The Wisden of Solomon
22/04/2016 § 2 Comments
Ambitions. We all had them, didn’t we? Mine was for my name to appear in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
To achieve this, until a couple of years ago, I would have had to do one of three things: qualify as a first-class cricketer (really very unlikely); invent a time machine (slightly more plausible) and make sure I appeared for my school or university (and indeed to have gone to a university); or change my name by deed poll to David Ivon Gower.
Then a wonderful thing happened. They started a writing competition. All I had to do was enter it and I’d get my name in print in the hallowed tome as one of the plucky losers. Never mind thoughts of winning the thing – just send in 500 words of cricket-based crap and immortality would be mine.
So I did.
Needless to say, neither last year nor this did I win. But if you look very carefully through the 1600 pages or so of the Great Book you will find irrefutable proof that I have finally made it as ‘someone who has something vaguely to do with cricket.’
I share below my two losing efforts – first the 2015 one, then this year’s vintage. Someone’s got to read them, after all. (Don’t worry – it needn’t actually be you)
Amidst the hullabaloo surrounding the impending 150th Slog™ Globe-O-Champ, it’s easy to forget that there was a time when the world’s most popular sport was just a twinkle in its inventor’s eye. So what did bat-and-ball fans do for entertainment in those dark and distant days?
Once, there was another game. Now a footnote in sporting history, it was by today’s standards preposterously cumbersome, and its popular appeal was limited. But without it Slog™ wouldn’t exist. Let us give thanks to Cricket.
Nowadays Cricket would be proscribed as an Anti-Sport. Played outdoors, lasting up to five days, adjudicated by humans, and involving two teams of eleven – half of whom spent long periods completely inactive – it seems now, a century after the last international match, like the invention of a drug-crazed madman. Hardly anybody played it; the regulations took impenetrability to extremes usually reserved for near-earth planning regulations; entire matches were played without a winner. If you approached SportFed with such a proposal today, you’d be arrested.
“Compared to Slog™,” explains Tallulah Badminton, Sport Archivist at Beaconsfield University, “Cricket was complex, arcane and bewildering. For example, Hurlage™ duties were delegated to people called ‘bowlers’. These poor creatures ran to a predetermined point, delivered the ball, then trudged back to their mark. Run, deliver, trudge, repeat. Each process took at least thirty seconds. Compare that with the Hurlatron 5000™ with its delivery of fifty balls a minute, and the mind boggles at Cricket’s inefficiency. Then there were ‘fielders’, who emulated the lowliest FetchDrone™, yet were nonetheless part of the team and also participated as ‘batsmen’ (the Cricket term for Sloggers™). Furthermore, the scoring system was archaic. There were no AutoHitZones™ – instead, the ‘batsmen’ sprinted twenty yards to register a ‘run’. Four hundred was considered a high score. And as well as impenetrable GamePlay, Cricket boasted a ridiculous vocabulary – how do you decipher expressions like ‘she murdled a groogly to smiley mid-out’?”
Despite its many faults, Cricket enjoyed the devotion of a significant, if localised, pocket of followers. But the rapid rise and global domination of Slog™ left its sister sport gasping for breath. So where did it all go wrong?
“Politics, partly,” says Badminton. “Cricket ate itself in an orgy of greed and power struggles. But it was also a victim of its own complexity. People just didn’t understand it. The short form, T20, fell between two stools – too banal for Cricket fans, too complex for Sloggists™. And in the great Slog™ nations – America, China, Belgium – there was no cricket culture, so Slog™, pleasingly simple and addictive, spread like wildfire, and Cricket died a quiet death. The last international game was between Slog™ minnows England and Australia.” (England won by an innings and 498 runs, whatever that means.)
Today, with Cricket long dead, only the committed historian knows of its existence and the link between the two games. But they are based on a shared attribute: hitting the bejeezus out of a ball with a wooden stick. With recent signs of unrest in the Slog™ community, perhaps cricket is due a revival. Groogly, anyone?
The Best (and Worst) Cricket Films of 2015
This forgotten masterpiece languished in the archives for decades, and might have been lost forever but for the tireless work of cricket historian Lysander Trenchfoot, who found it, remastered it, and persuaded the BBC to release it on DVD. Originally broadcast as part of the Play for Today series, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, it tells the enthralling story behind a single dot ball in a run-of-the-mill County Championship match between Derbyshire and Somerset at Burton-on-Trent in May 1978. Richard Beckinsale is on superb form as Mike Hendrick – his performance reminds us of what a loss he was to British acting (and, if the glimpses of him in action are any guide, seam bowling) – while Leonard Rossiter as Colin ‘The Demon of Frome’ Dredge is never anything less than avidly watchable. Bristling with tension, dry wit and Pinter’s trademark pauses, Dot Ball is a reminder of one of the eternal truths of cricket, and indeed life: that lurking behind seemingly unremarkable events can lie hidden stories of friendship, bravery and yeomanlike fast-medium seam bowling.
The Greatest Game
When stand-up comedian, journalist and film-maker Jasper Quench found a pile of his old cricket scorebooks in the attic, he had what he describes as ‘a low-voltage halogen bulb moment’. The result is this film, a charming oddity that has ‘cult hit’ written all over it. Quench, like so many children of the 1970s, was an avid player of Owzthat!, and has recreated, in stop motion animation, a hypothetical match in which he scored an undefeated triple hundred and took fourteen wickets for ‘My Freinds’ (sic) against ‘1976 West Indies’. The animation is beautifully realised, and Quench has added his own commentary, delivered tongue firmly in cheek and with alarmingly realistic impersonations of the commentators of the day. His Peter West, in particular, is so accurate you can almost smell the pipe smoke. By turns hilarious, bathetic and preposterous (there is a sequence in which he takes Michael Holding for 24 off an over), this strangely touching film will resonate with anyone who has ever indulged in sporting fantasy.
The first example of that rare genre ‘comedy cricket caper’ since the ghastly 1970s flop ‘Fingers Up!’, this might on the face of it seem to be a step too far in the wrong direction. But stick with it. At its heart is a gem of a performance from Maggie Smith as put-upon cricket widow Felicity Strange, who embarks on a ‘Thelma & Louise’-style adventure with neighbour Glenda Nosworthy (Brenda Blethyn), leading to a tense showdown at a Royal London One-Day Cup Quarter Final at Chelmsford. Watch out for a telling cameo from Graham Gooch as a jobsworth car park attendant.
You Miss, I Hit
Set at the height of the Cold War, this implausible thriller tries to find links between the nearly contemporaneous events of the Cuban Missile Crisis and England’s Ashes tour of 1962-3.
Johnny Depp plays Mitchell Johnson. Five words to make your blood run cold. Predictably awful.