Here are some thoughts for the opening of the baseball season. Did you know that cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after soccer? Although baseball has what it calls a “World” Series, more people worldwide watched the Cricket World Cup than the Superbowl! Cricket is a complex game; yet it has still gained huge popularity and huge number of fans across the world in developed, developing as well as undeveloped countries too.
Sir Neville Cardus (1889-1975) was one of the greatest of cricket sports writers, as well as a noted music critic. (You can find our more about this fascinating man in my piece I Read It In The Papers So It Must Be True – February 28 – below.) Here are some Cardus quotes on the most glorious and magic of summer games:
The origins of cricket can be traced back to Tudor times in early 16th-century England. This one time colonial recreational activity is now the most popular form of sport in the Commonwealth Nations – and widely beyond them. As soon as the sport was televised it became the next popular entertainment to soccer that could be enjoyed sitting at home. Today, in many countries, cricket is one of the most popular sports among youngsters, middle aged and even aged class of people. Cricket is hogging all the money and bandwidth and because of this other sports are often neglected is some countries like India. What are reasons of popularity of this game?
The first and foremost reason which critics point out is that the media give more and more attention to the game! Countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka, as well as countries in Africa and the Carribean consider this sport as in their blood. So, the media takes the right opportunity to push it forward and create a kind of zeal among cricket lovers. But media attention is not the only reason to make this game popular. Cricket is perhaps a sport which can be played the most casual way in any place. It is a game anybody can play without any prior requirements or special techniques for general recreation.
A long corridor of your home can be a place to play the game between two brothers. It is everywhere – in constricted spaces in apartment complexes, urban townships, and places which can be made the best use of space. Other sports they are just not as flexible as cricket and cannot be played as freely as cricket. It needs minimum equipment to play it anywhere. Cricket is a game that survives in all mediums, platforms and climatic conditions to some extent too.
There have been many floating theories around which tell why cricket is the most popular sport in Commonwealth countries. Another popular theory that is put forward by experts is that Cricket tries to adapt to changing needs of people and that’s why the sport is very popular. There was a time when the great international five-day test matches were considered popular. Then came 60-over matches; then there was an era of one-day internationals and now the Twenty-20 cricket. These changes have been around with the changing lifestyle, needs, and time factor of people.
Cricket games have always been known to be a game of gentlemen; and it still continues to mesmerize people. In fact, cricket games have become one of the games that are virtually worshipped by fans. Initially there were only few countries that played cricket; but today, more and more countries are becoming fascinated by the game.
On the global scale, there are numerous cricket matches that are played across various countries but the most exciting cricket match that everybody awaits to play and win is the World Cup. International Cricket Council or the ICC holds the World Cup and this event is held in every four years.
Another noted cricket writer, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow (1901-1965) wrote on the joy of cricket:
It was, I think, the Reverend Sydney Smith who said that his height of human happiness would be eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets.
This, I admit, might be a pleasurable combination. ….. (But) cricket has very various meanings and delights. I suppose the most popular dream of boyhood’s cricket is to be making a hundred in a Test. The ambition of most young cricketers seems to concern batsmanship. But, myself, I would always rather have sent the stumps than the ball flying.
Modesty, no doubt, should forbid mention of any example of such a performance. But the bowler has to work for his great moments, and I don’t see why he shouldn’t mention some of them, without being condemned as an intolerable bore.
My own moment of greatest joy should have been at The Oval [in London] in 1920, when, aged eighteen and very absent-minded, I had Jack Hobbs caught at mid-on for 0. But, oddly enough, I didn’t believe it at the time, and, in spite of the printed word, I don’t believe it yet. At best, it was a fluke.
In a bowler’s triumph there should, I feel, be an element of violence. For which reason, the greatest moment in my cricketing life was when I pitched a ball on the middle stump of the left-handed Australian master, Warren Bardsley, and knocked the off-stump past first slip.
Perhaps it was his green Australian cap that helped towards the pleasure. Perhaps. But no; most of all, it was the sheer violence of the assassination that thrilled me. It was in 1926, at Taunton. I suppose that the great man, at 42 years, was then going over the hill; but, to borrow Sir Alan (A.P.) Herbert’s words, “This is the day I shall remember the day I am dying.” As a pilgrim of the ball I had travelled far in the wilds before that moment of triumph. Forgive my selfishness.
Cricket, for all its admirers may say, is a selfish game. Certainly, bowling is. How often, in my cricketing life, I watched others taking wickets that I regarded as mine by rights. Daylight robbery.
There is nothing to equal the joy and sensation of personal triumph. And the nearest that I’ve been to a heaven on earth was when walking back to the pavilion at Lord’s after making a fifty against Cambridge for Oxford, with a borrowed bat.
I fancy that I hear a somewhat pompous voice attacking such heretical views. “Cricket,” says the voice, “is, above all, a Team game; a builder of character.” This is not always so. Cricket has murdered many a sunny afternoon for the schoolboy who cannot bat, is not asked to bowl, and does not wish to field. To enjoy cricket, you must be good enough to partake in the ritual. You must be, so to speak, in use.
No; I would not rate Team Spirit as the most ennobling part of cricket. The best part of cricket is the Tour Spirit. No one who has not been on a Cricket Tour, however humble, has tasted the full felicity of the game.
The Cricket Tourist can discover the joy of irresponsibility and detachment. If he be wise, no correspondence, threatening or otherwise, will be forwarded to him. If he be wiser still, he will have told his employers and his relatives that the tour is in North Wales, whereas in fact it is in Jersey, perhaps the most hospitable of all European Islands.
In my memory, a little clouded by banquetings, the sun always shone on Jersey. There was magic in its air. However beautiful had been the preceding night, we were always ready to repeat the words of the great Oscar Hammerstein — “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”
In Jersey, too, the newspaper reports of cricket, when they chanced to appear, were full of praise for the visiting team, even if we were all out for 70 and had missed a dozen catches.
In which connection I recall a great cricketer who had remarked to a friend, “Never read newspaper reports of a cricket match unless you’ve done something very good.” A few days after he’d made this comment, he scored a century on an alien ground, and the local evening paper’s sole remark on the feat was, “How — ever makes a century with so peculiar a style must remain a mystery.”
