CRICKET.

For many years, I had wanted to read C.L.R. James’s famous Beyond a Boundary, to quote the blurbs on the back “the most important sports book of our time” (Warren Susman) and “a dazzling guide to all our contemporary games” (Robert Lipsyte). Finally, a week or so ago, looking for a break from Tolstoy, I noticed it on the shelf, said to myself “Why not?” and pulled it down.
I should preface my remarks, which are not in line with the quoted blurbs, by saying that I came to the book (like your average Yank) knowing nothing about cricket other than its fabled exemplification of British upper-class ideals. I had thought this might not be a great obstacle—I had, after all, read a number of books about soccer with enjoyment despite my lack of expertise—but it turns out that an intimate acquaintance with the history, terminology, and experience of the game is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of large chunks of the book. I skimmed pages and pages full of stuff like this: “I was an off-side batsman, drive, cut and back-stroke through the covers. Of course, I could also hook.” “This is what happened to George in Australia: 23, 82, 131, 34. Then he failed steadily: 27 run out and 16; 0 and 11 (Test, to Grimmett both times); 3; 14 and 2 (Test); 19 and 17.” “Constantine in the first innings went in at No. 8 and made 24 not out. The score was 132 for eight in the second innings when Burton joined him.” I perused Wikipedia’s excellent entry on the game, with its very useful illustration of the fielding positions (cover, point, gully, and so on) and related terms (deep, fine, forward, backward), but it didn’t really help. You have to know what all of it means, in the way I know what is meant by “a hard bouncer to third” or “an easy double play.” Don’t get me wrong: I have no desire to make fun of what I don’t understand (I got over the apparent silliness of terms like, well, “silly mid-off” a long time ago), and my respect for the game was if anything increased by realizing how much there was to understand. But there was no help for it: understanding it would take far more effort than I was willing to put into it, so a great deal of the book was lost on me.
Furthermore, it is not a book of the sort I expected: a carefully designed fabric in which the strands of sport, autobiography, and politics were woven together to create a brilliant pattern. It’s more like a collection of essays loosely united by those themes. It starts with pure autobiography (focused, to be sure, on the cricket games played just outside the window of the house in which he grew up), moves to his attempts to establish himself in England, passes on to the history of cricket as a game, and winds up with an impassioned brief for West Indian cricket and the nationalism of which it is an inextricable part; some of the chapters could be excised without the book as a whole suffering in the least. This meant that I could skim long sections with an easy conscience, since I knew it would not much affect my appreciation of the whole, but it made me wonder why the book is so revered… except that, of course, I know that someone who knew nothing of baseball would think the same of Roger Angell’s The Summer Game or John Thorn’s Armchair Book of Baseball or Arnold Hano’s A Day in the Bleachers.
My advice to someone who shares my ignorance of cricket but wants to get the best out of the book would be to read the first chapter, “The Window,” James’s evocation of his childhood; Chapter 18, “The Proof of the Pudding,” an exciting account of the scandalous behavior of the West Indian cricket crowd in 1960 and its consequences; and in between, Chapter 8, “Prince and Pauper,” which focuses on the West Indian cricket hero Learie Constantine and James’s relations with him following his journey to England in 1932. Here is the crucial paragraph that sums up the book in its last sentence:

I accepted [Constantine's] offer, and we agreed to meet in England the following spring. The plans were as rapid in the making as in the telling. At the time he had, I think, dined in my house once. I doubt if his wife and mine had yet met. We didn’t know it but we were making history. This transcendence of our relations as cricketers was to initiate the West Indian renaissance not only in cricket, but in politics, in history and in writing.

The story he tells about the West Indian renaissance is a good one; you just have to extract it from the sticky wicket on which it resides.
A couple of items of linguistic interest: the etymology of the word cricket is, in the OED’s word, uncertain; and James repeatedly uses a phrase between wind and water in a way I am unclear about, e.g. “That particular [Victorian] age he [W.G. Grace, the Babe Ruth of cricket] hit between wind and water.” The OED says “along the line where anything is submerged in water or in damp soil, esp. on the load-line of a ship, which, as the vessel tosses, is alternately above and below the water’s surface,” but that doesn’t help much.
I’m still not ready to go back to Tolstoy, but that’s OK—my wonderful sister-in-law just gave me a copy of a book I’ve long wanted, Entertaining Tsarist Russia: Tales, Songs, Plays, Movies, Jokes, Ads, and Images from Russian Urban Life 1779-1917, edited by James Von Geldern and Louise McReynolds. I’m about to dive in!

