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Cardus on (how to play) Cricket


There have always been instructional books. In years gone by, before cricket ‘literature’ really took off, there were more of them and they sold many more copies than is the case now. Some of the very earliest volumes are amongst the most expensive items of cricketing memorabilia there are. That said from the latter part of the 19th century onwards instructional books have something of a Cinderella status amongst the cognoscenti. They are not widely collected and are seldom expensive.

Many of the major stars of the game have lent their names to books of instruction, much more so in the past than now. Jack Hobbs, AC MacLaren, WL Murdoch, CB Fry, Ranji and of course WG Grace are just a few of those whose names appear and some of them contain interesting biographical insights into their ‘author’. Most are formulaic however, taking their reader, one by one, through the skills of the game.

To write an instructional book today, if the result were to command any respect, would require an author to have an impressive array of coaching qualifications. In the past experience was what counted, and generally the higher the level of the author’s experience the better received his book would be. This was the case irrespective of actual coaching ability something which, other than by the somewhat intangible yardstick of how the coach’s students progressed, was difficult to measure without badges and examinations.

It was in 1922 that The Club Cricketer appeared. The author of this 58 page booklet is “Cricketer” of the Manchester Guardian. What this means is that, appearing as it did a few months before A Cricketer’s Book, it is the first publication to come from the pen of Neville Cardus.

Before looking at the contents of the booklet the question needs to be asked as to whether or not Cardus was a good cricketer himself. That he played the game is undoubtedly true, as all lovers of the game have at some point in their lives, but there is not a single match recorded on Cricketarchive in which Cardus played a part, so he certainly wasn’t a First Class cricketer.

Increasingly Cricketarchive records a good deal of cricket at lower levels, particularly from the Lancashire of Cardus’ youth but, realistically we have only the accounts of Cardus himself, culled from his subsequent writings, on which to base any sort of judgment. In that it must, of course, be borne in mind that, as a historian, Cardus was not always entirely reliable.

We do know that as a player Cardus was primarily an off spinner, and at times a successful one, although I am aware of just one scorecard. In the posthumous 1977 collection of his work, Cardus on Cricket, there is a scorecard for a match played in 1910 in which Cardus took 12 wickets in order to help his side to a convincing innings victory. The game was between two scratch sides. Cardus was playing for Captain Rose’s XI, and the opposition were a side raised by GP Dewhurst, a businessman who never played First Class cricket but who did once represent England in a full soccer international, against Wales in 1895.

It is notable that Rose’s XI, the comfortable winners, contained not a single man who played the First Class game, but there must have been a few decent players as whilst none of Dewhurst’s men left a great mark in the record books five of them each played between 18 and 35 First Class matches. The bowling of Cardus was instrumental in bringing his side their victory as he took  5-52 and 7-59, four of those wickets being the men with the First Class pedigree.

Something else we know about Cardus is that he was, between 1912 and 1916, employed as assistant professional at Shrewsbury School. Although this was a job offered to Cardus in response to a letter without so much as an interview, let alone a net session, on the other hand the employment did last four years, so the school must have thought their decision a sound one.

Whatever his personal shortcomings on the field might have been Cardus did spend those four years working in close proximity to to the school professional. In the first year that was W Attewell. In his autobiography Cardus named his senior as William, a Nottinghamshire all-rounder who played ten times for England. In truth however it was a cousin of William, Walter, who was Cardus’ boss, and with one match for Notts in which he made a pair Walter was clearly not in the same class as William.

The Attewell story, while it may illustrate the Cardus habit of at times playing fast and loose with the truth, does not alter the fact that he spent four years working closely with a professional coach. Attewell lasted for just 1912, and for 1913 was replaced by Ted Wainwright. The Yorkshireman was 48 when he joined the staff at Shrewsbury and was undoubtedly a ‘proper cricketer’. He was a successful all-rounder for Yorkshire between 1888 and 1902 and also played five times for England and Cardus, even if he came nowhere near to emulating his colleague, must have learnt a great deal from him about the techniques of the game and how to coach its skills.

So what sort of effort is Cardus’ foray into instructional territory? To be fair to him it is an interesting take on the subject. Cardus’ starting point is that there is a distinction to be drawn between ‘how to play’ First Class and Test cricket on the one hand, and club cricket on the other. He references the huge gulf in the quality of wickets and equipment, and the brevity of the club cricketer’s efforts which would see a match shoehorned into an afternoon or an evening or, at most, a day.

