Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 15
(By W. G. Grace.)
Amongst cricketers generally opinions are many and divided as to this or that particular style of batting and bowling, but sound them upon the materials necessary for the outfit of a player, and you will find as a rule that perfect unanimity prevails. They will tell you that these must be of the best quality, that too much care cannot be taken in their selection, and that badly fitting boots or trousers may mean all the difference between a small score and a large one, not to speak of the discomfort they cause when bowling and fielding. I have very seldom met with a cricketer of eminence who did not take the greatest care in the choice of a bat, pads, or gloves, or who did not impress upon his tailor the momentous importance of comfortably fitting clothes.
I propose to say something about everything that is needful in the outfit of a cricketer, beginning with his personal clothing. It is advisable for the sake of health and comfort that he should wear flannel or woollen material next his skin. It was no unusual sight ten or twenty years ago to find an eleven or county twenty-two dressed in all the colours of the rainbow. White is now usually worn, and it certainly looks better and cooler than any other colour. Shirts should be made to fit easily at the shoulders, but not too loosely. They should also be made large at the neck, as nothing is more disagreeable on a hot day than a shirt which is too small round the throat.
The best material for trousers is white flannel or cloth manufactured for the purpose; I like cloth the best, and nearly always have my trousers made of it, as it does not shrink so much in washing, and that is a very important consideration if you play right through the season, from May to September. Braces are not worn when playing cricket, so there is no need to have buttons for them on your trousers; a strap and buckle at the back should be used instead. The straps should be made so that the buckle can be removed when washing is necessary, as the buckle is very likely to stain and cut the trousers if left on. Do not forget loops at the side for scarf or belt to go through. Many of the old cricketers used to wear belts to keep their trousers from slipping down; I prefer a scarf, as it looks better and will grip quite as firmly, and you will not run the risk of being given out caught at the wickets through the handle of the bat coming in contact with the buckle of the belt and the noise being mistaken by the umpire for a snick off the bat. I once saw a man given out for this very thing. It certainly was very hard lines; the ball passed so close to the bat that the umpire, hearing a snick, thought the ball must have touched it, and, on being appealed to, gave the batsman out.
Nothing can look much worse in the cricket field than to see fieldsmen with their hands in their pockets, and it is certainly not conducive to quick, smart fielding. I have observed that nearly all good fielders keep their hands hanging loosely by their sides, and are ready to dash after the ball immediately it is hit anywhere in their direction. Be sure to try on every new pair of trousers when sent home from the tailor's, or you may find out when too late to rectify the mistake that they are either too small or too large, and are completely useless. A revelation of this kind when you arrive on the cricket field and are getting ready to go in is destructive alike to high scoring and sweetness of temper.
Caps I think indispensable and preferable to any kind of hats, unless in very hot weather under a broiling sun, when some protection to the neck and back of the head is necessary. 1887 was one of the hottest seasons I ever played through, but only once did I change my cap for a hat with a large brim. Hats are very apt to fall off; caps rarely do so if they are made to fit properly. Many cricketers never wear any covering on their heads. Mr. A. N. Hornby and Mr. Frank Townsend have always played bare-headed, and seem to revel in it whatever may be the state of the weather. Most of the leading clubs and counties have a distinguishing colour of their own, and cricketers generally wear caps made of this colour.
Jackets and jerseys, or 'sweaters,' as they are commonly called, have their place in the outfit of a cricketer. A jacket on a hot day is useful when one is not actually engaged in the game; special attention should be given to its colour and pattern—very often it is made of the same flannel and shade as the cap, and when well chosen forms a very pleasing contrast to the white of the trousers. It can be used when fielding, but certainly not when batting or bowling. A jersey or sweater is preferable; it fits closer to the body, is much pleasanter, and in the field on a very cold day it helps to keep you warm, which is necessary for smartness and comfort. It is bad enough at times to watch a series of maiden overs and only get the crossing over between them for exercise, but when you add to that the sensation of shivering from insufficient clothing, then you have a very unhappy situation indeed. You must exercise judgment in the use of a jersey when batting or bowling, for the warmth it affords will be more than counterbalanced by the hindrance to freedom of arms and wrists. I have worn one in very cold weather when first going in to bat or going on to bowl, but have discarded it after an over or two. Always carry it in your bag, for a hot and fine morning may be followed by a cold or wet afternoon.
