Archive | July 2014

If the past is a foreign country, cricket’s history is an overseas tour

Lords with G&DadOn Saturday I went to Lord’s with my older son for the first time. There, we met my Dad and, three generations together, spent a day watching England play India. It’s 36 years since my Dad first took me to Lord’s – to see England play Pakistan. I can, through first-hand, personal experience, account for one-sixth of the duration of the Home of Cricket, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year. My Dad, although a Surrey man, spans nearly one-third of the great ground’s existence since his first visit. This sport, conventionally seen as so ancient, can easily have large chunks of its familiar chronology bitten off by two generations of one family.

I recently joined the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS). Inadvertently, my first contribution to the Association’s on-line discussion site prompted a very reflective response by a Committee member, which included consideration of the question of what the Association should consider as ‘history’.

I don’t think we’ve ever defined when “history” stops for ACS purposes. The end of WW2 has been suggested but I feel that is too long ago. I think we’ve reached the stage where the Packer Affair, for instance, or the shenanigans around sanctions-busting tours to apartheid South Africa, are definitely “history” rather than “current affairs”. As a rule of thumb (I reiterate this is a personal view) I’d suggest that anything is “history” if it is far enough back not to involve the careers of any current players.

Where does history stop for cricket? The Committee member provided an answer for an Association that serves people who have a keen interest in the sport’s past. I wanted to see if I could formulate a definition that could be applied more broadly.

One approach would be to set an absolute date, probably based upon an event that is seen as marking a significant change in the sport or in its context. The end of World War Two is an example. Or, a date that has a feel about it, even if it doesn’t hold as the boundary between eras. This is how I can explain my undergraduate modern history course (1986-89) topping out in 1964. Somewhere between the beginning of sexual intercourse and the summer of love; inclusive of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union, but not the Prague Spring; historicising JFK but not LBJ.

The end of history could be seen as a relative point in time. The point at which none of the major protagonists is still living (or in cricket terms, playing) is one such criterion. History would hold still for years and then with the passing of Michael Foot, Emperor Hirohito or retirement of Sachin Tendulkar, it would jump forward. The 1992 World Cup became history in November last year when Tendulkar retired. It will be joined by the 1996 tournament when Chanderpaul steps aside (assuming he outlasts Jacques Kallis).

I favour another method of distinguishing between that which is history and that which is too recent to be considered so. It depends upon an understanding of history as a discipline. Crudely, history is the creation of a narrative. Narratives are of course constructed continually in, and about, the present. The feature of the historical narrative is that it applies an interpretative layer, without which its subject could not be understood by the non-expert reader of the present day. History, therefore, applies when the events described cannot readily be made sense of; or, the interpretation of those events through the lense of contemporary assumptions would create serious misunderstandings. We rely, therefore, on experts – historians – to tell us the story of a time that isn’t easily grasped. That’s not to say that historians don’t mislead, just that their aim is to help the reader with an imaginative leap. The past is a foreign country. Cricket’s past is an overseas tour.

This line of thinking leads to cricket’s history being seen in different strata. Starting with the unembellished action on the field: a cricket match viewed from 20, 50, even 100 years ago would be followed and absorbed without great difficulty. The essence of the contest, the range of skills displayed and tactics employed show variety around a strong core of consistency. Extremes around, say, the coping with uncovered wickets after a soaking may startle the modern viewer – but they’re not a great distance from cricket’s current grassroots game. If we go back to the Golden Age, the modern viewer may be perplexed by the sight of the chap with the big beard stooping to pick up and replace the bail before taking guard again, but we may be straying into myth, not history.

If the cricket played on the field is cut loose from its context, I would argue that the results and the action from the past 100-130 years are clear enough to the modern viewer so as to not require the intervention of an historian. The argument is artificial, though, as the modern follower does not have access to footage of the game that would allow him or her to gain an appreciation of what “was goin’ off out there”. Having tried to show my younger son the wonder of Dennis Lillee, he would contend that the material available from 30 years ago is inadequate. Match reports would be the source material. Sampling extracts of Wisden from the last 120 years, I think the language with which the game is described would be accessible, without an interpretative gloss.

