No part of this book do I edit with such confidence as the part that deals bamwar with faults. I seem to have had every one of a certain class, though not want of endurance and strength, nor a bad eye, nor unwillingness; ignorance I had, not apathy. My chief sin—of which I shall speak below—was that I tried to practise the whole rather than its parts; I had matches, games, nets in abundance, and a few fielding lessons, but made hardly any progress.

And so it is with most. They try the whole—or at least the whole stroke—all together at first, seldom if ever concentrating their attention on any one part. They do what is natural, and this is usually “wrong.” They have no method of learning, except repetition which will only increase and ingrain{150} the faults. Authorities recommend net-practice; but much of it is surely next to useless until the A B C has been mastered by batsman and bowler. If there are three bowlers at a net, the batsman gets excessive variety of bowling, the balls follow one another in too quick succession, each dulling the memory of the previous two; after the stroke—in which there is little incentive for carefulness—the batsman does not recover balance and prepare to run; the bowler has small inducement to lead up to a special head-ball, as he would by a consecutive series in a game, and, besides, he gets the wrong intervals—not a series, then a rest, but a single ball, then a rest; last, and not least, there are few fielders.

Let us be more concrete, and point out a few of the definite faults which are encouraged rather than removed by ordinary net play and games.

Stand directly behind the wicket in a school or college game, or behind a practice-net, and watch the batsman play forward; you will generally see the bat move up and back and then towards the ball in a far from straight line. That fault, it is well known, may be partially remedied by practice along{151} a chalk line on the bed room or pavilion floor. “Play with a straight bat,” is the most familiar commandment. Besides, you may notice that his left foot does not go out nearly to the full extent of which a young and vigorous limb should be capable, and it does not go out straight; the bat may move towards the ball, but between it and the left foot is a great gap, through which the ball may pass. This is not the only fatal result. The left foot is sending the weight of the body too much to the left, to the leg-side, instead of straight down upon the ball: there is loss of power. Now does the fault lie with the hands and arms and shoulders that move and direct the bat, or with the left leg and foot? Sometimes with both, but nearly always with the left leg and foot, which tend to get away from their work. The lesson is obvious; but I have never heard any coach advise players to practise their feet alone. Yet how else can one learn to control them—that is, if one does not control them instinctively—except by concentrating the mind on them at first and until they will of themselves do what one wants? Mr. C. B. Fry alone seems to realise the importance of the feet—of their correct{152} positions and movements. For years I have been studying them in Racquets and Tennis, for years I have been convinced that this is why, ceteris paribus, most unsuccessful players are unsuccessful; for years I have been training mine; and at length, instead of being always unready and out of position in my racket-games, as I was at Marlborough, I am now told that I am almost invariably ready and in position. If this practice be vitally indispensable at Racquets and at Tennis, if it has proved abundantly worth while, why not at Cricket also? In what essential respects do strokes at Cricket differ herein from strokes at these games?

This is just one example of the lines on which much of the book is written. As, for my own games, I studied Latham and Standing, Brown and Pettitt, Fennell and Harradine, Saunders and Fairs, so here I have studied Abel, Hirst, and Shrewsbury. What they do regularly, if unconsciously, this I have found out by questions and by the incontrovertible evidence of photographs, and this I have then analysed and described especially for the benefit of beginners, but also, it is hoped, for the benefit of others who—like myself at my own games—played and played{153} and played, practised and practised and practised, but wrongly, for want of simple teaching, for want of elementary apprenticeship, for want of knowledge and mastery of the very alphabet of play; and so scarcely improved but rather confirmed their bad habits.

