One of the many subjects that come up for debate whenever the Ashes begin slipping away from England is the utility of the County Cricket set-up. Can it produce Test-level cricketers in sufficient numbers, does it work for its audience, is it dying? And all this in the reformed County set-up, one in which Mark Ramprakash’s great season can be devalued because fate has dealt him a Tommy Lawton.
In the background of many cricketing minds, the summers of 1890-1914 stand glorious and reproachful. All those white wooden stands full of hats, drink and cigars; all those scorebooks full of English runs and Ranjitsinhji flicking one off his wrists in the middle. Of course he was; he was a prince, and W.G. was still alive.
Even then, though, not everyone was happy, and the question arises as to whether the County system emerged at once too early and too late. Too early to learn from the experiences of the Football League and to base itself on cities and not shires – too late to compete with winter sports on an equal basis.
Reform was under discussion even before war came – as you read this extract from the inevitable Penny Illustrated Paper keep the Twenty20 experience in mind.
That action shot at the top of the page, by the way, which headlines the cricket piece as oddly in the PIP as it does here, was a commonplace by 1913. The days of the Illustrated London News’ artists were close to over by that stage, earlier, I suspect, than many think. I wish I knew where the plates for that kind of thing ended up. Earlier this year, I had a review copy of 1905’s The Men Who Made Association Football in my hands at an Edinburgh bookfair – with the original plates – not photogravure, the original prints themselves clear, clean and fresh.
I didn’t buy it, and I’m still kicking myself. And isn’t that line – this one, “In 1914, the new system would be in order..” – just heartbreaking?