Is The Whole Object Of English Cricket To Beat The Australians?

What of the future?

Tricky things to handle these obsidian mirrors … but now the glass is clear again and I can distinguish the figure of Dudley Carew, peering, in turn, into his own crystal ball (in, as we have established, 1950, in the wake of two heavy (3-0 and 4-0) defeats by Australia and on the verge of another (by 4-1)).  Let him continue …

” – the real question is whether Test matches, as they are played now, are, except in the financial sense, for the good of the game.

And that in its turn is part of another question and it is a question that is dividing the cricket-world and one which wants a decisive and immediate answer.  Is the whole game of cricket, the grave and lovely ritual evolved from the days of the top-hats and the curved bat, the natural companion of summer and the sun, the happy, the easeful, the friendly, game – is it and all it stands for to be sacrificed so that eleven men wearing the lion of England shall beat eleven men who have the kangaroo for their badge?  For that, it seems, is what it is coming to, and so knowledgeable a critic as Mr. Denzil Batchelor* can write, in discussing the steps that should be taken to beat Australia in the next series of Test-matches –

(at this point we see the figure of Batchelor appear in Carew’s glass, gazing into his own mirror to make out a mysterious Lord bearing a banner with the strange device “Every little helps“)

“The first thing to do, as I see it, is to make what competition we have far more intense than it is at present.  A long and largely pointless county cricket programme can never do this.  Cut the counties up into a league with three divisions, each containing six counties, institute promotion and relegation and you will have an organized game on its toes.  You will have evolved a form of competition in which each side has something to fight for from the first ball of the season till the drawing of stumps.  Each of the six sides in each division would, of course, play home and away matches with every other team in its class … ten three-days matches in all.  There are two strong arguments in favour of this plan.  First, the concentration and intensification of the programme would give our cricketers a taste of the game at high pressure, and they must have such experience to feel at home in Test-matches.  Secondly, the scheme would reduce the first-class programme of any individual player to something like thirty days play a year, ten of these days being Saturdays.”

Carew concludes …

“Now these are not, it must be emphasized, the opinions of one of the revolutionary cranks who are always popping up in the world of cricket, demanding the abolition of left-handers or of maiden overs, but of a wise and discerning critic … and if he can bring forward such a scheme, then such a scheme is not without the bounds of possibility.  Indeed, if the whole object of English cricket is to beat the Australians, a very pretty scheme it is, but is it the whole object?”

We can now see that Batchelor had succeeded, through the use of the black arts, in conjuring the spirit of Lord MacLaurin (of Tesco), who had relayed to him the substance of his 1997 report on the future of English cricket “Raising the Standard“.  It may have taken another fifty years (give or take) for the recommendations (or a watered down version of them) to be implemented, but we now know that the “cricket-world” has answered Carew’s question with a resounding “Yes.  The whole object of English cricket is to beat the Australians.”  Yes to two divisions, yes to central contracts, yes to the whole of English cricket, primed with vast quantities of cash from an exclusive deal with Sky TV, being shaped from base to apex with the sole objective of beating the bloody Australians!!!

But I seem to see another vision.  A nightshirted and nightcapped figure, roused from sleep by fearful visions (I cannot make out whether it is Batchelor or MacLaurin) gropes for his glass (or is it the radio?) and rubs frantically at it … could his nightmare be true, could the finest flower of reformed English cricket, hand-reared at Loughborough, shielded from the corrupting effects of the county circuit, attended night and day by therapists of every hue, fed on guava fruit for breakfast and programmed with the finest plans statistical analysis can provide really be on the wrong end of a worse drubbing even than Wally Hammond’s war-weary collection of old crocks or Freddie Brown’s troupe of travelling piss-artists?

“Oh Spirit! Are these the shadows …?”

*C.B. Fry’s secretary and “the wittiest man in London”.

“The Evil Doctrine That Results Alone Matter Has Spread” : Past, Present Or Future?

A woozy and eldritch time of year, this.  We look back, we look forwards, the barriers between past, present and future weaken, shimmer and grow thin.  To greet the New Year I shall be fetching my obsidian mirror

down from the attic to observe a past seer gazing into the future (in the aftermath of an Ashes defeat), in the hope that he might help to shed some light on our present discontents.

But, first, to establish where we are, or were, a Starter for Ten.  Who is the author of this piece, who is the great cricketer whose name has been redacted and when was it written?

