Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton)/Chapter 9

Cricket  (1888) 
Chapter 9



(By W. G. Grace.)

Ask any player who has scored over a hundred in an innings if he felt any particular influence at work on the morning of the match, and he will probably answer in the negative; but press him, and he will admit that he felt fit and well, and that the feeling was owing to a good night's rest, together with the careful training of days and weeks. I am aware that there are exceptions to this rule, and that players have been known to score largely after a night of high feasting and dancing; but in my own experience, whilst admitting that occasional freaks of this kind have been followed by moderately large scores, I cannot recollect many of my big innings that were not the results of strict obedience to the rules which govern the training for all important athletic contests. Temperance in food and drink, regular sleep and exercise, I have laid down as the golden rule from my earliest cricketing days. I have carefully adhered to this rule, and to it in a great degree I attribute the scores that stand to my name in cricket history, and the measure of health and strength I still enjoy.

Early in the season every cricketer knows the difficulty of getting his eye in, but though he may be disappointed at the small score attached to his name match after match, he plays steadily on, trusting that by constant practice the coveted hundred will come. If he hopes to score largely he must be careful in his manner of living and moderate in all things, even though nature may have blessed him with exceptional wrist power and sight.

The capacity for making long scores is not a thing of a day's growth, and it may be years before strength and skill come and enable the young cricketer to bear the fatigue of a long innings. He cannot begin too early to play carefully and earnestly, and in all club and school practice the lad should play as if he were engaged in an important match, and the result depended upon his individual efforts. In my own case, thanks to careful guidance, I was early taught to keep my wicket up, never to hit recklessly, always to play straight or good-length balls with force, and if possible away from the fielders. Habits of that kind thoughtfully cultivated will not desert you in first-class cricket. Great scores at cricket, like great work of any kind, are, as a rule, the results of years of careful and judicious training and not accidental occurrences.

If you have occasion to travel a considerable distance to play, make an effort to get to your destination the night before, or at least some time before, the match begins. There is nothing so fatiguing to the eyesight as a long railway journey, and going straight from the railway station to the wicket is often fatal to long scoring.

I have tried hard, especially of late years, to arrange so that I could reach the ground in good time and save everything in the shape of hurry or bustle. There are but few cricket grounds within a hundred miles of each otherwhere the light and conditions are alike, and it takes some time for eye and mind to accommodate themselves to new surroundings. You will find it just as trying to play in a blaze of sunshine, after three days of smoke and leaden skies, as you will in a change from the sunny south to the bleak, sunless north.

You must also not only bear in mind the vast importance of reaching the ground in good time, but the greater importance of getting five or ten minutes' batting practice before the innings begins. Very few grounds are the same as regards the way in which the ball rises off the pitch, even if the light be similar to that you have been playing in for days, and it requires nothing short of a genius for the game to change from a fast to a slow wicket, and play with the same ease and confidence.

I shall not readily forget an experience that came to me in 1871, when I travelled from London to Brighton to play for the Gentlemen against the Players for the benefit of John Lillywhite. Being very much younger than I am now, I was blessed with clearness of vision and quickness of action that suited themselves very readily to most conditions of light and ground. Perhaps it was the inexperience of youth that led me to put off reaching the old Brunswick ground at Hove until the moment of beginning my innings. This I know, I felt as fit as ever I did in my life, walked to the wicket with confidence, and took my guard carefully to the bowling of J. C. Shaw. He was on at the sea-shore end, and there was a glare on the water, delighting the artistic eye I have no doubt, but to me shifting and dancing like a will o' the wisp. There is no need to deny the fact, I was all abroad to his first ball, and knew it had beaten me before it came within two yards of me. I tried hard to play it, but the ominous rattle told me I had failed, and I returned to the pavilion and made the mental note. The dazzling light, the railway journey, and want of five minutes' practice did it. I had no desire to repeat the performance in the second innings, and had little fear of doing so. I took care to have some practice, and scored 217, my brother G. F. made 98, and we increased the total by 240 runs in two and a half hours.

