Wisden 1900-1919

The Wisdener (the newsletter of the Wisden Collectors’ Club) thought it might be of interest to members to put together an outline of Wisden content and information. We are very grateful to John Pratt, who emigrated to Australia as a £10 Pom back in 1963, but who shouts louder than most at the fall of an Aussie wicket, for the following article…thank you John.

1900 – 09.

The one hundred Wisdens that make up the Almanack’s contribution to first class cricket in the twentieth century are arguably the most complete and accurate reporting of any sport over such an extended period. It is a magnificent, factual history of the game’s development during that time. Unbiased, missing nothing of consequence, there is plenty of comment and opinion, throughout the truth shines through like a beacon.

It is time then to say goodbye to the 19th century during which first class cricket was predominantly a leisurely summer pursuit for gentlemen. There were professionals; they did most of the bowling! By the turn of the century the ratio of amateurs to professionals was roughly 50:50. Early tours to Australia had largely been by invitation rather than a proper selection process. Thus the representatives were rarely the best team England was capable of putting into the field. They were generally peopled by gentlemen of high ideals. 

This synopsis deals with the first ten years of the twentieth century. The decade described by its observers as “The Golden Age”. Watching the game evolve through the eyes of Wisden is fascinating. Thus, as one thumbs through the Almanack, year by year, decade by decade a wonderful kaleidoscope of gradual change emerges although probably unintentionally, which makes it that much more believable. Not many books of a historical or biographical nature have been written about cricket without the author paying tribute to Wisden when acknowledging his sources.

Before dealing with Wisden’s reporting of this decade we should perhaps take sometime to position the game in the structured lifestyle that surrounded it. Particularly since the communication devices we use today were largely unavailable to  people of that era. 

The Boer war (1899-1902) was in progress. It was a relatively old fashioned conflict and small beer compared to what the 20th century was about to serve up but very important to Englishmen at the time. There were few telephones, radio was still to make an impression, and there was no television at all. Nor were there any of the other communicators we take for granted today. Photocopying machines and computers were still to be invented. Newspapers carried few photographs, they were, as the old pun stated “Black and White and Re(a)d all over”. Sport, if it was reported was largely confined to back page summaries. 

In 1901 Queen Victoria passed away and was succeeded by Edward V11 her 60 year old son. Marconi was busy transmitting wireless signals and Elgar writing the Pomp and Circumstance march. There were no Supermarkets or white goods. Transport was predominantly by horse or steam – shanke’s pony, hansom cab, bicycle or rail. Air travel did not exist. In 1902 Australia became a Commonwealth country with its own government and legal system. Mrs Pankhurst inaugurated the Suffragettes movement. Scientists were busy inventing automobiles and aeroplanes. A year later Kenneth Graham published “Wind in the Willows” and the first phonograph records became available. There was cinema but the movies were black/white and silent. Illumination was mostly by gaslight or candles. 

Not surprising perhaps society was fairly well regimented, ill-informed and reasonably obedient. It is worth reflecting how differently people may have thought and behaved in such an environment. The average Englishman in the Victorian/Edwardian era could perhaps feel just a little superior and unquestionably proud of his country’s huge empire. He lived in a male dominated society and attitudes to foreigners were not good. There were Iti’s, Frogs, Yanks, Dago’s, Niggers and Wogs. He was to learn during the course of the twentieth century that there were also “Poms”.

It was against this background in 1908 that the great W. G. Grace played his last first class match at 60 years of age. His kingdom was about to be inherited by a modest young genius who in 1905 made his debut for Surrey in a match against The Gentlemen of England. Ironically one of his opponents was W.G. Grace himself. Wisden, having never seen the young man before states”… The feature of the match was the batting of Hobbs, whose first appearance in first class cricket proved an emphatic success. He scored his 88 in two hours, and only made one real mistake.”

The first Wisden of the century deals with the last season of the nineteenth century when Surrey won the Championship and a gentleman from Hampshire one R.M.Poore topped the national batting averages with 1551 runs at  91.23.