Experienced cricketers know that the most trying thing during the season is to keep the feet from getting sore and blistered; if they become so, much of the pleasure of the game is gone; therefore everyone who wishes to be comfortable should wear thick woollen socks, and always have an extra pair or two in the bag when travelling about. They are better made plain, not ribbed, and in natural colours they are more comfortable and do not mark the feet.
Cricket boots or shoes must be worn. I prefer lace-up boots, and think most cricketers who play a good deal do the same. Have them made of brown or white leather. It is rather difficult to say what is the best thickness for the sole; for while a heavy man must wear very thick ones when the ground is as hard as a brickbat to prevent the feet being hurt by the spikes or bruised by the ground, a thinner pair would be sufficient under different conditions. I always wear thick soled boots with low flat heels; by having the heels low and flat you are not nearly so likely to sprain or twist your ankle as you would be with high and narrow ones. To prevent slipping, it is necessary to wear spikes or nails in your boots or shoes. Be careful what sort of spikes or nails you use; I prefer short spikes, which are made in different sizes and can be screwed into the boots in a very short time. These spikes are very convenient, as when they wear down short they can be taken out and new ones easily put in. Nails are used by some cricketers; they are of different sizes and shapes, but large square-headed ones hold best. I should advise all cricketers who play often to have two pairs of boots, one with short spikes or nails which will hold and prevent slipping on a hard dry ground, and the other with longer spikes for a soft wet spongy ground.
Pads were not worn in the early days of cricket, and although I have seen a few first-class cricketers who never use them, at the present time I cannot call to mind anyone who plays without them. It is much safer to wear them, and when they are properly made and fit well they but slightly affect the freedom of the legs. The sense of confidence that comes from wearing them more than makes up for the slight loss of freedom. No doubt the old players of whom we hear so much from certain old fogies did not like being hit on the shin any more than we do at the present time, so some one invented pads or shin-protectors, which consisted of two pieces of wood so placed as to guard the legs. The next kind we can trace consisted of several pieces of wood fastened together, and since then they have been gradually improved until the present pads were invented, which consist of rows of wadding or stuffing of some kind with layers of cork and a piece of cane for each row, the whole being covered with leather. At first they were fastened with pieces of tape wound round the leg and tied; then came india-rubber or elastic straps with hooks, and finally the present arrangement of buckle and strap, which meets with general approval. Some makers of the present day have them fastened by loops and a long strap lacing up the back of the leg.
When choosing pads see that they are exactly your size and fit well, for large, heavy, and uncomfortable pads will do as much to tire you out in a long innings as hard hitting. As soon as you begin to feel them loose and shifting, strap them tight again, or they may cause you to be run out.