There is this also to be said in favour of five or ten minutes' batting practice before a match, that it enables you to test pads, gloves, and shoes. To have the fastening of a glove or pad break off when you are well set is a disagreeable and annoying interruption. It takes some time to put things right, and when you return to the wicket, the confidence you felt has very likely to a great extent deserted you. And how often have you placed your boots in your bag, all the spikes seemingly firm, to find one or two missing after you have been batting for a few minutes! One has gone out of the toe of your boot, and you play forward to a ball, miss your footing and get stumped; or one has vanished from the heel, and you are called by your partner for a short run, sent back again, slip, and get run out. Inattention to these apparently small points causes annoyance, and may prevent you from getting a long score.

You are now ready to go in, and if you are first on the list you may do it leisurely; but if you follow first wicket down, or later, impress strongly upon your mind that it is your duty to get to the wicket within the limit of time the law allows, and as quickly as possible, particularly if your partner has got his eye in and looks like making a large score. You will expect a like consideration when your turn comes to wait, and nothing upsets a player so much as having to loiter three or four minutes when he is warm and at home with the bowling, especially when he knows there is no need for delay. There will be a lack of confidence between you for some time at least, and indifferent judging of runs.

You will doubtless please yourself as to the guard to be taken; but whether you take it to cover the middle and leg stumps, or middle or leg only, be sure to keep your legs clear of the wicket. A good umpire notes at the first glance if your leg is covering any part of it, registers it against you, and remembers it when called upon for a decision. If you stand clear of the wicket, he realises that you are taking every precaution, will not decide without thinking, and will give you the benefit of every doubt.

Be sure you have your right foot firmly planted behind the popping crease, or you may play a little too far forward and be stumped. You may as well remove any small piece of grass or loose bit of turf that catches your eye as you look along the wicket After you have taken guard, and marked it clearly, look all around and note the position of the fieldsmen. It is something to know you may hit out to certain parts of the ground without the risk of being caught.

It is not very many years since, if you had asked the question how you were to begin an innings, you would have been told to play quietly for an over or two, and hit at nothing straight until you got your eye in. With all my heart I say, do not be in a hurry to hit; keep up your wicket and runs will come; but do not think that this means that you are not to punish a loose ball if you get one, whether it be your first or your twentieth. I understand it to mean that you are not to hit at a good or doubtful ball for the sake of a start, or to shake off the nervousness that affects a great number of players until they have scored the first run. No; begin as you mean to go on, playing good balls carefully, hitting loose ones, and bearing in mind that a large score is not made in half-a-dozen hits or overs. Do not be surprised and disappointed if the first few overs are maidens, or ruffled that the score-sheet is still clean so far as you are concerned. Possibly your partner has been placing balls that you could not get away, and you grow impatient. That is foolishness, and fatal to your chance of scoring. Remember he had been batting before you came in, and had obtained the confidence and mastery over the bowling that is now coming slowly but surely to you. Runs will come if you stay in, and few bowlers can go on bowling over after over for half an hour or more without giving you a loose ball or two.

It is bad judgment to attempt sharp runs early in your innings. Inclination that way is sure to be encouraged by the bowler, and when you least expect it he will in some way unknown to you communicate with the wicket-keeper and fielders, and the next attempt may end in you or your partner being run out. A deal of harm has been done even if you just saved it by an inch or two, and you will be in a most unhappy state of mind for some time afterwards. It dawns upon you that there was a degree of stupidity in the attempt, and it does not improve your temper to have words of caution showered upon you from the pavilion. The state of the game, the condition of the score did not demand it, and you will be very lucky if you realise the fact, and recover your usual coolness and confidence before resuming your innings.

Exercise judgment when running out big hits. If you find the fielders a little careless in throwing in, you may make a five out of what looked like a four; but remember that to do this you will have to make an exceptional effort that will try your wind. And now you have the opportunity to show if your head is of the thoughtful kind. The bowler will be delighted if he can tempt you to play the next ball before you have got rid of the flurry and excitement, and you will be looked upon as very obliging and thoughtless if you do. Very likely you have resumed your position in front of the wicket with no intention of playing for a second or two; perhaps the bowler is aware of the fact, but that does not prevent him from bowling at you in the hope that you may change your mind. Do not blame him if you play and are bowled. He was not supposed to know that you were not ready, and you had no right to be there recovering your breath; it will come back as freely to you a yard or two away from the wicket as in front of it, and neither bowler nor fielders ought to blame you for waiting for that purpose. You are playing the game for your side as well as your individual reputation, and ought to take all needful precautions.

