The MCC, social-class and English Cricket in the 1960s

The MCC* ruled English cricket with an iron fist in the 1960s. County cricket administrators were a version of the MCC, using their social-class and status as Gentlemen to control cricket. Professional cricketers were regarded as social inferiors because they were employees. For the MCC and county administrators cricketing excellence was secondary to social-class. The MCC selected the test (international) teams, wrote the fixture list and established the tone of English cricket. The MCC’s precepts were challenged by events throughout the period but their grip was only weakened by force majeure. The MCC’s decisions concerning Brian Close (1967) and Basil D’Oliviera (1968) were, surprisingly, not fatal to their domination. The MCC maintained their reactionary status riding out the storm of social change that was sweeping England in the 1960s.

The Gentlemen vs. Players match played at Scarborough in 1962 ended a series that began in 1806. The Players defeated the Gentlemen with ease**. But why was the match played at all? The MCC oligarchy believed amateurs, filled with the Corinthian spirit***, were superior to professional players. Brian Close, the England captain, taught them that that was a fantasy. He lost the England captaincy for the 1967-8 winter tour of the West Indies because of gamesmanship. The incident occurred when Yorkshire avoided defeat against Warwickshire through cynical time-wasting****. Close compounded the sin of professionalism by leading Yorkshire to victory in the 1967 county championship just as he had in 1966 and would do again in 1968. The agreeable Colin Cowdrey, a minor aristocrat, became captain of England in his place.

Cricket administration was controlled by aristocrats and the privately educated. Brian Close, Yorkshire’s most successful captain, wasn’t supported by the Yorkshire hierarchy. They sabotaged his test career in a gratuitous act of spite. Sir William Worsley, the president, was a landowning reactionary. (In 1927 he’d been made captain of Yorkshire despite never having played first-class cricket. Being a Gentleman was seen as sufficient qualification as the other candidates were professional*****.) The MCC’s oligarchy extended tangentially to the BBC’s Test Match Special team. This programme enhanced the tone set by the MCC through their ball-by-ball commentary of all England’s test matches. The programme had four principal commentators all of whom were privately educated and none of whom had played first-class cricket. Ignorance was no hindrance to their phoney expertise. They were the BBC’s very own MCC clones.

The British Anti-Apartheid Movement was gifted a cricketing cause celebre by MCC reactionaries in 1968. Basil D’Oliviera, a non-white England test cricketer, was deliberately dropped to appease the South African apartheid government of Verwoerd. The South African government let it be known that D’Oliviera was unacceptable. With masterful hypocrisy, MCC selectors chose the white Tom Cartwright claiming he was superior to D’Oliviera. Cartwright was selected but withdrew. This meant D’Oliviera had to be selected. The 1968 South Africa tour was abandoned as a result.

The MCC’s fixture committee allocated the 1968 Australian touring team a match against the joint Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The Australians trounced** them using the match for batting practice. Only a MCC fixture committee could be blind to this tragic mis-match. MCC selectors belonged to a caste who enforced their position with ruthless single-mindedness as the sacking of Brian Close demonstrated. Close had a distasteful desire to win! No-one believed that Close was anything other than the best possible England captain but he wasn’t one of us. The MCC’s self-serving mendacious attitude polluted English cricket.

The 1960s was a period of intense social change. The MCC attempted to prevent change and as a self-serving oligarchy was very successful. 1960s English cricket wasn’t a moated activity and external influences intruded. The beginning of the period saw the demise of the Gentlemen vs. Players match and ended with the ultimate social change: enforced racial equality. The MCC epitomised all that was wrong with England in the long post-war period.

Privately educated men who’d been in school pre-1940 shared brutalising experiences. Roald Dahl wrote the anecdote below about Repton School, Derbyshire in the 1930s. Emotional intelligence, empathy and social awareness was beaten out of the boys. Virtually all the MCC selectors and county cricket administers had been through precisely the same sort of experiences, which informed their caste type behaviour.

“Michael was ordered to take down his trousers and kneel on the headmaster’s sofa with the top half of his body hanging over one end of the sofa. The great man then gave him one terrific crack. After that there was a pause. The cane was put down and the headmaster began filling his pipe from a tin of tobacco. He also started to lecture the kneeling boy about sin and wrongdoing. Soon, the cane was picked up and a second tremendous crack was administered upon the trembling buttocks. Then the pipe-filling business and the lecture went on for maybe 30 seconds. Then came the third crack of the cane… At the end of it all, a basin, a sponge and a small clean towel were produced by the headmaster, and the victim was told to wash away the blood before pulling up his trousers.”

School of hard knocks Alex Renton The Guardian Review 8th April 2017 (the headmaster was Geoffrey Fisher later to become archbishop of Canterbury)

* See
**Even more ludicrous was the match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities and Australia in1968 where the Oxbridge team was accorded first-class status as though it was 1868. The score card is here
**** The Warwickshire captain M J K Smith was definitely ‘one of us’ so far as the cricketing authorities were concerned.
***** They were Herbert Sutcliffe and Wilfried Rhodes both of whom were senior test cricketers.

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