|A 1900 AD fictional essay about cricket in 2000 AD|
|by Venu Palaparthi|
|Jul 06, 2007|
Among all the rare cricket books that Dreamcricket.com has in its possession, the one titled “A cricketer on cricket” published in the year 1900 is among the most fascinating. Especially so, because it gives the reader a glimpse of the cricketer’s mind. The writer looks forward a 100 years and imagines a cricket match in 2000 AD.
The most striking thing about this essay is that most of the writer’s concerns are the ones that continue to confound us today – how to deal with weather interruptions, the frustration of having matches without a result, and on making the matches faster and action-packed! Last but not the least is the writer’s final question about chucking!
As if that were not enough, the author also imagines improvements in the 21st century – electronic scoreboard linked to ‘wireless telegraphs’ (wi-fi anyone?), innovative bats that are not made from willow (bats with titanium inserts and graphite supports are now available), ground covers that can be brought in and removed through air jets (not a bad idea, come to think of it, it is used in multi-purpose stadiums in USA), and not to forget that innovation that still baffles us – a tool that would enable more accurate l.b.w. decisions.
The only areas where the writer’s predictions do not come true are those relating to innovations that purportedly make the game more interesting. One Day Internationals and Twenty20 are not what the writer conjures up but he does come up with some interesting ideas.
A cricket match in 2000 AD
By WJ Ford
I had returned from watching a big match at Lord’s, had dined with discretion, and was enjoying tobacco in an arm-chair, reading the while a somewhat tough book on the occult sciences of the East – Mahatmas, Tibetans, and the like – when falling into that semi-drowsy state, which arises partly from the unwonted concentration of thought which a difficult subject requires, partly from the enjoyment of the good things in life, I seemed to have acquired on a sudden a portion of these occult powers.
Cricket was mixed with esoteric Buddhism, cricketers with Mahatmas, and projecting my astral self some 100 years forward into time, I seemed to materialize at Lord’s into my physical self, and to be standing in the pavilion, talking to the secretary.
He seemed, as is the way in dreams, to be more surprised at my unauthorized presence than at my knowledge of the past and my ignorance of the present, and he answered my questions with the kindly courtesy that is the inheritance of MCC secretaries.
The ground had an aspect of familiar unfamiliarity, the pavilion of 1890, moss-grown and ivy covered, was faced by a similar structure of similar size; while a gigantic series of stands surrounded the rest of the playing area, accommodating, I was told, some 30,000 people with ease.
“But are these huge places often filled?”
“Always when there is a big match, for people are well-to-do, and can easily earn in three days enough to keep them in comfort for the week; food, clothes, and other necessaries are now so cheap, owing to the improvements in machinery, etc.”
“And what is that curious tower with steel poles?”
“A wireless telegraph, which connects us direct with all the chief cricket grounds, and automatically registers the scores on those two huge screens; hence evening ‘cricket specials,’ such as you used to have, I believe, have no sale here. Nor have cards, for on those big scoring boards are corded, as you see, the names of the players, the hits and scores of the batsmen, together with the bowling analysis up to the latest moment. I believe cards used to be sold in your time containing this information?”
“That is so, and the boy was always ‘sold out’ before he got to me. Are there similar arrangements elsewhere?"
“Oh, dear me, yes; counties would refuse to play on a ground not properly equipped.”
“Has anything been done to put batsmen and bowlers on a level?”
“Not a great deal, as far as the alteration of the rules is concerned, for cricketers are (and I suppose, were) the most jealous and tenacious conservatives, but the new pitches quite prevent either abnormally high or abnormally low scoring, to say nothing of the new retirement system. I say ‘new,’ because they were only introduced about forty years ago, and so are new to you.”
“About the new pitches, then: what are they?”
“They are made of turf, but of a special composition, the ingredients of which are a trade secret, which has all the spring and elasticity of good turf, and yet allows the bowler to get on plenty of break, if he is skilful enough. By ‘plenty of break’ I mean that a really clever bowler will make a good length-ball pitch on the off-stump, and hit, or even miss, the leg stump. This composition is unaffected by the sun or rain, and is laid down in slabs, like the slates of a billiard table, and with equal care. The facilities given to the bowler are thus largely increased, but the difficulties are not so great but that a good batsman may overcome them, while, better still, every match is played under exactly the same conditions, save the varying skill or luck of the players. It would never do to eliminate the personal equation, and even with these wickets the best man is not always the best man.”
“But suppose it rains. Surely the greasy ball handicaps the out side.”
“Not to any great extent; well look! They are just coming in to avoid the thunderstorm.”
I did look, and from under the stands shot a long cylinder, which unwound, as it went, a light waterproof fabric which covered the whole ground. The rain came down in torrents, but the water flowed off by proper conduits to a reserve tank, whence it was again drawn when the turf required watering.
“Then your groundman’s business,” said I, “is to look after the fielding-ground rather than the wicket?”
“Exactly,” said the secretary; and I could do no more than murmur “Tempora mutantur.” [Times are changing.]
I picked up a bat that had been laid on the table by one of the waiting batsmen, and tried it in the orthodox fashion, testing the spring of the handle, and wagging it to and fro as in back or forward play. “I didn’t know,” said my informant, “that you had cricket in – I mean, where you come from.”
“Oh well, I haven’t forgotten everything. You don’t seem, however, to have made any change at all in the bats.”
“Look at that one closely,” he said smilingly; and I looked, and behold! It was not made of willow nor of any wood that I recognized. He answered my look of interrogation with,
“Aluminium-steel amalgam – lightness and strength combined. The bat is hollow; the face, you can feel, is flexible, elastic, what you will, and ‘gives’ under pressure: hence it has all the driving power attributed to your wooden bats, of which we have a few in the writing room as curiosities, but we haven’t been able to improve on their shape, any more than on the balls, which are identical to your own, but for a little improvement in materials and manufacture. As to the bats, you see the demand on English willow was too great for the supply, and for some reason or another foreign willow was never satisfactory.”
