When Cricket took a break

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18 Mar 2020 | 06:12 AM
authorMohandas Menon

When Cricket took a break

With COVID-19 causing all major cricket to come to a grinding halt, we go back in time to revisit instances when the game had to take a break

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The coronavirus outbreak has rocked the sporting world and shredded the global sporting calendar into bits. The collapse of several sporting events continues amid the threat of this outbreak that has taken lives of more than 5,000 people worldwide. The cricketing world has also come into the grip of the COVID-19 fear as a series of events were cancelled or suspended because of the pandemic. The coronavirus has already affected the football world, Formula One, to name a few, and has now also impacted the cash-rich Indian Premier League for 2020. Cricket as a sport has literally come to standstill. Cricketing events such as South Africa's ODI tour of India, New Zealand's tour of Australia (one ODI played without spectators), England tour of Sri Lanka was cancelled, The Pakistan Super League (PSL) was cut short, while the IPL scheduled to begin this month end has been postponed till April 15 and the tournament could be played behind closed doors. The latest casualty being the Momentum One-Day Cup 2020 in South Africa as Cricket South Africa suspends all forms of Cricket for two months.  

Cricket during World War - I

Such an uncertain situation is not new to cricket. Cricket during World Wars I (1914-1918) and II (1940-1945) were severely disrupted in most of the countries where first-class cricket was played.  India, interestingly was the only country to maintain a normal schedule of matches during both the Wars. Elsewhere, in England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and in the Caribbean normal first-class competitions were suspended and on occasions a small number of ad hoc first-class matches were organised when possible. But alone among the Test cricket nations, India managed to stage an almost normal schedule of first-class matches.

During the Great War, at least 210 first-class cricketers are known to have joined the armed forces, of whom 34 were killed. The obituary sections of Wisden between 1915 and 1919 contained the names of hundreds of players and officials of all standards who died in the service of their country. The 1914 County Championship was not immediately abandoned, with the MCC issuing a statement on 6 August that "no good purpose can be saved at the moment by cancelling matches". Jack Hobbs, who had scored a career best 226 in front of over 14,000 spectators on 3 August, had to rearrange his benefit match from the Oval, after it was requisitioned by the Army, to Lord's and on 13 August the MCC announced that all matches arranged at Lord's up to September would be postponed. 

With the news of casualties suffered by the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium was already turning the public mood against "business as usual" and on 27 August a letter written by W.G. Grace was published in The Sportsman in which he declared that "I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing cricket by day and pleasure-seekers look on. I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example and come to the help of their country without delay in its hour of need." WG Grace, was reputed to shake his fist at the Zeppelins floating over his South London home. When chided by a friend who pointed out that the fast bowling of Ernie Jones had not discomforted him half so much, Grace replied testily "But I could SEE him!" Grace had played his second-last match, at the age of 66, for Eltham against Grove Park on 25 July 1914, scoring an unbeaten 69 out of 155 for six declared. He died of a stroke on 23 October 1915.

The remaining matches in the Championship were abandoned "in deference to public opinion" while the MCC closed the Scarborough Festival as "the continuation of first-class cricket is hurtful to the feelings of a section of the public". The last match to be completed, on 2 September, pitted Sussex against Yorkshire at Hove. "The men's hearts were barely in the game", the periodical Cricket reported at the time, "and the match was given up as a draw at tea." 

First World War was from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918

No first-class cricket was played

  • in West Indies from 14 March 1913 to 5 February 1920
  • in England from 2 September 1914 to 12 May 1919
  • in Australia from 19 February 1915 to 26 December 1918
  • in New Zealand from 2 April 1915 to 25 December 1917
  • in South Africa from 11 April 1914 to 18 October 1919
  • in India - No break in first-class cricket

When the County Championship resumed in England in 1919, the counties agreed to a brief and unsuccessful experiment with two-day county matches. It was not only the playing ranks which had been thinned by four years of slaughter. Worcestershire County Cricket Club mounted a roll of honour, in the form of a wooden plaque, in the pavilion at New Road to list and remember the 17 members of the club who died in the Great War. It is still at the club.

Cricket during World War - II

As in the case of the Great War of 1914-1918, World War II (1939-1945) also disrupted cricket but cricket in India went on while the War raged all over the world. The Ranji Trophy tournament was contested every season through the war and so too the Bombay Pentangular tournament. However, the scheduled 1939–40 tour of India by England was cancelled but many British servicemen were stationed in India during the war and took part at times in Indian domestic cricket, including the likes of Denis Compton, Joe Hardstaff junior and Reg Simpson. Meanwhile, a handful of first-class cricket matches were also played in South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand, mainly for the war efforts, but all national tournaments were cancelled.

Although Australia declared war on Germany immediately after the British declaration on 3 September 1939, there was a view prevalent in the country that favoured “business as usual” and the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) was urged by the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, to comply with this and stage the 1939–40 Sheffield Shield competition "for the morale of the people". In 1940–41, however, the Sheffield Shield was not contested but ten first-class “friendly” matches were played between the States for patriotic funds; however financially these were unsuccessful.

During the 1941 off-season as the war worsened there were already proposals by the New South Wales Cricket Association to end inter-state cricket whilst the war was in progress; however at the beginning of the 1941–42 season Queensland beat New South Wales by nineteen runs in the first of seven scheduled three-day interstate matches. The march of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Force into New Guinea and the northern Australian coastline during the summer of 1941–42, however, meant that an intensification of Australia’s war effort was urgently needed and first-class cricket – where matches required four or more days to complete – was incompatible with requirements to mobilise all available labour for the military. Between 9 and 11 December 1941 the state cricket associations of South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales decided at meetings with new Prime Minister John Curtin to abandon all interstate matches for the duration of the war.

Second World War was from 1 September 1939 to 2 September 1945

No first-class cricket played…. 

  • in England from 2 September 1939 to 18 May 1945
  • in Australia from 2 December 1941 to 22 November 1945
  • in India - No break in first-class cricket
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