The new century opened with the introduction of the 6 ball over. Yorkshire won the Championship, something they were to do 5 times during the course of the decade, and the 1900 Wisden contained significant debate on proposed changes to the laws. In particular, the size of bats, the lbw law and whether or not there should be boundary hits. Lord Harris and A.G. Steel took up several pages discussing these issues. For the next two years the editors notes concentrate largely on the need to kerb illegitimate bowling actions. 

We are told that for the most part throughout this decade the weather during its summers was at peace with the world and that a succession of long hot golden days prevailed. Batsmen made huge scores, pitches were easy paced and a far cry from those of the previous century. There was a wet summer though in 1908, and this is reflected in the averages with lower scoring and an abundance of bowlers enjoying the conditions. The most successful batsmen during the decade were C.B .Fry, K.S Ranjitsinji, T.W. Hayward, W. Quaife and J.T. Tyldesley, amongst the bowlers three Yorkshiremen stood out head and shoulders above the rest. W. Rhodes, S. Haigh and G.H. Hirst between them they took 4,474 wickets over the 9 season period from 1900 to 1908 at a combined average of 16.43 the old adage that bowlers win matches was clearly demonstrated in their performance. Not that bowlers had it all their own way though for Ranji twice exceeded 3,000 runs for the season, Fry did so once and Tom Hayward with 3,518 in 1906 set a record that was to stand for 41 years.

Sydney Pardon revelled in his role as editor of Wisden right through the decade. His level headed comments and observations are to the point and apposite. He tells us that Mr F.S .Ashley-Cooper “largely extended the section dealing with Births and Deaths of Cricketers during this decade”, and he certainly did. Then in the 1905 Almanack he writes “Mr Bosanquet has given me his impressions of the tour of Australia”, and “Mr McLaren has furnished me with his views on the preparation of wickets”.

 The 1902 edition pays a special tribute to the great England and Surrey professional George Lohmann who died of consumption at the age of 36. The section on Umpires became more circumspect removing much of the detail contained in earlier editions concerning umpires private accommodation. In the section devoted to M.C.C there are 12 pages discussing a failed proposal to change the lbw law.

The big event covered in the 1903 issue is the wonderful Ashes series and Australia’s triumphant tour. Victor Trumper scored 11 centuries during the course of it, and two of the tests produced nail biting conclusions.

In the 1904 Almanack the Surrey cricketer D.L.A. Jephson, has picked up  where poor George Lohmann left off and provided the third in his series of articles on batsmanship with a piece on “Back Play”. There is also a thoughtful and illuminating article by F.R. Spofforth giving his opinion on why the professional’s make better bowlers than do the Gentlemen. The tragic death of Arthur Shrewsbury is covered in the obituaries and his career statistics are also presented. A proposal by county captains to widen wickets from 8 to 9 inches met a brick wall at MCC’s AGM and this topic is also covered in the editor’s notes. Middlesex won the Championship and Leicestershire shared the wooden spoon with Hampshire. Lord Hawke took an invincible team to New Zealand and Kent went to America where they won all four of the matches they played. Three states contested the Sheffield Shield and NSW prevailed. 

The 1905 Almanack tells us that Lancashire, who was unbeaten in the Championship, won the title with a perfect percentage and that Hampshire held the wooden spoon alone. Northamptonshire won The Second Class Championship for the second year running and will bring the total of first class counties to 16 when they take their place in the 1905 Championship.

In the 1906 Wisden Northamptonshire’s first season in the Championship was seen as modest. However, their all rounder G.J. Thompson was rewarded being included as one of the Almanack’s 5 cricketers of the year. The passing of R.A.H. Mitchell is acknowledged in the obituary section and there is also an appreciation of him by Lord Harris. The career of Tom Hayward is recorded in depth. England won the Ashes, Yorkshire the Championship and Hampshire again came last. NSW maintained their grip on the Sheffield Shield, MCC took a team to America, Lord Brackley a team to The West Indies and Australia toured New Zealand. Wisden commented on the lack of new development and controversy during the decade.

