The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Conclusion

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so often as the bat, but still to a very appreciable extent, nearly as many off balls left alone as not, no driving of a ball, nothing in the shape of a cut, because batsmen were standing facing the bowler with the left shoulder pointing to short leg, and when a ball was hit to the boundary it was a pull or a hook, very effective, but coarse and vulgar, and lastly the atmosphere of a drawn match hanging over the game like a grim cloud. Small wonder that George Mere­dith found an hour of this sort of cricket more than enough for him and that he left the ground.

Some of us saw and certainly remember such matches as Cobden's and Ridley's in the University matches of 1870 and 1875, the Eton and Harrow historical struggle of 1910, Spofforth's Test match in 1882 at the Oval. Granting that these were exceptional, the fact remains that drawn matches were very rare when not caused by bad weather, and provided there is a definite result a first-class cricket match will always attract. But of late years a state of things has arisen in which a defeat is the one thing dreaded, and the match is played not so much with the object of defeating an opponent as of avoiding defeat for your own side. In county matches it is true there are points to be gained by a win on the first innings, but such matches are often dull and stodgy to watch, and of the type of those played between Lancashire and Yorkshire. In a Test match points are of no value, and here in England, when Australia and England oppose each other with equally matched sides, there is small prospect of a three day match being finished unless the weather makes weird wickets, and both sides gird up their loins for the final match which is played to a finish. Let us now assume that on modern wickets a definite result is improbable between two even sides in matches limited to three days. What sort of cricket shall we see when matches are played to a finish and last for anything from four days up to seven and more? To answer this question we must examine the details of matches played in Australia and one in England, and it will be enough if the five Test matches between Mr. Gilligan's eleven and Australia and the last match between England and Australia at the Oval, the only match ever played in England lasting more than three days, are considered.

In Australia the run-getting is enormous, but considering the easy concrete-like wickets and pace of the grounds, the rate of run-getting is on the slow side, and taking all the five Test matches played by Mr. Gilligan's team, is a little under fifty an hour. This is not to be wondered at as time is no object, and the general feeling permeating both sides is that of caution. Hobbs and Sutcliffe on one occasion stayed in for a whole day for 285 runs, and though a day's play in Australia is about five hours this is slow play. The general impression left on the English mind is that the matches take too long and that all bowlers are comparatively easy to play. Tate was a bowler quite worthy of comparison with any in the last twenty years; thirty-eight wickets for 23 runs per wicket is as good as Barnes's thirty-four for 22, and F. R. Foster's thirty-two for 21, but if this is the best that can be done, which under present conditions it probably is, the scoring must always be gigantic. To those who think that four or at the most five days ought to be sufficient to enable matches to be finished in Australia it is disquieting to find that in the English tours of 1911-12 and 1920-21 five days was the average number of days to finish a test match and six in 1924-25, and if the Australian wickets in the future are to be prepared in the way so graphically described by Mr. Trumble, I should not be surprised to find matches run to a fortnight. Already in 1926 a match between New South Wales and South Australia produced 1929 runs and ran into the ninth day.

In England the last Test match at the Oval in 1926 is the only match which up to date has been played to a finish and has taken more than three days. Only 1143 runs were scored, but the wicket was English in character, easy for the first two days, though not so easy as they are for the most part in Australia, but on the third day it was slow and dead for the first fifty minutes and afterwards for about an hour very difficult. It never was easy for the rest of the match and 1143 runs on such a wicket is a good guide to show that on fast and easy modern wickets, rungetting will be too large for three days to be sufficient to enable not only Test matches, but first-rate matches to be finished as often as in a healthy condition of things they should be. The acid test to show how cricket stands in this country being drawn matches, the large number of these is significant of the unsatisfactory state of the game.

The preparation of wickets reached a perfection in the 1890 period which was good enough as far as the welfare of the game was concerned, but since that date artificial treat­ment has come into fashion in England and Mr. Trumble has told us how Australian wickets are watered, rolled and topdressed so that natural grass is abolished and something like concrete substituted. Australia knows what she wants, and I can well feel that three-day matches in Australia may not be the same thing that they are here, but I have Mr. Trumble on my side when I say that we have an interest in this question of Australian wickets, as we are vitally concerned with Test cricket there, and I hope our authorities w ill give the subject serious attention some day, though it may be too late to take any steps that will have any effect on the cricket of the Australian tour at the end of this year. As far as marling or any form of artificial treatment is concerned, its effect has been well described in these pages by Strudwick, and I have nothing more to add. I have not seen many of the easiest batting grounds in England, but I have seen much cricket at the Oval and some at Brighton, and if Southampton, Taunton, Worcester and Edgbaston, for instance, are artificially treated as at the Oval, I should describe them as the worst grounds in England, because they are the best—the best because the groundsman can do no more than he is doing—the worst because the result of his skill is an undue preponderance of drawn matches. Twenty-five county matches in August in the last six years at the Oval—nineteen drawn to six finished, and eight of the nineteen draws due entirely to unhealthy run-getting!

