Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 16

Cricket  (1888) 
Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.

CRICKET REFORM.

(By the Hon. R. H. Lyttelton.)

A great enthusiast on behalf of any game or sport is sometimes a little apt to argue that the game in which he delights is a perfect one, that nothing ought to be reformed, and that any change must be for the worst.

We yield to nobody in our enthusiasm for the game of cricket, but we are certainly in favour of judicious reform in the laws which govern the game; and we can scarcely help supposing that the opponents of all change are either oblivious of the enormous alteration that has taken place in cricket in consequence of the improvement of grounds, or else their attention is principally devoted to batting, and this causes them to think a little too much of the joys of hitting. No doubt they revel in the hot days, perfect wickets, and loose bowling that bring about the supremacy of batting.

We feel confident that our younger critics fail to recognise the gigantic change that has taken place simply on account of the invention of the mowing-machine alone. That is only one of the many causes of the superiority and billiard-table aspect of modern grounds, as compared with the same grounds in former days. The champion operator with the old-fashioned scythe was bound to leave some long blades of grass, and anybody can see the difference between a lawn mown by the scythe and the lawn shaved close by a machine. It is this machine, and the knowledge that comes from experience of the proper sorts of soil and seeds, that has caused the beautiful wickets of the present day, and the corresponding increase in the number of runs scored. The gigantic scoring is an evil. Everything is made easy for the batsman. In no respect, save that of allowing overhand bowling, has the poor bowler had any consideration shown him, and the results are batting made easy and drawn games. The scoring during the season of 1887 reached a pitch that, for the sake of cricket, we hope will never be seen again; but it will be repeated when the next dry season comes round, unless in the interval some changes are made in the laws of the game to help the bowler and fieldsman this time and not the batsman. The unlearned and unlettered spectator, it is true, seems to regard a match as interesting according to the number of runs scored, but this is a perverted view. Such a one likes to see a good finish if he can, but he feels slightly disappointed every time a wicket falls, unless indeed it happens to be the wicket of a proverbial stick. His ideal day's amusement requires a hot day and a hard and perfectly true wicket—W. G. Grace, at the head of a strong side, batting for five hours and scoring over 200 runs; other batsmen piling up fifties and sixties—and when the stumps are drawn at seven he loves to see on the telegraph the following sort of figures:

We have no wish to be hard on our unintelligent friend, but we must point out to him that his conception of the game is based on an altogether wrong principle. If he tries to understand and appreciate the skill of bowling, and the beauty and grace of fine fielding and wicket-keeping, he will keep a tender spot in his heart for professors of these branches of the game, and not like to see them utterly defeated by the skill of modern batsmen, largely helped by the modern wickets. Where the score is in such a ridiculous state as the above, there will ensue one of two results: either the match will be drawn, or else W. G. Grace and his comrades will win an absurdly easy victory. The ideal match is a match that does not last more than two days, where the wicket has got a bit of devil in it, where no individual innings realises more than 80 runs, no one complete innings exceeds 200 runs, where the side that have to go in for the fourth innings must get about 180 runs to win, and win the match by two or three wickets or lose it by 15 or 20 runs. This is genuine cricket, and far better worth seeing than the type of matches so often played in 1887.

We will first consider a few points that are not changes in the law, but only consist of a strict observance of the laws as they now stand. Rule 45 is one of a set of rules that are supposed to inform an umpire of his duties, and runs thus: 'They (umpires) shall allow two minutes for each striker to come in, and ten minutes between each innings. When they shall call play, the side refusing to play shall lose the match.' Here is a perfectly straight forward rule that we do not hesitate to say is ignored as completely as if it was not a rule at all. No doubt it was not required in former days, when individual scores of 50 did not occur oftener than hundreds do now. There was no hurry then. Even in fine weather very few matches lasted into the third day, and no doubt a certain laxity crept into the system. But the rule was in existence, nevertheless, and is still; and surely now is the time for putting it into force.

A few statistical facts may prove how important a feature a tolerable observance of time is in considering how to stop this endless succession of drawn games. Elsewhere it has been pointed out that there has been no drawn match played between Oxford and Cambridge since 1849. There have been plenty of runs got and to spare, but on Lord's a far stricter jurisdiction has been kept in the matter of time than on any other ground.

