Australia regain the Ashes, 1959

Further notes by the Editor

Norman Preston

An eventful year has passed since I last wrote the Notes. The Ashes, won by England at The Oval in 1953, were deservedly won back by Australia at Adelaide in 1959. Hanif Mohammad, of Pakistan, created a new world record for an individual score by making 499 at Karachi, and Garfield Sobers achieved the highest personal Test innings by scoring 365 not out for West Indies against Pakistan at Kingston, Jamaica. At home, Surrey again dominated the County Championship and won the title for the seventh time in succession, a feat without precedent.

England's Fall from Grace

The fight for the Ashes held the attention of the cricketing world in recent months and not for the first time it produced a good deal of controversy. England went to Australia with the unofficial title of "World Champions." At the time no one could deny that they ranked above all their rivals; yet when they went into action their standard of play bore no relation to their exalted position and they were toppled off their pedestal.

So, after an interval of six years, Australia regained the Ashes and England can look forward to a hard struggle when they attempt to turn the table in England in 1961. To the millions of enthusiasts who got up early in the morning to listen to the news from Australia, England's failure came as a bitter disappointment.

Weak Batting and Fielding

Defeat can be as honourable as victory when a side has gone down after giving of their best; but during those cold winter months we at home felt that England had been badly let down by the batting and fielding. The bowlers performed admirably, particularly Statham, Trueman and Laker, but apart from May and Cowdrey all the specialist batsmen failed.

Lately, the dice have been loaded far too heavily against the batsmen in England. Consequently the bowlers have not been compelled to toil for their wickets. A glance at the following table of hundreds hit in first-class cricket since the lbw law was changed will show clearly how the powers of the batsmen have faded. No wonder things go wrong when our men go abroad. We have destroyed our breed of professional batsmen and at the same time extinguished the leg-spin and googly bowlers, besides producing a generation of fielders who show up poorly in the deep. Moreover, all-rounders like R. Benaud, Australia's new and inspiring captain, and A. K. Davidson are non-existent because of the modern fetish to rely solely on specialists. So England carry a long tail these days.


YearTotal 100'sCounty Champ.Other MatchesTouring Team

Time and again over the past eight years I have drawn attention to the decline of professional batsmanship in England and now I wonder if some of the amateurs have not become too complacent. It would be foolish for any batsman to develop an inferiority complex, but a sunny temperament does not compensate for flaws in technique, as P. E. Richardson, for one, must have discovered.

The brittleness of England's batting was exposed first by West Indies at Birmingham in 1957 and again by New Zealand on the same ground in 1958 when, after winning first innings, the whole side were dismissed for moderate totals on perfect pitches that offered no help to bowlers.

When Troubles Began

Yet, when the seventeen names were announced for the Australian tour, many of us were of the opinion that M.C.C. had chosen one of the strongest sides ever to be sent overseas. I am afraid that since then those ideas have been completely shattered. To my mind England's troubles began when the M.C.C. Committee found it necessary to withdraw their invitation to Wardle. That was a bold decision and one which M.C.C. took in the best interests of the game; but in the first place they should never have been placed in that embarrassing position. Yorkshire must shoulder the blame, for no sooner had they informed M.C.C. that Wardle would be available to tour Australia than the county decided to dispense with his services.

Wardle's name having been withdrawn, the selectors then committed an error in not producing an immediate replacement. They had decided to take seventeen players; yet a few weeks later they reckoned Laker and Lock could shoulder the slow bowling alone. Again, when Watson broke down on the way to Aden, instead of getting a deputy immediately, many weeks passed before the decision was reached to bring the party up to full strength. Then, Subba Row had also been put out of action through injury. So Mortimore and Dexter had to fly out at the time of the first Test, having been deprived of the chance of getting themselves acclimatised or of having adequate practice. In other words, things were mishandled from first to last.

Fallacy of "Sporting" Pitches

To be fair to Richardson and to many other English batsmen, it must be remembered they have had to prove their worth on the modern sporting pitches which have been the vogue in this country since the war. It was very satisfactory to outplay our visitors on these uncertain surfaces, but the fallacy has been revealed in our most recent tours to West Indies, South Africa and Australia where England failed each time to win the rubber.

