“If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.”

The game of cricket and the music of the Rolling Stones have been two constants in my life….two separate threads which I never thought to see entwined: true, Mick Jagger did have a chateau in the area in which I lived in France and had links with the local expat cricket team, but as their captain was aware that I considered him to be a sycophantic snob of onanistic tendencies I was not invited to watch any cricket there.

chateau la rocheTheir team once played our bunch of antiquated British and uncomprehending French: they rejected the field in front of a lovely local chateau as being on a slope (I bet they wouldn’t have objected to the slope at Lords) and insisted on using the football pitch instead, set in the heart of the low cost housing on the edge of village, complete with canine calling cards and an open drain which had a magnetic appeal for our one and only cricket ball.

They played the game as taught by their coaches in their school and club sides in England.
We, lesser breeds without the law, played cricket in the spirit of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands where vendetta ruled supreme.

So bemused were they by the donkey drops, the underarm deliveries (it was after lunch) and our French umpire’s understanding of the Laws of cricket as translated by my good self that we won and they went home in high dudgeon.
Bad cess to them.

So imagine my surprise to tune into the T20 match(short form of the game) between Lancashire and Yorkshire yesterday only to learn that the fans of Yorkshire – that most dour of counties – had voted for the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start me up’ as their contribution to a summer playlist for cricket followers.
I might not have been surprised had their choice fallen upon the Lyke Wake Dirge…but ‘Start me up’….!
Cricket had undergone a sea change since the days of my youth.

It used to be a serious business….county matches of four days..Test matches (internationals) of five…
No music…no rituals: except when the Queen shook hands with visiting international teams during the Test match at Lords.

The players were normal men…recognisable.
doug padgettI remember watching a Surrey v Yorkshire match at the Oval: a bored and portly Yorkshire fielder – Doug Padgett – passed his time by trying to balance on the boundary rope. The section of the crowd in his area became more interested in his attempts to perform his version of an Indian rope trick than on the events in the middle – but nobody cheered, booed or commented on his prowess.
We unwrapped our sandwiches, ate our pork pies and enjoyed the spectacle with what the French would call British phlegm.

barringtonThen the powers that be decided that cricket was too slow….they dropped players like that prince of batsmen Ken Barrington….only to bring him back when his flashy replacements couldn’t stand up to the physical harm caused them by the West Indies bowlers.

Bowlers who bowled – or threw – at high speed, in an era when batsmen wore no helmets and their idea of protection was to tuck a towel into their trousers.
Look at the body of Brian Close after an innings against the Windies:

But the administrators of the game knew that the bloodsport attracted crowds…and instructed the umpires that they were not to penalise the West Indies bowlers.

The rot had set in.

English cricket had had a semi feudal character long before when the Gentlemen (well paid amateurs) had managed to bring the Players (poorly paid professionals) under their thumbs in the nineteenth century.
No more could a group of players set up their own teams and tour abroad or at home.
There was money to be made…and the establishment moved in.

And where you have an establishment you have control. Should a player in a county side defy his masters he was out…..if he wanted to move to another team he had to wait to qualify for four years…four years in which his talents would atrophy.

Gone were the days when a bowler who turned up for the match gloriously drunk and proceeded to marmelise the opponents could suggest to his club committee that – given the results – it would pay them to pay him to go on the rantan before every game….

In the aftermath of the ‘Bodyline’ controversy that great bowler Harold Larwood was thrown to the wolves: not so much to satisfy the Australians – grumpy because their hero, Bradman, had been shown to have a liliaceous liver – but rather to ensure that the English amateurs who ran the home game would not be subject to the same tactics and skill in case their own talents were called into question…and with their ‘talents’, their control.

When I started to watch cricket amateurs and professionals often had separate dressing rooms…and on some grounds still used different gates on to the field of play.
On the score card an amateur’s initials were followed by his name, whereas for the professionals the reverse was the case..

So when a young man played at Lords and was described on the scorecard as F.J. Titmus the discovery that he was, in fact, a professional led to a public address announcement in the following terms:
‘For F.J. Titmus read Titmus F.J.’
Status was important.

Things changed over the years.
Kerry Packer showed the importance of showmanship and the power of television….
Players began to wear coloured clothing to play one day games….
Players associations raised their heads – and the income of their members…
Money came into the game in a big way as commercial television bought the screening rights…
Players began to be subject to training regimes….I gather that as part of their current contract they have to have their body fat measured with calipers: the mind boggles. If they had tried that on Doug Padgett they’d have been sending out for fresh instruments.

