England's search for opening batsmen, 1956

Notes by the Editor

Norman Preston

One would have imagined after the triumphant tour of Len Hutton's team in Australia and New Zealand and the success which attended England against South Africa under Peter May last summer that there would be general satisfaction and confidence in England's ability to retain the Ashes in the forthcoming series with Australia. Judged by recent results, England stands on top of the cricket world, yet the form of some of the players and their methods as well as their approach to the game have received adverse criticism. Moreover, much of this criticism is justified.

Australian Recovery

Complacency could certainly lead to disaster especially in a summer when the Australians are our visitors and we can no longer count on Hutton and probably Compton. Despite their crushing downfalls at the hands of Statham, Tyson and company, the Australians lost no time in rehabilitating themselves. They went to West Indies and made heaps of runs against less hostile bowling on the easy-paced pitches of the Caribbean.

No doubt Australia still have problems, but their players are blessed with natural ability and they usually possess the happy knack of rising to the occasion and blending well as a team during their four and half months of cricket in England. It must be expected that they will prove a much tougher proposition than when M.C.C. visited them eighteen months ago. Indeed, the stage seems to be set for an exciting series which will find the two countries closely matched.

With the retirement of Hutton, England require two opening batsmen. They faced this problem twelve months ago when Hutton, after being given the captaincy for all five Tests against South Africa, stood down through ill health. Here was the opportunity to get ready for Australia. After his scintillating hundred in the final Test at Sydney in March 1955, Graveney was retained for number one and Kenyon, too, received a prolonged trial. This pair opened in the first three Tests, but managed to make only one double figure partnership--91 in the first Test at Trent Bridge. Bailey and Lowson took over at Headingley for the first innings and Graveney replaced Bailey in the second.

At The Oval, the selectors endeavored to counter the negative leg theory of the tall left-handed South African bowler, Goddard, by picking five left-handed batsmen. These included the two openers, Ikin and Close, whose joint efforts produced stands of 51 and 5. The left-handed theme was retained for the M.C.C. tour of Pakistan where the duties were shared mainly by Close and Richardson, the new Worcestershire captain. Other candidates are three right-handers, Simpson, and the two youngsters, Stewart, of Surrey, and M. J. K. Smith, whose proposed transfer from Leicestershire to Warwickshire has met with so much opposition. The form of all these men will be closely studied during the month of May.

One suggestion is that Cowdrey should be promoted in the order but such a move would take away some much-needed stiffening lower down. Some of the anxiety would be lessened if Compton were fit, but assuming he will not be available, then surely May and Cowdrey must fill the number three and four places. Similarly, providing Watson, the Yorkshire left-hander, is in form, England should not need to look further for a number five. This is his best position and the one he occupied on his debut against Australia at Lord's three years ago when his 109 on the last day helped so much to save the match.

The rest of the order should sort itself out presuming that Bailey is again chosen as the all-rounder at number six, to be followed by the wicket-keeper (Evans) and four bowlers. Mentioning bowlers, one finds that here, too, the position is far from clear cut for the selectors. Personally I would like to see the three successes in Australia, Statham, Tyson and Appleyard in action again, but time alone will prove whether Tyson's left heel and Appleyard's troublesome muscle in the right arm have mended.

Left-handed Rivals

Again Wardle and Lock will be rivals for one place and Laker, in his benefit year, should be at the top of his form. Whatever happens, Laker and Lock should be seen together at The Oval where they reign supreme as both Australia and South Africa can already testify.

Despite the overwhelming applications for tickets for the Tests many people fear that cricket as it is being played in this second half of the twentieth century is in danger of losing its public appeal. It is argued that Test matches alone command the people's interest because cricket has become too slow. Yet, maybe, it is the thirty-hour Test that has led to the gradual decrease in the rate of scoring in all first-class cricket.

The ambitious English young county batsman, keen to win the highest honours, must prove himself first in the three-day Championship and to do this he must not only produce runs consistently, but must also show himself fitted to play in the highest company. He discovers that the successful Test batsmen are generally those who decline to take the slighest risk--he must follow the methods of, say, Hutton and McGlew--if he is to win the selectors' approval.