Batting gloves are of the highest importance, and players should accustom themselves to wear them as soon as they begin to play regular cricket, or very possibly they may have to use them on some important occasion and will feel all abroad when wearing them for the first time. There are some grounds where the pitch is so easy that you rarely find a ball rising higher than the top of the stumps, and you could almost dispense with gloves altogether; but occasionally a ball comes which rises and catches you a whack on the hand, causing a damaged finger which may spoil your cricket and comfort for the rest of the day, or perhaps season. At Lord's and some other grounds not so many years ago fast bumping balls had to be watched very carefully, and knocks on the fingers and body were very frequent. Players then had to use gloves, who at other times went in without them. I am sure it is a mistake not to wear them constantly, and calling for gloves as some players do after getting a nasty knock on the hand or knuckles is like locking the stable-door after the horse has been stolen. I think prevention is better than cure, and know of nothing more disappointing in cricket than to be compelled to decline an invitation to play in a first-class match owing to a damaged finger, which might have been prevented by simply wearing a glove. Gloves are generally made of leather, with strips of thick fluted india-rubber sewn on the back to protect the fingers and hand. When purchasing gloves be careful to see that the rubber is stout enough to resist the blow when the ball hits your hand or fingers, or you might just as well do without gloves altogether. See that the rubber on the fingers of the right-hand glove comes down slightly over the tops of the fingers, and on the side of the thumb instead of the back. Just remember that the side of the thumb, and not the back of it, is towards the bowler when you are batting. I have seen many a bruised and smashed thumb from want of care in this apparently small point. We first hear of batting gloves about the year 1825, when round-arm bowling came into force; but of course they were then clumsily made, and lacked the comfort which characterises the gloves of the present time. They had more the look of our present wicket-keeping gloves, were much heavier, and only the backs of the hands and part of the fingers were protected, cork, cane, or rubber being used for this purpose. The improvement in the make of them has been of steady growth. It is not many years since they were made with leather on the inside, which covered the palm of the hand, preventing, as everyone knows, a firm grip of the bat; however, that is a thing of the past, and now a good number of players not only wear gloves without anything covering the palm of the hand, but go so far as to cut out pieces of the inside covering to the fingers; the idea being that the more you can get of the natural hand to grip the bat, the greater your command and power over it.
Look to the fastening of your glove even more carefully than to the fastening of your pads. Carelessness in this respect will make the hand feel uncomfortable, and a loose flapping glove may very probably be the cause of your losing your wicket, as the ball is more likely to hit a glove of this description than a firm well-fastened one.
Gloves are generally fastened at the wrist by a band of elastic sewn on the top and buttoned. You can fasten them by a band of elastic without a button, or have the thumb separated from the body of the glove and sewn on to a piece of elastic, the other end of which is fastened to the back of the glove, and long enough to pass once round the wrist; this contrivance will keep the glove well in its place. Although I have never used a glove of this description, I consider the idea a good one and well worthy of a trial.
And now that the cricketer is fully equipped, so far as dress and safety to limbs are concerned, it is time to refer to those indispensable requisites of the game—bat, ball, and wickets. I have no doubt a number of young enthusiasts will say that they ought to have come first, and that what I have touched upon are small matters in comparison. I know it is the ambition of all youngsters to possess a bat long before they are able to play or to take part in club practice and matches; only give them that, and they think they are fit to do battle with the finest exponents of the game. Whilst ready to admit its primary importance in cricket, I should be sorry indeed if what I have said should appear to them of no importance. Believe me, and I speak earnestly, it is careful attention to the apparently small things that commands success so far as the playing of the game is concerned. I do not believe in elaborate dress, or being over-particular as to the look of your trousers or shirt, but I cannot too strongly impress upon the young player the importance of being able to walk to the wicket with everything about him fitting comfortably; and that can only be brought about by careful consideration of the matters indicated. When you have attended to them, you have done all that you are able to do as far as preparation for the struggle is concerned; you have determined to leave nothing to chance, and now you are at the wicket, and it is simply a matter of skill and luck whether you are going to perform brilliantly or indifferently. With all good cricketers, as with all good soldiers, drill and attention to little things have become a doctrine, and a doctrine that is worthy of attention.
The bat used by our forefathers was more like a crooked club, and in their time there were not any rules or restrictions as to its length and width. An old cricketer named Small is said to have been the first man known to have made and played with a straight bat, and from that time bats have gradually become more like those at present in use. White of Reigate, another of the old school, had a bat made wider than the wicket, and this led to the first rule as to the width and size of the bat. Eventually the present law came into force, that the bat must not exceed 38 inches in length and 4¼ in width. The length is more than enough; I have never seen a cricketer play with a bat 38 inches in length. The ordinary and best length is 34½ inches, the blade 22 and the handle 12½; anything longer would be unwieldy, the blade would be likely to dig into the ground and the handle into the stomach when playing. The weight and balance of a bat are the chief points, and make more difference in a cricketer's play than is generally known.
