At Old Trafford in 1956 Jim Laker produced one of the most famous individual performances ever in a Test Match, and one which will surely never be repeated. It was hardly surprising then, following that 19 for 90 in the Ashes deciding fourth Test, that publishers rushed to sign up the man who had enthralled the nation, and it was Frederick Muller Limited who secured the rights to publish Laker's autobiography. In the 1950's Mullers were one of the leading publishers in that field also, at various times, publishing books in the names of Colin Cowdrey, Trevor Bailey, Tom Graveney and Bill Edrich. Today there is no trace of the company's imprint, although its lineage can be traced through to current publishers Random House.
In time Laker was to become a respected commentator and author in his own right but his three early books for Muller were ghost written. One, "Over to me", that was published in 1960, was to cause a considerable furore, but the books were, generally, no more satisfying than similar books which appear today. The first book to appear bearing Laker's name appeared in early 1957 and was entitled 'Spinning Round the World'. There is nothing remarkable about the content of the book and there are no compelling reasons for anyone to seek out a copy today, however there is one fascinating chapter, the final one, where Laker looks forward in order to speculate as to what cricket in the year 2000, forty three years on, might be like.
The purpose of this article is to have a look at Laker's approach in order to see just how accurate or otherwise his predictions were and then for the writer to try and project the game forward again, this time, less ambitiously, to 21 years hence.
To understand Laker's vision of the future it is necessary to know a little about the man himself and, more importantly, something of the state of the game when he made his predictions. Although Laker played his county cricket for Surrey, he was a gritty Yorkshireman. After leaving Surrey he also played briefly for Essex as an amateur but he was, throughout his Surrey career, a professional with all the typical attitudes and values of the northern professionals of that time.
As far as the game itself was concerned England was very much the centre of the cricket world and the only country where there was a full time professional structure. Seventeen First Class counties would compete each year for the County Championship playing 28 three day games apiece. Only around half a dozen of them ever had any realistic aspirations to winning the title and there was no other domestic competition, so many games had little by way of a competitive edge. Overseas players had to acquire a residential qualification before they could play county cricket, and a decision to do so would end their international careers, so while there were overseas players in the English game they were not the top stars and English crowds only saw overseas Test players when they toured with their countries every few years. Test cricket was televised, but in grainy black and white, so in order to see the game properly supporters had to turn up at the grounds.
In 1957 the English game was run by the MCC then, as now, a private club for gentlemen, and a similar organisation, the Imperial Cricket Conference, ran the world game. The abolition in the English game of the division between amateur and professional was, by 1957, inevitable but it was to be another six years before the distinction was finally consigned to sporting and social history.
As far as the international game was concerned Test cricket had the great battles between England and Australia but for many years every other contest had been some way behind both in competitiveness and importance. South Africa had beaten England, in South Africa, on three occasions and once, in 1935, had defeated England in England but only once had they achieved even a draw in a series with Australia and, prior to 1952/53, had...
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