Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 4
(By A. G. Steel.)
Going in. It is a strange fact connected with cricket that a good captain is but seldom met with. The game has made such progress in popularity during the last thirty years, and the numbers of those who are proficient in its different branches have increased so enormously, that we should certainly expect to find in our county and other important matches captains who thoroughly understand the duties they are called upon to fulfil. But on looking round we are disappointed to find that the good captains in first-class (including of course county) cricket are extremely few, and these few are amateurs The cause of this may be that few men are able to take part in first-class cricket after they have served such an apprenticeship as would give them the experience, calmness, and judgment necessary for the difficult post of captain; or it may be that the qualifications for a good leader in the cricket-field are, from their very nature, seldom met with—in other words, that a captain is born not made, and very seldom born, too. Few professional cricketers (it is a well-known fact) make good captains; we have hardly ever seen a match pbyed, where a professional cricketer was captain of either side, in which he was not guilty of some very palpable blunders. Take the Gentlemen v. Players matches, at Lord's and the Oval, for the last twenty years; the Players have always been seriously handicapped by the want of a good captain. Bowlers are kept on maiden after maiden without the faintest chance of a wicket, no originality of attack is ever attempted and altogether the captaincy is usually bad. It must, however, be admitted that 'professional' captains are in a more difficult position than amateurs, inasmuch as they are often exposed to the but thinly concealed murmurings of their fellows, who consider that they have not been treated with the amount of consideration they deserve. Amateurs always have made, and always will make, the best captains; and this is only natural. An educated mind, with a logical power of reasoning, will always treat every subject better than one comparatively untaught. There are exceptions to every rule, and Alfred Shaw, the best professional captain we ever came across, is the exception here. The disastrous effects of bad captaincy on the success of a side were never more clearly manifested than by the Australian team that visited England in 1878. This team contained several good bowlers who, helped by the sticky state of the ground, were very deadly to our best batsmen. Their batting was rough and rather untutored, but still at times dangerous. They met with great success until the grounds got hard and firm, when their bowlers were collared. It is in adversity at cricket, as in the more serious walks of life, that the best qualities come to the fore; and whenever the Australian bowlers were collared, the whole team seemed to go to pieces. Either the captain or the bowlers placed the fielders in the most extraordinary and unheard-of positions, where they had but little chance of saving runs or getting catches. Spofforth during one match at Lord's in that season bowled the greater part of the day to a batsman—the Hon. Edward Lyttelton—who was not dismissed till he had topped his hundred. Ball after ball was neatly cut on the hard true ground to the boundary, past the spot where third man ought to have been but was not. Fancy a fast bowler bowling on a hard ground, while a batsman made a hundred without a third man; then think that this batsman was one of the finest amateur cutters of his day, and you will wonder what had become of the management of the side! This was, however, the first year the Australians visited us; on many subsequent occasions we found out to our cost that they had made good use of their time and experience in England, and had improved, in every branch of the game, to what was to an Englishman's eye an alarming extent. Their captaincy, however, has never been good; Murdoch, of course, had a thoroughly sound knowledge of the game; but his better judgment was too frequently hampered by the ceaseless chattering and advice of one or two men who never could grasp the fact that in the cricket-field there can only be one captain.
The chief qualifications for a good captain are a sound knowledge of the game, a calm judgment, and the ability to inspire others with confidence.
Bad captains may be split up into three classes: —
- Nervous and excitable men.
- Dull apathetic men.
- Bowling captains, with an aversion to seeing anybody bowl but themselves.
1. The nervous and excitable class is perhaps the worst of all, and sides which have the misfortune to be led by one of this division are indeed heavily handicapped. The chief peculiarity of a captain of this sort is that he seems never to be able to keep still for a moment in the field. He is continually rushing about, altering the field every over without any reason, shouting excitedly at the top of his voice whenever a fielder has to stop or throw up the ball, and generally creating a feeling of uneasiness and excitement among players and spectators. He is at one moment tearing his hair distractedly because some unfortunate fielder has let a ball through his legs, and the next shouting and dancing with excitement and joy when some exceptionally good catch or bit of fielding has got rid of a dangerous batsman.
2. A member of the second class may be easily recognised. He walks slowly to his place at the end of each over with his eyes fixed on the ground, as if in deep thought. In reality he is thinking of nothing, or, at any rate, nothing connected with the game. He has put his two best bowlers on, and so long as a wicket falls every thirty or forty runs, what does it matter whether or not time is being wasted by a series of profitless short-pitched maiden overs? It is the bowler's duty, not his, to get the batsmen out, and if the latter put on forty runs without a wicket falling, why it will be time enough then to try someone else, and perhaps later on he himself might have a turn with lobs if things get into a very bad state. It does not take long, with a captain like this, for a side to get thoroughly demoralised and slack.