… the evil doctrine that results alone matter has spread …

So great a cricketer as [redacted] has written contemptuously of those who think that any sentiment or instinct of generosity should enter into the business of Test-match cricket and argued that anyone who held the illusion that they did, had little inkling of the reality and of its strain.  Of course he was right in pointing out that the spectator sitting with his scorecard and glass of beer may be within a few physical yards of the man on the boundary, but he is psychologically a thousand miles from the fielder who, is in nerves, mind and body, keyed up to something that is less a game than an ordeal, an ordeal by the fires of temperament and competition.  The fact that modern Test-matches have no room for the airs and graces of the game may be granted without argument – the real question is whether Test matches, as they are played now, are, except in the financial sense, for the good of the game.

a) P.F. Warner about Warwick Armstrong in 1921

b) R.C. Robertson-Glasgow about Donald Bradman in 1937

c) Dudley Carew about Bill O’Reilly in 1950

d) E.W. Swanton about Richie Benaud in 1959

e) John Arlott about Ian Chappell in 1975

f) Matthew Engel about Alan Border in 1991

g) Scyld Berry about Steve Waugh in 2001

What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

The correct answers are that, stylistic evidence aside, it could have been any of them and c) Dudley Carew.

So, at least we know where we were, but, for the moment, the mirror grows cloudy again …

What Is Wrong With English Cricket? : A Post-Ashes Inquest From 1975

Barring seasonal miracles (Australia deciding to cede the game as a Christmas present, or Kevin Pietersen digging in for a match-saving two-day double century), it appears that the current Ashes series will be over and lost by Christmas.  It will then be followed by the time-honoured English tradition that follows any defeat by Australia – The Inquest.  I would hazard a guess that The Inquest this time will differ in that previous Inquests have tended to the assumption that there was something deeply wrong and rotten in the whole structure of English cricket.  Given that the whole structure of English cricket is now tailored specifically to producing a successful England team (and one that has an existence increasingly separate to the County game) the coming Inquest should focus more narrowly on what appears to be an inexplicable collective loss of nerve by Team England.

But let us have a look at how these Inquests were conducted in the past.  This one is from The Cricketer Spring Annual of 1975:

Ills and Cures

Over the Winter England had been defeated 4-1 in Australia (the one victory coming in the last Test, when both Lillee and Thomson were injured).  The defeat had been just as comprehensive as the current debacle promises to be and almost as little anticipated (Lillee had not been expected to recover his pace after a serious injury and Thomson was virtually unknown), but I should have thought it was more easily explained.  Nonetheless, The Cricketer convened an eclectic panel of 25 (ranging from Norman Preston, the veteran Editor of Wisden (b. 1903) to Tim Brooke-Taylor) to investigate “in the hope that common diagnoses and formulae for recovery will emerge”.

There was a degree of consensus about the diagnosis, the most common complaints being:

Too many overseas players (10)

Too much one-day cricket (8)

Poor batting technique (8)

The 1935 change in the LBW law (7)

Too many older players in both County and Test cricket (4)

One or two comments had a strong period flavour.  Charles Elliott (“recently retired Test match umpire”) wrote “No longer is cricket a financially attractive career – as it was in 1930, when I joined Derbyshire’s ground staff at 17 for more money than my father earned down the mine for a full day’s work” and “today’s socio-political attitudes with regard to University entrance have dried up the flow of Oxbridge players to the top level”.  Norman Preston added “Also there has been too much travelling at weekends on crowded roads.  The old-timers used to play regularly six days a week throughout the summer, but they travelled comfortably in trains and taxis.” (A complaint with which I have some sympathy.)

Bill Edrich’s solution was drastic and, perhaps, not entirely practical “We should go back right now to the pre-1935 [LBW] conditions – in fact why not go back to pre-1935 in all respects?“.  Whimsically, Derbyshire fast bowler Fred Rumsey mused “Find me a current England player who plays club cricket on a Saturday.  I sometimes wonder what potential is passed by ‘to waste its sweetness on the desert air‘”.

Several contributors (including Len Hutton) were, though, prepared to concede that, as M.J.K. Smith put it “finally any side with a distinct advantage in hostile pacemen and close catchers usually wins … this combination has always won matches and no doubt always will.” Oddly, no-one suggested that the solutions to regaining the Ashes might include appointing Mike Brearley as Captain, or that a young all rounder who’d just completed his first season at Somerset might have something to do with it, still less that the Urn might be handed to us on a plate (as it were) through the actions of a renegade Australian TV magnate.