We wander from the title, The Joy of Cricket. My own summit of surprise mingled with pleasure was reached in the Parks at Oxford, 1920. I had not foreseen any chance of playing for a County when the Oxford v. Cambridge match was over. Yet at the end of an exciting game with Somerset, their captain, the inimitable and often unrepeatable John Daniell, asked me to play for Somerset.
“But, I said, I was born and live in Scotland.” “You mind your own ** business,” replied my benefactor. “I will,” I said. There was a pause. “But,” he continued, “have you no ruddy relations at all around Somerset?” “Well,” I admitted, “I have a cousin who is, at the moment, Member of Parliament for Bath.” “Good enough,” said John D.; and it was.
Somerset never won the County Championship; but, for the beauty of scenery combined with variety of cricketing styles, Somerset has no equal at all. Win, lose or draw, every day’s cricket for Somerset was an indescribable joy. I found myself received with a humorous and unsurprised kindness. Wit and laughter abounded.
The standard of cricketing skill ranged from the highest to the lowest, from Jack White’s slow left-hand bowling to… well, never mind what. Most particularly do I recall that some of our best batsmen, such as M.D. Lyon and J.C.W. MacBryan, and Tom Young, never seemed to practice. There was a tendency to go to bed late and to rise just in time for the resumption of play.
Then there was that great all-rounder, Len Braund. In the autumn of his career he still caught catches at slip which others wouldn’t have touched. He also missed a fair number; and I remember with pleasure his remark to me after he’d missed a sitter — “Slip fielding’s like fishing; let the little ones go.” A philosophy that was not shared by the suffering bowlers.
Humour was, so to speak, both parent and son of Somerset cricket; though I doubt if our captain unreservedly agreed with this view. John Daniell had a most expressive face, as well as vocabulary. He was a magnificent leader, whose team so seldom seemed to come up to his expectations. Perhaps he expected just too much, and was still living in the days of Lionel Palairet and Sammy Woods.
We wouldn’t have had him otherwise; fielding brilliantly under a Trilby hat, and scowling at the batsman. Once when the Sussex opening batsman snicked the very first ball of the innings for four past his leg stump, John said to the bowler, “When the hell are you going to bowl straight?” And the bowler shouted back, “And when the hell are you going to wear white trousers instead of yellow ones?”
Then there was the beauty of the surrounding country. Mr. Neville Cardus has written memorably on the effect of environment upon the type of cricket played, with special reference to Old Trafford. At Taunton, on the horizon rose those lovely hills, the Quantocks; in themselves, surely, a romantic inducement to the cricketer. And the villages around are so aptly named. Combe Florey and Bishop’s Lydeard, somehow suggested immortal summers.
Country House cricket abounded; that game of long intervals, variegated blazers, and dubious decisions. The most eccentric match that I ever played in was at a Country House, near Maiden Erleigh, in Berkshire, then the home of Mr. Solly Joel.
I arrived on a temperamental motor-cycle, with my cricket bag precariously strapped on behind. There was an absence of teetotalism. Instead of a tea interval we went off to bathe in a Neronian Swimming-pool, knocked back a drink or two, and returned unpunctually to the fray.
When play at length resumed, I recall that Jack White had placed a couple of fielders in an adjoining meadow, to await a catch from that remarkable hitter, P.G.H. Fender.
I never had the luck to play cricket in distant parts of the globe, such as the Antipodes, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and the West Indies, though I do remember that several of us, late one night in our College at Oxford, discussed the possibilities of introducing cricket to China. It remained a possibility.
I have always regretted that the Chinaman, who has given his name to a certain type of left-handed delivery, should never have played the game nationally. To-day, there seems less chance than ever of his doing so, as Communism and cricket do not seem to be happy bedfellows.
I have played in Portugal, on matting wickets, at Lisbon and Oporto. One of our faster bowlers was erratic both on and off the field, and a source of anxiety to his worthy captain. It was thought that he had missed the ship at the very start, but he was found later playing Jazz on a musical instrument to a partially reluctant audience of fellow-travellers.
On one occasion he did appear, late in our opponents’ innings, and bowled one of the fastest, shortest and widest overs that I ever saw. He was, nevertheless, an inimitable companion.
He was a Scratch golfer; and when, on our overland return journey we stopped for a few days to play golf at St. Jean de Luz in the Pyrenean country, he surprised even his elderly and experienced caddie by his skill at improving with the foot the lie of the ball in the rough. He was straight from a P.G. Wodehouse book; and, but for cricket, I would never have known him.
Perhaps the greatest joy in cricket is experienced by the sheer bowler who, by some quirk of providence, finds himself to be an unexpected batsman. I hope I may be acquitted of pride when I say that my most pleasurable times in County Cricket were when I was batting around number ten or eleven and achieved success above my station.
As a very late batsman you are welcomed at the crease rather in the same manner as the Walrus and the Carpenter welcomed the Oysters. The bowlers regard you as a benefactor. The umpires smile appreciatively, because soon now they will be able to take the weight off their feet. The wicket-keeper probably asks after your wife and children, if any. You are given guard, middle-and-leg, as a formality rather than a convenience.
Your earlier scoring strokes are greeted with tolerance, or even with open laughter. But, after half an hour or so, you become a guest who has outstayed his welcome. The bowlers begin to Scowl, and to tire. Yet your performance is not entirely unappreciated; and I remember a fielder, in the West Country, who evidently thought little of the bowler then in use, saying into my ear at the end of an over, “Good going; now hit the — for six.
When fate decides that you’ve gone far enough, the axe descends. But you are a happy man. And, somehow, you are not at all tired. Within a quarter of an hour or so, you take the new ball and run up to the crease breathing fire and slaughter, and appeal for l.b.w. [leg-before-wicket] like a bomb exploding, while the batsman ruefully rubs his thigh.
Then, when playing days are over, dull must be he of soul who cannot derive pleasure and amusement from his fellow-spectators. No other game so richly produces eccentricity among its watchers.