It would seem that the time is ripe for a complete overhaul of our ideas in regard to pitches, batsmanship and the general conduct of the game. Indeed, after all the reports from Australia of suspect bowling actions and the continued slowing down of the game, so that as far as Tests are concerned run-making has come almost to a standstill, it would surely benefit cricket if all the members of the Imperial Conference would tackle the various problems which confront the game.

A special committee appointed by M.C.C. examined some of these aspects and issued a report which can be found in Wisden, 1957. I would also commend to those people interested in these matters the opinions that Wisden gathered from various personalities and which were given in the 1956 and 1957 editions.


During the recent M.C.C. tour of Australia, one read constant references to the questionable bowling actions of several men who opposed P. B. H. May's team. Four of them, Meckiff, Rorke, Slater and Burke were chosen for Australia. Even some old Australian players did not mince their words in criticising these young men. What can be done to check unfair tactics?

The danger of not stamping on offenders in the past has led to the problems which now confront the authorities. They have only themselves to blame for the spread of this menace to the game. Too much responsibility is left to the umpires, who, I feel would take action if they knew they could rely on support from the officials above them. I remember Frank Chester's experience during the first Test between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge in 1951. Chester disapproved of C. N. McCarthy's action at the beginning of England's first innings. South Africa batted almost the whole of the first two days. On the third morning Chester, who was at square-leg when McCarthy was operating, watched the bowler intently. It was quite obvious that he was studying his action. After the lunch interval, Chester rarely looked that way again.

Chester's Vain Hope

Some time later I asked him the reason and he told me that he had gone without his lunch in order to find out whether he would receive official support if he no-balled McCarthy for throwing. He spoke to two leading members of the M.C.C. Committe and could get no satisfaction. They were not prepared to say that M.C.C. would uphold the umpires. In other words Chester was given the impression that, if he adopted the attitude which he knew was right according to the Laws, there was no guarantee that he would remain on the panel of Test match umpires. Naturally, Chester was not prepared to make a financial sacrifice in the interests of cricket and McCarthy continued unchecked in Test matches.

And, of course, he corollary came when anyone commented on McCarthy's action, for the South Africans replied: "He satisfied Chester. What else do you want?"

In my opinion each member-country of the Imperial Cricket Conference must be responsible for the fair delivery of each bowler selected for Test matches and for overseas tours. It is unfair and discourteous to thrust the onus on the host country. In a perfect world no dubious thrower or dragger would be allowed to stay in first-class cricket. He would be stopped long before he had made any sort of name for himself, though there have been cases when a bowler has developed an unfair action after becoming recognised as a first-class player.

South Africa's Decision

Early this year Mr. A. H. Coy, President of the South African Cricket Association, was reported to have said that the number of bowlers with suspect actions had reached such proportions that the law would have to be more clearly defined. He considered that each country should ensure that such bowlers were corrected or kept out of first-class cricket and he added:"South Africa must make certain that touring teams do not include any bowler whose action is likely to cause controversy or embarrassment."

There were a few suspicious cases in England last summer. Umpires are not likely to invoke the wrath of spectators or deprive a man of his living by making open examples during the course of a match. Nevertheless, umpires could report cases to Lord's and if a panel were appointed to deal with these matters, suspects could be watched. Then if the panel were satisfied with the umpires' opinions, the offenders and the counties concerned could be informed that unless such a bowler mended his ways immediately his presence in the game would no longer be tolerated.

Throwing in the "Eighties"

Throwing is no modern trend. Ever since over-arm bowling came into fashion there have been players who have exploited it. As long ago as 1883 Lord Harris proposed an amendment to the Law concerned that "The ball must fairly bowled, not thrown or jerked" and that is how the law now stands. During the "eighties" Charles Pardon, then Editor of Wisden, came down heavily on it, and later Sydney Pardon, his youngest brother who succeeded him in the Editorship, conducted a long campaign. In the 1895 issue Sydney Pardon wrote: "Umpires, according to the laws of cricket, are the sole judges of fair and unfair play, but for reasons readily understood they have in this particular so persistently shirked their duty that, if English bowling is once and for all to be cleared from the stigma of unfairness, some steps will have to be taken by those in authority."