3. The bowling captains suffer from the very opposite of the feebleness which affects the last class; over-keenness is their bane. They are generally moderate bowlers, who at times enjoy a fair amount of success, and who are often very valuable to their side as changes. But the power of bowling wherever and for as long as they please is too much for them. Over after over hit to all parts of the field, without the slightest suspicion of a chance of a wicket, only convinces the self-confident captain that something must happen sooner or later—and something generally does after the match has been bowled away. The fascination that bowling has for captains and the danger it often leads to is a good reason for pausing before selecting as captain anyone who has any pretensions in this branch of the game. It is sometimes, however, impossible for a side to recognise anyone as captain except a bowler. He may be the oldest and most experienced member of the team, or perhaps from his position as a cricketer it may be out of the question to pass him over, and then, of course, the best of a bad job must be made. But a captain who is also a bowler has much heavier responsibilities in the field than one who is not. Even if he happens not to be over-anxious about trundling all day himself, he is apt from shyness and diffidence of his own merits not to put himself on at all—another extreme into which some captains before now have fallen. It would, perhaps, be as well not to mention names of present cricketers in this chapter, but perhaps that well-known and honest player Tom Emmett, of Yorkshire, will not be angry if he is instanced as an example of this modest and retiring class of captains. When he was captain of his county, a post which he probably rejoices to think he does not now hold, it was very seldom that he could be induced to try his hand with the ball. Since his retirement from the onerous duties of captain, he has, perhaps, been the most successful bowler of his side, and still holds his place as one of the best bowlers in England.
The duties of a captain are of two kinds: those out of the field, and those in it, and it is proposed to discuss them in the order named. The first duty of a captain is the choice of his team; but as it so frequently happens, nowadays, that the team is chosen for him by the committee of his county or his club, this topic may be passed over till we discuss the duties of the captains at the Universities and Public Schools.
When the team is chosen, the captain's first duty is to win the toss; and assuming that by the aid of his lucky sixpence he has succeeded in so doing, he should at once decide whether he or his opponent is to begin the batting. It is a very old saying that the side that wins the toss should go in, and it is a very true one. No captain who wins the toss and puts the other side in deserves to win the match, unless there are some very exceptional circumstances to be taken into his consideration. There is, perhaps, only one reason to justify a captain putting the other side in first. If the ground previously hard, has been softened by a night's rain, and if at the time of beginning it is drying under a hot baking sun, and if the captain is tolerably sure that it is going to be a fine day, then he will do well to put the other side in. There must be present these three conditions of ground and weather before he is justified in refusing to bat. The ground will then for the first hour and a half or two hours make a bowling wicket; the top soft in the early morning, and gradually getting caked under the hot sun, will in the afternoon, if the weather keeps fine and it has been hard before the rain, assume its former hardness and become easy for batting for the last few hours of the day's play. If the ground has been soft before the rain and has been made still softer by the rain, it is madness to put the other side in. The first two or three hours will then be easy for batting, as a very slow soft wicket is always against the bowlers, and it will not be till after several hours of hot sun have been on it that it will begin to get caked and difficult for the batsman. Suppose the weather looks uncertain and broken, and the glass has been gradually going down, a captain should never in any state of the ground risk putting his opponents in. Rain is always in favour of the in side; bowlers cannot stand and cannot hold the ball, which, wet and slippery, cannot be made to take any twist or screw that the bowler may try to give it.
Sometimes in a one-day match it may be advisable to put the other side in under circumstances different firom the above, circumstances which are for the captain alone to judge of, and which it is impossible to discuss. Suppose a very strong side is playing against a very much weaker one. It may be that the captain of the former is afraid that if his side once goes to the wickets, so many runs will be made as to preclude all probability of finishing the match; and he may be content after conference with the members of his team to take the undoubted risk of putting the other side in; it is, however, a very dangerous ihing to do at any time, and his finesse may very possibly end disastrously to his side in the imperfect light of the evening.