Let me diverge for a moment to give a word of warning. To all such players—whether their form of exercise be Cricket or Racquets or Tennis or Lawn Tennis or other games—I would say: “Do not grudge time and trouble spent over the simple A B C, at the start; get over the drudgery; make the letters and words automatic—integral parts of your very self and of its cells, fibres, nerves, and muscles; then and not till then play naturally. But do not imagine that it is worth while to play naturally so long as at least one-third of the mechanism of your body is wrongly employed or else atrophied through neglect. Develop all your important muscles (for pray tell me what important muscles are not wanted by a good batsman, a good bowler, a good fielder), by prompt fast and full movements of the two sides of the body independently—a most vital point; by extension movements; by practice in{154} weight-shifting and balance; by imitation-batting and its various motions, imitation-bowling, imitation-fielding and throwing, in a bedroom or elsewhere. (I do a little nearly every morning.) Then and not till then will you have a right to tell me that you can’t play or can’t improve in spite of nets and games. Then and not till then will I believe you. Till then, I repeat, you are not yet a real failure. You have not done yourself justice.” For we wish in this book to prove several things that may give hope especially to young players and duffers, and to those who, alas, have abandoned our great national game in despair, because they have not found it worth the expenditure of money, time, tediousness, and disappointment.

Let us consider in how many respects one may very likely be making serious mistakes. Let us realise the multitude of possible faults.

1. First of all—as the photographs will clearly show, thanks to the new idea of the white line out from the middle stump—the feet are the foundations of successful and therefore of enjoyable play. Abel plays with his feet. We must have their positions and movements not only correct but also{155} automatically correct—already integral parts of ourselves—if we would wait well, play forward well, play back well, pull well, drive well, step or jump out well, cut well, cut-drive well, bowl well, field well. So long as we have to be thinking consciously of our feet, we cannot focus our attention on the bowler’s wrist or the batsman’s bat. He who would succeed must—unless he be a genius, a born player—drill his feet for a few minutes almost every day. Such drill will be useful for many games and forms of sport, as for Football, Hockey, Track-athletics, self-defence, to say nothing of the mental and moral training which are indissolubly bound up with the physical.

2. Secondly, the weight and the balance of the body must be under control both during and after the stroke or other movement. Over his foot-work and equilibrium the keen fencer will spend many months; why should not the keen cricketer thus spend several hours? Does he not think that Cricket is of more value than many fencings? Now although the whole weight of the body must move together, especially in the forward stroke, yet perfect balance implies perfect (conscious or else sub-conscious) control of{156} all the muscles, in Cricket scarcely to a less degree than in skating. To put the total force into batting or bowling would mean with the average player either a fall or a strain. But with special practice the power is acquired. Almost any one can by sheer practice, even of the least scientific kind, learn to direct his limbs and yet maintain his balance in skating; and if in skating why not in Cricket also, particularly should special practice-exercises be devised? These have been devised, and are offered in this volume.

3. It is above all in the full extensions that average cricketers are weak. “I say, reach out and field them,” is the complaint of the school captain; “Come forward to it; get your bat well over the ball—get right to the pitch of it,” is the refrain of the coach. But if the ordinary person followed out the instructions he would perhaps tumble over. Extension of legs, trunk, arms—this can be mastered by proper practice. Fencers and boxers can master it; why not cricketers also?

4. Boxers and “Bartitsu” experts have to be alert on the balls of their feet, and ready to move now here, now there—not ever to{157} lose poise, but to put the full weight, to make the full extension, to shoot out the required limb or limbs fast and straight and true. The batsman, the fielder, the bowler (at least after he has bowled), all have to be prompt commanders of their many-portioned persons, waiting for the unknown, or, rather, for some one out of the several knowns. At present we have scarcely any means, except the imagination, of practising preparedness for the unforeseen. But at least we can, again by specially contrived exercises as distinct from dumb-bells, weight-lifting, strain-exercisers, gymnastics, develop an almost incredible looseness of joint and litheness of limb, so that after a little play at the game itself, merely to have seen the ball will mean to have formed “the ready” in a moment, and to be waiting in “the ready”—“the ready” being that position from which the strokes, etc., are most easily and safely made; whereas without such practice we should have stood and waited in “the unready” and should either have missed the strokes, etc., altogether, or should have made them with difficulty and with risk.