Rugger and Soccer crowds tend each to conform to a particular pattern. But, at cricket matches, you find infinite variety and oddity: cabinet-ministers and crossing-sweepes, lunatics, lovers, and poets; men who watch all day through field-glasses and say nothing, female statisticians, who long to be contradicted; odd spectators who keep warm in spite of semi-nudity. All are, in their way, contented; all seem to have absolutely nothing to do in this world except watching cricket. But, once more, it is the bowler in cricket who knows the deepest joy; because he can hit his victim and pretend to be sorry about it; because he is artist and workman in one; because he can make mistakes and yet suddenly enter the paradise of triumph.
Myself, I go back once more to Taunton in 1926. Clarence Grimmett, who could bowl deadly spinners from somewhere near his right kidney, was at the wicket. Not a great batsman, Clarrie; not even a fairly good one. Never mind. He had raised his bat to cut me square. The ball chose to come in from the off, and it knocked out his middle stump. Leonardo da Vinci should have been there, to paint the incredulity of the batsman, and the unconfined joy of the bowler.
Rejoice, then, cricketers; but, most of all, ye bowlers. For, whatever the books may say, yours is the best part in the best play yet invented.
“Dont forget Saturday morning Charing Cross Underground Station,” ran the telegram which arrived at Royal Avenue during the week, “at ten fifteen sharp whatever you do dont be late Hodge.”
Saturday morning was bright and sunny, and at ten minutes past 10 Donald arrived at the Embankment entrance of Charing Cross Underground Station, carrying a small suitcase full of clothes suitable for outdoor sports and pastimes. He was glad that he had arrived too early, for it would have been a dreadful thing for a stranger and a foreigner to have kept such a distinguished man, and his presumably distinguished colleagues, even for an instant from their national game. Laying his bag down on the pavement and putting one foot upon it carefully—for Donald had heard stories of the surpassing dexterity of metropolitan thieves—he waited eagerly for the hands of a neighbouring clock to mark the quarter-past. At twenty minutes to 11 an effeminate-looking young man, carrying a cricketing bag and wearing a pale-blue silk jumper up to his ears, sauntered up, remarked casually, “You playing?” and, on receiving an answer in the affirmative, dumped his bag at Donald’s feet and said, “Keep an eye on that like a good fellow. I’m going to get a shave,” and sauntered off round the corner.
At five minutes to 11 there was a respectable muster, six of the team having assembled. But at five minutes past, a disintegrating element was introduced by the arrival of Mr. Harcourt with the news, which he announced with the air of a shipwrecked mariner who has, after twenty-five years of vigilance, seen a sail, that in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross the pubs opened at 11 A.M. So that when Mr. Hodge himself turned up at twenty-five minutes past 11, resplendent in flannels, a red-and-white football shirt with a lace-up collar, and a blazer of purple-and-yellow stripes, each stripe being at least two inches across, and surmounted by a purple-and-yellow cap that made him somehow reminiscent of one of the Michelin twins, if not both, he was justly indignant at the slackness of his team.
“They’ve no sense of time,” he told Donald repeatedly. “We’re late as it is. The match is due to begin at half-past 11, and it’s fifty miles from here. I should have been here myself two hours ago but I had my Sunday article to do. It really is too bad.”
When the team, now numbering nine men, had been extricated from the tavern and had been marshalled on the pavement, counted, recounted, and the missing pair identified, it was pointed out by the casual youth who had returned, shining and pomaded from the barber, that the char-à-banc had not yet arrived.
Mr. Hodge’s indignation became positively alarming and he covered the twenty yards to the public telephone box almost as quickly as Mr. Harcourt covered the forty yards back to the door of the pub. Donald remained on the pavement to guard the heap of suitcases, cricket-bags, and stray equipment—one player had arrived with a pair of flannels rolled in a tight ball under his arm and a left-hand batting glove, while another had contributed a cardboard box which he had bought at Hamley’s on the way down, and which contained six composite cricket-balls, boys’ size, and a pair of bails. It was just as well that Donald did remain on guard, partly because no one else seemed to care whether the luggage was stolen or not, partly because Mr. Hodge emerged in a perfect frenzy a minute or two later from the telephone box to borrow two pennies to put in the slot, and partly because by the time the telephone call was at last in full swing and Mr. Hodge’s command over the byways of British invective was enjoying complete freedom of action, the char-à-banc rolled up beside the kerb.
At 12.30 it was decided not to wait for the missing pair, and the nine cricketers started off. At 2.30, after halts at Catford, the White Hart at Sevenoaks, the Angel at Tunbridge Wells, and three smaller inns at tiny villages, the char-à-banc drew up triumphantly beside the cricket ground of the Kentish village of Fordenden.
Donald was enchanted at his first sight of rural England. And rural England is the real England, unspoilt by factories and financiers and tourists and hustle. He sprang out of the char-à-banc, in which he had been tightly wedged between a very stout publisher who had laughed all the way down and had quivered at each laugh like the needle of a seismograph during one of Japan’s larger earthquakes, and a youngish and extremely learned professor of ballistics, and gazed eagerly round. The sight was worth an eager gaze or two. It was a hot summer’s afternoon. There was no wind, and the smoke from the red-roofed cottages curled slowly up into the golden haze. The clock on the flint tower of the church struck the half-hour, and the vibrations spread slowly across the shimmering hedgerows, spangled with white blossom of the convolvulus, and lost themselves tremulously among the orchards. Bees lazily drifted. White butterflies flapped their aimless way among the gardens. Delphiniums, larkspur, tiger-lilies, evening-primrose, monk’s-hood, sweet-peas, swaggered brilliantly above the box hedges, the wooden palings, and the rickety gates. The cricket field itself was a mass of daisies and buttercups and dandelions, tall grasses and purple vetches and thistle-down, and great clumps of dark-red sorrel, except, of course, for the oblong patch in the centre—mown, rolled, watered—a smooth, shining emerald of grass, the Pride of Fordenden, the Wicket.