There are, however, some disadvantages in batting first. In the first place, nearly every cricketer is a better man after luncheon than before. Do not let this be understood for a moment as a hint that the overnight carousals of cricketers (very pleasant though they be) are such as to interfere with correctness of eye and steadiness of hand in the morning. Far be it from me to suggest such a thing. But every man is fitter in the afternoon, his eye is more accustomed to the light, and his digestion is better. And besides, the men that walk to the wickets to bat the first time they go into the field are apt to be more nervous than those who have been playing a few hours and have got accustomed to the light and general surroundings. These are disadvantages certainly, but they are as nothing compared to the advantages gained by batting first. These include getting the best of the light, the best of the wicket, and, last but not least, the incalculable advantage of having in the last innings of the match to save and not get runs on a wicket that has previously stood the wear and tear of three innings. The side that bats second is nearly always in at the close of the first day's play, and the lights and shadows between six and seven often make the ball very difficult to judge accurately; at Lord's, especially, the light gets bad towards the close of the day; a haze overspreads the ground, making clear and accurate sight extremely difficult. As for the respective difficulties of making and saving runs, a cricketer need only look at his scores and references to see how often the out side at the close of a match has prevented the in side from getting the runs required. The feeling of responsibility which affects the batsmen on these occasions creates an overanxiety to play steadily and run no risks, and often results in feeble play. Then the bowlers and fielders are nerved to their utmost endeavour to keep the runs down, every fielder runs after the ball at the very top of his speed, half-a-dozen men are backing up to prevent an overthrow, and the bowler not only does all he knows to secure a wicket, but strives hard to avoid the delivery of a punishable ball. Whenever a side goes in for the last innings of the match against a big score and wins, one may feel sure the match has been won by sound and sterling cricket. There are many well-known instances of the fielding side pulling the match out of the fire at the very last moment. In the Oxford and Cambridge match in 1875, Cambridge in their last innings wanted 175 runs to win. Seven wickets fell for 114. The eighth went down at 161. Before this wicket fell it looked any odds on Cambridge, but the eleven were eventually all out for 168, and lost the match by six runs. In England v. Australia at the Oval in 1882, England, the last innings, wanted 85 to win, but only made 77. The annals of cricket are full of instances showing that it is better at the end of a match to have to save runs than make them. We remember playing in a match some years ago in Scotland, where the folly of putting in the other side first on a good wicket was clearly shown. It was a two days' match, and the two best batsmen on the side which lost the toss had been travelling all night from England. This, in spite of a good wicket, induced the captain who had been successful in the toss to put the other side in. One of these travel-worn and weary batsmen knocked up over ninety runs, the ground began to cut up, and the side that had refused to bat first came utterly to grief. As the losing captain left the ground, he said, 'One thing this match has taught me—never to put the other side in first.' The following year the same match was arranged, and once more the toss was won by the same captain. The ground was very soft indeed, in fact sodden with days of heavy rain. Again, in spite of the former sad experience, the other side were put in first and made over 200 runs. The ground was too soft for bowlers to put any life into the ball, and all bowiing was comparatively easy. Next day the ground had got firmer and more solid, and the side that won the toss was again dismissed for two insignificant totals.
With regard to the order in which a captain should send in his men, a good deal depends on the strength of the batting he has at command. With a weakish batting team it is, in our opinion, always better to send in the best batsman first, assuming of course he has no objection to the place. It is of great importance to give the best batsman every possible advantage, and the men who go first to the wickets have a great advantage over the others. They have less waiting for their innings, and consequently less of that restless nervousness from which few men are free; they have the best of the wicket; they have often loosish bowling just at first, before the bowlers have warmed to their work; and, last but certainly not least, they are batting a new ball. Few people realise what a difference a new ball makes to the batsman; it goes cleaner and firmer off the bat than an old one, and, what is better than all, a hard new ball is much more difficult to twist than one that has had a hundred runs made off it. Let anyone look at an old bowler who has to begin the bowling: his first action is to rub the ball on the ground in the hope of taking off even a little of its slippery newness; it is not, however, till after its surface has been considerably worn that it begins to take much notice of any twist, at any rate on a hard ground.
With such advantages to be gained by going in first it would be a pity not to give the best batsman the chance of making a good start for his side. A good start gives confidence to the shaky batsman, and shows the bowlers that they are not to have it all their own way. Sometimes the best batsman on a side does not care about going in first; if so, it is always well to consult his wishes and humour him, but he should never go in later than second wicket. With the best batsman should go some steady correct bat, one who plays the game thoroughly and does not take liberties with the bowling. In these days of perfect grounds it is a vast mistake to send in first a regular 'sticker,' one who scores at the rate of eight or ten an hour. The stonewallers of our cricket-fields have a great deal to answer for in the heavy indictment against modern players of leaving so many unfinished matches. An account was lately given in the papers of a man recognised as a first-class county bat who was in on a fast hard wicket in the first innings of a match three hours and forty minutes for thirty-two runs. More shame to him! He did his best to draw the match, and by puddling about for so long only helped to wear out the ground for more capable scorers who were to follow him. Sometimes, when the ground is very bad, it is good to have a sticker, but taken altogether cricket would be very much better off if the whole race of stickers occasionally adopted a somewhat freer style. Nobody objects to slow scoring so long as the batsmen are playing good correct cricket, playing the straight ones with a straight bat and cutting or hitting the crooked ones; but every cricketer objects to seeing ball after ball simply stopped without the slightest attempt to make a run.
Two very fast run-getting batsmen should not be sent in together; they are apt to run each other a bit off their legs. W. G. Grace and A. P. Lucas were the best pair for first that have lately been seen; both played sound correct cricket: the former scored freely, and the latter when the ground was hard quite fast enough.
After the first two have been selected the others must follow generally in order of merit; it is as well not to put in two hard-hitters together if possible, as it often tends to make one hit against the other. First one makes a big hit; the other feels bound to follow suit, quite irrespective of the pitch of the ball, and loses his wicket It is always an excellent thing to have one or two real good hitters, but they should be kept apart as far as possible in their innings; sixth or seventh wicket down is a very useful place for a hard hitter; the bowling has often begun to get a trifle loose by that time, and good hitting may make a dreadful mess of it in a very short time.