And now the administrators have another concern – controlling what is seen on the screen.
Septic Cola sponsors a series?
Then no other beverage’s cans should be seen to be consumed on the ground by the eye of the T.V. camera, so stewards ransack the bags of spectators as they enter.
Salmonella Sandwiches Inc have the catering contract?
Bang goes your pork pie.

And it doesn’t end there.
ken higgsI remember defying maternal warnings as to the inevitability of contracting piles by sitting on the grass behind the boundary rope at The Oval and watching Ken Higgs tear the Pakistani batting apart….you were part of the action, at the players’ level.
Now cricket grounds are supplied with stewards (for which read bouncers) ready to keep the paying public in its place – on flimsy bucket seats in lurid colours in the stands – when not otherwise engaged in picking up champagne corks which have strayed from the ‘hospitality’ boxes where the guests of Septic Cola and Salmonella Sandwiches booze the day away.

As evidenced by that long ago fascination with Padgett balancing on the boundary rope it has to be admitted that cricket – in its traditional form at least – has its languors…its ennuis…
There are moments when you can produce a book, do your knitting, attack the smuggled pork pie….or, if in high spirits, attempt community action.

You can play with a beach ball….until the stewards confiscate it.
You can start a Mexican Wave….unless the ground has been designed specifically to thwart you.
Or you can start to make a beer snake.

Now…it has its drawbacks.
There are people who do not wish to have drops of warm stale beer falling on their heads and their apparel as the joints of the snake flex under strain.
The answer is simple.
There are grounds for which the ticket requests ask whether you wish to attend in fancy dress.
If you do, then you are put in one stand with all the other assenters.
If you don’t care to sit among groups of hairy legged air stewardesses, Vikings, Shaun the Sheeps and H.M. the Queen, whose frequent beer fuelled sallies in search of the loo will be greeted by half the spectators rising to their feet and singing the national anthem, then your seats will be situated with the book readers, the knitters and the pork pie smugglers.

Just add the beer snake option to the ticket…and the job is done.

Bit it won’t be.
Because the beach ball players, the Mexican Wavers and the beer snake charmers are just enjoying themselves: they are not coughing up more than the exorbitant price of their ticket – so they must be controlled lest for one instant the eye of the camera is diverted from the advertisements for Toxic Bank of Tax Haven which line the boundary.

Francis Thompson mourned the Lancashire cricketers of his past:

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow;
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps, I know.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro: –
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

Shall I in my old age in exile in a land devoted to football be reduced to mourning

O the beach ball and the beer snake long ago.


61 thoughts on ““If the French noblesse had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt.””

    1. I have a feeling he wrote another…’Return to the Islands’…I must try to order it. ‘Pattern’ is a lovely book, isn’t it.
      Cricket is a simple game in its essence: it is how the teams and individuals achieve their ends which fascinates me.

  1. Very interesting read. Throroughly enjoyed it.
    A couple of years ago I was working on a TV advert for Pepsi to be shown in India with 3 of the top Indian cricketers. The “people” from Pepsi arrived at the studio and demanded that all the chillers and shelves with soft drinks be emptied and replaced by their muck. It was as though they couldn’t believe that anyone would like any other drink or brand. The catering manager at the studio went completely mental and told the Pepsi “people” that they were raving mad and they should get a life. In came crate after crate of Pepsi. None of it was drunk. They didn’t even want to remove it afterwards – so the whole crew were filling their cars with boxes of the stuff.

    Here’s a little story of mine involving cricket. https://matteringsofmind.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/unfinished-business

    1. I enjoyed the cricket story….and loved the Anglo Zanzibar War!

      So it’s not just when they are sponsoring something that they do their nuts….well, we all know where hubris gets us – and preferably them.

  2. Sorry, I know nothing about cricket, except that Fred Titmus was the postmaster at our local post office in Potten End back in the 1980s.

    1. In knowing nothing about cricket you are in the same position as the bosses of the England Cricket Board…but not, I suspect, on the same perks…

      Mr. Titmus was said to be a very nice man…a pity he wasn’t playing in the era of big money.

  3. I have been known to refer to cricket as “paint-drying.” But I have enjoyed sunny summer afternoons on a village green.One of my fondest memories is of Julian Bream in the biggest gloves known to the Western world.
    I lived in England when Kerry Packer was “poaching our best chaps!” I never watch the game now.Same goes for soccer and my once-beloved Rugby.All ruined by crass commercialism.
    I shall ask my librarian to get that Patterns book.Thanks for the nod.