The entire scene was perfect to the last detail. It was as if Mr. Cochran had, with his spectacular genius, brought Ye Olde Englyshe Village straight down by special train from the London Pavilion, complete with synthetic cobwebs (from the Wigan factory), hand-made smocks for ye gaffers (called in the cabaret scenes and the North-West Mounted Police scenes, the Gentlemen of the Singing Ensemble), and aluminium Eezi-Milk stools for the dairymaids (or Ladies of the Dancing Ensemble). For there stood the Vicar, beaming absent-mindedly at everyone. There was the forge, with the blacksmith, his hammer discarded, tightening his snake-buckled belt for the fray and loosening his braces to enable his terrific bowling-arm to swing freely in its socket. There on a long bench outside the Three Horseshoes sat a row of elderly men, facing a row of pint tankards, and wearing either long beards or clean-shaven chins and long whiskers. Near them, holding pint tankards in their hands, was another group of men, clustered together and talking with intense animation. Donald thought that one or two of them seemed familiar, but it was not until he turned back to the char-à-banc to ask if he could help with the luggage that he realized that they were Mr. Hodge and his team already sampling the proprietor’s wares. (A notice above the door of the inn stated that the proprietor’s name was A. Bason and that he was licensed to sell wines, spirits, beers, and tobacco.)
All round the cricket field small parties of villagers were patiently waiting for the great match to begin—a match against gentlemen from London is an event in a village—and some of them looked as if they had been waiting for a good long time. But they were not impatient. Village folk are very seldom impatient. Those whose lives are occupied in combating the eccentricities of God regard as very small beer the eccentricities of Man.
Blue-and-green dragonflies played at hide-and-seek among the thistle-down and a pair of swans flew overhead. An ancient man leaned upon a scythe, his sharpening-stone sticking out of a pocket in his velveteen waistcoat. A magpie flapped lazily across the meadows. The parson shook hands with the squire. Doves cooed. The haze flickered. The world stood still.
At twenty minutes to 3, Mr. Hodge had completed his rather tricky negotiations with the Fordenden captain, and had arranged that two substitutes should be lent by Fordenden in order that the visitors should field eleven men, and that nine men on each side should bat. But just as the two men on the Fordenden side, who had been detailed for the unpleasant duty of fielding for both sides and batting for neither, had gone off home in high dudgeon, a motor-car arrived containing not only Mr. Hodge’s two defaulters but a third gentleman in flannels as well, who swore stoutly that he had been invited by Mr. Hodge to play and affirmed that he was jolly well going to play. Whoever stood down, it wasn’t going to be him. Negotiations therefore had to be reopened, the pair of local Achilles had to be recalled, and at ten minutes to 3 the match began upon a twelve-a-side basis.
Mr. Hodge, having won the toss by a system of his own founded upon the differential calculus and the Copernican theory, sent in his opening pair to bat. One was James Livingstone, a very sound club cricketer, and the other one was called, simply, Boone. Boone was a huge, awe-inspiring colossus of a man, weighing at least eighteen stone and wearing all the majestic trappings of a Cambridge Blue. Donald felt that it was hardly fair to loose such cracks upon a humble English village until he fortunately remembered that he, of all people, a foreigner, admitted by courtesy to the National Game, ought not to set himself up to be a judge of what is, and what is not, cricket.
The Fordenden team ranged themselves at the bidding of their captain, the Fordenden baker, in various spots of vantage amid the daisies, buttercups, dandelions, vetches, thistle-down, and clumps of dark-red sorrel; and the blacksmith having taken in, just for luck as it were, yet another reef in his snake-buckle belt, prepared to open the attack. It so happened that, at the end at which he was to bowl, the ground behind the wicket was level for a few yards and then sloped away rather abruptly, so that it was only during the last three or four intensive, galvanic yards of his run that the blacksmith, who took a long run, was visible to the batsman or indeed to anyone on the field of play except the man stationed in the deep field behind him. This man saw nothing of the game except the blacksmith walking back dourly and the blacksmith running up ferociously, and occasionally a ball driven smartly over the brow of the hill in his direction.
The sound club player having taken guard, having twiddled his bat round several times in a nonchalant manner, and having stared arrogantly at each fieldsman in turn, was somewhat surprised to find that, although the field was ready, no bowler was visible. His doubts, however, were resolved a second or two later, when the blacksmith came up, breasting the slope superbly like a mettlesome combination of Vulcan and Venus Anadyomene. The first ball which he delivered was a high full-pitch to leg, of appalling velocity. It must have lighted upon a bare patch among the long grass near long-leg, for it rocketed, first bounce, into the hedge and four byes were reluctantly signalled by the village umpire. The row of gaffers on the rustic bench shook their heads, agreed that it was many years since four byes had been signalled on that ground, and called for more pints of old-and-mild. The other members of Mr. Hodge’s team blanched visibly and called for more pints of bitter. The youngish professor of ballistics, who was in next, muttered something about muzzle velocities and started to do a sum on the back of an envelope.
The second ball went full-pitch into the wicket-keeper’s stomach and there was a delay while the deputy wicket-keeper was invested with the pads and gloves of office. The third ball, making a noise like a partridge, would have hummed past Mr. Livingstone’s left ear had he not dexterously struck it out of the ground for six, and the fourth took his leg bail with a bullet-like full-pitch. Ten runs for one wicket, last man six. The professor got the fifth ball on the left ear and went back to the Three Horseshoes, while Mr. Harcourt had the singular misfortune to hit his wicket before the sixth ball was even delivered. Ten runs for two wickets and one man retired hurt. A slow left-hand bowler was on at the other end, the local rate-collector, a man whose whole life was one of infinite patience and guile. Off his first ball the massive Cambridge Blue was easily stumped, having executed a movement that aroused the professional admiration of the Ancient who was leaning upon his scythe. Donald was puzzled that so famous a player should play so execrable a stroke until it transpired, later on, that a wrong impression had been created and that the portentous Boone had gained his Blue at Cambridge for rowing and not for cricket. Ten runs for three wickets and one man hurt.
The next player was a singular young man. He was small and quiet, and he wore perfectly creased white flannels, white silk socks, a pale-pink silk shirt, and a white cap. On the way down in the char-à-banc he had taken little part in the conversation and even less in the beer-drinking. There was a retiring modesty about him that made him conspicuous in that cricket eleven, and there was a gentleness, an almost finicky gentleness about his movements which hardly seemed virile and athletic. He looked as if a fast ball would knock the bat out of his hands. Donald asked someone what his name was, and was astonished to learn that he was the famous novelist, Robert Southcott himself.