If any of the bowlers on whom the captain relies for his main attack happen to be goodish batsmen and likely to make a few runs, it is just as well to let their innings come off as early as convenient. A bowler who makes forty, or fifty runs at the close of an innings never bowls as well after the running about as he would do had he made nothing, and it is consequently best if possible to insure him a rest before he begins his more important duties as bowler. It is exceptional to find a man successful in batting and bowling in the same match. There are a good number of modern cricketers who are very fair all-round men, and shine at times in both branches of the game; but it very rarely happens that success awaits them in both in the same match. Sometimes we find a well-known bowler piling up heaps of runs, but on looking at the other side of the score-sheet we generally perceive that he has done it at the expense of his wickets. Alfred Shaw, the famous Nottingham bowler, used at times to bat with great success, but when he did so he was nearly always unsuccessful with the ball.
When once the captain has arranged the order in which his men are to bat he should stick to it It is worrying and harassing to the batsmen to be continually shifted up and down. We once saw one of the best batsmen in England put in last but one because the captain thought he looked nervous. His side was beaten by a few runs, and without his having received one single ball. An order made out before the innings begins is more likely to be correct than one hashed and cut about amidst excitement and anxiety. Never should a captain change his order in the second innings; of course a man who is in particularly good form may be given a hoist up a place or so, but the bad bats of the team should not be sent in first so long as there is the remotest possibility of losing; and at cricket this contingency is nearly always on the cards. The good batsmen do not wish to go in if there is only an hour or an hour and a half to play; they may get out and cannot make a really big score, so they fight shy for thf ir average's sake. Captains should put a stop to this and insist on their taking their proper place; first, because the side may otherwise be beaten, and secondly, because those who have the advantage of going in first in favourable circumstances should also take their turn when things are not so bright.
After a captain has written out his order of going in, he should carefully watch the innings from the first to the very last ball. A watchful captain can at times greatly help his side; a shout of 'steady' when a young batsman appears to be getting rash in his play, or when two players are getting a little abroad as to running, often comes with great effect and authority from a captain, and may prevent such a catastrophe as that represented in the illustration opposite. A word of encouragement to a nervous player as he leaves the pavilion may also often be of service. On no account should a captain ever abuse a batsman, no matter what rash stroke or foolish lack of judgment has cost him his wicket. Nothing is so galling to a batsman when he has made a bad stroke or been guilty of a mistake as being publicly derided or reproved. Afterwards, when the keen sense of vexation has somewhat subsided, a quiet word of advice may be given, and will have much more effect than a noisy public remonstrance. A good cricketer who has made a bad stroke and thereby lost his wicket knows better than any spectator what a mistake he has committed. Pavilion worthies, ye who love cricket for its own sake, ye who sit for hours criticising every ball and every stroke, forbear, we pray you, out-spoken remarks on the arrival of a discomfited batsman. 'What on earth possessed you to try to hit a straight one to leg?' 'You never seemed at home the whole time!' 'You can't keep that leg of yours out of the way!' are all remarks that may be withheld at any rate till the keen sense of failure has diminished.
It may possibly happen that during the course of an innings a point which during the summer of 1887 was considerably discussed, and about which some very extraordinary remarks have been made, may crop up for decision by the captain. Supposing the captain considers that his side has made enough runs to win the match, and that if any more are made there will not be sufficient time to get the other side out. Is he justified or not in giving orders to his men to get out on purpose? A great controversy arose on this point, owing to the captain Run out. of one of our leading counties considering that he was entitled to give such orders. If this question be looked at from a cricketer's point of view—and by that is meant from one which is in every way honourable and to the furtherance of the true interests of the game—it will be seen at once that a captain has a perfect right to ask his men to get out whenever he considers enough runs have been made to insure victory.
The true principle of the game is, we take it, that every side should do its utmost honourably to win the match. In days gone by, when grounds were rough and uneven, every match had to be completed in a much shorter time than is now allowed. In these times of improved batting and perfection in grounds, three whole days have been decided on as the time within which every county or club must win, lose, or draw the match. The game is not to lose or to draw; it is to win; and the side that can win most matches in the time allowed is plainly the best side. And should a side make so many runs as to render it impossible to win if they make more, whereas if they get out they must almost inevitably win, and can scarcely lose, we consider it would not be acting up to the true principle of the game if it did not get out. Besides, what sport or individual interest to a batsman is there in making runs after the match is practically finished? A man does not play at cricket for himself so much as for his side; it is not the number of individual notches or wickets that falls to his lot which delights the true cricketer: it is the actual result of 'won or lost. What pleasure does a member of either of the University elevens derive from making fifty every innings he plays in the inter-University matches if all his matches are lost? There are some who say that directly the principle is recognised that a man has a right to get out on purpose in order to gain victory for his side, it will open the door to all sorts of shady tricks in the game, and there will be no guarantee to the cricket-loving public that a side is trying. We cannot see the relevancy of this argument; if a man sacrifices himself for his side, the more honour is due to him. It is suggested that if the batting side has a right to get out or to forego its right of batting, the fielding side has a right to drop catches purposely and to bowl no balls and wides so as to avoid being beaten. If this latter course were permitted, it would be in direct contradiction to the true principle of the game—viz. the endeavour to win; it would be a dishonest subterfuge to prevent victory from rewarding the side that had played the best; it would be an un-English, dog-in-the-manger policy, and, in our opinion, it would entitle the umpires to say that the game was not being played fairly. There is a vast difference in principle between getting out on purpose in order to win and bowling and fielding badly in order to snatch victory from the best side. A captain is, then, not only perfectly justified, but is bound in the interests of his side, and in the true interests of the game, to order his men to get out if that is the only way to win.