The 1907 Almanack is dominated by the County Champions Kent, It contains their short history, an article headed The Tonbridge Nursery, and two of their players K.L. Hutchings and A. Fielder are amongst the five cricketers of the year and it was Kent who, late in the year, put forward a proposal to extend the qualification period for overseas players in county cricket. The proposal failed. Special obituaries appear for V.E. Walker of Middlesex and W.W. Read of Surrey. Much to the relief of Hampshire supporters, Derbyshire collected the wooden spoon. MCC took a team to South Africa and lost the test series 4-1. NSW again won the Sheffield Shield.

Wisden had, for some time, been split into 2 parts, the first part having been numbered with Roman numerals. By 1908 this first part had grown to 208 pages, the numerals were becoming a bit cumbersome and so good sense prevailed and Wisden elected to do away with the Roman numerals. The public School sections were by now consuming 60 pages with a 16 page article in Part 1 and 44 pages of match scores and averages in Part 11. It has been unkindly suggested at times that the reason for this was to boost circulation of the Almanack. Ones name in Wisden apparently provided status to young boys and their families, copies of Wisden were, therefore, often snapped up by the families of young cricketers whose names had appeared therein. The 1908 Almanack also contains an article by R.E. Foster on South African bowling at the heart of which was their use of four googly practitioners. Although losing the test series the South Africans enjoyed a successful tour. There is also a statistical analysis of John Tunnicliffe’s performances in first class cricket. Nottinghamshire won the Championship with Derbyshire again finishing last. 

We come now to the 1909 Wisden, the last Almanack of the decade. During this period it has increased in size by 139 pages. There is talk of dividing the Championship into two divisions, the editor of Wisden is most definitely not in favour of this proposal. Australia won the Ashes down under by 4-1. Yorkshire won the Championship with Somerset finishing last. Victoria at last brought NSW’s monopoly of the Sheffield Shield to a close and there is a statistical analysis of Ranji’s first class career. Lord Hawke is celebrated for his 25 year leadership of the Yorkshire club and early problems and politics concerning the triangular tournament began to surface. The shortcomings presented by wickets produced with marl are discussed and there is an article by Alfred Lubbock entitled “Cricket in the 60’s and at the present day”. In Mr Lubbock’s article we find some interesting observations about the improvements in pitches and some that make one relieved not to have had to play at Lords in the time he is covering. There is too comment on players that could have been written yesterday not yesteryear or a century ago. We are all perhaps a little too sensitive about the quality of the cricket in our own playing days relative to that of another era.

If I were to pick just one Wisden from this decade it would undoubtedly be the 1903 with its wonderful Ashes series in the heart of “The Golden Age” and if you have been following this series of  Wisden synopsises and are a WCC member you will know at least as much as I do about Wisden prices so we will not go further down that track.

 1910 – 1919

The bleak shadows of death hang over this decade like an endless London smog. In 1910 Edward V11 died and was succeeded to the throne by George V. In 1912 there was the tragic sinking of the Titanic and the Balkans wars commenced. In 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, Germany invaded Belgium precipitating The Great War or as some people misguidedly entitled it “The War to end Wars”. If all this was not enough issues concerning home rule for Ireland simmered spitefully throughout the decade. 

The advent of The Great War forced the premature closure of the 1914 cricket season. In 1915 W.G. Grace, after writing to the press urging young cricketers to rise to the cause, passed on. Victor Trumper died of Brights disease and A.E. Stoddart took his own life. None of these grievous losses to cricket were caused by The Great War but they are covered in the 1916 Wisden making it a collectors’ item.

Like so many other English institutions Wisden succumbed to the needs of its country at war. From 1916 to the end of the decade it is a substantially reduced publication. There is much of schoolboys’ cricket but the almanack’s content becomes overburdened with the deaths of cricketing people through its honour role as the futile loss of life soared. In 1913 Wisden celebrated its jubilee, but there were times during the decade when its editor thought seriously about not publishing the almanack. It is providential to the serious collector that he met the challenge of his self doubts in a positive manner and with the total support of the book’s owner. 