I believe that if a bat is well balanced, it is not of much importance if it is a little heavy; a good player can pkiy nearly as well forward or back, and drive as well as he could with a lighter one; but of one thing I am certain, and that is, if he wants to cut and hit to leg well, he must play with a light bat; if he plays with a heavy one, he will not only miss a good many balls he ought to cut effectively, but others he will just touch, and if he is not in luck will be caught at the wicket or in the slips. A bat should weigh from two pounds to two pounds five ounces. Many young cricketers play with bats far too heavy and long for their strength and height. The length of a boy's bat should vary according to his height. A tall boy might play with a full-size bat if not very heavy, but small boys should play with shorter bats; the blade and handle should be made shorter but not narrower. Some cricketers prefer thick handles and others like thin ones; this point must be determined by the size and length of the hand. Naturally a man with a large hand, especially if the fingers are long, will need a thicker handle than a cricketer who has a small hand and short fingers. The shape and size of the handle is a matter of opinion and suitability. I myself use a thick handle which is not too round, but must advise a cricketer to use whichever suits him best. Occasionally one comes across a man the handle of whose bat is two or three inches longer than usual, but I do not think he gains anything by it, unless he is very tall, and makes up his mind for sensational hitting; for it is certain that a tall man with a long-handled bat, if he times the ball properly, will hit it further than he could with a short-handled one, as 'the longer the lever the greater the power.' Most cricketers try to keep up their wickets as long as they can, knowing it is only a matter of time until runs come. If you try and play a series of maiden overs with a bat with a handle longer than you are accustomed to, you will find how difficult it is, and recognise the impossibility of playing as well as you could with one of ordinary length.
Some cricketers cover the handle with chamois leather, or india-rubber cases made for that purpose. I can say very little about such devices, as I have not tried them sufficiently to give a decided opinion, favourably or otherwise. I am sure if the leather or rubber case is at all loose, as I have seen it on some bats, you will not get a firm grip of the handle; what is more, it will turn in your hand, and a dangerous hit in the air may be the result. Years ago there were only a few bat-makers, now the times are altered and their name is legion. Many of them are trying to invent some new handle or blade that will make the bats drive more than they do already. What will the poor bowlers do then? I find the present bat drives quite enough, and have sometimes thought it drove too much; but then I was bowling, not batting. I have tried many of these new inventions, and have no doubt some of them will answer very well when the makers have succeeded in producing handles with the proper amount of spring and yet strong enough to withstand the strain put upon them. It is very annoying to have the handle of your bat breaking in the middle of along innings, for you do not feel at home with a new one for an over or two. I am repeatedly asked whose bats are the best, and what maker's I play with. My answer is I play with any good bat I can get hold of, never minding who is the maker, as long as the bat is not too heavy and is well balanced, and suits me as to handle. In the season 1887 I made most of my long scores with a bat made by a maker comparatively unknown. When you get hold of a good bat take care of it, oil it now and then, and when the season is over, put it away in a dry place; during the winter months oil it occasionally, or it may get too dry to drive properly when the next season comes.
The ball used when cricket was first played was much smaller than the one employed at the present time, and was more like our 'rounder' ball. The rule says the present ball must not weigh less than five ounces and a half, nor more than five ounces and three-quarters, and it must not measure less than nine inches nor more than nine inches and one-quarter in circumference.
It requires much knowledge and experience to tell a good ball from an indifferent one. They are all pretty much the same in appearance, size and weight, and it is only after a hard knock or two that a bad one begins to show its real nature. I have seen an apparently good ball knocked out of shape after half an hour's play, while a real good one will last and keep its shape and firmness throughout a long innings.
Ball-makers like bat-makers are very numerous, and as cricketers must trust them to supply a good article, I would say buy only from those who have earned the right to be classed amongst the best makers. A badly made ball is dear at any price.
And now, having described the materials necessary to complete a cricketer's outfit, the only thing required is a suitable bag in which to put them. One made of good leather is preferable to any other sort. Mind you have it large enough to hold everything you can possibly require. Have a strong lock and key for it, and straps as well. Have your name inscribed on the brass round the lock, and your initials painted in plain bold letters on the side. In the hurry of hand-shaking and bustle to catch a train the wrong bag has been often taken for want of this simple precaution.