Two years later Mr. Pardon, dealing with the tour of Harry Trott's Australian team, wrote: "Up to last season one of the special virtues of Australian bowling was its unimpeachable fairness. Despite the evil example set by many English throwers, team after team came to this country without a bowler to whose delivery exception could be taken, but unhappily things are not as they once were...A fast bowler with the action of Jones or a slow bowler so open to question as McKibbin would have found no place in the earlier elevens that came to England."

"W. G.'s" Beard Singed

Ernest Jones, who took 121 wickets on the tour, was one of the central figures in a time-honoured story about W. G. Grace. In the Australians' opening match, against Lord Sheffield's XI at Sheffield Park, Sussex, Jones continually pitched short. He hit W. G. on the body and a little later sent a bumper sizzling through the Doctor's beard to the boundary. Down the pitch stalked the incensed Old Man and demanded of Trott: "Here, what's all this?" Said Trott to Jones: "Steady, Jonah." To which the bowler replied: "Sorry, Doctor, she slipped!"

Tom McKibbin, who also took over 100 wickets with spinners, was referred to in a letter to Bell's Sporting Life by F. R. Spofforth, himself a famous Australian player, as a bowler who hardly ever delivered a fair ball--which was outspoken comment even in those days. Spofforth suggested that a committee of first-class captains be formed and that if they found a bowler guilty of throwing, he be suspended for a week; for a second offence, he be fined and suspended and for a third, he be disqualified for the season.

Mr. Pardon persevered and in the 1899 Wisden referred to the satisfactory results. "For the first time within my experience," he wrote, "bowlers were no-balled for throwing. C. B. Fry was no-balled by West at Trent Bridge, by Phillips at Brighton and Sherwin at Lord's; Hopkins, of Warwickshire, by Titchmarsh at Tonbridge."

The county captains did meet in 1900 and they decided to take united action "for the purpose of ridding English cricket of all throwing and dubious bowling." C. B. Fry, who had twice performed the hat-trick at Lord's, Mold, Tyler, Paish, Geeson and Quaife were all named as illegal bowlers.

Pad Play

It is now apparent that the efforts made twenty-five years ago to check the ascendancy of the bat over the ball have had a disastrous effect on the art of batsmanship. The change in the lbw law did not bring back the cover drive, as was desired, but it led to the batsmen becoming increasingly cautious.

This brings me to the subject of pad play. The bat was given to the batsmen to hit the ball, whether in defence of his wicket or for the purpose of scoring runs. Pads were introduced to protect the batsmen's legs from injury. I contend that pads were never meant to be used for the purpose of preventing the ball from hitting the stumps, otherwise the lbw law would not exist. Therefore, surely, it is logical that when a batsman declines to make any attempt to meet the ball with his bat and prevents the ball from striking the wicket by using his pads, he is infringing the spirit of the game.

There is an art in pad play. It is accepted as part of the batsman's technique. Indeed, a budding professional would not get very far if he were not adept at this practice. History recalls that when Ring and Taylor used their legs to save their wickets in 1782, Beldham called it shabby; yet when Arthur Shrewsbury did the same thing 100 years later, it was accepted. Nevertheless, an M.C.C. Sub-Committee passed the following resolution in 1887: "That the practice of deliberately defending the wicket with the person was contrary to the spirit of the game and was inconsistent with fairness, and M.C.C. would discountenance and prevent the practice by every means in their power."

Having reached such a vital decision, M.C.C. did nothing further in the matter until the lbw law was changed in 1935. In recent years they have curbed the habit of batsmen scoring leg-byes by the deliberate use of the pads. Perhaps they will now consider taking a step forward and instruct umpires on appeal to give the batsman out if, having offered no stroke at the ball with his bat, he prevents with his pads the ball from striking the wicket.