  4. What a shame that just when I moved to a francophone country you moved to a Spanish speaking one. Bad timing! I have a feeling we could have had a great time fencing with cricket bats after a drunken lunch.

    1. I am usually to be found in the wrong place at the wrong time….but what a missed opportunity!
      A spot of vin rouge to be followed by a spot of l’arme blanche…

  5. I enjoyed the Rolling Stones video. It was the only thing I understood. Cricket is a strange and mystifying game – is it a game or an experience? Or cult? Who knows…we have yet to embrace (cough) “soccer” so I think cricket will have to remain a bridge too far.

    1. There is a quote lurking in the back of my mind to the effect that cricket is baseball on…now, was it valium or viagra?

      My one claim to fame is that I saw the Rolling Stones when they played at the Epsom Baths Hall….but only because my headmistress had warned the whole school not to go near such an iniquitous, immoral event, which ensured a record attendance.

      How she knew of its iniquity and immorality was a question raised often…

  6. I confess I was utterly lost. Exactly as I was when attempting to watch cricket while living in England. But I was glad I hung on through to the end, when I was rewarded with all of that about the sponsors, and onlookers–of the two classes–and the beer snake! I’d never heard of that!

    (Does Wimbledon have a wine worm? Ascot, a Krugaconda line?)

    1. Alas…neither la petite bourgeoisie at Wimbledon nor the anglicised Arabs at Ascot have the wit to undertake performance art…

      To further your acquaintance with English sporting culture you need only to buy a ticket for the White Rose stand in Leeds for a Test match…just be sure you tick the right boxes on the form or you’ll find yourself with warm stale beer dripping down your neck…not to speak of the company of rugby backs in female clothing…

      1. Even the beer-free seats lack appeal here. The only spectator sports I was ever able to abide were real (Greek) wrestling, live, and golf, televised (for the dead-calm announcers’ voices–so soothing). I appear to be missing some gene common to most of humanity, and I think the rest of the world insane. I fully understand the fun of PLAYING. But watching? Often? Good gosh. Point me instead to a newly painted wall. At least then there’s no bothersome shouting to interfere with thinking or daydreaming.

          1. You ARE a fan–just can give up. Okay–I’ll look online and see if I can find it. — Did! Three matches available for I-devices…But it didn’t play–says there’s a problem. Then asked me to do a survey of what I thought of the online site. I tried to fill it out, and was rejected: “We don’t care about what YOU think: YOU’re not one of US–a Brit.” Hmph.

          2. It’s all down to who has the broadcasting rights. I can only tune in from Costa Rica by using Hola on Chrome…then the Beeb thinks I’m in the U.K.

  7. . . enjoyed this one so much this morning, Helen – infinitely better than reading about the state of the world. Living in Deal, Kent at one time I had the joy of playing the game on the Goodwin Sands – not allowed to do that any more – no wonder the Cap of Empire has been ‘beasted’ (6,6,6) twice over per Gary Sobers!

    1. I heard about matches on the Goodwins…why can’t you do that any more? Are the French claiming the sands are in their territorial waters as their inshore trawlers seem to think….

          1. H&S is not there to prevent exploitation, it is there to cover the arses of the top-level feeders ‘as far as is reasonably practicable’ (to quote the legislation). I was once the H&S officer for three prisons, would you believe – I still struggle with that one!!

          2. Just the way the Law society is there to cover up for dodgy solicitors and the FSA for even dodgier banks….

            H and S in prisons? I have some suggestions, none of them PC and all of them effective….

          3. Hmm, and judging from your tone I think we might disagree – in the interests of clarity I should add that I started life in that service as a discipline officer (black uniformed staff) and finished up as industrial manager of three jails. Even so . .

          4. My proposals include not banging up people who should be given care for their mental problems (mental not being a PC term these days, I gather)….not having prisons under private operation…and providing proper work for inmates (now that the unions are so weak that they could not utter a bleat in protest) which might mean being able to do without gyms…

          5. I believe we would have much in common on this subject – I withdraw and apologise for my assumption.

          6. Nothing for which to apologise….the problem is that we all have the strident voices of followers of the Daily Mail in our ears and tend to think that any ‘firm’ solutions offered must be solutions of that ilk…I do it too!