Comments

  1. “[W.G. Grace, the Babe Ruth of cricket] ”
    Was The Bambino as much of a flagrant cheat as W.G.? Grace’s contempt for the Laws of cricket whenever they were against him is the stuff of legend in cricket-playing nations.

  2. I once spent an entire drunken evening interrogating an Englishman about cricket, and didn’t understand anything more about it at the end of the evening than at the beginning. (Though I did learn a lot about English drinking customs.) I concluded that it was one of those things, like Chinese, that I just wasn’t going to learn in this lifetime.

  3. “I concluded that it was one of those things, like Chinese, that I just wasn’t going to learn in this lifetime.”
    One of the things I like most about the movie Lagaan, apart from its weaving of cricket into a story of a drive for independence à la C.L.R. James’ book, is the way it presents the introduction of cricket to Indians. Since it has been the subcontinent’s one shared true faith for over a century now, it’s fun to watch Indians act as if they knew nothing at all about the game, rather than having imbibed it from within the womb.

  4. John Emerson says:

    Samuel Beckett would have been a perfectly good cricketer if hadn’t decided to write all those stupid books.

  5. John Emerson says:

    Samuel Beckett would have been a perfectly good cricketer if hadn’t decided to write all those stupid books.

  6. Dan Milton says:

    I believe that “between wind and water” is where a cannonball hit could actually sink a ship.

  7. The 1913 Webster saith, s.v. “between wind and water”:

    In that part of a ship’s side or bottom which is frequently brought above water by the rolling of the ship, or fluctuation of the water’s surface. Hence, colloquially, (as an injury to that part of a vessel, in an engagement, is particularly dangerous) the vulnerable part or point of anything.

    That seems to agree with the OED but is more explanatory.
    I remember years ago trying to make sense of cricket from the 14th E.B.’s article, which was nothing but a concatenation of jargon from one end to the other. Its article on “American Rugby”, on the other hand, was superb.

  8. I would suggest Chapter XVIII of Murder Must Advertise (“Unexpected Conclusion of a Cricket Match”)(one of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, if you have to be told) as a good literary intro to the game. Of course, it doesn’t give any details, but as a narrative of the cut and thrust of the game, it can give a clear idea even to an American of what actually goes on during a game. culminating in 83 runs at the bat of Lord Peter.

  9. mollymooly says:

    More good writers write about boxing than any other sport, since the rules are easy to understand. Although, by that logic, there should be more books about weightlifting.

  10. “More good writers write about boxing than any other sport”
    Assuming (a) a universal definition of “good writers” and (b) that boxing is a sport, not merely legally sanctioned thuggery.

  11. I reckon I could give someone a basic understanding of cricket fairly quickly if we were sitting in front a game on TV, but trying to explain it without any kind of visual aid is much tougher.
    Another excellent cricket book, btw, is A Social History of English Cricket by Derek Birley, which lays out, among other things, the full glorious hypocrisy of the ways the English class system has interacted with cricket. Inevitably, though, it might be a bit frustrating for a reader who didn’t understand cricket.

  12. Agreed with Harry. Simply describing the game doesn’t make much sense, but if you watch it being played on TV it’s not hard to pick up the basics, even without someone apart from the commentators to explain to you (this is how I first got into the game, when I was in my early teens; before that I knew nothing about it). It’s much easier to see what a run is, or a caught behind, than to describe these things. And you don’t need to know the names of all the fielding positions, or all the ways of getting out, or of scoring (most of the time, what actually occurs is a very small and repetitive subset of what could occur).
    At this moment in time, incidentally, Australia are 243/8 against India in their first innings and still need 26 runs to avoid the follow-on. But all you really need to know is that this is a scenario that gives English cricket fans much malicious pleasure.