One contribution does stand out, and, inevitably, it was from Alan Gibson:

“I am very glad to see that you are drawing attention to the alarming slump in English cricket.  We have lost the rubber in Australia, only sixteen years after we were last beaten there.  Even worse, when they win the series next summer, it will be a mere eleven years since they last beat us in England.  Competitive interest in England-Australia matches cannot be sustained in the face of this disastrous run of defeats.  

The remedy?  I am not afraid to speak my mind.  Sack the selection committee, sack the players, sack all those elitist writers whose newspapers sell less than two million a day.  All English cricket needs is NEW BLOOD and a NEW LEAD, and if pressed I myself would be prepared (cont. p. 175).” 

This appears to be aimed at Dexter (who had a column in the “Sunday Mirror”) and Illingworth.  Apart from his contribution to the symposium Dexter crops up again in the same issue in the letters column, urging that Boycott should be made Captain, with Illingworth as Team Manager and the batting strengthened by Hayes, Ealham, Turner (of Hampshire, I think), Jesty, Randall and Willey.  Illingworth has his own column, urging the selection of Wood, Hampshire, Willey, Lumb, Dudleston, John Steele and Balderstone.  Fortunately, of course, the Authorities eventually saw sense and gave both Dexter and Illingworth their heads, with the result that the Urn remained safely in England’s possession throughout the 1990s.

Period of Transition



This week’s blog has been unavoidably postponed.  The author has been taken to hospital to have fragments of a plastic-handled collapsible mini-umbrella removed from his stomach.

Moral : stick to the traditional cane-handled umbrella when watching the Ashes.  Far more digestible.


Poetry In Motion : Frank Tyson (and a few thoughts about the Ashes)

No cricket for me this week (the first spell of fine weather has, inevitably, saved itself for the break in Championship cricket).  I suppose I should take the opportunity to offer some thoughts about the forthcoming Ashes series, but a) I’m too hot to have meaningful thoughts about anything very much and b) I can’t believe that there is anything worth saying about it that hasn’t already been said several times over (not to mention a great many things that would have better left unsaid).

All I would say is that I can’t think of any other instance in major sport of two sides playing each other 25 times in succession, without a significant break, over a period of 6 months, so we are, in a sense, in uncharted territory.  Perhaps the words ‘and it’s Peter Siddle coming in to bowl to Jonathan Trott‘ will, as Summer turns to Autumn and Autumn to Winter and the first shoots of Spring begin to appear, become as familiar an accompaniment to the rhythms of everyday life as the sounding of the church bells on the quarter hour and we will find ourselves shocked and perturbed by their sudden absence as February dawns.

I’d suggest that the best chance of the megaseries developing a narrative of much interest (to all but the barmiest of Barmies) would be for the Australians to find some way to prevent England ‘executing their plans‘ and win, if not the first series, then perhaps the first Test.  No doubt there will be some intriguing sub-plots (the Root/Compton/Bairstow triangle may some life left in it, for instance, Pietersen might fancy going out with a bang) and some fine individual performances, but Australians do have a regrettable tendency to be less tolerant of losers than the English and, unless they are on roughly even terms by that stage of the marathon, I fear the spectre looms of a Boxing Day Test watched predominantly by hooting, tooting Barmies.

But any series may be redeemed (or made) by the emergence of a new, largely unsuspected genius (Warne in ’93, Thomson in ’74, Pietersen in ’05).  Another such was Frank Tyson (28 wickets at 20.82 on the ’54-’55 tour) whose 1961 autobiography ‘A Typhoon called Tyson’ I happened to pick up the other week.  It contains the brilliant series of action photographs taken by W.G. Vanderson of the Daily Mirror, of which this is the finale

Frank Tyson

and concludes with a piece of writing that ought be enough to encourage any young man to consider taking up fast bowling.  (Tyson had read English Literature at Durham University, and was known to have followed up a bouncer with a pithy quotation from Wordsworth):