5. Nor is it mere quickness to prepare that {158}the cricketer needs; he needs also quickness to perform, to carry through. In the hundred yards sprint, one should not only start rapidly, one should also run rapidly. As training for this we require fast full movements, simple to begin with (first for the right side, then for the left); but afterwards more and more varied, complex, and speedy. Nothing could be better here than the Macdonald Smith system. Slow movements of strain are not to be recommended for Cricket purposes, except in so far as they strengthen the fingers and the wrist and the forearm. And even these parts should not be strengthened till they have already become prompt to start and to move, lithe and supple under the control of the will.

6. A high authority, quoted in a previous chapter, asserts that Cricket does not need very special training. But we insist that, if one wishes—and one ought to wish—to run fast and vigorously and to move fast and vigorously (whether as a batsman or as a bowler or as a fielder), one should be in condition analogous to that of a football three-quarters. Quite apart from control of special muscles or sets of muscles, one must be able to run and move not only fast, but often; one must have endurance, or else one will{159} amble after a ball—a disgusting sight to the true sportsman—instead of racing after it. And one should be calm; calmness, I find in my own case, is an inseparable accompaniment of good condition. Bad condition is a very serious fault; it “flusters” the player.

There is no space to enlarge upon errors in detail; for example, to warn the batsman against bending his right knee (except for the late cut), or against lifting his bat up and back in a crooked line before the stroke (this he can test by means of a looking-glass), or against standing too far from his work as if he were playing Lawn Tennis or Golf. These and other hindrances to success will be dealt with in the special chapters. Here let us rather try once again to emphasise the fault of faults.

“Don’t slog at a ball well up to the off,” “Don’t pull”—these are not fundamental rules; they are good for nearly all beginners, but less applicable to him who has mastered the mechanism and elements of play already. The mistake is to have failed to master this mechanism; to have neglected the apprenticeship—an apprenticeship for a game which then becomes in itself an admirable apprenticeship for serious life as well as a relief from{160} that life, and yet is both complex and to a great extent against nature in general and the nature of a player of ball-games in particular. To play forward with full force and with the bat near to the left foot and not tilted upwards—this implies a very special skill, with considerable restraint. The average player fails here. He has neglected to practise with concentration and care certain all-important parts of his forward-playing apparatus. He might have mastered each one of these parts and made it his own, and then have combined them; the straight full lunge with the weight thrown on to the left leg and with the right leg stretched straight; the complete forward-extension of the left elbow with some shoulder-movement; the turning of the left hand so that its knuckles shall face the bowler. For a late cut he might repeat, till they become easier and easier, the step across (an imaginary) wicket with the right foot, the shoulder-jerk, the forearm-jerk, the wrist-flick. Other strokes need other things; the pull needs the body-twisting from the hips; bowling needs not only large movements but also fine turns of the fingers and wrist. Let any player have neglected such mechanisms, and he need not{161} wonder at ill-success. Should he disbelieve me, then he must watch some expert at work: if the expert will give an exhibition stripped, so much the better. This will certainly convince any one that the co-operation and co-ordination of many members of the body is demanded by nearly every department of the play.

The use of the left-side will then emerge clearly into its prominent importance. Cricket can claim infinitely more left-sided skill and power than any authority seems to imagine. A man is said to bat right-handed; but watch his ordinary play forward, feel his left shoulder and forearm and his left thigh: the stroke is only more right-sided than left-sided. In the drive along the ground, the left arm may serve as a powerful check, as it may in the late cut. Good fielding requires frequent quick and complete extensions of the left arm with power to catch while the extension is still complete. To throw in with the left hand nearly as well as with the right is an art alien to nearly every one; but alien by neglect and not by want of birthright. Every boy should be taught to throw with his left hand, or at least to {162}pick up neatly with it. Nor need any one, until he has tried fairly and failed, despair of some success as a left-hand change-bowler, thanks to the break from the leg and the unfamiliar point of departure from round the wicket.