Since the above was written we are pleased to see that the M.C.C. committee have considered this matter, and have made the following recommendation to the general meeting of the club: 'That on the last day of a match, including one-day matches, the in side should at any time be empowered to declare the innings at an end.' At the general meeting, however, it was unanimously decided to postpone for one year any actual legislation upon the subject.
In club and county matches a captain whose side is batting may often have little duties to perform, such as hurrying his men in after the fall of a wicket and allowing no time to be wasted, &c. There is nothing so annoying to a keen cricketer as to see the field waiting three or four minutes whilst some 'local swell' calmly buckles his pads and saunters sleepily to the wicket. A captain should see that the next batsman is always ready to go in directly the preceding one reaches the pavilion; and a good experienced captain can also give many valuable hints to the younger members of his team as they sit waiting for their innings. 'Play your own game, of course;' he is the first one to know and realise the truth of the old saying; but (and there are often many buts) 'for goodness sake don't try and hit that curly bowler unless you are on the pitch of him;' 'if you play back to that fast chap you are done; he is out and away faster than he looks;' 'watch that man at cover: he's as quick as lightning with his return.' All these little odds and ends from an old hand are well worth the attention of a young player; they all help to give him more confidence and more knowledge and experience, and consequently make him a better cricketer. And then a captain's eyes must be sharp to detect any slovenliness in the dress of a batsman. What a sorry sight it is to see a man going to the wickets with his pad-straps hanging two or three inches down his legs, his trousers unfolded and sticking out from behind his pads, his shirtsleeves hanging loose, and altogether having a general air of being a slovenly fellow! A captain must note this; he knows that there are a good many better ways of getting out than being caught from one's pad-straps or loose trousers that flap gaily in the breeze, or from one's shirtsleeves that float round the forearm with so great an expanse of canvas, looking for all the world like a bishop's sleeve. All these little things are worth knowing; cricket is a game with a great deal of luck in it and full of a great many odd chances, and the sooner a young player realises that he must do all he can to minimise the chances against himself, the better cricketer he will become and the more runs he will make.
The duties of a captain in the field are far more onerous than those out of it. It is here that his good qualities are tested, his knowledge and judgment of the game put to the proof. The most difficult task he has to perform is the management of the bowling. It, of course, occasionally happens that his two best bowlers are put on, and bowl successfully without a chance during the whole of the innings. But this is a very exceptional occurrence, and is but seldom seen in first-class cricket, and then only when the ground is sticky or crumbled. It is in the bowling changes and placing that a captain's skill is principally seen. On a hard fast wicket it is best to begin with fast bowling at one end and slow at the other. A good overhand fest bowler on a hard wicket has more chance of making the ball rise, and getting catches in the slips and at the wickets, than a slow one; but it is always well to have different-paced bowling on at either end, as in this way the batsman's eye does not get thoroughly accustomed to one pace. The late F. Morley—in his day the best left-hand fast bowler in England—and A. Shaw were always individually more successful when playing together for their county, the fast left hand and slow right being an excellent variation for the eye of the batsman. Poor Morley, what a good bowler he was! In our opinion he was the best fast bowler we have had in England for a very long time. He was a good pace, had a beautifully easy left-handed delivery, just over his shoulder, and was most wonderfully accurate in his length. He had a good spin and breakback on his bowling, and every now and then sent in one that came with the arm and required a lot of playing. His early death caused a great gap in the ranks of our professionals, and was much lamented by every class of cricketers; for a more honest and unassuming professional player than Fred Morley never went into the cricket-field. His knowledge of geography was not up to his cricket capabilities; for after a serious collision in the Indian Ocean, on his voyage to Australia in 1882, a mishap which subsequently ended fatally to him, he said: 'No more ships for me: I'll home again by the overland route!'
At the beginning of the innings the two bowlers put on should both be asked which end suits them best; if both want the same, the captain should give the choice to the one on whom, taking into consideration the state of the ground, he relies most. The field should be placed according to the style of the opposing batsman, and in doing this the captain should act with the consent of the bowler. There are many captains who change the field from time to time wnthout ever consulting the bowler, who, if a cricketer, knows better than anyone else where his bowling is likely to be hit.
No rule can be laid down with regard to the frequency of bowling changes, except the more the better. A bowler should never be kept on if he is not getting wickets, and if the batsmen are playing him with ease. It goes no way towards winning a match to bowl ten or a dozen short-pitched consecutive maiden overs. Directly the batsmen seem to have guessed the length and style of bowling it should be changed, if only for a few overs, while some new style is tried for a short time. If a long stand be made, every style of bowling should be quickly tried; thirty runs should never be allowed without a change of some sort, unless the bowling happens to be particularly puzzling to the batsman, and is being badly played.