  13. “incidentally, Australia are 243/8 against India in their first innings and still need 26 runs to avoid the follow-on. But all you really need to know is that this is a scenario that gives English cricket fans much malicious pleasure.”
    Not just English cricket fans. As a Kiwi born to an India-born and Pakistan-raised father, I happily drape myself in any of those flags depending on who’s playing against Australia at the time. The motto here is “support two teams: NZ, and whoever’s playing Australia”

  14. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I reckon I could give someone a basic understanding of cricket fairly quickly if we were sitting in front a game on TV
    You see? This is typical of sports fans everywhere. What about explaining it on an open piece of ground on a bright sunny spring day instead of sitting in front of the telly in a darkened room, probably eating soft-centred chocolates?

  15. What about explaining it on an open piece of ground on a bright sunny spring day instead
    Any time. I MUCH prefer watching cricket laying back on the grass under a shady tree than on the couch. The terribly clichéd “sound of leather on willow” just can’t be beat, so if you’re ever in Aotearoa in our summer, and are prepared to have your stereotypes about sports fan challenged, just say the word. I wonder if anbybody’s done a comparison count for cricket v baseball of the phrases or idioms each has supplied to the language.

  16. You can see what’s going on much more clearly on TV because you get close-ups and slow-motion replays: hence more helpful when trying to explain it to someone who doesn’t know anything about the game.

  17. Yes, I realize it would help to actually see the game played, but that’s not easy in the States. I think poor CLR spent fifteen years without seeing a single game after he moved here in 1938.

  18. Admiration for W.G. now comes in the category of admiring Victoriana, I suggest. Most cricket followers now would rate Don Bradman – the Don – Sir Donald – as the greatest ever batsman, with his career average of 99.94 runs. This, to explain to those like Hat who don’t follow or understand the game (like me with American football), relates to the aim of any batsman – to score a century, 100 runs.
    That’s a difficult task, which just show the Don’s genius. There are arguments that he may have been the greatest sportsman of modern times, in any sport.
    See the following excerpt from the Wiki on him:
    The statistics show that “no other athlete dominates an international sport to the extent that Bradman does cricket”.[2] In order to post a similarly dominant career statistic as Bradman, a baseball batter would need a career batting average of .392, while a basketball player would need to score an average of 43.0 points per game.[222] The respective records are .366 and 30.1.[222]
    When Bradman died, Time magazine allocated a space in its “Milestones” column for an obituary:[223]
    … Australian icon considered by many to be the pre-eminent sportsman of all time … One of Australia’s most beloved heroes, he was revered abroad as well. When Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, his first question to an Australian visitor was, “Is Sir Donald Bradman still alive?”
    That is not to take away from other great cricketers – all-rounders, who both bat and bowl strongly, and bowlers – (whom I could list but won’t bore you) but the Don in considered to top them all.
    Oh, and BTW Stuart, the Don was Australian :-)

  19. Paul: James agrees that Bradman was the greatest batsman, but his point is exactly that Grace was an all-rounder, superb in all areas of the sport. He quotes Sir Pelham Warner on his bowling:
    “Of all the feats I witnessed by W.G., the one that most surprised me was a bowling one. It was in 1902—he was then nearly fifty-four—against the Australians when Trumper was at his very best. The Old Man took the ball and I thought we were in for it. Instead the Australians were—five for 29; marvellously baffling, too, not a pinch of luck to help an analysis of which Tom Richardson would have been proud.”
    That’s one of the reasons I compare him to Ruth; there’s similar dispute over whether Ruth or Williams or Bonds was the greatest hitter, but no one has ever or will ever touch Ruth’s combination of great hitting and great pitching; I believe at least one of the pitching records he set almost a century ago is still unbroken.
    By the way, another of James’s points is that Grace, although a Victorian idol, was not a Victorian himself but “in every respect that mattered a typical representative of the pre-Victorian age.”

