Cricket articles are suitable for reading in any part of the world and are fresh and general enough to provide enjoyment for several months or even years. I have, as a fact, always written regardless of time and space; I have, in a word, written for posterity. And it shouldn’t be hard for me to arrest the attention, while dealing with sports, of people who are not students of any game in a specialist sense.
I myself am not particularly interested in sports. I have never seen a Cup final, visited Wimbledon, played golf, attended the Olympic Games, or the Oxford and Cambridge boat races. Many years ago, when I was lured as a boy from the straight and narrow path, I put six pence on a horse named Mademoiselle, which won at 100 to 8. If I remember well, the owner was Robert Sievier. But today, I seldom realize that the Derby has been “run” (I believe this is the technical term) until the next morning.
Cricket appealed to me when I found I could bowl out my schoolboy companions. I took part in a game played on a brick croft in Manchester towards the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. I was a shy, delicate lad, short-sighted and frail, and cursed with a sense of inferiority. My discovery of some power over fellows who were bigger than myself, revealed and expressed by a natural break-back, added many inches to my stature. By means of cricket, I have arrived at certain confidence and self-mastery. Then I saw Maclaren and Trumper, and they stirred me to art and caused me to see visions.
Speaking by and large, I like to watch a match with my eye not on the scoreboard but on the players “in the middle”—those cricketers who possess the style that is the man himself. I can’t tell you today how many wickets Emmott Robinson took in his career or whether he established a “record.”
But I can see him, the living image of him, at any moment of my choosing; I can see his bandy legs and the trousers that threatened always to come down (but he hitched them up in time); I can see his fine, grizzled, shrewd face and his grey hair—because of his dour service for Yorkshire and because of umpires deficient in hearing and in their points of view about the law of LBW and its interpretation.
I love to read Wisden on a winter night, but the statistics in it evoke memories of things seen, not of the score—sheets well and truly computed. What is the secret? Why can cricket hold spellbound thousands of people who not only are not attracted to other games but would be offended if you called them sportsmen?
Several years ago, a famous Finn’s conductor of music, Professor ScheNneevoigt, was taken to watch a cricket match in Sydney. His host was Charles Moses, General Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and the engagement was New South Wales v. South Australia. Moses carefully explained the rules and procedures to the professor. Three wickets at each end—do you see?
No, professor, the bowler tries to hit the wickets, and so on. Moses gave a complete exposition, then the professor, vowing that he now grasped everything clearly, settled down to enjoy himself.
It so happened that Bradman was batting. After a while, he mistimed a ball and was caught at the square-leg. He began his walk of departure from the wicket, and Scheneevoigt said, “But why does he go away?” With a hint of despair. Moses gently expostulated: “But, professor, I told you, when the ball is struck into the air and is caught before coming down to the ground, the batsman is out.” “Oudt—what is oudt?. His inning is at an end; he has made a mistake, a false move. “So he is out?”
“Yes, Professor, out.” The professor paused for reflection and then asked, “Does he come back?” Moses, still patient, kindly assured the professor that the batsman, caught, does not “come back,” not even Bradman. “So! He doesn’t come back. I am very glad I don’t like him.” Yet the professor remained on the scene for quite a while. Something fascinated him. Possibly it was the sun, the crowd, the slowly changing scene, or the atmosphere.
This ‘slowness’ baffled the American onlooker. To those who are initiates, it is one of cricket’s most potent enchantments. The fires of competition and antagonism smolder even as an English June day grows cloudy, and still, a sudden event, always implicit in the nature of cricket’s technique, strikes the dull embers into a consuming flame.
No wickets for hours, no apparent likelihood of anybody getting out Don Bradman or Denis Compton or Vijay Merchant or Alan Melville thoroughly at ease on perfect turf, and the most inept ball of the match overthrows the mighty. (Don Bradman was once bowled for nothing, first ball, by Bowes, and it was either a free-toss or a three-bouncer.)
In other games, a player who was erred once gets another chance. In cricket, the world’s champion, sealed in glory at the top of the batting “oudt” for a round O, from no fault of his own run oudt”, And he vanishes for hours into the obscurity of the pavilion and is forgotten, while the player responsible for his downfall takes the limelight and is roared to fame even by the same crowd that had cursed him when he sent the hero back.
I fancy that cricket is the only game in which the least humble, inexpert, and prominent exponent can, against odds and for a long time, share the mastery of the elect. Men were chosen for bowling, men devoid of ambition to emulate the Bradman’s and Nourses and Hammonds, have walked to the wicket last man in, and they have met on their way there an emissary from the groundsman, who has been out in the center of the field, observed by thousands to receive instructions about the roller to be used for the other side’s innings—the implication being that the batsman now about to begin is, as Mr. Toots would say, “of no consequence whatever.”
But many times has this inglorious last-man input forward miraculously unusual powers; he has scored a century; he has held up the natural (which, according to the metaphysic of David Hume, is the expected) course of events.” Once upon a time in Australia, on Christmas Day at that, a “number eleven” batsman stayed from morning to evening and was not out at the end. He upset all the ground arrangements. No lunch had been prepared; the players had arranged to be home in good time for Christmas dinner turkey and plum pudding in a noon temperature of 90 degrees.
This obstinate batsman was named Hooker; let us call him the “judicious Hooker” of cricket. Bottles of beer and sandwiches were improvised, and players rang up wives and families, saying, “Something had gone wrong, but hold back the turkey; we’ll be home soon after two o’clock. One more ball will finish him. Hooker resisted while Alan Kippax scored a double-century.
Every time a ball was bowled at Hooker, from twelve o’clock until six, the fieldsman nearest the pavilion turned on his heel, eager to be the first up the steps. He turned on his heel countless times while Christmas Day burned away and the family gathering at home toasted absent friends.
Other games are as exciting, more dynamic, and as skillful as cricket. No game is richer in humor and fellow feelings. That is why, I suggest, cricket wins the favor of most Englishmen and of many those who are not English. We are the world’s most humorous people, and “we give and take.”
As these lines are being read, while winter enshrouds one side of the world, Indians are playing Australians, and West Indians are playing Englishmen. And everything that happens in Trinidad and Melbourne, in Sydney and Jamaica, goes at once into the constantly unfolding history of a game that teaches back to ages in which Australia and the West Indies were uncharted legendary realms in the geography of the earth.
Other games, I say, can vie with cricket for cleverness, sensation, and beauty. None is more capricious in its rapid reversals of fortune; none is more revealing of character; it lasts so long; the “exposure” is continuous for hours; none is more picturesque, more elegantly poised, or more liable to comic descents. None, in the entire world, is more English.
NEVILLE CARDUS: Extract from Sports & Pastime, 17-1-1948. (A sports writer and foremost critic of his generation)