The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Chapter 1

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IT has often been said, and said truly, that drawn matches are the curse of cricket. If this is the case the great game is in peril, as the number of drawn matches has been increasing and is still increasing, and if our authorities do not put our house in order, the greatest game in the world will fall. This statement may sound alarming, but there are ominous signs that all is not well, and the position should be recognized and faced and dealt with at once.

It cannot be too often pointed out that a draw at cricket stands on an altogether different footing from a draw in the other ball games. Cricket, football, tennis, rackets, golf, billiards, polo, fives, hockey and lawn tennis practically exhaust the list of ball games, and draws are impossible in all of them except in cricket, football, golf, polo and hockey. But in football, golf, polo and hockey, what are called drawn games are in reality tie matches, and altogether different from drawn games at cricket. In football, for instance, these tie matches, apart from luck which is common to all ball games, occur either when territorially neither side has any advantage over the other, or the shooting at goal is weak, or the defence too strong, and the fair result is a tie. In League football it is recognised as such, and each side is credited with one point. A draw at cricket, on the other hand, is so rarely a tie that it need not be taken into account, and draws take place either in consequence of rain, or enormous run-getting or slow batting. Three days, as many days as hours for any other game, are not enough to enable a cricket match to be finished with a definite result. Such a state of things is not to be found in any other ball game in the world and is altogether detestable.

For better or for worse most of the first-class cricket in England consists of county matches, and for some forty years first-class county cricket has been governed under a system of tables, which was only moderately successful even in those days when drawn matches were fewer than they are now. Under this system the counties are arranged in order of merit at the end of every season, but the results have not been by any means always satisfactory and changes have been made from time to time. Two instances will show how unsatisfactory the system was fourteen years ago and again in July, 1927. In 1913 Notts played Kent at Canterbury, and Notts led on the first innings by 14 runs. Probably at this stage the weather broke up, the wicket became difficult, and Notts lost five wickets for 28 runs, Kent being in a winning position when heavy rain brought the match to an abrupt conclusion. But owing to a 14 runs lead in the first innings Notts took three points and Kent none. No doubt Notts had very bad luck, but luck is always present in cricket and often adds an interest to the game and is accepted as such, and the broad fact remains that although the odds at the end of the match were at least two to one on Kent, yet they lost points and the side who were in the worst position gained thereby. As recently as the end of July, 1927, when Sussex and Surrey played at Brighton, the first innings ended in a tie, but at the end, Sussex were 155 runs in front, when Surrey had lost eight of their best wickets, and although the odds must have been five to one at least on Sussex, yet points were divided. These two instances show how absurd the position is in county cricket, yet no satisfactory system can be found, the principal and probably sole reason being the huge run-getting of the present day. Drawn matches unfortunately must always be with us owing to our climate, and for this reason alone some steps should be taken to attain the one paramount object, the obliteration of drawn matches except when caused by bad weather.

The matches played between public schools never have more than two days allowed them, and bad weather and high scoring affect matches so much that a definite finish is getting to be exceptional. The last six Eton and Harrow matches have all been drawn, and four out of the last six between Cheltenham and Haileybury, and the same number of Eton and Winchester matches. The weather, no doubt, has been responsible for many of these, but big run-getting is frequent, and the day may come when schoolmasters, and even the boys, will begin to doubt if it is worth while to spend so much time and money on cricket when so many of the inter-school matches are unfinished.

In England we have a crowd of matches crammed into a season of a little over four months, and to give more than three days would be impossible even if desirable. But there seems to be growing a feeling that it is almost outside the bounds o f possibility to finish an England and Australia Test match in three days, so four or more days will have to be given. The Australians themselves, naturally and rightly, hate any idea of drawn matches, and when they say that it is ridiculous for them to travel thousands of miles to play drawn matches, we must agree with them. Anybody who saw the Test match in 1921 at the Oval saw what a farce three-day Test matches may possibly become. On the last day all hope of finishing the match was abandoned; Mr. Armstrong, the captain, practically retired from the game, and Russell and Brown scored hundreds whilst the regular bowlers were rested. This fiasco was probably largely the reason why it was agreed that the last Test match at the Oval in 1926 should be played to a finish, but it ran to after six o'clock on the fourth day, and would probably have run to a fifth or even sixth if heavy rain on the night of the second day had not made the wicket difficult to play on after the first two days. In Test matches it seems to be possible that three day matches are doomed, and in the years when the Australians are over here, all our arrangements will be upset.

