During the 1960s attendance fell at cricket grounds across England. Just as the Church of England lost members in droves in the same period, it appeared that this other pillar of English tradition was becoming irrelevant amidst the social and cultural developments of the times. Making the situation worse were the guardians of the sport, who were reluctant to respond to the changes around them. The men of the Marlyebone Cricket Club and administrators of county sides held to the old class division, preferring amateur gentlemen to serve as their captains, even when there were few Oxbridge graduates with enough money or free time to devote themselves to the sport—or enough talent to merit a captaincy. And while other governing bodies of international sport were cutting ties with apartheid South Africa, the MCC still saw that country’s side as a legitimate competitor and made plans for tours.
As Guy Fraser-Sampson shows in his history of English cricket in the late Sixties and early Seventies, these obstinate positions led English cricket into one controversy after another. When the professional Brian Close, son of a weaver, became captain of the England side in 1966, he went on to lead the team to successful series against the West Indies, India, and Pakistan. But the following year the MCC stripped Close of the captaincy on feeble charges that he had violated the code of the game. And when South African cricket officials warned the MCC that a team which included Basil D’Oliveira, a “colored” native of Cape Town, would not be welcome in the country, the talented D’Oliveira was excluded from the England side. Both decisions brought scorn from English cricket fans. But as Guy explains in our interview, the MCC was not an institution responsive to public mood.
Cricket at the Crossroads: Class, Colour and Controversy from 1967 to 1977 (Elliott & Thompson, 2011) tells the stories of the Close and D’Oliveira affairs, along with the successes achieved on the field by Ray Illingworth’s side in the 1970s. The book concludes with Kerry Packer’s creation of World Series Cricket and the challenge that it posed to the English cricket establishment. But even more significant, in Guy’s treatment, is the turn toward aggressive bowling in the 1970s, which left batsmen battered and ushered in what he terms “a dark age” for cricket.