With these sombre events in mind we pick up the synopsis of Wisden’s sixth decade in 1910 with its review of the 1909 season. The Great War is a distant speck on the horizon and not even a consideration in the minds of cricketing people. There is an article by Lord Harris on the subject of “Modern Batting”. A statistical analysis of George Hirst in first class cricket, Australia won the Ashes 2-1 and much of the editor’s notes deal with this; he lays the blame squarely with the England selectors. Kent won the Championship, Gloucestershire the wooden spoon, NSW the Sheffield Shield and Western Province the Curry Cup.

The almanack reporting the 1910 season tells us it was an extremely wet summer. The batting averages confirm this view and by the end of the season, according to the editor’s notes, the first class counties were crying poor. It was purely a domestic season, there was no touring team, and so, if anything one would have expected good support for the Championship from the public. P.F. Warner wrote an article entitled “Our Young Cricketers”, there is a statistical analysis of Lord Hawke in first class cricket, Kent again won the Championship and Somerset finished last. England toured South Africa and lost the test series 3-2. South Australia won the Sheffield Shield and an Australian eleven toured New Zealand. 

The 1912 Wisden coincides with the Nationalisation of Britain’s telephone network. The counties claim to be still bleeding cash, something they have continued to do right up to the present day while at the same time successfully managing their affairs to stay afloat. Apparently 1911 was a long hot summer and this is confirmed by a quick scan of the national batting and bowling averages. There were a lot of overs bowled and 58 batsmen topped 1,000 runs with 9 going on over the 2,000 mark. If for no other reason the season became memorable for a famous innings by E. Alletson of Nottinghamshire, enshrined forever by John Arlott in his book entitled “Alletson’s Innings”. There is a statistical analysis of Archibald Campbell McLaren in first class cricket and an article on Warwickshire who won the Championship for the first time. The passing of both E.M. Grace and W.L. Murdoch is covered in the obituaries, and Somerset returned to bottom spot on the Championship ladder. M.C.C. toured The West Indies. While South Africa discovered that touring Australia can be hard work going down 4-1 in the test series. NSW  won the Sheffield Shield and Natal the Curry Cup. Wisden has retained the same format for some time now and will not change until war is declared!

In the Jubilee issue the editor proclaims the weather for the 1912 season to have been “Appalling”. He deemed the Triangular Tournament a failure due to Australia sending an under strength side and South Africa playing poorly. There is no suggestion that England, who went through the series undefeated, might have played well! He also spends time caning “The absurd proposition put forward by F.R.Spofforth”. The bones of which appear to be a suggestion that a fielding side should receive a two run bonus for every maiden over they complete. The Counties are still in the red ink and the deaths of G.J. Bonnor and Tom Richardson are reported. On a brighter note there is a five page tribute to John Wisden including a full page picture and statistical analysis of the careers of J.R. Mason and R.E. Foster. The coverage of both the Australian and South African tours is comprehensive. Yorkshire won the Championship and Worcestershire dropped to last in the ladder. Northamptonshire were the sensation of the summer finishing second and coming oh so close to upsetting the Tykes. In the section on M.C.C. it is always interesting to take a look at the list of the club’s bowling staff. Quite a number of the first class counties have their professionals detailed thereon. Wisden tells us there was a special presentation to the Australian captain S.E. Gregory to mark his appearance in his 50th test match. He was the first player to achieve this feat and it took him almost twenty years. Compare that with the career of Joe Root who began his test career in 2012 and by the time you read this he will probably have played 32 tests. That is assuming he plays all 5 against Australia this 2015 summer. England on their 1911-12 tour of Australia won the test series 4-1. NSW retained the Sheffield Shield, Australia toured America and Canada and M.C.C. sent a team to The Argentine.