It is not necessary to give more than a few statistics to prove that if something is not done to make drawn matches fewer in number, three day matches will perish. In the good old days very few drawn matches occurred except when caused by rain. But in 1926 one hundred and fifty-one matches were finished, and one hundred and thirty-nine were drawn, and a careful examination of the drawn matches shows that about fifty of them were due to a glut of run-getting. In 1927 there was such a lot of rain that we are apt to forget that for the first seven weeks the weather though cold was dry, and wickets easy for batting. During this period, out of one hundred and fifteen matches, seventy were finished, forty-five drawn, and in the case of forty-two of these the draw was due to huge run-getting. This is far too large a number of draws to be considered healthy, but taken by itself does not show how bad the position is. A large proportion of the matches that ended with a definite result were played between unequally matched elevens, like those between the six leading counties, Lancashire, Notts, etc., against Worcestershire, Somerset and Northamptonshire, and other counties making up the last six. I have closely examined the matches played in this dry period of seven weeks, and about twenty-two resembled matches between the first and second elevens of a school, and victories such as these are nearly a third of the total sum of seventy matches that ended in decisive results.

There are some matches that apparently can hardly be expected to be anything but drawn. The time-honoured games between Gentlemen and Players at Lords, which, in some shape or other, have been played for more than a century, seems to be one of them. In the last six matches only one finished with a victory, and of the five drawn games three were due entirely to unhealthy scoring and two to large scoring combined with bad weather. The last six Gentlemen and Players matches at Scarborough have all been drawn, four due to a glut of runs, one to rain, and one to glut of runs combined with rain. The Oval is no doubt one of the easiest grounds in England for run-getting, and out of twenty-five matches played in August during the six years, 1922-7, nineteen were drawn. Eight of these were due to bloated scoring in fine weather and well may Strudwick say, as he has in his book (Twenty-five Years Behind the Stumps, p. xx), "when two good batting sides meet, it is generally a drawn game unless rain intervenes and play is abandoned."

It would seem from these figures that the time is not far distant when we shall, as a result of enormous run-getting and bad weather, sometimes separately, sometimes in combination, see about 50 per cent of first-class cricket matches end in draws, while an appreciable number will end in a victory for one side only because they will be played between say six of the strongest counties against six of the weakest. This is a real danger and is worth careful consideration before it is too late and the crash has come.

Cricket, as before said, is quite unlike any other ball game, and, played as it is, takes as many days to play as hours for any other ball game, and yet three days is not long enough to avoid draws, and this is not all. Constant drawn matches are a weariness of the flesh both to players and spectators, and though a match is not drawn till it is over it is often obvious that it is going to be a draw very early. I remember many games when at the end of the first day the side that went in first has not been got out, and the feeling that a draw is inevitable hangs over us like a wet blanket and the joy of a match is gone. "No day is good to me without blood," said that good sportsman Jorrocks, not even a good run, and so it is with cricket. No drawn match is good, and especially is this the case in fine weather, when all we carry away in our minds, at the end of the so-called match, is a confused impression of tired bowlers and field, and an orgy of batting—as many think, all for nothing. Gone, to a very large extent, are the keen and close finishes, and unless something is done, three-day matches will be found to be not sufficient, as is the case already in Australia, where a whole week will soon be not enough. In Mr. Gilligan's last tour in Australia three out of the five Test matches ran into the seventh day.

Some day, perhaps suddenly, the public will get tired of all this. In 1887 at the historical first meeting of the County Cricket Council, when a change in the l.b.w. rule was discussed, Mr. Wolstenholme, the secretary of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, said it was important to alter the rule was soon as possible; "The attendances of the public were becoming smaller year by year, and if the practice continued the interest in cricket, as far as the North of England was concerned, would materially diminish." In 1901 the Leyton ground was a batsman's paradise, and Essex played five consecutive drawn matches all due to huge scoring. Wisden, of 1902, in describing the Essex and Lancashire match played for Carpenter's benefit said, "The long succession of drawn games had lessened the interest of the public in cricket at Leyton, and the attendance on the occasion of Carpenter's benefit was certainly disappointing." These two statements touch finance, and should make some County Committees think seriously.

As everybody knows the great County matches in the North of England are the two great annual struggles between Yorkshire and Lancashire, and the six matches played in 1925, 1926 and 1927 deserve attention because they show what cricket is coming to when both elevens are at the top of the ladder and tension is high, not only among the players, but even more so among the crowd. Both matches in 1925 were drawn and not for one moment did any other result seem possible, for 1354 runs were scored in the two games at an average rate of scoring of about 47 runs per hour and 26 per wicket. In 1926, at Manchester, 19 wickets fell for 861 runs in three full days' cricket, and according to Wisden the whole match resolved itself into a struggle for first innings' points from the start. The match at Bradford was won by Yorkshire. In 1927 Lancashire won at Manchester and there was another draw at Leeds. In the three years only two of the six matches were finished and the rate of scoring must have been about 48 runs per hour. As a rule the Lancashire and Yorkshire wickets are not so easy as the Southern, and well may Strudwick say about cricket at the Oval, "When two good batting sides meet it is generally a drawn game unless rain intervenes and play is abandoned." This remark of Strudwick is true of nearly every ground where first-class cricket is played, and a more unsatisfactory state of things cannot exist.