Be careful what you take to drink during a long innings. If you are not accustomed to large scoring you are sure to feel thirsty, and your mouth will become very dry before you have made many runs. A big drink at this or any other time when you are in is a great mistake. For the moment you feel as if you must quench your thirst, or you cannot go on; you must, however, refrain, for there is nothing so insidious and infectious as indulgence in drinks of any kind. In half an hour you will want another, and the fieldsmen generally will sympathise and lean to your way of thinking. Then there will be five minutes' break, you will probably lose sight of the ball, and very likely get out immediately after. If you must have something, call for a little water: it will answer the purpose perfectly. Rinse your mouth with it, swallow as little as possible, and the thirst will quickly pass away.

It is the first long innings that requires nerve and judgment. The hopes and fears that spring up in the young players breast when he has scored something between fifty and a hundred make it a severe trial; and I daresay if you and I could read his thoughts we should find that every run of the last ten was made in mental fear accompanied by a thumping heart But when the hundred is reached, who can describe the joy that thrills him as he hears the hand-clapping and shouting!

I will not say, be modest in the hour of victory, but rather be modest after it. It is after the victory, as we listen to outside praise, that conceit and its enervating influence steal in. Turn a deaf ear, and remember it was in fear and trembling that you reached the much-desired score. Quiet confidence is a widely different thing from conceit. The former will help you to a run of big scores, the latter will cripple every effort to sustain your hardly earned reputation.

So far I have not touched upon the different wickets that are met with during the season. There have been years, such as 1887, when the weather has continued dry and fine for weeks, and the change from ground to ground was hardly perceptible; but I have known the wicket to change in a single match from dry, fast and true, to wet and soft, and then to have finished sticky and unplayable. Anyone who can score heavily through changes of that kind will be exceptionally fortunate. I venture to think it may be of some use to young cricketers if I tell them how they should play under these different conditions of ground. I will begin with what is known as a fast, dry and true wicket.

This is the wicket which all good cricketers like to play on, and, if it does not crumble before the match is finished, long scores may be expected. Never hesitate to play forward on a wicket of this kind, for the bowler can get little or no work on the ball, and, what is more, the further it is pitched up and the faster it comes along, the easier it is to play it forward and the more difficult to play it back. On such a wicket as this do not go in for lofty and 'gallery' hitting, or you will very likely throw away your chance of making a long score. If the bowler gives you a ball well up, instead of hitting very hard at it, I should advise you to drive it along the ground; although you may not score so many runs for it, still you do not incur the risk of being caught out, and you will get the applause of those who know what scientific batting means. Cuts and leg-hits travel at a rare pace on a good fast ground, and timing and placing are of more importance than strength. A snick to long-leg may bring more runs than a hard hit straight, and a tap past long-slip goes flying to the boundary with a very small expenditure of strength. Most long scores have been made on a wicket of this description, and you do not tire half so much as you would if the wicket were wet and heavy.

In the season 1876—one of my best years—I remember playing in three matches following each other when the ground was fast, dry and true. The first match was at Canterbury, for Marylebone C.C. v. Kent. Kent made the long score of 473, chiefly owing to the magnificent batting of Lord Harris, who made 154. We responded with the comparatively small total of 144. To follow on with so large a deficit was not encouraging; but the wicket was still everything to be desired in pace and quality, and I made up my mind to play a fast game, knowing that the bowler could get little or no work on the ball, and that any attempt to play carefully for a draw would be useless. It is now a matter of history that we scored the first 100 in forty-five minutes, 217 well under the two hours, and finished up with a total of 557 for nine wickets, converting what appeared to be inevitable defeat into a creditable draw. It took me a little over six hours to make my 344; but so good and fast was the wicket that I played forward to most of the good balls.

Two days after, on a similar wicket against Notts, playing for Gloucestershire at Clifton, I made 177, and the same week 318 not out, against Yorkshire at Cheltenham. The last wicket was one of the very best I ever played on, and right through the innings I could play forward without danger to nearly every ball bowled. Remember, then, on a wicket of this kind to play forward as much as possible.