“Ah, I remember,” I answered, “an American told me that very thing in 1897, Jubilee year, and said that all their bats were imported from England.”
“Well, willow trees – proper seasoned old willow trees gave out, so that after many experiments this amalgam was hit upon, and very well it works.”
“Does it drive well?”
“Yes, and not too well: at least no one has ever beaten your friend Thornton’s record; you were a contemporary of his?”
“And of Grace, then, of course? We have all heard of him and his feats, and if you ever meet him – er, anywhere- you might tell him that he still holds a good many records.”
At this moment the bell rang, the cylinders (driven by liquid air, I was told) rolled back, and play began.
I watched with much interest, but saw no very new features; there was bowling of all kinds, and batting of all styles; short slip missed a catch, as in the good old days, and mid-off dropped on his right knee to stop a hot drive. This seemed familiar, and I cudgeled my bewildered brains to all into the line of thought, when suddenly all came back to me and I said aloud, but half to myself: “Stoddy!”
“No,” said my friend, “Stoddart is the gentleman’s name: I believe his grandfather used to play a little.”
Play a little! Shades of Middlesex, Gentleman vs Players, Australia vs England! And I turned around to give a short recital of his feats, but fortunately refrained: fortunately for I remembered the cricket bore of 1900, with his interminable stories about the heroes he had seen in the days when I was trying to kick my toes through my long clothes, which stories always ended in uncomplimentary remarks on the game as then played and the exponents thereof.
I was pleased to note that practically no improvements had been made in the materials of the game: stumps, bails, pads, gloves and balls were only better in that the workmanship and material were of a higher class, but I noted that batsmen and bowlers wore special soles for the composition pitches, fitted on a sort of skeleton golosh, properly spiked, for fielding purposes. Full of interested inquisitiveness, I began to pump my friend the secretary further.
“You said something about a ‘retirement system’: what is it?”
“Oh, it works well and simply; when a man has got 30 he retires and ‘stars a life,’ as at billiards; i.e., if he gets out before he has got 30 in the second innings, he has another life. Then when all four innings have been played the ‘stars’ on either side, if there are any left, go in, with the not-out, of course, and play till one side or another is ‘dead.’ Under this system, which it is hard to explain in detail, supported by our special pitches, drawn matches are unknown, for the batsmen has to ‘play himself in’ perhaps three or four times in the same match; indeed 150 is a good average score for the side, and two days are quite enough for a match. Travelling again is so easy and quick that three matches a week are no great tax. Without this we could never get a proper county competition, now that nearly all counties are first-class. Ah, Rutlandshire are all out, and only one ‘star,’ that looks bad for the championship. Would you like to look at the pitch?”
There was nothing in the world that I desired so much, so we strolled out, I wondering at the absence of tall hats and black coats, but I learned that nothing of a “black or subfuse hue” was now tolerated on cricket grounds, so that the dark background, the batsman’s bugbear, was gone for ever. I looked at the new pitch with much interest; it had a distinct nap on it, to imitate turf; it looked ideal, and it was set in the middle of the ground, one of the new laws being that from the centre of the pitch to the boundary the distance must not be less than 80 or more than 100 yards. “This gives the sloggers a chance,” said my friend.
I noticed on the pitch that the wickets stood on a strip of a darker tint than the rest of the composition, and naturally asked the reason.
“That is to help the umpires in deciding l.b.w. The dark strip is 16 inches across, twice the breadth of the wicket; if the ball pitches on it and the batsman interposes his leg, he is out l.b.w., if the umpire things the ball would have hit the wickets. The umpire finds the difference in color a great help, but always remembers the adage of your days, ‘when in doubt, not out.’ Of course with diminished scoring, the follow-on has quite disappeared, and our modern critics regard it as quite a clumsy contrivance.”
“Well, it was; and it cost many a deserving side a match, besides giving rise to heinous scandals or ‘incidents,’ as we called them.”
The secretary looked puzzled; this was ancient history to him with a vengeance.
“By the way,” said I, “how does your new system work with regard to averages?”
“Averages!” he answered rather contemptuously, “we have done away with them long ago. They did harm enough in your day, if the records in Somerset House can be trusted, as I presume they can. We play to win matches, not to make averages; and we have done away with maiden overs, or at least with the exhibition of them on the score-sheets. Our legislation has been guided by one main consideration – to give the bowler a chance, and the batsman a chance, together with a fair value for the batter’s hits. You must have noticed that three-foot fence all round the ground. If the ball clears it the stroke counts six; but if the ball hits it, the stroke counts two plus the runs the batsman can run in addition; this principle keeps the batsman on the trot, and the fieldsman on the watch, to judge the angle of the rebound. I wonder you never thought of so simple a device.”
“Well, we’d plenty to do, and I think we did it pretty well, leaving you a capital foundation on which to put your superstructure. One question more: How do you deal with ‘chuckers’?”
“Do you mean men who throw, and don’t bowl? We let them throw, and find them no more dangerous than bowlers, as far as getting wickets is concerned; but we handicap all bowlers including throwers, by making them bowl or throw not less than six yards from the wicket, if they bowl short of that line, it is a no-ball; if they hit the batsman as well, it’s four no-balls. Consequently, fast bowlers have to be very careful of their length, and they are. Must be going? Well, good-bye; so glad to have met you; hope you will be up here again soon; I should like to chat about old times. Au revoir.”
And then I bethought me of bed.
Excerpted from “A cricketer on cricket” by W.J. Ford. Published by Sands and Co in 1900. This book is in the public domain and is not copyrighted.