As regards the placing of the field, it has already been said that usually the bowler is best able to guess where his own bowHng is most likely to be hit; but there are many things which a captain should recollect, as the suggestions of a captain in whom his bowlers place confidence are always accepted readily. He should keep his eye on short-slip, as this place is, especially on a fast wicket, the most important of all. There are more good batsmen dismissed at short-slip and the wicket, on good wickets, than at any other places. It is an extraordinary fact connected with short-slip that, unless he has had a great deal of experience, he is continually shifting his position; one over he will be standing fine and deep and the next square and near to the wicket. It is the captain's duty, even more than the bowler's, to see that this does not happen.
On a true hard wicket we never like to see a captain putting his mid-on or short-leg close in to the batsman, to field what is called 'silly' mid-on; the risk of standing near in on a hard wicket to a batsman who can hit at all is not by any means slight, and we have on several occasions seen men placed in this position get very nasty blows. Boyle, the Australian mid-on, stood about as near in as any man ever did stand; on sticky grounds he made many catches, on fast grounds he missed many which if standing further back he would have caught. He not seldom received nasty injuries, and on one occasion was laid up for several weeks with a broken or injured bone in his hand. A quick active field at mid-on who will run in when he sees the batsman making a quiet forward stroke on the leg side, and when he observes a leg-side ball kick up higher than usual, is all that should be required. In a match at Melbourne, in 1882, we recollect a very amusing little incident in which mid-on played a prominent part. The Australians were batting, and Bates, the Yorkshireman, had just dismissed two of their best bats, McDonnell and Giffen, in two consecutive balls. Bonner, who used to congratulate himself, and not without a certain amount of justification, that he could make mincemeat of our slow bowling, was the next man in. Somebody suggested that, in the faint hope of securing a 'hat' for Bates, we should try a silly mid-on. Bates faithfully promised to bowl a fast shortish ball between the legs and the wicket, and said he was quite certain Bonner would play slowly forward to it. Acting on the faith of this, W. W. Read boldly volunteered to stand silly mid-on for one ball. In came the giant, loud were the shouts of welcome from the larrikins' throats; now would the ball soar over the green trees even higher than yonder flock of twittering parrots. As Bates began to walk to the wickets to bowl, nearer and nearer crept our brave mid-on; a slow forward stroke to a fast shortish leg-stump ball landed the ball fairly in his hands not more than six feet from the bat. The crowd would not believe it, and Bonner was simply thunderstruck at mid-on's impertinence; but Bates had done the hat trick for all that, and what is more, he got a very smart silver tall hat for his pains.The duties of captains of the University teams and of the Public Schools are far more arduous than those of a captain of a county or a club eleven. At our large Public Schools the captain is responsible for the selection of the team; he may be assisted to a certain extent by a committee, but the actual filling up of the vacant places in his eleven generally devolves on him alone. An energetic and keen boy captain will usually manage before the close of the summer term to get together a team of fair merit; even if the stuff he has to work upon is inferior in quality, the great amount of time at his disposal for practice, and the assistance he receives from the
school professionals and masters, ought always to ensure a keen captain having a tolerable eleven before the summer holidays begin. It may be taken as true that a bad fielding school eleven denotes a bad and slack captain. Whatever may be the batting and bowling material at his disposal,
Eton v. Harrow.
a boy captain can, if he likes, have a good fielding side; and if in his school matches at Lord's, or elsewhere, he finds that he loses the match by slack fielding, he has none to blame but himself. None of our best county teams can field as boys can if they are properly taught and kept up to the mark. There are few men of thirty taking part in the game who can throw with any effect for more than about thirty or forty yards; their arms and shoulders are stiff, and will not stand it, whereas boys can all throw, and are about twice as active as many of those whose names at the present time figure prominently in our leading fixtures.
A school eleven, as indeed every other, only requires four regular bowlers. 'If you cannot win with four bowlers, you'll never win at all,' is an old and true saying. But this wants a little explanation. The four best available bowlers must be played without regard to their batting powers, and after these four have been selected let the team be filled up with good batsmen and fielders, quite irrespective of whether they can bowl or not. It is an excellent thing for a side that every man should be able to bowl a bit if wanted, and every boy should be able to do so, but it is only necessary in choosing the team to play four men as bowlers only.
Every school eleven should possess a lob-bowler; if he be a good one so much the better, but one of some sort there must be. Lobs have always been most destructive to boys, and even very indifferent lobs are occasionally very fatal to schools. A little practice will teach any boy to bowl them fairly; he must take a long and rather a quick run, and bowl just fast enough to prevent the batsman hitting the good-length balls before they pitch. The high slow lob is generally worthless.