Experimental Laws

When the Advisory County Cricket Committee next discuss the experimental laws, I hope they will again consider reverting to the pre-1935 lbw law, deal with pad play on the lines suggested, order a general improvement in the standard of pitches and, to encourage the bowlers to aim at the stumps, slightly increase the size of the wicket in first-class cricket only; continue to restrict the number of leg-side fielders, eliminate throwing and discourage the use of the bumper by fast bowlers. Batsmen might then think first of playing forward instead of retreating on to the back foot before the ball has been bowled. Another matter which is still causing concern is deliberate time wasting by bowlers and fielders. In the recent Test in Australia the number of eight-ball overs delivered in a day amounted on occasion to no more than 55.

I feel sure that the thirty-hour Test has gone a long way towards ruining first-class cricket. Moreover, there are too many Tests for the good of the game. If finances could stand the strain, I think cricket in England would benefit from a complete rest from Test cricket. Not a summer passes without some touring team being here. No other country is condemned to such a surfeit of representative cricket. Not only has interest declined in county cricket, but the three-day match has suffered because more and more it has been reduced to the tempo of the thirty-hour Test. It is the only way batsmen can gain recognition from the selectors. The stroke-makers are being driven into the background and classed as happy-go-lucky players. I would suggest that Test matches be reduced to twenty-four hours, with an optional fifth day to compensate for time lost through bad weather and, except when the Australians, South Africans and West Indies are here, play no more than three of four Tests in a season.

The Wettest Summer

Cricket in England suffered cruelly from rain in 1958. Two years ago I recorded that 1956 was the wettest season in memory and now I have to state that last summer was even worse. Our visitors from New Zealand lost 174 playing hours--nearly a whole month's cricket--and Lancashire reported the loss of 159 playing hours. One county match, Yorkshire v. Nottinghamshire at Hull, was abandoned on the second morning, so waterlogged was the ground. Compared with 1957, attendances, through the turnstiles, dropped by half a million. The financial blow would have been overwhelming but for the regular help most counties now receive from their supporters' organisations who distribute liberally profits accruing from football competitions.

Since the war much time has been spent in trying to find solutions to overcome the difficulties presented by the English climate. In order to re-start games as soon as possible after rain, experiments in drying the pitch have been tried with the aid of blankets, absorbent rubber mats, rollers of various textures and suction machines which quickly pick up surface water. Yet, with all these aids, irritating delays continue and the public becomes less inclined to risk hanging about in the hope of seeing some cricket.

More Covering Needed

If followers of cricket could be certain that as soon as rain ceased play would be possible, they could plan to spend more of their leisure time in patronising the game. At Wimbledon and on American baseball grounds the authorities, by completely covering the playing-areas, have retained supporters who know that play will take place directly climatic conditions permit. In cricket, delays are caused primarily by the state of the pitch and the adjoining areas worn in previous matches. Rarely does the outfield cause trouble. A recent experiment which has been tried successfully is one which provides that, if in the opinion of the captains and the umpires the pitch has reached saturation point, then it may be wholly covered. This would seem to be a step towards covering the entire "square" during bad weather. Some diehards would be horrified at the mere suggestion of covering the whole pitch, but it is now done in Australia even in Test matches. In any case the practice could be tried together with other experiments now taking place in county cricket.

These experiments introduced in 1957 have not yet succeeded in bringing about the desired improvement. While the players like the standard boundary of 75 yards, it has not induced more hitting. There are no tail-end hitters like Wellard, Jim Smith and Watt who used to excite crowds before the war. In fact the shorter boundary has closed up the gaps in the field and, judged by the reports received from Australia of the M.C.C. team's performances, the art of the long return from the deep is fast being lost. Moreover, spectators have been deprived of the thrill of seeing the batsmen go for a fifth run as we used to enjoy at the big grounds like The Oval. Nor has the award of bonus points for the side scoring faster when gaining first innings lead brought about a quicker tempo.

The limitation of the number of on-side fielders to five with only two men behind the popping crease may have come to stay, for it should shift the concentration of the attack from the leg stump to the off. I am also doubtful whether the option of taking the new ball at 75 overs or 200 runs is a good thing. The 75 overs business seems to be tied up with the disappearance of the leg-spinner. While the faster bowlers are resting in anticipation of the new ball, captains prefer to keep the game tight by using other types. They are not prepared to trade runs in the hope of obtaining wickets.