But even here nobody can affirm that a strict ten minutes is never exceeded for the interval between the innings. It may be taken as a general truth that thirty minutes is frequently allowed to elapse on other grounds; and let us see how many hours' play takes place on a fine August day.

Play is advertised to begin at 12. As a rule it does not begin till 12.15. Luncheon is at 2, and there is always three-quarters of an hour consumed by the meal and dawdling about afterwards. A side is got out say at 4.30; this means another interval of half-an-hour between the innings, and stumps are drawn at 6.30. This makes the actual time spent in playing cricket on a grand summer's day exactly five hours. On a second and third day play usually begins at 11.30, so an additional half-hour is gained, making sixteen hours' play for the three days. Who can wonder that this state of things causes so many drawn matches? Yet the remedy is simple. What possible objection can there be against beginning at eleven after the first day, and thus getting three hours' uninterrupted play before luncheon? Again, why not make a rule of the ground that spectators are not allowed to break into the ring when the innings is over, and that the game shall recommence after the wicket has been properly swept and rolled? That to prevent the spectators from walking into the ring is feasible is proved by the example shown both by the Yorkshire Committee at Sheffield, where the rule is in strict force on the Bramall Lane Ground, and by the Lancashire Committee at Old Trafford.

If this regulation of the ground is in force, the players will all be in the pavilion two minutes after the close of the innings, and the rolling of the wicket will have begun. Let there be a five minutes bell rung at the expiration of that time, and let the umpires then take up their position at the wickets. The rolling and sweeping need not occupy more than ten minutes, and directly the roller is moved off the wicket the two batsmen and the field ought to be in their places. The rule is perfectly easy to work, and there can be no reasonable argument against adopting it. After it had been in force for a month people would wonder that the old-fashioned waste of time had ever been permitted. The alteration, or rather the systematic carrying out of this one rule alone, will do as much to enable matches to be played out as anything in reason can; and that some rule is necessary seems to be evident from the following statistics. In the Australian tour of 1886 thirty-nine matches were begun, and no less than twenty-two left unfinished. During the same season Notts played fourteen matches, and no fewer than seven—or exactly one-half—were drawn.

The same rule which provides ten minutes between each innings allows two minutes for the incoming batsman to succeed the outgoing. It is unfortunate that no mention is made of any penalty for the infringement of this; there should be one, and it ought to be rigidly exacted if the rule be not observed. The strict enforcement of this law would go far to stop the existing evil of drawn games.

We will now discuss what we consider to be a hardship to bowlers and field, and an undue favouring of the batsman—a point about which there is no rule. Twenty years ago, England was not so densely crowded, the average number of spectators was not nearly so large as it is now, and it was not the custom to have an all-round boundary. Every hit was run out, and the fieldsman in pursuit of the ball plunged right into the middle of carriages, spectators, and horses' legs, and picked it up, the batsman in the meanwhile running out the full value of the hit. Now the case is altogether altered. There is a strong cord running all round the ground, every decently hard hit is certain to reach the ropes if the ball once passes the fieldsman, and the batsman stands coolly in his ground, being altogether spared the trouble of running and the loss of breath which naturally follows the exertion. There is another reason why the batsman is favoured by this system of boundaries, and that is, the chance of a run-out is materially diminished. The position we take up in all these matters is, that in these days runs are too easily accumulated, that the perfection of modern wickets has so affected the bowling that the reform of the ftiture ought to be in the direction of favouring the bowlers and fieldsmen, and not the batsman. Those who were spectators of cricket matches in former days can call to mind many a run-out owing to a batsman attempting a fourth or fifth run. The fieldsman had hold of the ball at a distance say of 100 yards from the wicket; just a second or so before the batsman started for a fifth run the ball had been thrown, a hard low and straight throw pitching about 15 yards from the wicket; the ball was handled by the wicket-keeper, and the batsman was run out by a few inches. If the thing is done with real skill there is no prettier sight in cricket; but the boundary has practically stopped all this. A spectator picks the ball up, chucks it to the expectant field, who dribbles it along the ground to the bowler, while the batsman, having had his smack, saunters about in the most unconcerned way and prepares for the next ball. Cricketers well understand that this saving of breath to a batsman is an enormous advantage; he is enabled to stand quite cool and collected in his ground, and hit away without, as a rule, having to run more than two runs, while the bowlers and field are perspiring away in their efforts to get the side out. The remedy we propose is a very simple one, and in our judgment would meet the case perfectly. It consists of running a net, two feet high, round the ground along the same circumference that the boundary ropes now go, and unless the ball goes over this net, let the hit be run out. The batsman will frequently get three runs for a hit of equal value to that for which he now gets four, he will be compelled to run them out, and the fine thrower will have opportunities of distinguishing himself. The net must be like a common rabbit net, and fixed down so as to prevent the ball going under. We feel certain that this system will, if adopted, insure that the batsman will not be the only player on the ground who is in full possession of his breath.