The wicket-keeper must also be trained and coached. He should be taught the right and the wrong way to stand, and should practise keeping for a short time every day. And, above all things, the school wicket-keeper should know that for anything over slow and slow medium bowling he is to have a longstop. The number of good wicket-keepers who have been spoilt by having to perform the office of long-stop as well as their own is legion. There are no first-class keepers nowadays who put out their hands on the leg side and draw the ball to the stumps; they all jump to the leg side in front of the ball to prevent it resulting in a four-bye, and consequently, even if lucky enough to take the ball with their hands, they are so far from the stumps as to make it exceedingly difficult to knock the bails off.
A captain of a University team has not so much to do with training and coaching his team as a school captain. By the time men have reached their University eleven they have generally mastered the elementary principles of the game, and require more practice and experience, keeping up to the mark rather than coaching. A captain's duty is consequently to see that his men engage in constant practice at all parts of the game, and by showing an example of keenness and energy to inspire his team with the same qualities. Some men at the University, and especially those fresh from the restraint of a public school, occasionally require a few words of advice about the mode of life which is necessary for undergoing with success the wear and tear of a University cricket season. A 'Varsity team has about six weeks' hard work, and no man can bear the strain of this if, at the same time, he is keeping late hours and distributing his attentions impartially amongst all the numerous delicacies that adorn the University dinner-tables during the May term. No strict training is required, thank goodness! Cricket does not demand of her votaries the hollow face and attenuated frame, and too often the undermined constitution, that a long term of arduous training occasionally results in, especially to a youth of unmatured strength; but a cricketer should live a regular life and abstain at table from all things likely to interfere with his digestion and wind. Above all else, smoky rooms should be avoided. A small room, filled with ten or a dozen men smoking as if their very existence depended on the amount of tobacco consumed, soon gets a trifle foggy, and the man who remains there for long will find next morning on waking that his head feels much heavier than usual, and his eyes are reddish and sore. A University captain should never hesitate to speak to any of his team on these matters, should he think warning or rebuke necessary.
The necessity of moderation in drink is happily a thing which few University cricketers require to be reminded of. There are many opinions as to what is the best drink for men when actually playing. By best we mean that which does least harm to the eye. In hot weather something must be drunk, and the question is. What? Our experience is that beer and stout are both too heady and heavy, gin and ginger beer is too sticky, sweet, &c., to the palate. In our opinion, shandy-gaff, sherry, or claret, and soda are the most thirst-quenching, the lightest, and the cleanest to the palate. The latter consideration is a great one on a hot day at cricket. In a long innings the heat and the dust are apt to make the mouth very dry and parched, and a clean drink is especially desirable.
As a rule a 'Varsity captain has not much difficulty in selecting the first eight or nine of his team—there are usually that number that stand out as far and away better than all the others—but the last two or three places often cause him the greatest difficulty. There may be two or three men of the same merit fighting for the last place, inflicting sleepless nights and anxious thoughts on the captain. He cannot make up his mind, and possibly remains undecided till the very week before the big match. A Varsity team owes half its strength to playing so much together. Every man knows and has confidence in the others, and every man's full merits and the use he may be to the side are understood by the captain; consequently, the sooner the whole team is chosen the better.
Now let us briefly discuss the considerations that should guide the captain in the choice of his team. And perhaps the simplest and best way will be to assume that a captain has to choose the best team in England (our fictitious captain making the twelfth man on the side). The first thing he must do is to choose his bowlers, and, as we have said above, these must be the best four he can get, each one different from the others in style. He wants a fast bowler to begin with; he has Bowley of Surrey, and Ulyett of Yorkshire, and Pougher of Leicestershire, and that is about all. If he is a wise man he will choose Bowley, as being the fastest, and straightest, and best. This is No. 1. No. 2 must be a good left-hander; and, now that Peate is not seen as much as he used to be in firstclass matches, this is a difficult thing to get. Wootton of Kent is a very good slow bowler, but not quite good enough; so our captain should fix on Briggs of Lancashire, who is the best of the lot in this particular style of bowling. No. 3—a medium-pace right round-arm bowler—is next wanted. No captain can doubt who this is to be: Barnes of Nottingham, with his nasty awkward action, his break-back, and the kicky nature of his bowling on almost all wickets, is clearly the man. Some might say that Lohmann of Surrey should have this No. 3 place. He is a very good bowler; but on a hard true wicket we fancy Barnes against the best batsmen. No. 4.—Our captain wants a right-arm slow bowler accurate enough to keep down the runs (if wanted to) on a hard true wicket, and powerful enough with the ball to take advantage of crumbled or sticky wickets. Who is he to take? Bates of Yorkshire; Alfred Shaw of Nottingham; Plowers of the same county; Attewell of ditto, are all good names. Bates is not accurate enough, Shaw is not quite so good as he used to be—but what a good one he was once! Perhaps his best performance was in 1875, when for Notts and the M.C.C. at Lord's he bowled 162 balls for 7 runs and 7 wickets (bother the maidens: we don't care how many of them he bowled!), and amongst these seven wickets were W. G. Grace, Ridley, Buller, and Lord Harris; in the same match for the M.C.C. Ridley with his lobs had a good analysis for the two innings—208 balls, 46 runs, and 10 wickets. Our captain thinks he could not do better than Attewell, and we agree with him; but he has quite made up his mind to tell this bowler not to bowl for maidens but wickets. No. 5.—The wicket-keeper. There are only two in it: Pilling and Sherwin. The best wicket-keeper is wanted, quite irrespective of batting. They are both very good, but our captain thinks Pilling is the safest, lets off fewer chances (all wicket-keepers let off some), has the best hands to stand fast bowling, and is the quietest behind the sticks. So Pilling is chosen as our stumper, and we only hope that his health will allow him to remain there for many years to come. No. 6.—Now our captain has got to fill up six places; he has up to the present provided for getting rid of the opposite side: he now turns his attention to providing for his batsmen. W. G. Grace first, no one disputes. Does someone suggest Shrewsbury? Well, certainly, in the season of 1887 he had a wonderful average—78; but for winning a match give us W. G., our first choice. Shrewsbury may be the best to prevent his side being beaten; but we want to win, and if one man stays in a couple of days for 150 runs there is a great chance of drawing the game. We like the man who makes 150 in four or five hours, and then gets out and helps to get the other side out afterwards. So our captain annexes W. G. as No. 6. No. 7— Arthur Shrewsbury. No. 8—W. W.Read. No. 9—A. J. Webbe. No. 10.—And now having got nine of his team our captain must consider what he has and what he has not got.