“If I had my life to live over again, I would not ask for success alone, sweet though it is.  I should only want to be allowed to bowl fast once more.  To those who have bowled quick, really quick, there is no comparable feeling in the world.  The sudden clutch of suppressed anticipation as you mark out your run: the hesitancy that blossoms into arrogant confidence as, from a shuffling slow start, the stride quickens, lengthens, and becomes smoother; two yards from the wicket now and time to give it everything you’ve got; the body swivels, left hand plucking at the clouds, right arm swinging in a deadly, ever-quickening arc as the batsman appears in the sights over the left shoulder; the left leg is raised high, ready for the final plunge and the body is poised and ready; crash! – the skull shakes and the muscles of the body jar screamingly, as the front foot thumps down like a pneumatic-hammer and the ball rockets on its way at the cringing batsman, pursued as if by an avenging angel, the bowler’s flying body.  What power there is in bowling fast!  What a sensation of omnipotence, and how great the gulf between this sublime sensation and ordinary, mundane everyday existence!”

Not sure Peter Siddle would put it quite like that.

A Case of Pipes : Some Thoughts on Barracking, by Herbert Sutcliffe

Cricket seems very far from my thoughts at the moment, which, of course, it is in reality too, as England begin their tour of Australia.  Already what the Press refer to as “The War of Words” has begun, and it is certain that, once the series gets under way at Brisbane, Straussy and the Lads will have to contend with (in addition to the mockery of the Press and some on-field pleasantries from their opponents) a certain amount of good-natured chaff from the cheap seats.

‘Twas ever thus, and I thought they might find it helpful to have a little advice from an old Australia hand on how this barracking should be dealt with, and how, if approached in the right spirit, it can be turned to the shrewd tourist’s advantage.  This is the suave and prolific opener Herbert Sutcliffe, from his 1935 autobiography “For England and Yorkshire“.

“Australian followers of the game have acquired the habit of letting off steam – of securing relief from nervous tension – by barracking.  I realised early in my Test career in Australia that the barracking must be ignored entirely or else it must be played up to; and I say that the experiences on the last tour [The so-called “Fast Leg Theory” series – ed.] proved the correctness of my first impression.

In the 1928-29 tour I was amused by the cry of one of the barrackers.  He yelled at the top of his voice “Sutty, this will be your last tour – you will be dropped for the next game”.  I had scored 11 runs in that match, but that did not matter to the friends I apparently had in that section of the crowd.  They attacked the barracker so fiercely with words that he was ready to leave that part of the ground.

Before that – long before that – I had a personal encounter with typical Australian barrackers, and it ended in a most delightful fashion.  We played two matches at Brisbane … My fielding position was close to the scoring-board, and there, of course, I was the target of the famous scoreboard squad which used to control the barracking.

For four days they hammered me unmercifully, but when the second game came along I was in favour with the barrackers, having, evidently, passed through their fire with honours, chiefly, I believe, because I took and countered the comments of the squad.  The final day’s play ended, and then, to my great surprise, the barrackers swarmed on to the ground to present me with a case of pipes – a gift which carried with it a tribute of which I am exceedingly proud.”   

I’m not sure that the modern-day player would be quite sure what to do with a case of pipes.  Perhaps a quick look at a past master of the art would be in order.

 That’s the way to do it.

Alternatives to MaxiMuscle 1 : Cocaine

It does seem, judging by their performances in the first Test, that the MaxiMilk Kids (Broad and Finn) may have benefited from their period of Strengthening and Conditioning that I was discussing the other day – (see here).

The MaxiMilks are on me!

On the other hand Fred Flintoff’s latest return after an operation has been postponed yet again.  Some older players continue to believe that today’s quicks lack the staying power of their predecessors.  Certainly one Yorkshire fast bowler from the ‘thirties – Bill Bowes – seems to have possessed quite remarkable powers of recuperation, if his autobiography Express Deliveries (Sportsmans Book Club, 1958) is to be believed.    

Bowes is reticent about the nutritional aspect of his training regime.  We do learn that, when he was first offered a contract with MCC, his father advised –

“‘Yon lad will have to get something inside himself for that job’ he kept saying, and he prescribed two raw eggs every morning before breakfast.  He superintended this part of my diet himself, and occasionally he would beat them in milk, or, ‘just for a change’, add a touch of sauce to make prairie oysters.”

A little later

“An eminent specialist said to me ‘You need to replace what you lose  – sweating as you must do when bowling ; take a glass of beer or two.  Take plenty of salt with your food, too.”

