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THE NEGLECT OF BACK-PLAY.

1 [For the Dunedin ‘Star.’ —Copyright.] [By J. B. Hobbs.) i ■ I wonder how many times, even during my short cricket career, I have heard people, remark “ Cricket is a funny game.” ’ They have not intended to convey the idea that the game is one of humor, but that it is one chock-full of surprises. No matter whether the batting is slow and , the bowling 100 good to score off, cricket can never be regarded as wholly dull, if only because of the glorious uncertainty that still hangs round the issue, and of the possibility of something unforeseen turning up. We have, during the past few years, been told that the game requires some kind of tonic in order that it may appeal to the public in the same manner as does professional football. Be that as it may. 1 shall neither dispute nor uphold the suggestion. Life is too short for argument, 1 do, however, think that the game of cricket should always be made as attractive as possible, and in order to do this we have got to take risks, bnt with more skill—in the way of scoring off what seem to ho balls from which no man can expect runs—and make cricket a scientific game of scoring. When we speak about the science of cricket the ordinary man has visions of a batsman wbo studiously endeavors to place the middle of his bat against the tall after it leaves the ground, and only attempts to score when a bowler makes the mistake of either under or over pitching. —As a Means of Defence. — I do not mind confessing that I have made batting an almost life-long study. Anyhow, since I was in my early teens I have given the art of batting a great amount of thought, doing my utmost in both theory and practice to account for the making of certain shots, and to prove that the vast majority of people are wrong when they imagine that the good length ball cannot he scored off unless the forward stroke is used. Of course, my ideas of correct batting may be totally different from those of other cricketers; nevertheless, I maintain that, the greatest faults committed in present day cricket are those resulting from insufficient watching of the ball, slavtshnpss to style, and the too frequent use of the forward stroke. Perhaps I may be laughed at, but I certainly believe that if back-play is lo he merely practised as a means of defence, and not 'offence, the public will soon tare of looking on; in fact, in my opinion, when you relegate the back stroke as one of the'non-scoring variety cricket becomes a game, which is just about as exciting as croquet. Although T did nob see very much of his batting, there never was a much better batsman than Mr Maclaren. _ He could play any shot on the board with remarkable. case: but his value as a man at a. crisis, slid when other people found it well-nigh impossible to score, lay in the fact that he could force the ball away where others would be content to stop it. Those who knew him well can imagine the satisfaction ho felt when, by these means, he made, a good length ball go awav with a back stroke, which made people "think that the ball bad pitched very short. His forcing either in a forward or a back stroke of the good length ball was undoubtedly his speciality, and the manner in which he aid the latter was a pleasure to witness. Directly he had made up his mind as to this shot his feet moved, so that, he never made the mistake of moving his feet and playing the shot at the same time, as mostcricketers do. In all the old text-books on the game_ ot cricket we were in the habit of rending such suggestions as “ the bark stroke is entirely one of defence.” It is clearly the batsman’s first object lo prevent the bowler from getting him out,_ but there is no better way of doing this than by hitting the ball'to the furthest possible distance. But as there are, certain balls which from their ” length ” (i.o. the distance at which they pitch from the batsman) it is difficult to hit away, and as defence is paramount, they shall be dealt with from this point of view first. i —ln the Nets, — ; But I don’t care what length a ball is. there, are times—generally when a man is already well set, or, at (any rate, has collected'a few runs —when the batsman can, bv the practice of science and perhaps risking his wicket in the attempt, score. Batting is the most delightful of all athletic arts. Its appeal is universal. AVe are all of us batsmen at heart. The natural man arriving on a cricket ground during the hours of practice picks up a bat, and continues using it until outrage.! public opinion compels him to desist. lb is in the nets that the batsman secs all the possibilities of certain unorthodox shots, hut he learns that he is morally oat every other ball. “ I have you there,” says the bowler, when the ball goes smashing into the net; “that is precisely where I have a man.” “1 daresay,” replies the striker, good-naturedly. He is deriving too much enjoyment from his efforts to be, quarrelsome. Furthermore ho is helping, in a small way at first, to alter the old-fashioned style which still 1 j clings to cricket. | Slavish imitation is not good for cricket. I in whatever direction it shows itself, and j the sooner we teach our young players to follow their natural tendencies the better for them, and the better for the, gams in general. Still, the great masters are worth watching and worth copying, but let ns be ■ careful not to try their tricks with only ; half their skill. What Mr Maclaren. Mr j Spooner. Tom Hayward, and a few other? I can do should be possible to nil who have | ! a good sight, natural enterprise, and | j pluck. j Only a. short time ago 1 read in the 1 j columns of a certain newspaper that ; I “perhaps the most noticeable feature of ■ i the batting of recent years has been the I upward jump in the tendency to play m the on side.” This paragraph was cer- i tainly correct, but at the same time might have, explained that most of the playing on the “on side ’’ was merely the outcome of enterprise and the desire to scorn ! oft good length halls, and making forcing ! shots while playing more or less back. There, is move than one reason to account for this forcing back-play which means getting runs on the log side. For somo tame it was the prevalent practice with many bowlers Lo bowl mainly on the offside, and, of course, at the samo time to mass their fieldsmen on that side of the wicket to such an extent that the log side was left almost entirely to look after itself. Naturally such an arrangement made batsmen all the keener to get the ' ball away to the leg, —Watching the Balk — ; I remember when I first looked on at good cla-ss cricket it was quite the general thing to see practically every ball that, was bowled on a plumb wicket played forward to. The back stroke, as I said before, was only used as a means of defending the wickets when the pitch was sticky or ot the treacherous variety. For some reason or other those people who only see the advantage of forward-play forget that there is a moment when by following their own doctrine the ball is entirely lost sight of. Now, no man can hope to be a class batsman on any kind of wicket unless he can make a habit of keeping his eye glued upon the bill. Wc come across the batsman who does brilliant things on good hard wickets, bnt who fails most dismally when the sticky or caked wickets come along. And he is invariably of the dashing type, playing the forward stroke regularly to the almost total exclusion of the j back stroke. Herein lies the secret of tbs I inconsistent batsman. I Back-play means the ability to watch j the ball from the moment it leaves the | bowler’s band until it strikes the middle I of the bat; as the eye is intent upon it. 1 no matter whether it breaks inches or | yards, the. bat is instinctively moved to meet- it. Tins is quite simple ; but when the forward shot is employed you are left feeling for the ball which you have, by the very nature of the stroke, been compelled to lose sight of. I nave often had to listen to the opin ions of old cricketers regarding the. difference in batting of to-day and that of 2o years ago. My very youthfalncss when compared with them and the high position they once held in the world of cricket