Just as this celebrity, holding his bat as delicately as if it was a flute or a fan, was picking his way through the daisies and thistle-down towards the wicket, Mr. Hodge rushed anxiously, tankard in hand, from the Three Horseshoes and bellowed in a most unpoetical voice: “Play carefully, Bobby. Keep your end up. Runs don’t matter.”
“Very well, Bill,” replied Mr. Southcott sedately. Donald was interested by this little exchange. It was the Team Spirit at work—the captain instructing his man to play a type of game that was demanded by the state of the team’s fortunes, and the individual loyally suppressing his instincts to play a different type of game.
Mr. Southcott took guard modestly, glanced furtively round the field as if it was an impertinence to suggest that he would survive long enough to make a study of the fieldsmen’s positions worth while, and hit the rate-collector’s first ball over the Three Horseshoes into a hay-field. The ball was retrieved by a mob of screaming urchins, handed back to the rate-collector, who scratched his head and then bowled his fast yorker, which Mr. Southcott hit into the saloon bar of the Shoes, giving Mr. Harcourt such a fright that he required several pints before he fully recovered his nerve. The next ball was very slow and crafty, endowed as it was with every iota of finger-spin and brain-power which a long-service rate-collector could muster. In addition, it was delivered at the extreme end of the crease so as to secure a background of dark laurels instead of a dazzling white screen, and it swung a little in the air; a few moments later the urchins, by this time delirious with ecstasy, were fishing it out of the squire’s trout stream with a bamboo pole and an old bucket.
The rate-collector was bewildered. He had never known such a travesty of the game. It was not cricket. It was slogging; it was wild, unscientific bashing; and furthermore, his reputation was in grave danger. The instalments would be harder than ever to collect, and Heaven knew they were hard enough to collect as it was, what with bad times and all. His three famous deliveries had been treated with contempt—the leg-break, the fast yorker, and the slow, swinging off-break out of the laurel bushes. What on earth was he to try now? Another six and he would be laughed out of the parish. Fortunately the village umpire came out of a trance of consternation to the rescue. Thirty-eight years of umpiring for the Fordenden Cricket Club had taught him a thing or two and he called “Over” firmly and marched off to square-leg. The rate-collector was glad to give way to a Free Forester, who had been specially imported for this match. He was only a moderate bowler, but it was felt that it was worth while giving him a trial, if only for the sake of the scarf round his waist and his cap. At the other end the fast bowler pounded away grimly until an unfortunate accident occurred. Mr. Southcott had been treating with apologetic contempt those of his deliveries which came within reach, and the blacksmith’s temper had been rising for some time. An urchin had shouted, “Take him orf!” and the other urchins, for whom Mr. Southcott was by now a firmly established deity, had screamed with delight. The captain had held one or two ominous consultations with the wicket-keeper and other advisers, and the blacksmith knew that his dismissal was at hand unless he produced a supreme effort.
It was the last ball of the over. He halted at the wicket before going back for his run, glared at Mr. Harcourt, who had been driven out to umpire by his colleagues—greatly to the regret of Mr. Bason, the landlord of the Shoes—glared at Mr. Southcott, took another reef in his belt, shook out another inch in his braces, spat on his hand, swung his arm three or four times in a meditative sort of way, grasped the ball tightly in his colossal palm, and then turned smartly about and marched off like a Pomeranian grenadier and vanished over the brow of the hill. Mr. Southcott, during these proceedings, leant elegantly upon his bat and admired the view. At last, after a long stillness, the ground shook, the grasses waved violently, small birds arose with shrill clamours, a loud puffing sound alarmed the butterflies, and the blacksmith, looking more like Venus Anadyomene than ever, came thundering over the crest. The world held its breath. Among the spectators conversation was suddenly hushed. Even the urchins, understanding somehow that they were assisting at a crisis in affairs, were silent for a moment as the mighty figure swept up to the crease. It was the charge of Von Bredow’s Dragoons at Gravelotte over again.
But alas for human ambitions! Mr. Harcourt, swaying slightly from leg to leg, had understood the menacing glare of the bowler, had marked the preparation for a titanic effort, and—for he was not a poet for nothing—knew exactly what was going on. And Mr. Harcourt sober had a very pleasant sense of humour, but Mr. Harcourt rather drunk was a perfect demon of impishness. Sober, he occasionally resisted a temptation to try to be funny. Rather drunk, never. As the giant whirlwind of vulcanic energy rushed past him to the crease, Mr. Harcourt, quivering with excitement and internal laughter, and wobbling uncertainly upon his pins, took a deep breath and bellowed, “No ball!”
It was too late for the unfortunate bowler to stop himself. The ball flew out of his hand like a bullet and hit third-slip, who was not looking, full pitch on the knee-cap. With a yell of agony third-slip began hopping about like a stork until he tripped over a tussock of grass and fell on his face in a bed of nettles, from which he sprang up again with another drum-splitting yell. The blacksmith himself was flung forward by his own irresistible momentum, startled out of his wits by Mr. Harcourt’s bellow in his ear, and thrown off his balance by his desperate effort to prevent himself from delivering the ball, and the result was that his gigantic feet got mixed up among each other and he fell heavily in the centre of the wicket, knocking up a cloud of dust and dandelion-seed and twisting his ankle. Rooks by hundreds arose in protest from the vicarage cedars. The urchins howled like intoxicated banshees. The gaffers gaped. Mr. Southcott gazed modestly at the ground. Mr. Harcourt gazed at the heavens. Mr. Harcourt did not think the world had ever been, or could ever be again, quite such a capital place, even though he had laughed internally so much that he had got hiccups.
Mr. Hodge, emerging at that moment from the Three Horseshoes, surveyed the scene and then the scoreboard with an imperial air. Then he roared in the same rustic voice as before:
“You needn’t play safe any more, Bob. Play your own game.”
“Thank you, Bill,” replied Mr. Southcott as sedately as ever, and, on the resumption of the game, he fell into a kind of cricketing trance, defending his wicket skilfully from straight balls, ignoring crooked ones, and scoring one more run in a quarter of an hour before he inadvertently allowed, for the first time during his innings, a ball to strike his person.