We have heard it maintained that in a run-getting match where there are no boundaries the field gets tired before the batsmen, and that therefore the rabbit net would benefit the side it is desired to handicap. Now, in the first place, we do not agree with this statement, and in the second place the circumstances on a ground like Chatham lines or Woolwich Common must be different from what they are on Lord's or the Oval, where 10,000 spectators are looking on. The two batsmen run out every hit, and these two batsmen for the moment constitute the whole of one side. But when a hit is made the whole eleven of the fielding side have not to run after the ball; only one of them does so; it follows, therefore, that the work to these two individual batsmen must be harder than that of any one field. No doubt the batsman feels pride and pleasure in the getting of runs; but if he is much of a hitter he must be in wondrous training if, after having had to run 80 runs in 45 minutes or thereabouts, he does not feel just a bit fagged; and everybody knows that a real fine ball is likely to get out a man in this condition. What we complain of now is that a batsman may be four hours at the wicket and never once feel even out of breath. What makes the rotund Quidnunc and the festive Zingaro feel a little queer is the chase after a ball to a Medway stroke at Chatham, where the ball runs in front of the perspiring fieldsman down a hill and with a wind behind it, as Mr. Pickwick's hat did in an historical scene.

The introduction of round-arm bowling has been described, and it may safely be said that no change which has ever taken place in cricket has caused so great a revolution. Immediately prior to the introduction of this style of bowling the scoring got so high that it became a nuisance, as is the case now, though no doubt it is far higher at present. The batsman had learnt the art of successfully dealing with underhand bowling even though the paces and twists were of a most varied character, and so the existing problem of how to keep down runs at that time also presented itself. There was this important difference in the circumstances, however, that the modern grounds have reached a perfection which has never been attained before, and it is probable that the old-fashioned underhand bowling was more difficult to play on the average wicket of sixty years ago than the modern round and over-hand bowling is on the wicket of to-day. If, then, there was sufficient reason in 1827 for permitting the introduction of some reform to stop the run-getting, there must be more reason now, for there is no doubt runs are more easily obtained at the present time than they were at any former period. The excellence of modern grounds, so often referred to in this book for reasons that have been described, is a matter the importance of which cannot be exaggerated, and it appears to us useless to shut our eyes to the fact that, in consequence of these improved wickets, some steps must be taken to check run- getting, or at any rate prevent as far as possible drawn matches.

Since 1827 the only noteworthy revolution which has taken place is in the concession to the bowler of permission to deliver the ball with his arm above the shoulder, a change only made after a fierce opposition. The bowling of Spofforth at his fastest, Ulyett, Mr. Rotherham and others on the old-fashioned wickets, before the introduction of the mowing-machine and heavy roller, would have prevented heavy run-getting by the simple expedient of severely injuring the batsman—not a desirable method by any means. But the new rule for a time somewhat diminished scores, and only ceased to be more efficacious as the grounds improved. As far as bowling is concerned things have not been altered since, and it is impossible that any further change can take place, as public opinion has spoken out strongly in regard to throwing, which, owing to the weakness of umpires and to the great laxity of cricket committees, crept into vogue a few years ago. Now comes the question, What can be done to check the run-getting? Note first, that a great and important change took place about 1835 by means of a quiet decision of the umpires, reminding lawyers of the method whereby entails were abolished by the judges in a celebrated suit called 'Taltarum's case.' This decision affected the interpretation of the law of leg before wicket There was a difference of opinion between two celebrated umpires of that period, Dark and Caldecourt, as to how the rule was to be applied. Dark thought that the rule ought to be interpreted in the way that it is now; Caldecourt, on the other hand, maintained that if the ball left the bowler's hand and was proceeding in a straight line from hand to wicket, the batsman was out if he let the ball hit his leg. In other words, whereas now the ball must go straight from wicket to wicket, Caldecourt's idea was that it was sufficient if it went from hand to wicket. It may be mentioned, as showing that these two authorities were interested in the question, that Dark bowled with a low action over the wicket, and Caldecourt with a low action round the wicket. Before 1835 the rule ran thus: 'Rule 25. Or if with any part of his person he stop the ball, which in the opinion of the umpire at the bowler's wicket shall have been delivered in a straight line from it to the striker's wicket and would have hit it.'