has forbidden my making anv sort of attempt at argument. Thev talk of the forward shot as being brilliant,, of the grand old late cut—this 1 agree with—the off ball to the off, and the leg ball to the leg, excepting in 'the case of a long hop, when it was pardonable to hook or nr P u 'l ’t to square-leg. Yes, all very flue | and, ,u a manner according to the book, * correct, but with the skilful placing of the a fieldsmen every stroke was, or should t have been, anticipated, 0 Hence the desirability of making runs 1 where there were not any waiting fieldat nion — v 'z., on the leg side: and m order f to do this, provided the ball is anything , like a decent length, one is compelled to { play more or less back. 1 —Modern Bowling.— 1 Hen one has to remember that bowling > of to-day is entirely different to that of j' a very few years ago. Ever since I have 1 been playing in first class cricket it has R changed. Now. in my opinion, this new 5 call it—comprising the mixed-up lirea.lt, or the ability of nearly every bowler to bowl, and mix up, the leg and the off break, the swerves in the air, and the googlie, calls for more back-play, seeing * that even on plumb wickets it requires * watching more Ilian ever. ? hen years or so the googlie was im--4 known—to-day almost every county either ; possesses a good googlie bowler or at least one man who is cultivating the art. Moreover, it is already finding its way to our x schools, and is being included in the re- * pcrtoiiß of our coaches, with the result * that boys who might in the ordinary way ’’ have been good fast bowlers fall victims to 5 the new craze. For a- pure and exciting game yon cannot do better than take part in a match between two strong teams who have one, 5 day in which to do their level best. By * looking down the columns of your cricket j paper you will learn that one district s team has perhaps beaten another by 1 scoring 300 runs against about 250. Yet nil this has been done between the ' hours of 11.50 or 12 and 6. Surely it is * a lesson which might well be learned by ; players in first class elevens, who have, ; as a rule, a far better wicket to bat upon. But then, of course, the local cricketer i enjoys the sport for what it is. He has no care for his average, and ; even if he has a sneaking regard for t ho knows full well that with such a short period for play there is no room for the slow and excessively careful batsman. And in this stylo of cricket the most unorthodox shots are made. A man forces balls away on the leg side, pulls, and runs extraordinary risks of being out ieghefnre in his efforts to score where the fieldsmen are not standing. Neglect of proper hack-play is bound to limit, the scoring capabilities of a batsman, much in the samo manner as too much back-play did in the old days, when a back stroke was merely made as a means of defence.

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THE NEGLECT OF BACK-PLAY., Evening Star, Issue 15708, 23 January 1915

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THE NEGLECT OF BACK-PLAY. Evening Star, Issue 15708, 23 January 1915

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