His team at present consists of W. G. Grace, Shrewsbury, W. W. Read, A. J. Webbe, Pilling, Briggs, Barnes, Attewell, Bowley. He has therefore five of the very best batsmen in England—Grace, Shrewsbury, Read, Webbe, and Barnes—a very good run-getting bat in Briggs, and three comparatively indifferent batsmen in Bowley, Pilling, and Attewell. He has five bowlers, the four chosen and W. G. Grace, the best change bowler in England, bar none. Now what has he in the field? Not quite so good a lot as one would wish the English side to be. Grace, Shrewsbury, and Read are all candidates for point; as Shrewsbury is a fairly good point, and is almost useless anywhere else in the field, owing to his not being able to throw, he must take this place. Grace and Read and Barnes must all be in places somewhere near the wicket, as none of these are quick enough or good throwers enough for fielding in the country. Briggs might be sent into the country, but he is so excellent at cover that it would be a pity to take him from that most important spot Webbe must then go into the country, as Attewell and Bowley will be wanted to bowl; now Webbe is a very safe catch, and a good field anywhere you like to put him; but we must have some really first-class quick outfield with a good return—the team will not be complete without such a one. He must also be a good batsman, or else the team will have a passenger on board. Is there such a man? Yes, our captain thinks there are two who may do—Gunn of Nottingham, and Ulyett: which of these should he choose? Gunn is doubtless the best outfield, and a good bat too; but Ulyett is a very good outfield, as good a run-getting bat as Gunn, and at times a dangerous bowler; so let Ulyett have the preference, and be No 10 in our captain's English team. No. 11.—The last man! Now in this place what is wanted is a good all-round cricketer—one who is a good bat.
a good bowler, a good field and catch, quick on his legs, and a good thrower.
Will Bates do? No, not a good enough thrower, not a safe enough pair of hands, though a good bat and bowler. Peel must be dismissed as not being a sufficiently brilliant field. Flowers ditto. Barlow we don't want: he cannot field in the country, and at sixth wicket, for this is where the eleventh man will have to go in, we want a man to make runs, not to stick. Louis Hall is the same. Lohmann of Surrey is the man, no better—quick field, safe pair of hands, good thrower, a really good bowler, and a correct hard-hitting batsman, who is always likely to make runs.
Our captain has completed his task, and though we should have liked to have seen one or two better throwers in the team, it is still a very good one and a difficult nut for any Australian side to crack:—W. G. Grace, W. W. Read, A. J. Webbe, Shrewsbury, Pilling, Briggs, Barnes, Attewell, Bowley, Ulyett, Lohmann.
In the field all captains should be cheery and bright, and full of encouragement to both fielders and bowlers. A despondent captain, who becomes sad and low when things are going against him, has a most depressing effect on his men. Cricket is a game full of so many chances and surprises that no match is ever lost till the last ball has been bowled, so the bowlers must be cheered and encouraged, and the fielders kept up to the mark till all is over.
Everything that goes on in the game should be noticed by the captain. If a bowler forgets to get behind the stumps when the ball is to be returned to him by a fielder, the captain should at once call his attention to the fact; if a fielder keeps shifting his position over after over without orders, a gentle reminder must be given; if a fielder throws unmercifully at the bowler or wicket-keeper when there is no attempt at a run on the part of the batsmen, he must be spoken to. It is a bad fault on the part of a fieldsman to knock the poor wicket-keeper's hands to pieces for no purpose.
If a captain keeps his eye open to all these little things, and does his best to eradicate them and others of the same nature from his men, if he is a keen zealous cricketer gifted with a calm temperament and sound judgment, he may rest assured that before he has led his men very long he will be the captain of a good team.