The game on the field is never loosed from the context of the sport it represents: who the teams are, why they are playing each other, what’s at stake, who gets selected. This is the second stratum of cricket for which I’ll seek an historical end point.

Cricket’s culture and structures can dominate discussion on non-playing and playing days. But how far back would a lay reader be liable to misunderstand this ever-present context of the game? In English domestic cricket, a couple of junctures stand out. There’s the abolition of the professional and amateur statuses in 1962. Later, the introduction of the mixed economy of cricket competitions, 3-day, limited overs league and knockout, starting in 1963, but only really re-shaping the season from 1972.

The third stratum that may have an historical endpoint is where cricket is seen fully in its social context. When cricket was a sport of popular working class interest, attracting thousands to its domestic matches, the spectators were watching men like themselves, brought up in rural and industrial landscapes. As great a paradox as the amateurs making more from the sport than the professionals, is that once the game became wholly professional it became a more middle-class sport to play and to follow. Cricket, as an activity for millions of men in post-war austerity England, is a leap from its early 21st Century appearance.

I am favouring a date in the late 1950s to early 1960s as the end-point of history for English cricket, taking account of the sporting and social context. Other countries – and indeed the international game – may, using my method, settle on different, probably more recent, dates. The acceleration of the Indian economy over the last twenty years may, for example, mean that the years that preceded it need to be treated as history. The international game, increasingly shaped by Indian money, may need to consider as historical all the eras where other countries held sway.

Cricket in England, a sport that often seems uncomfortable in the present, has less history than we commonly imagine. The game on the field has altered, but not fundamentally. The more malleable sporting and social context, is still recognisable a couple of generations ago.

By pushing back history, I do not deny there are great and complex stories that we understand better when an expert writes. Merely, that the expertise is in economics, finance, politics, the law, international relations, sports science, mass communications or simply the ability to sift evidence to present a coherent narrative. These play a part in helping us to understand cricket’s present and recent past. But they are not the distinctive skill of the historian: to bring clarity to the actions of people from a past who had different values, assumptions and constraints to our own.


Booted off the back page

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England’s series loss to Sri Lanka in Leeds came to its dramatic crescendo while the England football team were in the closing minutes of their World Cup campaign. Being England’s second most popular team sport doesn’t mean that cricket comes anywhere close to football in popularity. And that provided Alastair Cook, Peter Moores and the ECB some protection when the mass media were deciding their targets the following day.

The media now is fragmented and specialised. Cricket-folk read cricinfo, their favourite cricket journalists on newspapers’ online outlets and debate the matters of the day on twitter and forums. This, you may have thought, was self-evident, but not to England’s Managing Director who was taken aback by the force of social media comment when he conspired to rid English cricket of Kevin Pietersen.

Until the 1980s saw an expansion in sports coverage, topical sports news was fitted into two or three broadsheet pages, maybe five or six tabloid. A Test series defeat during a World Cup would only get prominence relative to the other sports stories of the day. A specialist media, feeding off each other’s scoops, interviews and polemics, existed within the press box, but didn’t play out its jostling for position for the enthusiasts in the public to enjoy.

Cricket has been England’s summer sport, only insofar as World Cups, European Championships and Olympics don’t crowd it out of the spotlight. This post looks at cricket stories prior to the 1980s that today’s specialist media would have savoured, or feasted upon, but in the past were booted from the back page by reports, results and previews of the World Cup.

1954 World Cup in Switzerland

In the Final played on the 4 July, West Germany defeated the favourites Hungary, ending their 32 game unbeaten run. Hungary had beaten the Germans 8-3 two weeks earlier, but with their star, Puskas, not fully fit, and his late equaliser ruled out by a linesman for off-side, West Germany won the Final 3-2.

The Final fell on the rest day of Pakistan’s second Test match in England. Anticipation of the match in Berne would have displaced some of the reflection of an awesome innings played by Denis Compton at Trent Bridge. He amassed 278 in a little under five hours. Compton shared stands of 154 in 85 minutes with Graveney and 192 in under two hours with Bailey. “Compton sent the bowling to all parts of the field with a torrent of strokes, orthodox and improvised, crashing and delicate, against which Kardar could not set a field and the bowlers knew not where to pitch” (Wisden). Rain took the game into a fourth day, but Pakistan fell 129 runs short of making England bat again.

