully aware of the several efforts made by M.C.C. and Surrey to meet the demand for improved facilities for spectators as the popularity of the big matches has grown. Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire have done a lot to further the comfort of spectators, particularly at Test Matches. All the grounds used for Tests have been officially approved.

The news that plans have been sanctioned by the trustees of the Melbourne cricket ground to spend £100,000 on alterations to enable 100,000 people to watch cricket there, speaks volumes for the optimism of the Australian authorities in relation to the future of Test cricket and, while M.C.C. is not the rich club many people seem to think, the exchange of visits between the countries forming the Imperial Cricket Conference having become so regular, the advantages likely to be gained by the improvement of the amenities to which the public are entitled on all grounds where Test matches are played must not be overlooked.

As the Test programme for two years has already been settled, any plea for alteration of venues will not come up for discussion--if it ever materialises into a proposal to the Board of Control--until the time arrives to make arrangements for the Australian tour here in 1938. Long before then, however, I trust that this ill-advised suggestion will have been scotched. Both the foregoing matters, I appreciate, may be settled before another season in England, but they merit comment because of their close bearing upon our Test cricket.

As to the events of the past year, the happiest man in the country must have been the born pessimist. In the course of sixteen months, our cricketers have lost a rubber to Australia, West Indies and South Africa in turn. It is a ridiculous fashion to attribute this lack of success partly to the men who choose the England elevens. From my experience, the attacks upon the Selection Committee were more restrained than in previous years when England elevens have been out-matched and beaten by visiting teams, but some of the abuse was uncalled for. Selectors expect to be made scapegoats when expectations are not realised. No Selection Committee is infallible and the present body made more than one unfortunate mistake. The truth of the matter is that nowadays there are few players who choose themselves; English cricket is going through a lean period. The cry to give the young men a chance did not fall upon deaf ears; the Selectors admitted they were ready to experiment and did so, but the proper material simply was not available and all the exploration and experimenting failed to restore English Test cricket to its high standard. Of the younger players given their chance, no one could be hailed as an outstanding success. South Africa won last summer's rubber fairly and squarely. The results of their tour are bound to do a great deal of good to cricket in the Union. No doubt, a proportion of their large profits from the whole tour will be expended in providing more turf wickets, and with greater facilities available for playing under conditions more like those in England and Australia, continued improvement in the standard of South African cricket can be looked for.

That the South Africans are not yet in the same class as the Australians has been shown by the results of the Tests in South Africa this winter, but we in England had not the talent to beat them in three days. What might have happened had four days been allotted to each of the games is a different matter and I do not propose to speculate. It can be taken almost for granted that future Test Matches over here against South Africa will be placed on the same footing as those with Australia, four days being set aside for all the games except the last which, in the event of the position in the rubber being even, will be played out or allotted six days. Although I regard this step as inevitable, I feel that interest in the County Championship may decline when leading counties have to give up the services of their best players for so large a part of the season.

By England, defeat must be regarded as an education. It may be our Selectors under-estimated the calibre of the opposition; South Africa surprised the majority of the experts in this country and in their own. I am firmly of opinion that an error of judgment was made in leaving R. W. V. Robins out of the Lord's match, but I heard that R. E. S. Wyatt urged very strongly the claims of Mitchell, of Derbyshire, for that game. Equally astonishing to me was the dropping of young Hardstaff after the Headingley Test. The Nottinghamshire batsman, if I am not very greatly mistaken, has a big future. He has shown his value in recent matches in Australia.

But I repeat we had not the talent necessary for the occasion last summer, and that no one could have done very much better than our Selectors did. The inability of C. F. Walters and Sutcliffe to play owing to injuries entailed a search for a new pair of opening batsmen and some of our best bowlers-- Clark, Hollies, Copson and G. O. Allen--were very unfortunate in meeting with injuries. Clark and Hollies were incapacitated after receiving news of selection for a Test match. There were extenuating circumstances in connection with England's overthrow but there is no question that South Africa proved themselves the better-equipped side. Holding that it is folly to alter a team too much after the first of a series of Test matches, I nevertheless appreciate that last year most of the changes in the eleven were unavoidable. England, as a result, never became a real team even though the fielding showed welcome improvement in the later matches.

In making a passing allusion to the rather widespread demands in the newspapers last summer for our Test teams to stay together at the same hotel, I do so primarily with the desire to correct statements criticising the M.C.C. on this point which is entirely under the jurisdiction of the Board of Control. To see the whole matter put forward as a novelty, when the facts are that several writers brought forward this suggestion in 1921, was rather amusing. I agree with those who urge that a manager should be appointed to take charge of England teams at home as well as abroad. To make it compulsory for all the players to stay together at the same hotel during a Test match would be a reasonable sequel to the appointment of such an official, but I cannot see that a change of procedure regarding accommodating players would bring about the advantages which many people seem to think.