  8. I can’t imagine trying to explain a test match to someone not familiar with cricket… it takes up to 5 days to complete, silly mid on, silly mid off, googly… it’s like a sport from a distant alien planet. I enjoyed reading about cricket in France! I recall our neighbour popping around in Cognac one day to borrow something and we had England vs Australia from Lords on TV and he was mesmerized by it. I tried to explain but as mentioned above.. it made even less sense in French! I like the humour in English crowds – fancy dress for example with a group of lads dressed up as air hostesses complete with blond wigs. Sitting like that all day in the “sometimes” hot sun!

    1. Yes…no wonder they need all that beer!

      The French members of what was laughingly called our team were not bothered with the niceties…the order came to ‘stand there and if the ball comes towards you in the air, catch it. If it’s on the ground throw it at the three sticks.’…’

  9. I’ve never seen a match – American networks would sooner show arm wrestling and lumberjack competitions than a sport that’s only played in other parts of the world – but I’ve long found it fascinating that matches can last for days. Do fans typically stick around the entire time, or come and go?

    1. If you’ve bought a ticket for the day then you stay for the day….at that price you need to get the most you can! But some grounds have picnic areas which attract people for lunch and there is a constant traffic between bars and seating areas – except when the bowler is about to bowl when it is heresy to move lest the batsman be distracted.
      And there are some players who can empty the bars….when Kevin Pietersen came in to bat, or Andrew Flintoff, people came flooding back to their seats so as not to miss a moment.

      There are people who go for all five days of an international….but they must either have influence or be plutocrats…

  10. I’d have never picked out out as a Rolling Stones fan…As for Cricket, I’ve only ever heard it over radio…not the best media source for it in my humble opinion.

    1. I far prefer them to the Beatles…..I like Queen too…and The Kinks….
      No, i agree: if you’ve watched cricket then the radio is fine…but as an introduction – no.

  11. We both love cricket and many an hour was ‘wasted’ glued to the TV in South Africa and in the UK watching it. Now here in France all we get are the results (generally poor reading) from our computer. Maybe we are not missing as much as we think we are! Hope all is well Diane.

    1. Forgot to add that my husbands company in RSA had a large box which seated about 50 so we got to watch it live quite often. In 1995 my Mum and I went to watch RSA win and thought we would only be at Wanderers Stadium maximum couple of hours. Atherton and Russel stuck it out all day to draw amazing game though not the most exciting!

  12. I’m allergic to cricket but of course, being English it has been unavoidable in my life til now. My grandmother played county level cricket in the 1910s (honestly), her daughter, my aunt married on the rebound and dutifully followed one of the counties round the country making teas aplenty, I made teas and manned the bar for a few meagre pence that helped me keep my little boat afloat in the noughties when my girls were small and we lived near a county level ground in Oxfordshire and lately my eldest daughter has attened Lords and not understood a single thing about the test match but has enjoyed a corporate hamper and far to much sparkly vino for her own good. I am impressed at your knowledge and loved this piece that had me giggling and goggling at the googlies 🙂

  13. I had to play cricket at school, and found it so tedious I resorted to any number of ruses and excuses to avoid taking part. As an adult, cricket completely passes me by and I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea which country is winning what. It’s certainly sad that it’s been transformed from a rather informal, low-key activity to a high-powered, commercialised razzmatazz.

    1. Nothing worse than being forced to take part in sport when you loathe it….I have memories of hockey fields in winter with cold blasts from Siberia turning my legs blue…

      For me, apart from the game itself, Cricket is interesting as a mirror of society…I’m just reading Duncan Hamilton’s ‘Harold Larwood’ where societal assumptions lead to the breakdown of a decent man.

  14. Good grief. I thought the Scots tossed cabers rather than did the ball and willow number.

    Still can’t see the attraction of cricket. Watching paint dry must be comparable.

  15. The Stones, cricket, and a few literary references – a classic Helen post. 🙂

    My Yorkshire grandfather, who shared a surname and some distant genes with the great Herbert Sutcliffe was a passionate follower of cricket and tried his utmost to interest his granddaughters in it, sadly without success. He would be horrified to see what his beloved game has become. Incidentally, back in the late 50s A Pattern Of Islands was required reading in English for me one term in the second or third form at my Lancashire grammar school. How times have changed…

    1. I can imagine that your grandfather would be horrified…I’m not sure if mine would have been: I suspect he might have liked the loud music and the jets of fire at T20 matches. It would have gone well with the beer…

      I detest the’ toeing the line’ tone of interviews with cricket captains and players…let their prowess on the field speak for them rather than have this mindless ‘suit speak’ drivel…

      I have a suspicion that Grimble was a set book for us too…but cannot be sure. I know it was in the school library…yes, how times have changed! And not for the better for children whose reading is now censored for PC ness…

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