In consequence of the dispute between Dark and Caldecourt the matter was referred to the M.C.C. Committee, and the result of their deliberation was that the two words 'from it' were inserted and Dark triumphed—unfortunately, as we think.

While this book was being wTitten the sub-committee of the Marylebone Cricket Club determined not to make any change in the existing law of l.b.w., but framed a sort of homily to the effect that systematically stopping the ball with the leg is a reprehensible practice, and ought to be discouraged. The whole question of l.b.w. has been discussed largely during the last twelve months, and it is impossible to refrain from expressing an opinion one way or the other; we trust, therefore, that we shall be excused if we differ from the M.C.C. authorities.

Let us see, in the first place, what the opponents of change regard as objections. Some say that runs are not too numerous, large scores are not an evil in themselves, and they perceive no necessity for any change which would tend to diminish scoring. To these we only say that if they really think so we iigree with them that the rule had better stand as it is. We feel sure, however, that the majority of cricket judges do not agree with this opinion, and the tiresome number of drawn matches is one reason for altering the law; another being that batting as an art is being spoilt, notwithstanding the larger scoring.

Besides this, the sight, which is now common, of bowlers and field utterly demoralised owing to the splendid condition of the modern wickets, and runs coming like a flood, is discouraging to the lover of genuine cricket. Here we suspect we reach a truth, and that is, the people who do not think runs are too numerous are the batsmen themselves; and we should like to hear what the bowlers think? It is also said that the people who pay the gate money and come and look on at matches like to see long scores made, and if these are diminished in number they will come no longer, and the clubs will suffer in consequence. Even if this be true, should the authorities legislate from the standpoint of ignorance—in other words, are the people who do not profess to thoroughly understand the game to determine the direction of future legislation? This is a democratic age, but we cannot think that such a contention is admissible.

Then there are others who protest that any change will give too much power to umpires. Again we respectfully say we cannot agree with this view. We suppose that this class of objectors mean that any change would make it more difficult for umpires to determine whether a batsman is out l.b.w. or not. This cannot be so, as we feel sure that proper consideration would show. Every umpire will admit that the hard thing to determine now is whether the ball pitched straight or not. Under an altered law this would not have to be considered at all, so a change certainly would not make the umpire's task a harder one, but rather, on the contrary, easier. The umpires now have enormous powers entrusted to them, and if the rule were made more stringent it would very soon be found that batsmen would alter their style of play, and the appeals for l.b.w. would gradually become fewer. The modern teachers of batting instruct the young cricketer to play forward with his left leg right up to his bat, so as to leave no space between the bat and his leg. Under the present rule this is correct; but twenty-five years ago this method was neither taught nor practised, and cricket was all the better for it. In like manner in back play the youngster puts his right leg up to his bat, and this is an innovation about which it may be said that cricket would be improved if it was no longer the fashion. In fact, the modern idea is that, failing the bat, the legs must protect the wicket; and we say most emphatically that this is against the spirit of the rules and practice of cricket. One hears a batsman who has been given out l.b.w. come away from the wicket and talk as if he were the victim of the greatest hardship. And why? Because he maintains that the ball pitched perhaps an inch off the off stump. But where is the hardship? He does not go to the wicket to play with any other weapon except his bat, and if he is in front of his wicket and the ball hits his legs, the real hardship is suffered by the bowler unless the umpire gives him out. The famous Robert Grimston used to say that it was bad play to be hit on the leg at all; and he was right, if the legs happened to be in front of the wicket Small sympathy did anyone get from this sound old sportsman if hurt under these circumstances. 'Hurt? I hope he is hurt. I hope he will feel it in the night if he wakes up; his leg was before all three stumps, and he ought to have been out, and would have been out under the old law. He put his leg in front purposely, and it isn't fair cricket; it is cheating!'