During the 1913 season Tom Hayward, aged 42 became the second cricketer in the game’s history to amass 100 centuries, the first being the great doctor in 1895. Although now in the autumn of his career Tom managed 3 centuries for the season and 1,326 runs at an average of 34.00. The following summer, which was to be his last in first class cricket, he accumulated a further 1,124 runs at 30.37 including 2 centuries. The 1914 Wisden includes a piece on “Hayward’s Hundreds”, along with a statistical analysis of Schofield Haigh in first class cricket occasioned by his retirement from the game. During the season E. Alletson of Nottinghamshire had his bowling action questioned after routing Kent and as a consequence did very little bowling for the rest of the season. The Earl of Darnley pays tribute to the life of The Hon. Alfred Lyttelton and in his notes the editor discusses dissention amongst the first class counties, a proposal to make county matches of only two day’s duration and the ongoing financial crisis of a number of the counties. Kent won the Championship, Somerset returned to the bottom of the table, South Australia took the Sheffield Shield, Natal the Curry Cup, and Mr. A.F. Somerset led M.C.C. on “A disappointing tour of The West Indies”.

The 1915 Wisden saw the end of “The Golden Age”. The obituaries contain much tragedy with the passing of A.G. Steel, the loss of R.E. Foster at the age of 36 from diabetes, A.O. Jones at 42 from consumption and A.E. Trott who, in ailing circumstances took his own life at 42 years of age. The editor, a careful and conservative gentleman by all accounts, is surprisingly upbeat in his notes about an early conclusion to the war. Surrey won the Championship in a curtailed competition and Gloucestershire, the wooden spoon. NSW reclaimed the Sheffield Shield. England toured South Africa and won the test series 4-0, and Australia went to New Zealand winning a two match test series 2-0.

In 1916 the only first class cricket for Wisden to report was the Sheffield Shield which was won by Victoria. In England the Summertime Act came into effect. There are no notes from the editor in the almanack only his one page preface. The passing of the great doctor is the morose highlight of this edition, and had it not been for the public schools there would have been virtually no cricket to report at all. The next three issues 1917 to 1919 contain no first class cricket because there simply wasn’t any played. The substantially reduced books cover the public school matches and averages. Cricket records disappear from the 1917 edition and 62% of its content is concerned with death. Percy Jeeves of Warwickshire whose name became famous in the P.G. Wodehouse novels appears with K.L. Hutchings of Kent in the Honour Role and Frank Penn who toured Australia with Lord Harris in 1878 together with Alfred Lubbock are the most notable obituaries amongst the cricketers who died of natural causes. There is a statistical analysis of P.F. Warner’s performances at Lords and The Oval and that is about it. Oh! I almost forgot, The USA declared war on Germany.

At last we have arrived at 1918, what an exhausting journey the last three years have proved to be and it is not over yet for the armistice was not signed until the eleventh day of the eleventh month and Wisden for that year was out long before then. Happily, it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel. The editor’s notes make a welcome return and they are a good read, the eight ball over rears its head and Sydney Pardon with his reserved nature is dead against it. Interestingly, in the long term he has been proven correct although as recently as this year (2015) Shane Warne has attempted to revive it. The obituary of the great Kent left arm slow bowler Colin Blythe is recorded and Sydney Pardon himself pens the tribute in which he claims Blythe to be England’s greatest loss of the conflict. Interestingly Colin was 38 years old and had stated he would not return to the first class game after the war. 

Public schools cricket turned out two England players of the future late in this decade. G.T.S. Stevens a 16 year old when his portrait appeared in Wisden in 1918 and A.P.F. Chapman whose picture appears in the 1919 issue at 18 years of age. 

The Wisden of 1919 runs to 328 pages. The mood is buoyant with the counties bullish and ready to re engage but they are to test a competition of two day matches, an experiment that proved unpopular. The editors notes this year have the advantage of being written after the armistice has been signed. There are a few match reports of exhibition games as attempts were made to put cricket back in front of the public after a prolonged absence.

Most people, it seems, would recommend the 1916 issue as “The must have” almanack of this decade. It does contain a magnificent statistical analysis of the career of W.G. Grace. However, personally I would prefer the 1913, it contains the Triangular Tournament which was a bold venture even if it was not a total success, the struggle between Yorkshire and Northamptonshire for the Championship is intriguing, it is the almanack’s jubilee issue with a fitting tribute to “The Little Wonder”, and it does contain a lot of cricket!