What you do not therefore get are illustrations of bowlers hands whilst holding the ball or posed batsmen demonstrating the various batting strokes. Cardus writes for the cricketer who has already established the role(s) that they wish to take on the field and whilst I am confident that there must be other books around that approach their subject in the same way, I can’t say that I ever recall reading one.

After explaining what he seeks to do Cardus’ first chapter is on the subject of bowling, and his essential message to his audience is not to seek to emulate their heroes by utilising cunning variations of spin, cut, swing or pace but to seek above all to bowl straight and on a good length and then let the less than perfect wicket and the batsman’s own shortcomings bring about his downfall.

Tips on batsmanship follow and Cardus identifies one fundamental problem that club cricketers have, that of hitting the ball in the air, particularly on the off side. It is here that Wainwright’s influence becomes apparent, Cardus quoting him as cautioning his schoolboy charges that; the man who puts up a ball on the off side ought to be given out whether caught out or not.

There is also a chapter on fielding which, essentially, is simply an exhortation not to ignore that aspect of the game. There is some odd language used at times. I think, after reading it several times, that I know what Cardus means when he says picking up on the run is likely to be cleaner if a fields man does not make his dip down and final thrust of the arm until he feels his head is just in front of the ball, but I am far from one hundred per cent sure.

Other than his ephemeral newspaper work The Club Cricketer was the first contribution to the game’s literature of one of its most noted and influential writers. Is it instantly recognisable as the work of Neville Cardus? Not at first blush is the answer to that one although if, as I did, you knew who “Cricketer” was to start with the signs are there. There are no lengthy stories of the greats of the game here, but the names of men like CB Fry, Jack Hobbs, Alfred Shaw and even John Nyren all put in an appearance.

I have already quoted a few lines from the book but to give some further examples here are a couple of observations aon batting:-

The drive is the club cricketer’s favourite stroke: if he can only land one “smack” into the tea party near the tennis courts he will chant “Nunc Dimities” with a full heart. and,

We can now lay down this principle for batsmen, playing in average club conditions: “To all but bowling well pitched forward, backplay is the game. Never lunge forward on a club wicket unless you feel certain that without extending yourself excessively the bat will hit the ball immediately it pitches. If in doubt go back on your wicket.”

As for bowlers Cardus cautions that; The leg break is difficult to master, and not to be taught by pen and ink. Many a bowler has been broken in the attempt to control the leg break, and unless it seems to come naturally to you thrust the temptation to exploit it to one side, before observing:-

The great thing for the variation bowler is to bear in mind that he does not merely diversify his bowling in a piecemeal way. It is not much use simply to bowl one sort of ball now and another then; variations must be so related that the batsman will find it hard to distinguish one from another – especially from the ball which is your “trump card”.

Digressing somewhat there are some fascinating advertisements in The Club Cricketer. The first to catch my eye had the strapline Don’t Wear A Belt, and sold the Weddell Tunnel Trousers, a garment said to be in all wool flannel, thoroughly shrunk and ready to wear. Then I saw a real surprise with a full page devoted to Tuborg lager from Denmark. I had been under the impression, clearly wrongly, that lager did not reach our shores until the 1970s. The advertiser described it as a safe and stimulating drink during and after any game, in which case quite why he should choose to illustrate his pitch with a drawing of what appeared to be a suited gentleman rather the worse for wear escapes me. Later in the booklet my imagination was caught by the fact that a brand new 350cc Omega motorcycle could be had for the same outlay as 26 pairs of Tunnel Trousers.

All in all The Club Cricketer is an interesting little curiosity and, if I am honest, I suspect that reading if forty years ago would have made made my playing days rather more satisfying than they actually were. According to the dealers catalogues the ‘going rate’ for copy is more than £50 but, having recently picked up a copy on eBay for much less than that, I can’t imagine they get too many takers at that price.


An illuminating piece on an interesting publication.
‘The Club Cricketer’ was published on 22 May 1922. ‘A Cricketer’s Book’, the first book with the author shown as Neville Cardus (as distinct from Cricketer) was published on 28 June 1922.
The publication dates are taken from the Manchester Guardian on those days.

Comment by Christopher O’Brien | 4:14pm BST 1 December 2019

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