I come now to a fast, good, wet wicket. It may surprise a great many players when I say, play almost the same way as upon a fast dry wicket. The bowler has still as much difficulty in getting work on the ball, as it cuts through the ground and he cannot hold it owing to its wet and slippery state, and you will find playing forward the better way. You will have to be a little more watchful, for some balls will keep low and travel at a terrific rate after they pitch, and should you get a shooter it will come to you even faster than on a dry wicket. Batsmen on our perfect wickets of to-day think a ball that keeps low is a shooter; but I wish they could corae across the shooters we used to have at Lord's ground twenty years ago. They seemed completely to baffle some players, and gave them the impression that the ball, instead of travelling all along the ground, went under it and came up again at the bottom of the wickets.

Of course you will distinguish between a fast wet wicket and one that is not thoroughly saturated. The latter, though perhaps quite as true, will not be so fast, nor will runs come so quickly. A wicket of this kind was formerly considered much in favour of the bowler; but that opinion has been upset, and a good punishing batsman, who takes no liberties, has the bowler pretty much at his mercy. In 1873, on a wicket of this kind, I made 160 not out for Gloucestershire v. Surrey at Clifton. In the early part of the innings the wicket was fast and wet, and the ball travelled at a rare pace; but later on it became softer, and the ball did not travel so well.

A slow, good, dry wicket. You will occasionally meet with this kind of wicket after rain, when the ground has not had time to dry sufficiently to make it fast. The bowler can get more break on than he can on a good fast wicket, but the ball rises slowly off the pitch and you have plenty of time to watch it. You will rarely get a ball higher than the bails, and you can play forward or back as the pitch admits. When playing forward, you must not play too quickly, as the ball sometimes hangs a bit and you may play it back to the bowler. It was on a wicket of this kind at Clifton College ground that I scored a hundred in each innings for Gloucestershire v. Kent in 1887. The first day the wicket was perfect of its kind, every ball coming easy and with very little break, travelling quickly when hit, as the outside ground was much harder than the pitch, which had been watered. I made loi in less than three hours. Rain stopped play for some time on the second afternoon, Friday, but by Saturday afternoon the wicket recovered, and I scored 103 not out in two hours and twenty minutes. Years ago, when youth was more on my side, I preferred a very fast dry wicket; but now I confess to a leaning for a good, slow, and dry one.

The three wickets I have described must be considered easy, and attention to the points I touched upon at the beginning should help the batsman to score largely. I now come to two of a very different nature, on which, as a rule, the bowler has a high time of it, and where special nerve, skill, judgment, and luck on the part of the batsman are required before he can make a large score.

First, a bumpy wicket. By a bumpy wicket I do not mean a fast fiery wicket where the ball only goes over the top of the stumps and raps the knuckles occasionally, but a wicket upon which you may get a shooter one over and a blow on the chest the next, as a pleasing variety to those that come frequently right over your head the first bound and straight into the hands of the long-stop without again touching the ground. I can assure all young players that there is a new and curious sensation in facing balls of this kind. Skill, patience, a quick eye and ready arm are useful for the occasion, but dogged pluck is worth the whole of them. Do not let thoughts of hard knocks trouble you, or your chance of scoring even a double figure will be remote. Take your position at the wicket in your usual way, stand up to the bowling pluckily, and do not have it said of you that you are only a good wicket player. On a ground of this kind every run is valuable, and you may risk stealing a sharp run or two now and then. One of your side may make fifty or more runs, but the average score is sure to be small, and you must face the possibility of hard knocks and play as if you expected every ball to come true and a large score depended upon you. I am glad to be able to say that, owing to the general improvement that has taken place in the principal grounds, you rarely now meet with a bumpy wicket. When the Yorkshire County Eleven made their first appearance at Lord's in 1870 to play against the M.C.C. and Ground, the wicket was as bumpy as a wicket could be, and very few players on either side escaped knocks of some kind. It was the first match in which the alteration in law 9 came into operation, by which a bowler could change ends twice in the same innings but not bowl more than two overs in succession; and Alfred Shaw and Wootton availed themselves of it in the second innings of Yorkshire. The M.C.C. went in first to the bowling of Freeman and Emmett, and were all out for 73. Yorkshire made 91, George Pinder, the well-known Yorkshire wicket-keeper, who was playing for the first time at Lord's, contributing 31. The prospect in our second innings was not encouraging, and the wicket anything but good, when that accomplished Essex sportsman, Mr. C. E. Green, joined me; but if ever a good and sterling cricketer played pluckily under adverse circumstances, Mr. Green did that day, and in seventy minutes we scored 99 runs. Freeman bowled a terrific pace, and Emmett was in his glory, his bowling bumping and kicking up as I have never seen it since. We were hit all over the body, Mr. Green twice painfully hard on the chest; but he was cool and cheerful, and made 51 in his best style—and that is saying a great deal considering the number of balls he had to dodge with his head. Just before I was out, last man, Emmett bowled a ball which hit me very hard on the point of the left elbow, the ball flew into the air, and we ran a run before it Cricket (Steel, Lyttelton) 0335.jpgM.C.C. AND GROUND V. AUSTRALIANS, LORD'S, MAY 22, 1884
came down into short-leg's hands; but I could not hold the bat properly afterwards, and was glad when the innings was over. I made 66, and our total was 161. Freeman, Iddison, Pinder and Wootton were all badly knocked about. Yorkshire won by one wicket; thanks to the plucky hitting of Luke Greenwood and the steady batting of Emmett.