Now this is all well and good – raw eggs, beer and plenty of salt.  But not, in itself, enough to explain the bowler’s ability to recover from an operation between innings of an Ashes Test and take five wickets, as apparently occurred during the deciding Test at the Oval in 1934.  But he did have a little help – 

“I was whisked into hospital for an operation after the Australian innings closed for 701 and was not able to bat in England’s reply of 321.  I’m not being facetious – I know it would have made no difference.  Much more to be point, I was able, having been stuffed with cocaine, to come and bowl in Australia’s second innings.  I took five wickets for 35, had no pain of any description and could not understand the fuss which was made.” 

“Stuffed with cocaine” eh? 

Now the English physio will know what to do if young Finn starts falling over again during a hard day’s bowling at the Gabba over the Winter.

Bill Bowes : Class A bowler

Ashes to Ashes : Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and a moveable feast (not the same thing as a takeaway).

Traditionally the day (and the worshippers) are marked by the Imposition of Ashes.  The priest marks the forehead of the penitent with a sign of the cross made from the ashes of the palm fronds from the previous year’s Easter, while saying the words “Remember, O man, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return”.  This does make the penitents look rather as though they’ve fallen asleep with their foreheads resting in ashtrays.

When I first fell back into the arms of mother church, as it were, in 2001, I used to attend a very high church in North London which offered the imposition of ashes.  The building was very modern, built in the 1980s on the site of an older, Victorian church.  The new church was plain, even ugly, to my eyes, on the outside, but luminously beautiful on the inside.  Its architects sought to promote a sense of the numinous and it certainly had that effect on me.  It was also, I think, designed to reflect what was, at the time it was built, the predominantly Greek Cypriot character of the surrounding area, although the congregation was, in fact, almost entirely Caribbean in origin by the time I first attended a service there.

The older church burnt to the ground on Ash Wednesday.  The fire was apparently caused by “careless workmen” , although I believe it did also coincide with the rather elderly priest dozing off while burning the palm fronds in preparation for that evening’s service – he woke up to find the church was on fire. 

There may be some meaning in these events somewhere.  Perhaps, as I’m sure my daughter would point out, that it’s important to check one’s smoke detector on a regular basis.

An article about the church from the Independent is here – S Paul the Apostle and further info here – More about S Paul\’s  (the pictures here don’t really do the interior justice, by the way).

Is Stuart Broad the new Percy Edwards?*

News in today’s Times of the long overdue autobiography from Stuart Broad (though some might think that, at this stage of his career, something less ambitious like – say- a calendar might be in order). 

Casting our minds back to early Summer we will remember the miracle of Cardiff, where England saved the match by batting out the last day in the face of considerable odds.

At the time I offered various explanations – the Power of Prayer, for one, also alcohol – but, apparently, according to young Broad,  I was wide of the mark.  The truth is –  

“It was Broad’s impersonation of an owl … When Paul Collingwood walked back to the England dressing room at the end of an innings that had lasted almost six hours … he was greeted by silence.

For the previous two hours Broad and his team mates had been nervously repeating the same actions over and over,  fearful that a change would lead to a wicket.  “Alastair Cook was in the showers, and wasn’t allowed to come out … I was rocking on my chair. As every ball was bowled, I rocked back and then as it was survived I rocked forwards and blew into my hands like an owl.  It was bizarre, but I couldn’t change it.”

So now we know. 

The title of the autobiography, incidentally, is Bowled Over.  The last time this was used by a cricketer was by Neil Hawke in 1983, but I still think they might have come up with something more striking.  Home Thoughts From a Broad has, perhaps, been  too recently used by Frances Edmonds, or possibly he’s saving that for his tour diary.  My Struggle would be too obvious.  Dude Looks Like a Lady?  Thinking caps on for volume 2, I think.

(Bird impersonator – Percy Edwards – (possible quiz question – Who appeared in both On the Buses and The Alien?)

Counted chickens sometimes hatch : Leicestershire v Gloucestershire

They do say that counted chickens never hatch, but in this case they were wrong.

In my last entry I was wondering if  it was worth going to Grace Road, as Leicestershire only needed five wickets to win. I thought this might take ten minutes.

In fact all the devil seemed to gone out of the pitch, and it seemed possible that Gloucestershire might achieve a fourth innings score of improbable magnitude to win the match.  In the event, they fell just short – Leicestershire won shortly before five, amid scenes of general rejoicing.

Something similar happened elsewhere yesterday, I believe.