1962 World Cup in Chile

Brazil retained their world champion status, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Final on 17 June.

The aristocrats of world football managed to overshadow one of the aristocrats of English cricket. In a county game at Tunbridge Wells (16-19 June), Ted Dexter had a near faultless all-round performance. On the first day, he took six wickets in dismissing Kent for 187. Sussex lost three early wickets, before Dexter added 205 in 125 minutes with Ken Suttle. Dexter scored a century; Suttle made a maiden double-hundred. Two hundred runs ahead, Dexter took another four wickets and the game was won before lunch on day three.

The 1966 World Cup in England

England’s campaign began on 11 July with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, prompting much discussion about how far the home team could progress in the tournament.

England’s Test series with West Indies was put on hold for 30 days so that the main event of the cricket season would not compete directly with a force greater than it could muster. The West Indies continued their tour and played a three day match at Canterbury while the England football team were getting their tournament under way at Wembley. Late on the 11 July, Sobers took two wickets bowling fast at the start of Kent’s second innings. The next morning, he switched to left-arm wrist-spin and dismissed the county for 124, taking 9-49, and securing an innings victory.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico

Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 on 21 July, to achieve a third World Cup victory and become the permanent holders of the Jules Rimet Trophy. Their team, supported by the results and playing style, is recognised as one of the greatest World Cup teams ever.

Across the Atlantic, another all-time great team was assembled. The Rest of the World took on England in the first of the five Test series, that had been scheduled for South Africa. The First Test at Lord’s (17-22 July) was a triumph for a cricketer as iconic to his sport as Pele was to football: Garry Sobers. Swing bowling in England’s first innings brought him 6-21. He top-scored, with 183, in the only innings the Rest of the World would need in this game. Switching again to slow bowling, Sobers picked up two second innings wickets.

1974 World Cup in West Germany

Dutch Total Football, exemplified by Johan Cruyff, lost to West Germany in the Final held on 7 July. Two controversial penalties awarded by referee, Jack Taylor, meant that one Englishman had an influence on a tournament for which the England team had not qualified.

The England cricket team found no barriers to their progress that summer. The third Test against India was played at Edgbaston on 4-8 July. England became the third side in Test history to win a match losing only two wickets. Their first innings of 459-2d featured a century from Mike Denness and 214* by David Lloyd.

The meaning of the term, ‘Mankading’ is well understood in cricket (running out the non-striker backing up too far). Vinoo Mankad’s son, Ashok, could have been the source of an alternative sense. He was dismissed in the second innings hit wicket when playing a short ball from Chris Old, his cap fell backwards onto his stumps knocking off a bail.

1978 World Cup in Argentina

Scotland’s inflated expectations bumped up against unexpected defeat, a red card and a drugs test failure before a 3-2 victory over Netherlands on on 11 July left them eliminated on goal difference.

While the UK digested this news, an odd and very nearly tragic incident in county cricket took place. By 1978, batsmen were routinely wearing helmets for protection. Close fielders were also crouching under hard-hats. Phillip Russell of Derbyshire, fielding at short-leg took a blow on the visor from a fiercely hit shot by Malcolm Nash at Chesterfield, fracturing his cheek bone. The ball lodged in the helmet and an appeal for a catch made. Dickie Bird called ‘dead ball’, a decision endorsed afterwards by the authorities.


The first item in this list was to have been England’s World Cup Finals debut in Brazil in 1950. England, strongly fancied for the title, lost 1-0 to the part-timers of the USA. That same day, 29 June 1950, the West Indies won their first Test match in England, defeating the hosts at Lord’s by 326 runs.18 wickets were taken by the 20 year old spin bowlers Ramadhin (11) and Valentine (8). The three Ws accumulated 97, 125 and 182 runs each in the match (Walcott scoring an unbeaten 168).

In background reading for this post, I was surprised to find that few reporters had travelled to Brazil from Europe, let alone England. In this instance, it was the England Test team’s defeat that provided cover to their humbled football brothers. A rare case of football being driven from the back page.