Some people would like to see the return of the four-day Test in England, but I think that would be a step in the wrong direction. We do not want a repetition of the 1949 series when New Zealand pursued a safety-first policy and drew all four three-day Tests. The success of the five-day Tests in this country was emphasised only last summer when for the first time in England all five matches ended with definite results.

Slow scoring does not necessarily mean dull cricket, but when wickets do not fall and the batsmen are content to restrict the pace to 30 runs an hour (often this is due to the negative methods of the fielding side such as leg theory), lack of enterprise calls for complaint.

The President Speaks

No less a person that Lord Cobham made the following remarks last summer during his term of office as President of M.C.C.: "I do not think people will follow cricket much longer unless the game is reborn, but reborn it will be, and I think there are signs that the players will again hit the ball hard, high and often. Can we get rid of those awful bores who prod doubtfully at half-volleys and let every long hop pass by? They are the ones who are emptying our cricket grounds. We must get rid of them."

Lord Cobham used not to be a pessimist. In the years before the 1939-45 war he led Worcestershire twice to victory over Yorkshire by his forceful methods. In this same speech, which he made at Worcester's historic Guildhall when welcoming the South Africans, he said he believed that the technical skill of the game was higher now than ever before and may even have got too high. He thought, possibly, that cricket was on the verge of a revolution and a very good one, for there were signs that they were going back to the old days of sheer fast bowling which was very refreshing in these days of so much leg theory.

In September, The Times, in a bold and wide top of the page heading, claimed: "All is not well with English Cricket," and at the end of the year Mr. Ronald Aird, M.C.C. secretary, dwelt on the same theme in his annual speech to the County secretaries.

Dull cricket is not confined to England. Many of the four-day Sheffield Shield matches in Australia never reach a definite conclusion and attendances have fallen to an alarming degree. Matters have also come to an unsatisfactory state in India and Pakistan. When these two countries met a year ago in Pakistan both sides batted and bowled in such an unenterprising way that, for the first time in history, all five Tests in one series were drawn.

A more recent example occurred at Lahore only last January when the full strength of Pakistan met the M.C.C. team in the first representative match of the tour which was intended to show the best side of cricket. Pakistan spent twelve hours twenty minutes over a total of 363 for nine declared, and Hanif Mohammad occupied ten and a half hours getting 142 of those runs. We, in England saw enough of Hanif in 1954 to appreciate that he is a most gifted young batsman with an abundance of beautiful strokes. It is little less than a tragedy that when it comes to a representative match and the ground is packed with spectators the crowd is allowed to witness only a boring spectacle by Hanif. Such tactics are to be deplored and the sooner everyone connected with big cricket realises that the game itself is far more important than the result the better it will be for all those who seek enjoyment from playing and watching cricket.

It was in an effort to help the authorities to find a solution to these things that I enlisted the aid of W. E. Bowes. He has been closely linked with the game as a player and critic since he first performed the "hat-trick" against Cambridge University at Lord's in 1928. He has gone fully into the various problems and set forth his opinion together with those of many other notable personalities in the article which follows these Notes. The numerous views emphasise the difficulties which must face the legislators if they attempt any revision of the laws. I would not be surprised to see a trial given to an extended lbw rule embracing any ball coming from the off which in the opinion of the umpire would hit the stumps.

A Glorious Summer

The summer of 1955 will be remembered chiefly for four things. The weeks of continuous sunshine beginning at Whit-suntide; the arrival of P. B. H. May as England's captain; the grand but unsuccessful fight of South Africa to win the rubber after losing the first two Tests and the tremendous battle between Surrey and Yorkshire which culminated in W. S. Surridge leading Surrey to the top of the Championship for the fourth successive time.

M.C.C., after amending one of their rules, welcomed Hutton from Australia by making him an honorary life member and the selectors took an unprecedented step--at least in modern times--by naming him captain for all five Tests against South Africa. Unfortunately for England, Hutton could not attain the standard of fitness required for an arduous Test series and he took a well-deserved rest from the Test and county scene in the hope of being ready for Australia this year. Prolonged medical treatment failed to bring about a complete remedy and at the comparatively young age of 39 this great player and captain has retired from the active scene.