There was a proposal made, we think by Mr. Webbe, to the effect that the umpires shall give a man out who wilfully stops a ball with his legs. We would earnestly ask Mr. Webbe and his supporters to tell us how this change can ever work? One class of objectors to any change allege that too much power would be given to the umpires. Mr. Webbe's proposition would not only entail on an umpire a thorough knowledge of cricket as a game, but would also require him to be a judge of morals. How can one decide on the wilfulness of an act? A batsman puts his leg in front of the wicket and hangs his bat in front of his leg. The ball misses his bat and hits his leg. He is given out, and he will stoutly maintain that there was no wilful act at all; that he never played such a ball in any other way in his life, and it was bad luck that it missed his bat Who can settle this question?

A word now on behalf of the unhappy bowlers. The wondrous excellence of modern grounds has driven the bowler to adopt all sorts of devices to get wickets, and the great increase in the number of curling and breaking bowlers is owing to this. To acquire a curl or a break back is most difficult, and the highest amount of credit is due to bowlers who have gained this skill.

Heavily handicapped as the bowler is by the smooth wicket, is he not entitled to a little consideration when all his efforts to bowl a man by a breaking ball are neutralised by the leg and not the bat? It may be reckoned a certainty that neither Dark nor Caldecourt could have foreseen the prevalence of modern leg play; if Dark had done so he would have supported Caldecourt. Now surely it is no small reason why the law should be altered if a state of things has arisen, altogether unsportsmanlike and utterly unforeseen, in consequence of the interpretation of a certain rule which in old times was by certain umpires treated differently? We can only hope that the force of public opinion will cause the Marylebone Club to reconsider their judgment. Before we leave this subject we cannot help expressing an opinion that, impartial as the M.C.C. sub-committee may be, it was a pity so little of the bowling element was represented on it. It is the bowlers who have most cause to grumble at the modern leg play; but with the exception of Mr. Ridley and Mr. V. E. Walker, both lob bowlers, the committee consisted of past or present batsmen entirely, or at any rate of members whose chief forte was batting and not bowling. However, the homily which was finally adopted has been preached, and it may have effect. We hope it will.

Some good results, however, followed the conference of the M.C.C, which was held just prior to the writing of these remarks. The position of affairs about 4 o'clock on the third day of a match, stumps having to be drawn at 7, until lately very often was that the in side were two or three hundred runs on and only five wickets down. The captain of the side, seeing that if his men played their natural game the match must be drawn, instructed them to get out. What followed was merely a burlesque of cricket. The batsmen knocked down their wickets or ran themselves out, while the out side, knowing that they could not win, and not wanting to be defeated, as they would have been if they had gone in to bat, wasted time by actually bowling no-balls, and refusing to put the wicket down or hold catches.

The captain of the in side, by the new rule of the M.C.C., now has the power at any stage he likes of the second innings of his side to declare that the innings is over. Say that his side is 250 ahead and the time is 4 o'clock. The other side have consequently to go in for nearly three hours' batting, and of course in that time they may get out, and the match instead of being drawn may be finished. The runs may not be so numerous, the captain may make a mistake, and the out side may go in and win the match. That is a risk which the captain has to run, but he runs a certain risk now when he tells his men to get out on purpose, and he saves cricket from becoming ridiculous. Besides, it is hard on the young professional to be obliged to get out on purpose; cricket is his business, and a low average might handicap him in his profession.

A small reform that the Australians advocated has also been suggested. The M.C.C. committee have recommended an increase in the number of balls in an over from four to five, and herein we think that they have acted wisely.

The conclusion we arrive at as an upshot of the whole matter is that the recommendations already made are wise and will improve the game, and that still further improvements will ensue if the following regulations become the law of each ground:— (1.) Stricter observance of the rules of time both between the innings and between the fall of each wicket. (2.) A new rule ordaining that matches begin at 11.30 or 12 on the first day, and at 11 sharp on the second and third days. On the leg before wicket question we hold that a change in the law would be better than the little sermon of the M.C.C, but the latter may nevertheless do good, and we sincerely hope it will.