“Out!” shrieked the venerable umpire before anyone had time to appeal.The score at this point was sixty-nine for six, last man fifty-two.
The only other incident in the innings was provided by an American journalist, by name Shakespeare Pollock—an intensely active, alert, on-the-spot young man. Mr. Pollock had been roped in at the last moment to make up the eleven, and Mr. Hodge and Mr. Harcourt had spent quite a lot of time on the way down trying to teach him the fundamental principles of the game. Donald had listened attentively and had been surprised that they made no reference to the Team Spirit. He decided in the end that the reason must have been simply that everyone knows all about it already, and that it is therefore taken for granted.
Mr. Pollock stepped up to the wicket in the lively manner of his native mustang, refused to take guard, on the ground that he wouldn’t know what to do with it when he had got it, and, striking the first ball he received towards square leg, threw down his bat, and himself set off at a great rate in the direction of cover-point. There was a paralysed silence. The rustics on the bench rubbed their eyes. On the field no one moved. Mr. Pollock stopped suddenly, looked round, and broke into a genial laugh.
“Darn me——” he began, and then he pulled himself up and went on in refined English, “Well, well! I thought I was playing baseball.” He smiled disarmingly round.
“Baseball is a kind of rounders, isn’t it, sir?” said cover-point sympathetically.
Donald thought he had never seen an expression change so suddenly as Mr. Pollock’s did at this harmless, and true, statement. A look of concentrated, ferocious venom obliterated the disarming smile. Cover-point, simple soul, noticed nothing, however, and Mr. Pollock walked back to the wicket in silence and was out next ball.
The next two batsmen, Major Hawker, the team’s fast bowler, and Mr. Hodge himself, did not score, and the innings closed at sixty-nine, Donald not-out nought. Opinion on the gaffers’ bench, which corresponded in years and connoisseurship very closely with the Pavilion at Lord’s, was sharply divided on the question whether sixty-nine was, or was not, a winning score.
After a suitable interval for refreshment, Mr. Hodge led his men, except Mr. Harcourt who was missing, out into the field and placed them at suitable positions in the hay.
The batsmen came in. The redoubtable Major Hawker, the fast bowler, thrust out his chin and prepared to bowl. In a quarter of an hour he had terrified seven batsmen, clean bowled six of them, and broken a stump. Eleven runs, six wickets, last man two.
After the fall of the sixth wicket there was a slight delay. The new batsman, the local rate-collector, had arrived at the crease and was ready. But nothing happened. Suddenly the large publisher, who was acting as wicket-keeper, called out, “Hi! Where’s Hawker?”
The words galvanized Mr. Hodge into portentous activity.
“Quick!” he shouted. “Hurry, run, for God’s sake! Bob, George, Percy, to the Shoes!” and he set off at a sort of gallop towards the inn, followed at intervals by the rest of the side except the pretty youth in the blue jumper, who lay down; the wicket-keeper, who did not move; and Mr. Shakespeare Pollock, who had shot off the mark and was well ahead of the field.
But they were all too late, even Mr. Pollock. The gallant Major, admitted by Mr. Bason through the back door, had already lowered a quart and a half of mild-and-bitter, and his subsequent bowling was perfectly innocuous, consisting, as it did, mainly of slow, gentle full-pitches to leg which the village baker and even, occasionally, the rate-collector hit hard and high into the long grass. The score mounted steadily.
Disaster followed disaster. Mr. Pollock, presented with an easy chance of a run-out, instead of lobbing the ball back to the wicket-keeper, had another reversion to his college days and flung it with appalling velocity at the unfortunate rate-collector and hit him in the small of the back, shouting triumphantly as he did so, “Rah, rah, rah!” Mr. Livingstone, good club player, missed two easy catches off successive balls. Mr. Hodge allowed another easy catch to fall at his feet without attempting to catch it, and explained afterwards that he had been all the time admiring a particularly fine specimen of oak in the squire’s garden. He seemed to think that this was a complete justification of his failure to attempt, let alone bring off, the catch. A black spot happened to cross the eye of the ancient umpire just as the baker put all his feet and legs and pads in front of a perfectly straight ball, and, as he plaintively remarked over and over again, he had to give the batsman the benefit of the doubt, hadn’t he? It wasn’t as if it was his fault that a black spot had crossed his eye just at that moment. And the stout publisher seemed to be suffering from the delusion that the way to make a catch at the wicket was to raise both hands high in the air, utter a piercing yell, and trust to an immense pair of pads to secure the ball. Repeated experiments proved that he was wrong.
The baker lashed away vigorously and the rate-collector dabbed the ball hither and thither until the score—having once been eleven runs for six wickets—was marked up on the board at fifty runs for six wickets. Things were desperate. Twenty to win and five wickets—assuming that the blacksmith’s ankle and third-slip’s knee-cap would stand the strain—to fall. If the lines on Mr. Hodge’s face were deep, the lines on the faces of his team when he put himself on to bowl were like plasticine models of the Colorado Canyon. Mr. Southcott, without any orders from his captain, discarded his silk sweater from the Rue de la Paix, and went away into the deep field, about a hundred and twenty yards from the wicket. His beautifully brushed head was hardly visible above the daisies. The professor of ballistics sighed deeply. Major Hawker grinned a colossal grin, right across his jolly red face, and edged off in the direction of the Shoes. Livingstone, loyal to his captain, crouched alertly. Mr. Shakespeare Pollock rushed about enthusiastically. The remainder of the team drooped.
But the remainder of the team was wrong. For a wicket, a crucial wicket, was secured off Mr. Hodge’s very first ball. It happened like this. Mr. Hodge was a poet, and therefore a theorist, and an idealist. If he was to win a victory at anything, he preferred to win by brains and not by muscle. He would far sooner have his best leg-spinner miss the wicket by an eighth of an inch than dismiss a batsman with a fast, clumsy full-toss. Every ball that he bowled had brain behind it, if not exactness of pitch. And it so happened that he had recently watched a county cricket match between Lancashire, a county that he detested in theory, and Worcestershire, a county that he adored in fact. On the one side were factories and the late Mr. Jimmy White; on the other, English apples and Mr. Stanley Baldwin. And at this particular match, a Worcestershire bowler, by name Root, a deliciously agricultural name, had outed the tough nuts of the County Palatine by placing all his fieldsmen on the leg-side and bowling what are technically known as “in-swingers.”
