THE CRICKET SEASON
BY THE HON. R. H. LYTTELTON.
THE cricket season of 1926 has arrived, the Australians have begun their matches, and it is obvious that 1926 is going to be an Australian year, and that the five Test Matches will be more talked about than all the other matches put together. The reception given to our friends could hardly have been more enthusiastic had a Nelson or Wellington reappeared, and if newspaper reports are to be believed the Australians may well be excused if they felt somewhat embarrassed by the crowds that seemed to pursue them in every street. This is all to the good, because newspaper correspondents before our Australian friends reached us have been a little too energetic, and things have been said which had better have been left unsaid. A somewhat tense atmosphere might have been created, but we may reasonably hope now that everything will go smoothly.
The five Test Matches at Nottingham, Lord's, Leeds, Manchester and the Oval will all be limited to three days, except the last at the Oval, which will be played to a finish—if six days will be sufficient to bring about that desirable result. If any forecast can be made we should pronounce it probable that if 1926 is a dry summer all the three-day matches will be drawn and that the one at the Oval will be won by the side whose captain wins the toss. The Australians' batting may be so strong that to get them out twice in a three-day match will be almost impossible unless the English batting breaks down utterly. If the Oval wicket is hard and fast there will be a horrible glut of runs, but the side that bats last will be at a dis- advantage, for even an Oval wicket must show signs of wear after five days' cricket.
This season may be an important one for cricket, because if it is dry the three-day match system will be on its trial, and if we may judge from cricket as now played in Australia, three days' play here on fast wickets between two even sides will seldom produce a finish. In Australia five, six or even seven days are wanted. This gives us a line ; few can deny that if our forecast is correct a very unsatisfactory state of things prevails with drawn matches the rule and not the exception.
The Australians' bowling seems to be their weak spot, but it would be rash to assume that because it is so on Australian wickets it must be so here. There is a difference between Australian and English wickets, and we really knoW little as to how Grimmett and Everitt will turn out 'here. Macartney is perhaps the best bat in the world, but he is a very good bowler, and if he had a stronger physique and could bowl more he might strengthen the bowling considerably. It is not certain that batsmen like Ponsford and Woodfull will find batting easy in this country, and we have seen several Australians fail here who were heroes- in their own country. Giffen was a case in point ; so also were Walters and Mellwraith. What no doubt our Selection Committee will find ,an anxious matter is our decided tail in batting. It seems to be our destiny to find no batting tail in an Australian' eleven, but our own tail failed dismally in the last Australian tour even on the easy Australian pitches, and we have to rely too much on our five or six leading bats.
Every confidence must be placed in our Selection Com- mittee, and it is a suggestion we put forth humbly when we ask them to remember that our bowling is the im- portant factor in the winning of the " ashes." It is- essential that our fast boWlers should be fresh for Test Matches, and it would be wise if they were to be given a. rest before every Test Match and have no match in the preceding three days. It would also be wise to give- some younger men a chance if they showed any promise in the other matches.
County cricket will probably be what it has been for some years. About six counties will stand head and shoulders above the others, but the championship may be a matter of luck, because some leading players will have to desert their county occasionally to play in a Test Match, and that seems to be usual in these days. There does seem to be a possibility of promising young players coming to the front, and some of them may win their way to Test Matches—Hammond, Larwood, Watson, Leyland and Lilley among professionals, and Duleepsinhji and Holmes among amateurs are some who may rise to great things, but really accomplished fast bowlers seem to be dying out. This is probably due to the work on these modem billiard-table wickets being too hard—there is no inducement to tempt youngsters to devote them- selves to this part of the game. There is also a shortage of high-class, slow, left-hand bowlers. Parker is no longer young, but there is nobody of his class or that of Peel, Briggs and Blythe. It is to be hoped that the counties will make every effort to. find bowlers, if not for this season at any rate for the future.
It is early to speak of University cricket. Cambridge seem to be well provided with good players such as Enthoven, Meyer, Dawson and Duleepsinhji, and Holmes for Oxford is quite capable of going far. Whatever happens not even Test Matches can deprive the Univer- sity match of its charm. It has the stamp of tradition and antiquity upon it. The batting may not be alto- gether sound and the bowling may be weak, but the fielding is good, and though there is apparently no reason why the scoring should not be great enough to produce drawn matches, there is no match where nerves come in so much. To many it is the most enjoyable match of the year. The most important point of this season's cricket, as mentioned before, is that the three day match is on its trial, at any rate as far as Test Match cricket is concerned, for it is certain that a large section of the public will not be satisfied at the large number of drawn matches.