In the great necessity to build a side capable of avenging the sequence of our defeats in Test cricket, different ideas may be worth trying, but the crying need of English cricket is class bowling. When one or two class bowlers come forward, England may recapture supremacy in Test cricket. With the view that the over-preparation of wickets is to some extent responsible for the decline in the standard of bowling there is almost general agreement. But this does not apply to Australians and, short of a definite understanding on this question among all the countries forming the Imperial Cricket Conference, it would be absurd to make our wickets in England more natural and then send to Australia bowlers picked on performances accomplished on pitches totally different from those upon which they would have to toil in the Commonwealth. Well aware to what lengths our groundsmen can go in the preparation of modern wickets, I do not lose sight of the fact that such Australian bowlers as Grimmet and O'Reilly have been able to get far more work on the ball when playing in England than they could achieve in their own country, where they have to strive much harder to beat batsmen and so devise subtle ways of getting a man out.

Those who criticise present-day bowlers and extol the wonderful performances of famous bowlers of the past are too often inclined to ignore the gradual change in the wickets. Now that the groundman holds such sway over the game and is supported by county committees to persevere in his intensive work with binding soils and heavy rollers, we cannot expect modern bowlers under so severe a handicap to emulate the deeds of their predecessors. Even with the altered L.B.W. rule in operation, it is useless to anticipate any really startling increase in the bowler's effectiveness. Yorkshire, I know, do not permit their groundmen to put any dope on a wicket after February each year and the only reason I have seen advanced why similar control of the groundman's art is not adopted as a general policy by the counties is the fear that matches would not last three days and that gates would suffer. So many counties nowadays have to struggle to make ends meet that due regard must be paid to such argument but the real reasons for poor gates are often overlooked. In few counties is there a commanding personality whom everyone talks about and wants to see. The man with characteristics and even eccentricities on the field will bring people flocking to the grounds. Such a figure used to be in almost every side. A. C. MacLaren, Cecil Parkin, George Hirst, Rhodes, Hayward, Hobbs, Ranjitsinhji and Maurice Tate may be taken as examples. Gimblett came last season opportunely to emphasise how rare it is nowadays to find someone out of the ordinary. He, like Wellard, was for Somerset a turnstile asset.

The announcement in November of the retirement of Mr. William Findlay from the M.C.C. secretaryship came as a definite shock. Secretary of the Surrey County Club from 1907 until 1919, when he was appointed assistant to Sir F. E. Lacey at Lord's, Mr. Findlay became Secretary in 1926. Through the growth of Imperial cricket, the work of M.C.C.'s secretary has increased enormously in this century and, after over sixteen years of service at headquarters, Mr. Findlay felt that the time had come for a less exacting life. Everyone will wish him well after his long service to the administrative side of cricket. That he will be much missed is to say the obvious. Holding a post of heavy responsibility, requiring ability and tact, Mr. Findlay by his natural kindliness retained a wide popularity. It can be truthfully said that he achieved great success in the duties to which he devoted so much of his time and energies. When some important cricket topic was engaging the attention of the world, he proved a model of discretion in dealing with the awkward problems that arose.

Captain of Eton in 1899 and of the Oxford eleven in his third year at the University, Mr. Findlay was a steady bat and a sound wicket-keeper. With E. W. Dillon he took part in opening partnerships of 118 and 86 in the' Varsity match of 1902; and he played with success for Lancashire.

Another gentleman well known for a very long period in cricket Mr. A. J. Lancaster, secretary of Kent since 1885, has also resigned. Our county secretaries often bear the heat and burden of the day and it would be a fitting tribute to those who have held such a position for so many years as Mr. Lancaster has done if M.C.C. could see their way to confer upon them the distinction of honorary membership. Mr. Lancaster acted as chairman of the Fixtures Sub-committee.

It is with the hope that a definite ruling will eventually be forthcoming as to what is a first-class match that I refer to the unjustifiable attack on the authenticity of certain details published in the 1935 Wisden. The suggestion was put forward that, in computing the first-class averages of the tour of the M.C.C. team in India 1933-34, the figures of the two-day matches should have been included and that Wisden by omitting to do this had blundered. In justice to the late Editor of the Almanack, I must explain that M.C.C. gave a ruling they did not regard as of first-class standing the two-day games in India to which reference was made, and that the records were given correctly.

The compilers of Wisden are placed in a very difficult position. In the absence of official guidance it has been decided that until the definition of a first-class match is established for ever and ever, only the statistics of three-day matches at home and abroad will be accepted for inclusion in the first-class averages. Certain matches, those for instance between a touring side and a first-class county eleven to which it is not possible to allocate more than two days, are on a different footing, and in such cases an official ruling will be necessary.

Correspondence on the subject of Cricket Records has very greatly increased in recent years. Letters on the subject of Albert Trott's famous hit at Lord's have been numerous and the matter has also received publicity in the newspapers. After attentive consideration, I decided against the inclusion in Cricket Records of this feat. There have been equally big and sensational hits on many of the famous grounds of the world and space will not permit mention of all these individual performances. Nor can any place be found for the phenomenal accomplishments with bat or ball in small matches and charity games. A line must be drawn to keep the Almanack within reasonable limits, and deal essentially with first-class cricket and its stepping stones.

January, 1936.

© John Wisden & Co