Now I come to a drying, sticky wicket. This is about the worst you can play upon, and he who scores largely on it deserves to be praised indeed. If the bowling be indifferent the player who can pull or hit a long hop to leg has' a decided advantage, as the ball hangs a great deal at times and favours that kind of play. If the bowler be on the spot, then tall scoring is an impossibility. The work to be got on the ball is astounding; I have seen balls break a foot or more.

This kind of wicket is oftener seen at Lord's after a good deal of rain and a drying sun than anywhere else. We all remember that great match when the Australians made their first appearance there in 1878. I had a fair conception of what might happen, and after hitting the first ball of the match to the boundary was not surprised at being caught out from the fourth. One ball of Spofforth's was enough for me the second innings. The best advice I can give is to watch every ball on a wicket of that kind, and score when you can.

In conclusion, never treat a straight ball with contempt, however badly bowled. I have met with a ball that bounded twice or thrice before it came to me, varying every bound and at the finish twisting or shooting, and becoming a very difficult ball indeed. I have made it a rule all my life to hit a straight long hop or full-pitch with a straight or nearly straight bat, so that when a ball of this kind was bowled to me I had the full length of my bat to play it with, whereas if I had tried to pull or hit across at it, I should only have had the width of my bat, and should have been more likely to miss it.

When an indifferent bowler is put on, you cannot be too carefiil. He is put on to tempt you to hit, and does not mind how many runs you score off him; but presently you will get a good ball, and if you are not careful, especially if you are trying to bring off a favourite stroke, you will hit at it and very likely lose your wicket.

After you have made a boundary hit do not make up your mind to hit another off the next ball.

Keep your eye on the bowler, watch how he holds the ball and runs up to the wicket before delivering it; that will help you considerably to detect alteration in length and pace.

It is a mistake to hit at the pitch of slow, round, or underhand bowling. The twist is sure to beat you, and if you do not miss the ball altogether, you will most likely get caught at cover-point In my younger days I always ran out to underhand bowling and hit it before it bounded, or waited and got it long hop. When a first-class bowler tries to bowl a slow ball with an extra amount of break, look out for a bad ball, and when it comes, as it will sooner or later, punish it, and you will upset him a bit, and very likely prevent him from bowling good balls afterwards.

I think I have touched upon nearly everything that might help a young player to a long score, and with just a word about playing against odds I have done. Whether against eighteen or twenty-two in the field, play the same game that you would against an eleven. I have very often found that the fieldsmen in the outfield are placed too deep, and a second run can be stolen after the ball passes the men close in. Do not hit to leg, but rather place or snick the ball; you will get just as many runs without the risk of being caught. It was when playing against odds that fine placing to leg was first cultivated, and now it has to a great extent superseded leg hitting.

I need not say how delighted I am to watch the progress of every young and rising cricketer. My heart is in the game I love above all others, with a love that is as strong to-day as it was when I made my first large score, and when eye, hand, and foot were much quicker than they are now. I do not believe that there are no days like the good old days of cricket, but I do strongly believe that the prospects of the game are as bright and hopeful to-day as they have been at any time in its history, and that in future years as great if not greater things will be done with both bat and ball. I ask every young cricketer to study the points I have submitted, and it will be sufficient reward to me if they in some way help him to make a big score.