I Don’t Like Cricket… I Love It….

cricket ground

While I can’t say that I recommend the rest of the lyrics of 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ that one line sums up my feeling for the game….and for the expression of that feeling, running from expertise to sheer tomfoolery, of those who also love it.

For those whose picture of England is coloured by John Major’s 1990s description of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer…..dog lovers….and Orwell’s old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the mists of an autumn morning, may I present another more contemporary image of the cricket lover, made by a gentleman named Kim Thonger who contributed his mite to ‘The Guardian’s over by over coverage of the First Test between India and England.

“I’m sitting outside Waitrose with the dog, listening to TMS through my hearing aid while SWMBO potters inside. When Stokes got Kohli I leapt into the air and now there’s a clutch of senior citizens eyeing me very strangely. I think one of them has called an ambulance for me.”

For the furriners among us, a glossary.

Waitrose. A supermarket chain which caters to those who consider Marks and Spencer ready meals to be downmarket.

TMS. Test Match Special, the ball by ball commentary on international cricket matches provided by BBC radio, staffed by people whose names are often given the suffix ‘ers’ – thus, Phil Tufnell, ‘Tuffers’, Henry Blofeld, ‘Blowers’, Jonathan Agnew, ‘Aggers’. The latter might have been called Johnners had that not been the soubriquet of a much loved and now deceased commentator called Brian Johnston, himself the originator of the ‘ers’.

Let it here be noted that Mr. Thonger has a dachshund, called, inevitably, Dakkers.

SWMBO. She Who Must Be Obeyed, from the white goddess/queen in Rider Haggard’s She’. Here,  as played by Ursula Andress – an actress whose name is often misspelled for some reason.

SWMBO is an alternative way for men to refer to their wives – though not, it seems, to their significant others  – and may derive from John Mortimer’s barrister character Horace Rumpole who, in respect of his wife Hilda, remarks gloomily that murder and matrimony both carry a mandatory life sentence.

hilda Rumpole

Stokes is a much tattooed chap who plays for England, except that he will be missing the next match as he will be on trial for alleged assault outside a nightclub. Perhaps he should have considered that the downside of tattoos is that they make one easily identifiable by the police.

‘Got’ here refers to the fact that he bowled, as opposed to allegedly assaulting,

Kohli, India’s captain, whose talent as a batsman almost matches his ego and who, in this context, had been making too many runs to please Stokes and his team mates.

I am aware that the glossary raises as many supplementary questions as it proposes answers, but that it the nature of the beast.

Just try getting your heads round examples offered by cricket lovers for everyday phrases as titles for dark thrillers….

A Tickle To Leg…There Was A Noise…First Slip…Chin Music…The Corridor of Uncertainty…It Reared Sharply Off A Length…The Wrong’Un….Deep Cover…The Man Who Was Mankaded…Whispering Death…

You’ll need more than a glossary for that lot…

So what is it that makes people…me included…sit up all night to hear a radio commentary on Test matches in Australia, New Zealand or Sri Lanka? We have not been able to watch cricket on TV unless forking out for a Sky subscription since the ECB sold the nation’s heritage for a bowl of baingan bharta. in 2006.

Glossary…ECB, England and Wales Cricket Board, not to be be confused with the European Central Bank even though both are staffed by people living in a fantasy world where you generate money in order to fritter it on mad schemes.

It is because we can see in our mind’s eye that which once we saw with the two others…the grace of a batsman who uses the bowler’s speed or spin against him…the art of the slow bowler spinning his webs to deceive….the thrill of a great fast bowler…

If you can bear the slow start, do take a look at this video of David Gower…a slight man, he uses the speed of the ball to send it to the boundary, seemingly effortlessly and with supreme elegance.

 

And just look at the peerless Larwood…perfect balance and speed

The matches, the players, the history, the enthusiasts….the ups and the downs….and, this year there is something special to celebrate.

The Scottish cricket team beat the English in a One Day International…it is 1314 all over again!