Hanif's World Record

It is pleasing to record that Hanif Mohammad, the Pakistan opening batsman who showed such immense promise when he toured England in 1954 at the age of 19, set up a new world highest individual score when he hit 499 for Karachi against Bahawalpur at Karachi on January 10, 1959. The full score and a description of the match will be found a few pages ahead in this section. I am informed by my Pakistan correspondent, Ghulam Mustafa Khan, that it was a truly brilliant display of stylish hitting, notable for the fact that Hanif consistently kept the ball on the ground and averaged nearly fifty runs an hour. He was run out off the last ball of the day. Twelve months previously Hanif batted for sixteen hours thirteen minutes, the longest innings in first-class cricket, when he scored 337 in a Test match for Pakistan against West Indies at Bridgetown. So in the space of a year he broke two records standing to the names of two Knights of cricket, Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Leonard Hutton.

Sobers Makes Highest Test Score

Garfield Sobers, the tall 22 year-old West Indies left-hander, also distinguished himself by scoring 365 not out in the third Test against Pakistan at Kingston on March 1, 1958, and surpassing Hutton's world record Test innings of 364 for England against Australia at The Oval in 1938. He followed with a century in each innings in the next Test and continued his Bradman-like consistency when touring India, scoring centuries in his first three Tests there. His remarkable sequence brought him 1,115 runs in six successive Tests--ten innings, four times not out.

Unlike England at the present time, West Indies have acquired the happy knack of producing good players at the right moment. With Weekes, Worrell and Walcott approaching the end of their great careers, there might well have been a big gap in the batting, but Sobers has emerged as a new personality; Rohan Kanhai, who made 256 against India at Calcutta at the turn of the year is not far behind; O. G. Smith has proved himself a capable all-rounder and R. G. Gilchrist has developed into dangerous fast bowler. In addition, two almost unknown batsmen, B. Butcher and J. Solomon, came to the front in the 1958-59 tour of India. Solomon averaged 117.00 and Butcher almost 70.00. Butcher played successive Test innings of 103 and 142.

The fact that India are going through a difficult period, when neither new batsmen nor bowlers are coming to light, must be taken into account in assessing these figures, but undoubtedly West Indies have plenty of talent at their disposal. Under their new captain, F. C. M. Alexander, the Cambridge double Blue, they will prove most formidable opponents when M.C.C. visit them next winter.

Hampshire's Initiative

One of the most satisfactory features of last season's cricket in England was the splendid effort by Hampshire to oust Surrey as County Champions. In the end Hampshire faded out of the picture but nothing could detract from the excellent example they set in their enterprising cricket. This was entirely due to the boldness of their new captain, A. C. D. Ingleby-Mackenzie, a fearless left-hander from Eton. Twice he led the field in hitting the fastest hundred and his century against Somerset at Bournemouth in sixty-one minutes earned him the silver trophy and the hundred guineas prize. Cricket needs leaders like Ingleby-Mackenzie who play the game as it was meant to be played. If England expect or desire to do themselves justice next winter when they oppose West Indies--where the natural cricketer flourishes--then the selectors should choose men who not only possess ability but men who do not think only in terms of safety-first. In the unlikely event of Peter May not being available, England could do worse than invite Ingleby-Mackenzie to captain the side.

The Warner Stand

M.C.C. showed much enterprise in building the new Warner stand in the north-west corner of the ground. The top tier provides accommodation for all the people engaged in publicising the game: press, radio commentators and televisors. In the matter of comfort everyone has been given the utmost consideration, but in my opinion the long-leg or third-man view should not have been inflicted on those people whose day-to-day duties are to give a faithful description of the cricket.

If M.C.C. delved into their archives they would surely have provided a better view, for this very problem caused a storm of criticism sixty years ago as is told by Sir Pelham Warner in his story of Lord's and by Sydney Pardon in Wisden, 1901.

© John Wisden & Co