My own feeling is strongly in favour of an alteration in the l.b.w. rule on several grounds, and I rely largely on the figures given in a former chapter in Spofforth's case which are well worth consideration. Here was a splendid bowler who constantly made use of the off break, and got scores and scores of wickets thereby, but out of four hundred and four wickets which he got in England when he was in his prime in 1882 and 1884, there were only six cases of l.b.w., one in sixty-seven. Can anybody be found who would say that this was an unsatisfactory state of things? It was the fault of the batsmen, it might be argued—why did they not cover the wicket with the legs to act as an extra defence, as the Badminton Library recommends? The answer to this question is that in those days such a use of the legs would have been considered unsportsmanlike. If legs had been used in this unsportsmanlike manner, Spofforth would have been treated unfairly. He did his part and met with the reward which was due to him as one of the greatest bowlers in cricket history, and nobody can contend that cricket was the worse, but much the better.

Cricket being in such a thoroughly unsatisfactory position, something drastic needs to be done and done quickly. I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to urge two changes that in the opinion of many would not only materially improve the game, but restore it to the proud position it once held, and would hold again if it was played under proper conditions. Those who think that owing to the large and increasing number of drawn matches, the game is not in a healthy condition, have suggested two remedies: alteration in the l.b.w. law and the forbidding of artificial preparation of wickets. Those who oppose legislation to bring about these two remedies are bound to propose something else, as it is impossible for them to say that the game is in a healthy state. The number of drawn matches in fine weather has proved that it is not, and on this point there is no appeal, but practically nothing has been done or even suggested to help the bowlers who are hopelessly capped by the abuse of the l.b.w. rule and artificially prepared wickets. Instead of this being recognised, there is a tendency merely to rail at the unfortunate bowler for not doing what is impossible. These critics should read and re-read what Strudwick has said in his book and seriously think over the figures given in my third chapter about the bowling of Spofforth, showing how a great bowler met with deserved success, largely because in those days it was not considered sportsmanlike to use legs to protect the wickct.

Something must be done. Nothing has been done that has had the slightest effect since 1864, when overhand bowling was made legal. In or about 1902 the bowling crease was widened and no result whatever was obtained in the way of helping the bowler. At the beginning of 1927 the size of the ball was slightly reduced, which it was hoped might help the bowler. If we may judge from the number of runs got in the first seven weeks of dry, fast, and easy batting wickets, the smaller ball had no more effect than Canute's order to the sea not to advance.

I am well aware that important changes in the laws of cricket should not be made hastily, but nobody can bring the M.C.C. to book on this account. When I first began writing this small book, I had entirely forgotten, or, what is more likely, never read the report of the first meeting of the County Cricket Council held in 1887. To my astonishment I found that all the uneasy feelings felt by so many of us in the last ten years, and which get stronger as the num­ber of drawn matches increases and the run-getting gets larger, existed in 1886, no fewer than forty-two years ago. A short epitome of the proceedings of that meeting of 1886 is given in Chapter II, and the full report in Wisden of 1888, which last should be read by everybody interested in cricket, as well as the report of the strong Sub-Committee of the M.C.C. appointed early in 1888. After reading these two reports it is amazing to find that nothing has been done for the last forty-two years to legislate on behalf of the bowler, especially by an alteration of the l.b.w. law. Every reason for such legislation that existed in 1886 exists now with more than twice the force that it had in 1886-7-8.

In my humble opinion the artificial preparation of wickets is unfair to the bowlers and should be for­bidden. I think that the experience we had of wickets immediately before the introduction of marling and other artificial preparation, and when bowlers of such pace as Richardson, Woods, Kortright, etc., were in their prime, gives no ground for supposing that naturally prepared wickets would be dangerous. At the same time I have no wish to see dangerous wickets, and it might be wise to refer the whole question to a Committee to go into the whole question and report.

I also am of opinion that the l.b.w. law should be altered so that the effect should be the same as the present law, except that the ball may be pitched anywhere and the part of the person except the hand which prevents the wicket being hit must be between wicket and wicket.

As there is some doubt as to the risk which may exist that modern bowlers of the Root school and many shortleg fields may be too difficult to play with the l.b.w. so altered, it may be wise to limit the law to the offside only, provided always that in all cases the bowlers should be given the benefit of the doubt, and hitting the ball should not, ipso facto, make the batsman immune from l.b.w. But this modified form of rule will, in my opinion, be found inadequate and only an instalment.

By all means go cautiously, but as a beginning an alteration in the l.b.w. rule which would establish the principle that the bat alone is the weapon to be used to prevent the ball hitting the wicket, would not only help the bowler in cases where the ball is pitched outside the wicket, but would improve the hitting and make scoring smaller, drawn matches few er and the batting more attractive to look at. Also let a strong Committee be appointed to see if something can be done to prevent the provision of wickets which at present are prepared to all appearance as if they were meant to make drawn matches probable and definite results only a possibility.

Finally let those who are against these two proposals suggest something to diminish the number of drawn matches, and not merely rail at the bowlers and ask them to do what is beyond their power.

The position is critical and unless something is done the great game will fall as far as first-class cricket is concerned.