For some years Hutton was England's batting sheet anchor. He followed in the trail of Hammond and on the decline of Washbrook and Compton he stood virtually alone until the arrival of May and Cowdrey. Even the responsibility of captaincy made no difference to Hutton, the batsman. One has only to bear in mind how he carried the side in West Indies to appreciate that fact, and judging by the way May shaped and the number of runs he scored against South Africa, he too has the ability to shoulder the dual role.

Something unique in cricket occurred at The Oval during the Surrey and Yorkshire match last summer. Two England captains, May and Hutton, were serving under their official county captains, Surridge and Yardley. No doubt May will eventually succeed Surridge as the Surrey captain, but for the present he is quite content to be the deputy leader. Under Surridge, Surrey have recaptured their old glories of the 1880's and 1890's. During the four years Surridge had held office they have played 112 Championship matches, winning 71 and losing only 15 and they have equalled the feats of Nottinghamshire in 1883-1886 and Yorkshire 1937-46 in winning the title in four successive seasons. Leadership is a vital matter in cricket and Surridge will rank in history as one of the great County captains.

Rise of Hampshire

In these days when there is a tendency among a few Counties to import talent wholesale from outside their own boundaries, it has been most satisfactory to see the success of Hampshire, who in finishing third enjoyed their most successful season during sixty years in the Championship. They owe much to E. D. R. Eagar, the longest reigning county captain. He has led them with much optimism and enthusiasm since the resumption of big cricket in 1946. Many of the fine young players who have recently appeared for Hampshire were discovered by Eagar when tiny schoolboys and nurtured by him to their present status.

Hat-trick Controversy

The term "hat-trick" has for years been accepted in cricket circles as the feat of a bowler in taking three wickets with three consecutive balls. When Lock, the Surrey left-arm slow bowler, removed McMahon and Lobb with the last two balls of the Somerset first innings at Weston-super-Mare last August and then proceeded to account for Angell with his first ball of the follow-on, the legitimacy of this "hat-trick" was raised because it was split not only between two overs but between two separate innings. In the past similar efforts have been entered in the Records, but in order to try to prevent disputes over these performances I sought guidance from M.C.C. A "hat-trick" is not covered by the laws but the expression has been in use since 1870 at least as a perusal of old Wisdens will reveal.

The M.C.C. Sub-Committee replied that in their opinion a "hat-trick" consists of three wickets in three successive balls from the same bowler in one match. True, this means that one batsman could be out twice in the same "hat-trick" and although this interpretation may not meet with universal approval I think it is a fair one under modern conditions. Eighty years ago pitches had not reached their present state of perfection. Bowlers ruled the game and there were only four balls to the over. I imagine that the presentation of a silk hat to a player must have been for something exceptional and that probably he had to take his three wickets in the same over.

Incidentally, Lock repeated his feat early in the M.C.C. tour of Pakistan. At Bahawalpur he took the last wicket of the first innings and later two wickets with his first two deliveries of the second innings.

Three M.B.E.s

The part cricket plays in cementing good relations between the various members of the British Commonwealth of Nations has yet again been recognised in the Queen's Honours. In the Birthday Honours of June 1955 the award of the M.B.E. to George Headley, the West Indies batsman, was announced, and in the last New Year's Honours Ian Johnson, the Australian captain, and Keith Miller, the Australian vice-captain, received similar recognition for their services to sport.

Wilfred Rhodes Trophy

Mr. W. R. Lambert, the Lancashire cricket bat manufacturer and a life-long admirer of Wilfred Rhodes, has given a handsome Trophy in the name of the great Yorkshire all-rounder, for the leading batsman each year in the Minor Counties Competition. The first winner is D. H. Cole, of Devon, who averaged 89 over 12 innings last summer. Cole is a fine upstanding player of six feet four inches and has played for Devon for 10 years. He hit 235 not out against Dorset at Blandford.

M.C.C. and Hutton

M.C.C. have stated that Hutton received a unanimous vote when he was chosen captain of the team for Australia and that the margin was not by a single vote as appeared in these notes a year ago.

© John Wisden & Co