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Class divide as old as the game

London: Martin Bladen, the seventh Lord Hawke, is best remembered for his provocative statement: “Pray God no professional will ever captain England.”

Although he pioneered winter payments for English professionals in the “golden era” of the late 19th century, Hawke was an autocratic captain of Yorkshire and in no doubt where he stood on the class divide.

His reactions to two current industrial disputes troubling the summer game of the old British empire can only be imagined.

On Tuesday, New Zealand’s first-class cricketers rejected a final pay offer from the national governing body New Zealand Cricket, threatening the start of the domestic series.

Meanwhile, the world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), is attempting to untangle a complicated contract dispute which may jeopardise next year’s World Cup.

Several Indian players, including Sachin Tendulkar and captain Sourav Ganguly, threatened to boycott the ICC Trophy in September over the conflicting rights of official sponsors and players’ personal sponsors.

Despite the pastoral images of English club and county cricket lovingly promulgated by the essayists and journalists in the late 19th and early 20th century, professionals were under-valued and under-paid.

In 1881, seven Nottinghamshire players, including Arthur Shrewsbury, the first choice of W.G. Grace whenever he selected an England team, demanded seasonal contracts and guaranteed benefits (a tax-free sum raised by and on behalf of the player).

Nottinghamshire was the heart of the professional game but, crucially, the players had no trade union and the action failed. Fifteen years later, a potentially more significant strike was averted when five England internationals asked for more money to represent their country against Australia.

The request was refused, although in 1898 the authorities, who included Hawke, tacitly accepted that the players had a case by doubling professionals’ Test match fees to £20.

By contrast with the professionals’ lot, Grace, considered by many of the time as the greatest living Victorian, made a fortune out of the game although ostensibly an amateur with a doctor’s practice in Gloucestershire.

Hawke died in 1938, the year his fellow Yorkshireman Len Hutton scored a then world record 364 against Australia at the Oval.

Fifteen years and one World War later Hutton was England’s first professional captain, winning two Ashes series in a row.

Still the division between gentlemen players and professionals remained. They occupied separate dressing rooms and were distinguished on the scorecard by the position of their initials.

Amateurs, a dwindling breed, had their initials before their name, professionals after, which led to one of the more ludicrous public announcements at Lord’s.

Spectators were solemnly urged to amend their scorecards to read Titmus F.J. instead of F.J. Titmus to acknowledge that the Middlesex all-rounder was a professional.

The whole system was swept away in 1962 when the amateur-professional division was abolished and cricketers became known simply as players.

A Cricketers’ Association to represent the interests of English players was formed in 1967 but a more significant breakthrough for players’ rights came in a judgement given by Justice Slade in the English High Court 10 years later.

Slade ruled that England-qualified players, including their South African-born captain Tony Greig, were entitled to play both for their counties and in Australian entrepreneur Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series.

World Series cricket, featuring the leading Australians and West Indians, broke up after two years when Packer made his peace with the establishment in return for televisions rights.

In return, salaries increased dramatically for the leading players and shifted the balance of power away from the traditional authorities.

Despite the fond imaginings of the more romantic English writers, cricket has never been immune from industrial tensions and conflicts between management and workers.

After Hawke’s ultimately thwarted invocation on behalf of gentleman captains in 1925, Surrey captain Percy Fender was swift to reply.

Describing his words as “a gratuitous insult to the main body of professional cricke ters”, Fender added that cricket would not necessarily go to the dogs if a professional were named captain of the national team.

History was to vindicate Fender, not Hawke.

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