Mr. Hodge, at heart an agrarian, for all his book-learning and his cadences, was determined to do the same. The first part of the performance was easy. He placed all his men upon the leg-side. The second part—the bowling of the “in-swingers”—was more complicated, and Mr. Hodge’s first ball was a slow long-hop on the off-side. The rate-collector, metaphorically rubbing his eyes, felt that this was too good to be true, and he struck the ball sharply into the untenanted off-side and ambled down the wicket with as near an approach to gaiety as a man can achieve who is cut off by the very nature of his profession from the companionship and goodwill of his fellows. He had hardly gone a yard or two when he was paralysed by a hideous yell from the long grass into which the ball had vanished, and still more by the sight of Mr. Harcourt, who, aroused from a deep slumber amid a comfortable couch of grasses and daisies, sprang to his feet and, pulling himself together with miraculous rapidity after a lightning if somewhat bleary glance round the field, seized the ball and unerringly threw down the wicket. Fifty for seven, last man twenty-two. Twenty to win: four wickets to fall.
Mr. Hodge’s next ball was his top-spinner, and it would have, or might have, come very quickly off the ground had it ever hit the ground; as it was, one of the short-legs caught it dexterously and threw it back while the umpire signalled a wide. Mr. Hodge then tried some more of Mr. Root’s stuff and was promptly hit for two sixes and a single. This brought the redoubtable baker to the batting end. Six runs to win and four wickets to fall.
Mr. Hodge’s fifth ball was not a good one, due mainly to the fact that it slipped out of his hand before he was ready, and it went up and came down in a slow, lazy parabola, about seven feet wide of the wicket on the leg-side. The baker had plenty of time to make up his mind. He could either leave it alone and let it count one run as a wide; or he could spring upon it like a panther and, with a terrific six, finish the match sensationally. He could play the part either of a Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator, or of a sort of Tarzan. The baker concealed beneath a modest and floury exterior a mounting ambition. Here was his chance to show the village. He chose the sort of Tarzan, sprang like a panther, whirled his bat cyclonically, and missed the ball by about a foot and a half. The wicket-keeping publisher had also had time in which to think and to move, and he also had covered the seven feet. True, his movements were less like the spring of a panther than the sideways waddle of an aldermanic penguin. But nevertheless he got there, and when the ball had passed the flashing blade of the baker, he launched a mighty kick at it—stooping to grab it was out of the question—and by an amazing fluke kicked it on to the wicket. Even the ancient umpire had to give the baker out, for the baker was still lying flat on his face outside the crease.
“I was bowling for that,” observed Mr. Hodge modestly, strolling up the pitch.
“I had plenty of time to use my hands,” remarked the wicket-keeper to the world at large, “but I preferred to kick it.” Donnald was impressed by the extraordinary subtlety of the game.Six to win and three wickets to fall.
The next batsman was a schoolboy of about sixteen, an ingenuous youth with pink cheeks and a nervous smile, who quickly fell a victim to Mr. Harcourt, now wideawake and beaming upon everyone. For Mr. Harcourt, poet that he was, understood exactly what the poor, pink child was feeling, and he knew that if he played the ancient dodge and pretended to lose the ball in the long grass, it was a hundred to one that the lad would lose his head. The batsman at the other end played the fourth ball of Mr. Livingstone’s next over hard in the direction of Mr. Harcourt. Mr. Harcourt rushed towards the spot where it had vanished in the jungle. He groped wildly for it, shouting as he did so, “Come and help. It’s lost.” The pink child scuttered nimbly down the pitch. Six runs to win and two wickets to fall. Mr. Harcourt smiled demoniacally.
The crisis was now desperate. The fieldsmen drew nearer and nearer to the batsmen, excepting the youth in the blue jumper. Livingstone balanced himself on his toes. Mr. Shakespeare Pollock hopped about almost on top of the batsmen, and breathed excitedly and audibly. Even the imperturbable Mr. Southcott discarded the piece of grass which he had been chewing so steadily. Mr. Hodge took himself off and put on the Major, who had by now somewhat lived down the quart and a half.
The batsmen crouched down upon their bats and defended stubbornly. A snick through the slips brought a single. A ball which eluded the publisher’s gigantic pads brought a bye. A desperate sweep at a straight half-volley sent the ball off the edge of the bat over third-man’s head and in normal circumstances would have certainly scored one, and possibly two. But Mr. Harcourt was on guard at third-man, and the batsmen, by nature cautious men, one being old and the sexton, the other the postman and therefore a Government official, were taking no risks. Then came another single off a mis-hit, and then an interminable period in which no wicket fell and no run was scored. It was broken at last disastrously, for the postman struck the ball sharply at Mr. Pollock, and Mr. Pollock picked it up and, in an ecstasy of zeal, flung it madly at the wicket. Two overthrows resulted.The scores were level and there were two wickets to fall. Silence fell. The gaffers, victims simultaneously of excitement and senility, could hardly raise their pint pots—for it was past 6 o’clock, and the front door of the Three Horseshoes was now as wide open officially as the back door had been unofficially all afternoon.
The Major, his red face redder than ever and his chin sticking out almost as far as the Napoleonic Mr. Ogilvy’s, bowled a fast half-volley on the leg-stump. The sexton, a man of iron muscle from much digging, hit it fair and square in the middle of the bat, and it flashed like a thunderbolt, waist-high, straight at the youth in the blue jumper. With a shrill scream the youth sprang backwards out of its way and fell over on his back. Immediately behind him, so close were the fieldsmen clustered, stood the mighty Boone. There was no chance of escape for him. Even if he had possessed the figure and the agility to perform back-somersaults, he would have lacked the time. He had been unsighted by the youth in the jumper. The thunderbolt struck him in the midriff like a red-hot cannon-ball upon a Spanish galleon, and with the sound of a drumstick upon an insufficiently stretched drum. With a fearful oath, Boone clapped his hands to his outraged stomach and found that the ball was in the way. He looked at it for a moment in astonishment and then threw it down angrily and started to massage the injured spot while the field rang with applause at the brilliance of the catch.
