This is not a history of close fielding; that will have to come later.
This is more in the nature of an apology.
I always like the old story – there is a fund of such stories – about the barrister F E Smith.
“F E” was a remarkable man. As was not uncommon, he combined a career at the Bar with a life in politics. After entering Parliament in 1906 as a Conservative, he formed an alliance with the Irishman Sir Edward Carson, the principal opponent in the Commons of Irish Home Rule. Smith steadily rose up the greasy pole, becoming Attorney-General and then, as Lord Birkenhead, Lord Chancellor in Lloyd George’s coalition government. In that role, his most notable achievement was to frame the legislation that reformed England’s outdated land law. It was always said that Smith had had such an awful time understanding the old rule against perpetuities while reading Jurisprudence at Wadham College, Oxford that he vowed that he would one day reform it – and he did. I know something about this – bear with me for a moment – because for many years I have taught land law in Singapore. English law was “received” in Singapore after Raffles “acquired” it in 1819, including the old rule against perpetuities, but the 1920s legislation did not apply. So in our classes we had to grapple with the old rule, although it was amended here in Singapore about 10 years ago. Anyway, if you want a comprehensible, if not comprehensive description of the rule, please feel free to buy a copy of my book on Singapore land law, available in all good booksho… oh never mind. (Actually a more agreeable way of passing the time is to watch the George Clooney movie The Descendants, which, remarkably, is about the rule against perpetuities, although the film-makers seem to have no more of a clue about how it works than Smith did when he was at Wadham.) I still teach land law but we no longer cover the rule against perpetuities. Like everything else in life (except of course the wretched lockdown, which, ironically, is the only thing that matters), the course is designed to finish before it has actually started and so, again ironically, there is no time for the rule against perpetuities, old or new.
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, F E.
In a High Court trial he was asked a question by the judge. He provided a detailed response (Smith was a noted orator).
“Mr Smith,” exclaimed the judge, “I must confess that after your reply I am none the wiser,”
“Indeed not, m’lud” said Smith, “but much better informed,”
That is the thing. I do not expect my readers – yes, all 27 of you to be wiser, or entertained, as a result of reading these pieces. But I do expect you to feel better informed.
And last week there was a problem. In The Smack of Firm Government there were two egregious errors and I feel an urge to correct and clarify.
The first relates to a comment about the Surrey, Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire and England wicketkeeper Roy Swetman. He was, I asserted, “the last survivor of the MCC party that toured Australia in 1958-59.
Wrong. My old friend Malcolm Merry pointed this out to me minutes after the piece was posted – such are the wonders of online communication.
How could I make such a stupid mistake. I own a d have read no fewer than three books on that tour. I have often looked at the squad photo, which is in front of me now. There they all are, in their blazers. There is Swetman, in the back row. And in the middle row, to the left, is the Northamptonshire amateur, and future TCCB administrator Raman Subba Row. Still very much with us.
It gets worse. I say “There they all are” in the photo, but that’s not quite true. Two players came late, reinforcements because of injury. One of them was Ted Dexter, who played two Tests. Arguably the best and most famous English cricketer of his generation, again very much with us, and I had, well forgotten him.
To compound things the point about Swetman was completely irrelevant to the main point – whatever that was – of the piece and rather cringe-worthily followed an observation that you had to be a real cricket nerd to know that only two players before Brian Bolus had been capped by three counties (one of them being Swetman).I now began to wonder whether this was correct. I really think so. The former England batsman Roger Prideaux joined Sussex in 1971: two years before Bolus joined Derbyshire, having previously played for Kent and Northamptonshire, but he was not capped by Kent. (Incidentally, Prideaux is part of the answer to a trivia question to which Mitchell Starc and two other people are the other parts of the answer: what is the question? Also, Maurice Hill joined Somerset in 1970 having previously played for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, but he was only capped by Nottinghamshire.
The second mistake was more important and more complicated. It concerns the anecdote about the Yorkshire bowler Bobby Peel, being sent, or led, off the field by his captain Lord Hawke.
This is a story which has been told many times.My principal source was Derek Hodgson’s The Official History Of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, published in 1989 and described by John Arlott in Wisden 1990 as “a book of enthusiasm and certainty”.
Certainty… hmm. Maybe not enough certainty, or perhaps too much. Anyway, again within what seemed like minutes of the thing going online I had an email from the distinguished author and publisher Stephen Chalke, upon whom I rather impudently inflict my offerings, saying, very politely, that my account of the Peel story was quite wrong.
It is true that the incident occurred during the Middlesex match at Bramall Lane. But it occurred on the third day of a match in which Peel had played a full part. He made 40 batting at number seven on the first day, and took five Middlesex wickets on the second. On the third he was not himself. According to one newspaper report “It was manifestly impossible for him to do himself anything like justice.” It was true, as indicated in my piece, that George Hirst tried in vain to help. Peel bowled a few untidy overs and at one point slipped, apparently injuring his knee (he claimed he slipped because of problems with his spikes). Anyway, he left the field; nobody told him to leave. But his contract was terminated that day.” Nothing ever gave me so much pain “was Hawke’s verdict.
Where did I obtain the information set out above? It is in Chalke’s magnificent book, Summer’s Crown: The Story Of Cricket’s County Championship. I have the book in my library. Chalke gleaned all the relevant facts by researching contemporary newspaper accounts on the internet; as he says, just a click on his computer.
Sheer idleness I fear, on my part. Oddly enough Malcolm and Stephen have both pointed out the odd error before.
Must try harder, as schoolmasters used to say.
Anyway, I’ve got it off my chest. Normal service can be resumed.
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