The utter inability of at least nine individuals out of ten to make a fast, full, and free extension with the arm in any unexpected direction is closely connected with their inability to throw the body’s weight rapidly hither and thither without loss of balance, without sacrifice of “the ready.”

Hence and from other sources arise many special failings, which the use of ordinary strain-apparatus or heavy dumb-bells would probably do very little to correct. He whose first aim has been to become strong—a lifter or puller or pusher—may have hampered his rapidity of movement for years, if not for all his active years. Of course he needs some strength to hold and control a bat; but even that should not be developed until the limbs already have their promptitude and speed. It is not a matter of physical “development”—a term used by ignoramuses to veil a multitude of faulty methods. It is a matter of proper physical development, one tending to freedom. And against this free{163}dom I am sure that the use of “manly” implements and conditions by boys must militate. Most of the highest authorities are agreed here; I select one or two quotations:—

“There are three great difficulties with which young boys have to cope—the regulation size of the ball, the full distance between the wickets, and the full size of the bat. Some attempt has been made to provide them with bats to suit them, but, unfortunately, most small-sized bats are made of inferior wood and are badly shaped. All implements and conditions of the game should in every case be proportioned to the players.”

“Why in the world is it that small boys are made to play cricket with the same sized ball as Dr. Grace and Mr. Bonnor use? What a ludicrous piece of mischievous uniformity this is! The only hope of making cricket as really attractive and useful to young boys as it might be, is to reduce the size of the ball as well as the size of the bat, and keep the full distance. At present a diminutive brat pummels the big ball with all his might, and it barely reaches cover point; his best half-volley drive goes meekly into mid-on’s hands—or, rather, it would, if the ball were not too big to get there. Not only is his hitting spoilt: the throwing becomes painful, and the bowling in spite of the short distance strains the shoulder. The game is out of proportion because the fields need never occupy their proper place, and the ball never travels to them as it will hereafter, nor can they be expected to stop it clean when it does reach them. The fact must be insisted on, that it is all important to make cricket thoroughly attractive to young players, or they will probably give it up.”

{164}

“Small boys cannot obviously use full-sized bats. The mischief that results if they do is fatal. It is impossible for them to play straight, because the end of the bat smites the ground and the stroke comes to naught. Besides which, the excessive weight makes them late for all the hits.”

Another disadvantage of this premature use of heavy implements is that it encourages tension. Players like Mr. L. C. H. Palairet are singularly free from it; but they are so by nature. With comparatively few exceptions, the habit of tension is, alas, almost national. We English are a stiff-bodied and stiff-legged people: the legs and body may be fairly big and muscular, but the muscles are of the wrong order for Cricket—akin to lumps of wood rather than to lithe pieces of snake. Even when we watch cricket we often watch it with tense and strained bodies: we do not sit reasonably comfortable.

Owing to these and other faults hundreds give up the game. They say that they can not play it regularly (because it takes up too much time), and that they do not play it well enough for it to be worth while. They may be anxious to keep in practice and to improve, but they do not know how.

Others are not at all anxious; theirs is the most serious hindrance of all—they are{165} not keen. This is to some extent what is called “constitutional,” but is largely due to ignorance of the ways of learning, and to neglect of some one or more of the branches of play. As to-day a person may be a clergyman or a surgeon or a physician, but is seldom a healer of the whole patient, so in Cricket a person will be a batsman or a bowler without any noticeable ambition to enlarge his sphere of skill. In batting he may even be a fast-wicket batsman, failing regularly on caked wickets. For fielding he has no enthusiasm; or, if he is a fielder, he is perhaps good either at catching or at picking up or at throwing in—not at all.

Lack of enthusiasm, lack of concentration on and absorption in every part of the play as its turn comes round, this is almost fatal if not to success at least to success that is worth having. And I am not sure that the grievous and fatal error of allowing the eye to leave the ball too soon may not be to some extent a result of incomplete concentration.