Donald walked up and shyly added his congratulations. Boone scowled at him.
“I didn’t want to catch the bloody thing,” he said sourly, massaging away like mad.
“But it may save the side,” ventured Donald.
“Blast the bloody side,” said Boone.
Donald went back to his place.
The scores were level and there was one wicket to fall. The last man in was the blacksmith, leaning heavily upon the shoulder of the baker, who was going to run for him, and limping as if in great pain. He took guard and looked round savagely. He was clearly still in a great rage.
The first ball he received he lashed at wildly and hit straight up in the air to an enormous height. It went up and up and up, until it became difficult to focus it properly against the deep, cloudless blue of the sky, and it carried with it the hopes and fears of an English village. Up and up it went and then at the top it seemed to hang motionless in the air, poised like a hawk, fighting, as it were, a heroic but forlorn battle against the chief invention of Sir Isaac Newton, and then it began its slow descent.
In the meanwhile things were happening below, on the terrestrial sphere. Indeed, the situation was rapidly becoming what the French call mouvementé. In the first place, the blacksmith forgot his sprained ankle and set out at a capital rate for the other end, roaring in a great voice as he went, “Come on, Joe!” The baker, who was running on behalf of the invalid, also set out, and he also roared “Come on, Joe!” and side by side, like a pair of high-stepping hackneys, the pair cantered along. From the other end Joe set out on his mission, and he roared “Come on, Bill!” So all three came on. And everything would have been all right, so far as the running was concerned, had it not been for the fact that Joe, very naturally, ran with his head thrown back and his eyes goggling at the hawk-like cricket-ball. And this in itself would not have mattered if it had not been for the fact that the blacksmith and the baker, also very naturally, ran with their heads turned not only upwards but also backwards as well, so that they too gazed at the ball, with an alarming sort of squint and a truly terrific kink in their necks. Half-way down the pitch the three met with a magnificent clang, reminiscent of early, happy days in the tournament-ring at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, and the hopes of the village fell with the resounding fall of their three champions.
But what of the fielding side? Things were not so well with them. If there was doubt and confusion among the warriors of Fordenden, there was also uncertainty and disorganization among the ranks of the invaders. Their main trouble was the excessive concentration of their forces in the neighbourhood of the wicket. Napoleon laid it down that it was impossible to have too many men upon a battlefield, and he used to do everything in his power to call up every available man for a battle. Mr. Hodge, after a swift glance at the ascending ball and a swift glance at the disposition of his troops, disagreed profoundly with the Emperor’s dictum. He had too many men, far too many. And all except the youth in the blue silk jumper, and the mighty Boone, were moving towards strategical positions underneath the ball, and not one of them appeared to be aware that any of the others existed. Boone had not moved because he was more or less in the right place, but then Boone was not likely to bring off the catch, especially after the episode of the last ball. Major Hawker, shouting “Mine, mine!” in a magnificently self-confident voice, was coming up from the bowler’s end like a battle-cruiser. Mr. Harcourt had obviously lost sight of the ball altogether, if indeed he had ever seen it, for he was running round and round Boone and giggling foolishly. Livingstone and Southcott, the two cracks, were approaching competently. Either of them would catch it easily. Mr. Hodge had only to choose between them and, coming to a swift decision, he yelled above the din; “Yours, Livingstone!” Southcott, disciplined cricketer, stopped dead. Then Mr. Hodge made a fatal mistake. He remembered Livingstone’s two missed sitters, and he reversed his decision and roared “Yours, Bobby!” Mr. Southcott obediently started again, while Livingstone, who had not heard the second order, went straight on. Captain Hodge had restored the status quo.
In the meantime the professor of ballistics had made a lightning calculation of angles, velocities, density of the air, barometer-readings and temperatures, and had arrived at the conclusion that the critical point, the spot which ought to be marked in the photographs with an X, was one yard to the north-east of Boone, and he proceeded to take up station there, colliding on the way with Donald and knocking him over. A moment later Bobby Southcott came racing up and tripped over the recumbent Donald and was shot head first into the Abraham-like bosom of Boone. Boone stepped back a yard under the impact and came down with his spiked boot, surmounted by a good eighteen stone of flesh and blood, upon the professor’s toe. Almost simultaneously the portly wicket-keeper, whose movements were a positive triumph of the spirit over the body, bumped the professor from behind. The learned man was thus neatly sandwiched between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the sandwich was instantly converted into a ragout by Livingstone, who made up for his lack of extra weight—for he was always in perfect training—by his extra momentum. And all the time Mr. Shakespeare Pollock hovered alertly upon the outskirts like a Rugby scrum-half, screaming American University cries in a piercingly high tenor voice.
At last the ball came down. To Mr. Hodge it seemed a long time before the invention of Sir Isaac Newton finally triumphed. And it was a striking testimony to the mathematical and ballistical skill of the professor that the ball landed with a sharp report upon the top of his head. Thence it leapt up into the air a foot or so, cannoned on to Boone’s head, and then trickled slowly down the colossal expanse of the wicket-keeper’s back, bouncing slightly as it reached the massive lower portions. It was only a foot from the ground when Mr. Shakespeare Pollock sprang into the vortex with a last ear-splitting howl of victory and grabbed it off the seat of the wicket-keeper’s trousers. The match was a tie. And hardly anyone on the field knew it except Mr. Hodge, the youth in the blue jumper, and Mr. Pollock himself. For the two batsmen and the runner, undaunted to the last, had picked themselves up and were bent on completing the single that was to give Fordenden the crown of victory. Unfortunately, dazed with their falls, with excitement, and with the noise, they all three ran for the same wicket, simultaneously realized their error, and all three turned and ran for the other—the blacksmith, ankle and all, in the centre and leading by a yard, so that they looked like pictures of the Russian troika. But their effort was in vain, for Mr. Pollock had grabbed the ball and the match was a tie.
And both teams spent the evening at the Three Horseshoes, and Mr. Harcourt made a speech in Italian about the glories of England and afterwards fell asleep in a corner, and Donald got home to Royal Avenue at 1 o’clock in the morning, feeling that he had not learnt very much about the English from his experience of their national game.