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“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:
Brian-Close-300x284

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.
beer-snake_3327645b

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.

I May Be Some Time…

sporterinfoa2z.blogspot.com

In the U.K. a friend who was a big wheel in a major accountancy firm gave me a rule of thumb for estimating the trustworthiness of organisations in which you might think to invest or with whom you were thinking of doing business.

If they had a water feature in the lobby of their head office they were either about to go bust or they were running on funny money.

On that basis, then, my regular lawyer is neither going to go bust tomorrow nor is he dealing in narcotics.

I take his office for granted…I grew up in a period when money spent on offices was regarded as sheer waste…so climbing a steep flight of steps to a labyrinth of small rooms around a landing where the lawyer’s office door is closed by a padlock when he goes to lunch comes as no great surprise.
It does to various visitors from Europe who have accompanied me.

They take one look at the wooden bench in the joint waiting area and decide to go elsewhere for a coffee while I conduct my business.

They don’t know what they are missing. Like all waiting rooms, gossip is rife, but only in a lawyer’s waiting room in Costa Rica have I seen a client rise to his feet and sing to entertain the rest of us when the television broke down.
Very good he was too.

I have been frequenting offices lately, as I am off to Europe and need any number of documents notarised, even, in some cases, given an apostille by the Foreign Ministry.

Costa Rican legal documents bristle with fiscal stamps, legal stamps, stamps for the preservation of national parks – you name it there’s a stamp for it, not to speak of the enormous gold stars applied by notaires – as if you had done very well indeed while at primary school.
Whether you can read the text underneath this gallimaufry appears to be irrelevant.

But it’s not all indoor work.

If you need an apostille, then the notaire’s signature has to be confirmed by the notaires’ governing body and as this entity lurks in the bowels of an office block out in the suburbs you get a little tourism thrown in.
You get even more tourism thrown in if your notaire has made a horlicks of the stamps as you then have to go to a bank to buy the appropriate digital fiscal stamps.
Half an hour’s wait to buy a one hundred colon (0.1324 of a British pound) stamp does not appeal to me, especially as no one seems to sing in a bank.
I prefer not to contemplate what you would need to do if the notaire forgot a national parks preservation stamp….probably go out to net an unwary sloth.

Still, by tomorrow all should be in order – as far as the documents are concerned anyway. My packing preparations are, as yet, non existent, apart from bags of coffee for friends.
What will the weather be like? The current heatwave, or a reversion to normality? What to take by way of clothes? Where in the name of the wee man are my comfortable shoes for the ‘plane?

I don’t look forward to a long flight, jammed in a seat and fed buns by the keepers, but far worse is the fact that this trip totally upsets my cricket listening plans for the summer.

It is, should anyone not be aware, an Ashes summer. England versus Australia. The big one.

My routine is to rise at three thirty in the morning, make a cup of tea and switch on the computer in time to hear the start of the morning session on Test Match Special, that gem of broadcasting so far unsullied by the BBC’s predilection for political correctness and paedophilia.

Mark you I did have quite a surprise when returning from letting the sheep out in the lunch interval to hear Phil Tufnell refer to a Duckworth-Lewis blow job….but it turned out to be a reference to fellow commentator Henry Blofeld jamming with the Irish musical group the Duckworth Lewis Method, so that was all right.

But what will I do when in Europe? I’m taking the laptop…but most of my business will be conducted in the hours of play – lawyers on the continent of Europe having no conception of decency.
I think it will be all right in England…the lawyer there is a cricket nut too and mother will be glued to TMS from morning to night, thermos at hand, but until then I shall have to resort to sitting up all night in the guest bedroom of friends’ houses with headset linked to the laptop, listening to a replay of the ball by ball commentary on the BBC iPlayer.
If there’s a plug.
If their computer is switched on all night.
If the wifi works.

It doesn’t bear contemplating.

The First Test has shown that this is going to be an exciting series…and where shall I be?

Stuck in lawyers’ offices.
In a heatwave.
With no water feature.