The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Chapter 11

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MR. J. W. TRUMBLE of Australia was an excellent all-round cricketer, both in England and Australia, and was chosen for the Australian touring side here in 1886, and is brother of the great Hugh Trumble, in his day one of the world's greatest bowlers. Mr. Trumble was in England in 1926 and wrote two most valuable and interesting letters in The Times which ought to be studied carefully by all lovers of cricket. In his first letter, Mr. Trumble, after giving his opinion that present-day bowlers are not so formidable as they were, adds that the reason for this "Is mainly because wickets as now prepared beat them." And in his opinion, "The great bats of the past would have had a very rosy time of it on present-day wickets." He mentions how top-dressing and the heavy roller are responsible for the unsatisfactory condition into which the game has fallen. This is in reference to cricket in England, but Mr. Trumble adds, "The position in Australia is worse still . . . In former days cricket was bright and interesting, now it is not. A wicket is now prepared after a preliminary nursing, by twelve days' hard work, and becomes polished concrete blocks . . . nothing can be done till the old-time turf wicket is restored."

So writes Mr. Trumble in his first letter to The Times, He brings before us the complete obliteration of grass wickets in Australia and the substitution of something so hard and smooth that a ball on contact keeps a more or less uniform height, with no variety in pace off the ground. On such pitches only freak bowlers, like Mailey, can make the ball turn. But the cost is tremendous, each freak wicket in Australia costing over thirty runs. I had a conversation with Mr. Trumble in the summer of 1926 and I asked him if the ball ever got up as I thought it must do, the pitch being so hard, and his reply was that the only ball that any bowler could make get up must be so short as to be practically useless.

Mr. Trumble in a subsequent letter returns to the subject and says, which is perfectly true, that the groundsman now holds sway over the game, and goes on to describe the preparation of Australian wickets—flooding for twelve days, heavy rolling, finally making the wicket like concrete. He adds, again with perfect truth, "It might be just as sensible to cut out all this preparation and put down a per­manent concrete bed." So it might. Some years ago I was told that Apled, the late groundsman at the Oval, stood wrapped in blissful admiration of a lovely, possibly marled, wicket of his making and said with pride that no match could be finished in three days on that pitch. He was right, the match was drawn. I am not speaking of South Africa, of which I know little and where matting is used, but both in England and in Australia the object of the groundsman is to make wickets so easy that drawn matches in England are getting to be almost as numerous as finishes, and in Australia a match may in the near future require a fortnight to finish. This is not an exaggerated statement. Mr. Trumble says that in his time, (the 'eighties and 'nineties), three days sufficed to finish a match in Australia, but seven days are now often required, and on such wickets as he describes, when time is unlimited and batsmen take no risks, I can see no reason why a fortnight may not be wanted sooner or later.

I do not suggest that circumstances are alike in England and Australia. I can well imagine that a ten or twelve or more hours' railway journey may be thought a rather big price to pay for a match which lasts for only three days. Australia knows what she wants, but Test matches between England and Australia have come to stay, and every three or four years Test matches between them are played in Australia, and we on this side are interested in this matter of the preparation of the wickets. Moreover Mr. Trumble in his second letter to The Times admits that we have an interest and wishes that "The first move . . . should be made here." I have also had it impressed on me that some distinguished old Australian cricketers are like Mr. Trumble and strongly against the modern practice of preparing Australian wickets. Any suggestion from the M.C.C. would therefore be treated with the attention it deserves and there would be no feeling that we have no right to interfere. In the interests of the great game, is the modern Australian method of preparing wickets for Test matches good or bad; That is the question. In England we have a crowd of matches and no sooner is our season over than our over­ worked bowlers are on their way to Australia, and find themselves there by the middle of October. Our last team that went to Australia in 1924, played eleven matches in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne on wickets presumably specially prepared as so graphically described by Mr. Trumble, so that concrete was substituted for grass. No fewer than 12,702 runs were scored at an average of 34 runs per wicket, and three out of five Test matches ran to the seventh day and the average number of days taken for each match was five. In the Inter-state matches it is very much the same story. In 1924-5 an average of five days was taken for every test match and the cost per wicket was 37. As long ago as 1920-1 Interstate Australian matches averaged four days and runs per wicket 36, which seems to show that batting is somewhat slower than it used to be.

All bowlers except perhaps the slow ones are overworked and the evil tends to increase. We all marvelled at the a prodigious work the great Tom Richardson got through thirty years ago, as under:—

In 1897 Richardson bowled 8019 balls in England.
 „ 1897-8 3452 Australia.
 „ 1898 6119 England.

This was a great feat, all the more because Richardson, though of powerful build, took a long run and was very fast. Tate's figures in a corresponding period are as under:—

In 1925 Tate bowled 10167 balls in England.
 „ 1925-6 4197 Australia.
 „ 1926 7570 England.
Tate's figures show that he bowled 4344 more balls than Richardson, and it would have been more still but for the fact that in one Test match in Australia he bowled comparatively few overs owing to an injury, and though Tate has not Richardson's pace he takes a good deal out of himself. These figures are instructive and it is my opinion that the time has arrived when this country should follow Mr. Trumble's advice when he writes, "The position in Australia is rapidly becoming farcical and should have immediate attention. . . . The first move, however, should be made here." That our authorities should consider whether a request to the Australian authorities should be made to stop this elaborate artificial preparation of wickets is the opinion of Mr. Trumble, and we may hope of some other old Australian cricketers. I should have thought that the Australian cricketers themselves, especially the bowlers, would welcome a return to the old grass wicket, but they are not quite in the same position as we are. When no English team is touring in Australia, only six matches which we should call first-class are played in that country, and though this involves some long train journeys there is not the hectic rush of matches there is in England, and their English cricket tours are begun without the staleness that our men have, especially the bowlers. The fate of a bowler like Tate, who after bowling seven or eight thousand balls in England, often on artificial wickets specially prepared so as to make his labours impotent, travels thousands of miles to Australia to bowl nearly five thousand more balls under a burning sun on concrete wickets which Mr. Trumble has told us prevents the spin ball getting a grip of the ground, is truly not to be envied. The critics who spend their time in railing at the so-called weakness of English bowlers should remember that Australia, perhaps, is in an even worse position than we are and the reason is not difficult to find . . . they have only to look at the lifeless artificial wickets in England and the concrete ones in Australia and there the reason is to be found. It is not the bowlers' fault. The astonishing thing is that they bowl as well as they do. In one sense cricket is in the same position in Australia as it is in England. In both countries there is a scarcity of effective bowlers and the reason is because, to quote Mr. Trumble's words, "The groundsman now holds sway over the game." Mr. Trumble adds further, "That he has been encouraged by cricket committees in recent years, largely for financial reasons, to secure a wicket which mainly by the introduction of binding soils and the use of the heavy roller, is little short of the condition of concrete." I refrain from saying anything from the financial point of view beyond expressing a hope that Mr. Trumble's words will be seriously considered in Australia and here also. But I repeat that in both countries bowling is ineffective not because it is bad, but because bowlers are hopelessly handicapped by the easy wickets and the unfair use of the legs. At the time of writing Australia is talking about Mr. Ponsford's tre­mendous scores in the last season's cricket in Australia. Mr. Ponsford is of course a very good batsman and very likely, as Hendren is reported to have said, he has learned much by batting on the very different types of wicket he played on in this country in 1926. But English judges of the game will not reckon Mr. Ponsford to be a player of the same class as Murdoch, McDonnell, Hill, Darling, Trumper,

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