The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Chapter 10

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IT is both curious and interesting to see how greatly our old friends l.b.w. and leg play, as taught in the text­ books by Mr. Knight in the Badminton, and by Mr. Warner and others, has influenced all modern cricket. In the last chapter it was said, and I think truly, that bowlers of the pace of Richardson, Kortright and others, who bowled tremendously fast on wickets prepared naturally by mowing, rolling and watering alone, did not hurt batsmen; why then were marl, top dressing and, for all I know, other artificial methods introduced at all? Batsmen did not complain, and though drawn matches were tolerably frequent, they were not so common as they are now. My own belief is that groundsmen, always on the alert for any new means whereby wickets should be made easier, discovered marl somewhere about 1897-9, and batsmen more and more developed what was introduced by Shrewsbury, leg play and the abuse of the l.b.w. rule and by slow degrees the two eyed stance and the J. W. Hearne position. All this was known to the county captains and we learn from the 1902 When that they asked the M.C.C. to confirm their resolu­tions, one of which was that artificial preparation was undesirable. Nothing definite or permanent was done and very likely this gave a great impetus to the modern style of batting on wickets made lifeless, with the ball never getting up, as Strudwick tells us is the case; batsmen fearlessly got clean in front, faced the bowler and used their legs for defence which Mr. Knight tells us is the right principle.

In the following illustrations may be seen clearly the difference between the older and newer methods of play. In No. I W. G. Grace is seen standing clear of the wicket and ready for the ball, and in No. 2 he is playing it with left shoulder forward.

The Crisis in Cricket, p62.jpg

1.—W. G. Grace ready for play.

If a batsman takes up this position he will not often get badly hurt or hit on the head. The left elbow can be raised high and the head dropped much quicker than might be expected.

The Crisis in Cricket, p63.jpg

2.—W. G. Grace playing forward.

Now turn to the two other illustrations. The frontispiece is a snapshot of J. W. Hearne playing backward. In the plate facing p. 64 he is playing forward in a remarkably weird way, and I admit that if Hearne had been living in the era 1860-90 and had played in the style shown in the illustrations he would have been hurt and very likely very seriously. In those days nobody did play in such a way, nor would Hearne have done so. All the same with his straight bat and eye he would have been a great cricketer whatever style he might have adopted, but instead of getting centuries he would have got fifties, to the great advantage of the game.

On the 11th June, 1927, Notts and Middlesex met at Lords on a wicket that for once behaved in a way that reminded old cricketers of Lords in the 'sixties, with this exception, that not one dead shooter was seen. I saw the match, and undoubtedly the fast bowlers, Larwood, Durston and Allen, did make the ball kick occasionally. Mr. Twining got a severe blow over the heart, but nobody else was knocked out, though they got hit. It was a wicket that very likely Hearne had never played on before and he had to abandon his style, as shown in the illustrations, and adopt one totally foreign to his nature. He stood still and kept clear of the wicket for the first time in his life that I have seen and was out at once. But this wicket had apparently got on Hearne's nerves, for he was moved, to write an article in an evening newspaper in which a sporting wicket, as he describes it, is indeed painted in lurid colours. Hearne expresses his belief that such wickets did not exist when W. G. Grace, Shrewsbury and others had to meet Richardson, Lockwood and Kortright who, he implies, would not have been called bowlers but murderers if they had bowled on them. Hearne goes on to say that top dressing of cricket pitches, as far as first-class cricket is concerned, has been used for more than thirty years, and that appeals to the M.C.C. to restrict the groundsman's act have rightly had no effect. Hearne seems to have thought the Notts and Middlesex wicket so dangerous that any good scoring was almost impossible and Lee's century for Middlesex was "the amazing part of the game."

With all respect to Hearne, his statements do not bear a close examination. It is nonsense to say that W. G. Grace and others did not play on such wickets. Hearne is,

The Crisis in Cricket, p65.jpg
Photo: Sport & General.
J. W. Hearne Playing Forward
I believe, a relative of old Tom Hearne and might have heard from relatives some particulars of the Lords' wickets which W.G. had to play on. Old Tom Hearne played in a famous M.C.C. and Yorkshire match in 1870, and the Wisden of that day tells us how W.G. and others, including old Tom Hearne himself, got severe blows, but they were not knocked out, and there was some superb cricket and the batting of W.G. and C.E. Green was talked of or years. Nobody wants to see dangerous wickets, and I admit that modern batsmen standing as J. W . Hearne does, as shown in the illustrations, would have been hurt, and seriously so, if they had played George Freeman and Emmett in 1870. W.G. and C.E. Green got cut over on the left side, but they were not knocked out because they did not face the bowler, but stood with left shoulder forward, whereas J. W . Hearne in facing such bowlers as Freeman and Emmett would have been asking for trouble and might have been very seriously hurt. I doubt also if Hearne is correct when he says that top-dressing which I presume means marl, has been used for more than thirty years; if my information is correct, it has never been used at Lords at all, and have not runs enough been got at Lords? In this particular match between Notts and Middlesex, 920 runs were made for twenty-nine wickets, and this could hardly have been possible on a really dangerous wicket. Old W.G. played on Lords for more than thirty years and not a single wicket was artificially treated, and not once was he seriously hurt.

Batsmen have been spoon-fed by playing on lifeless wickets, such as Strudwick describes, which makes it safe for them to stand right in front facing the bowler and using the legs as they do, and in consequence bowlers are set an impossible task. With all respect for Hearne, he writes, as too many do, from one point of view only, and that is the batsman's. He approves the little effect that appeals to the M.C.C. to restrict the groundsman's art have had, and does not consider for a moment the hideous blot of innumer­able drawn matches. Apparently to him the ideal match is one played on a marled, lifeless wicket, batsmen scoring hundreds and hundreds of runs, bowlers worn out, fieldsmen tired and another wearisome drawn game.

Hearne has expressed the batsman's point of view in an extreme way, and very likely I have erred in the contrary direction. I again repeat that I hate seeing batsmen badly hurt, but I must admit that when I see them cut over while standing right in front of the wicket facing the bowler, and using their legs to protect their wickets, sometimes as a first means of defence when the bat is held high above the head, sometimes as a second, and after the ball has beaten the bat, my sorrow is somewhat alleviated, because it is impossible for me not to think they have deserved their fate. They have taken an unfair advantage of the bowler, who is first called upon to bowl on wickets that are prepared in such a way as to make them practically lifeless on which good batsmen score hundreds and bad batsmen thirties and forties, and then instead of bowling simply to defeat the bat, they find that to the bat are added two well-padded legs. If artificial wickets were not found to be neces­ sary in the days of Richardson, Kortright, Lockwood and Mold, why should they be allowed now? As I said before, batsmen have been spoon-fed by playing on lifeless, top-dressed pitches with the l.b.w. law interpreted as it is. If a ball rises at all, they are inclined to grumble and complain of the wicket, while drawn matches they say are the fault of the bowlers.