  20. Oh, and re Stuart’s complaint about cheating, James says:
    “It would be idle to discount the reputation he gained for trying to diddle umpires, and even on occasions disputing with them. He is credited with inducing a batsman to look up at the sun to see a fictitious flight of birds and then calling on the bowler to send down a fast one while the victim’s eyes were still hazy. Yet I think there is evidence to show that his face would have become grave and he would have pulled at his beard if a wicket turned out to be prepared in a way that was unfair to his opponents. Everyone knows such men, whom you can trust with your life, your fortune and your sacred honour, but will peep at your cards when playing bridge at a penny a hundred. His humours, his combativeness, his unashamed wish to have it his own way on the field of play, his manœuvres to encompass this, his delight when he did, his complaints when he didn’t, are the rubs and knots of an oak that was sound through and through.”
    James cared intensely about what was and was not “cricket” and would not have made excuses for what he considered real cheating, so I’m willing to accept his take on it and look at Grace’s foibles as I do the worse ones of, say, Ty Cobb, who tried to slash opposing infielders with his spikes: the unfortunate but all-too-human flaws of great sportsmen.

  21. LH: I take the point on all-rounders. But not that on the all-too-human flaws of great sportsmen. In the sport I know most about, Formula 1 autoracing, Michael Schumacher broke all the records. The disappointing thing is that he cheated repeatedly – very technical stuff but anyone inside the sport knows the details.
    And most notoriously, when it was down to a straight fight for the title, he twice tried to drive his opponent off the track, once successfully and once not. It left a nasty taste in the mouth. Senna famously did it too, to teammate Prost, but there were circumstances behind that too complicated to explain now. But Senna wouldn’t cheat technically – that would mean he couldn’t win with his natural talent.

  22. John Emerson says:

    Excuse me, I’m looking for a blog called “Language Hat”, which specializes in questions of language and literature. I seem to have been misdirected, though I think that it’s somewhere in this neighborhoods. Might one of you yobs have any idea where it is?

  23. John Emerson says:

    Excuse me, I’m looking for a blog called “Language Hat”, which specializes in questions of language and literature. I seem to have been misdirected, though I think that it’s somewhere in this neighborhoods. Might one of you yobs have any idea where it is?

  24. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “Whatever are you at?”
    I can’t find it anywhere now. When I was a child this phrase, attributed to W.G. Grace when apparently a bowler bowled a ball through his beard, was a saying in my family.
    I’ve played both cricket and softball and they’re both great games, though with cricket I was really scared of getting hit in the head by a ball when I was a teenager at school; I see they wear helmets nowadays. Having grown up in England and watching fat old gents playing on the village green it’s very nice to see kids playing the same game only a million times better, all over the world (in that film beginning with ‘S’ with George Clooney — Syriana? — and pickup games I’ve seen in Jamaica and Trinidad).
    I read Beyond A Boundary thirty years ago and I remember I was also slightly disappointed by it. It’s given way too big a build-up on the cover or in the preface, or wherever it was.
    In addition to the fielding position names, the peculiar phrases come from the basic strategy of the game. As well as your side getting as many runs as possible, there are two innings for both teams and if both sides don’t get time to put all their men out there at the plate, so to speak (the wicket), in the allotted time for the match (one day for some local matches, or three days for an international ‘test match’) then the game results in a dreaded draw.
    Supposing your team is the first to bat and they’re doing really well: no outs, lots of runs. After a while, at your captain’s discretion, he will ‘declare’ the innings (inning has an s in cricket) and let the other team bat. This is to avoid a draw, but it’s risky because the other team might overtake your total in the remaining time. Everyone asleep yet? So when it says Constantine in the first innings went in at No. 8, etc, what is meant is: Constantine in the first innings went in (to bat) at No. 8 (of eleven on the team, the best batsmen go 1 and 2; 8 means he was a shitty batter, so therefore a good bowler or fielder) and made 24 runs, not out (probably because the captain had declared and let the other team bat). The score was 132 (runs) for eight (“wickets”, or batsmen out), in the second innings when Burton joined him (two batsmen, batters in gender-friendly US English, always being up at the same time). God this is laborious, is this what it’s like being a translator?
    I don’t know what Europeans or Chinese do without either cricket or softball; beach volleyball, I guess. Chess, archery?

  25. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “Language Hat”, which specializes in questions of language and literature and cricket.

  26. Thanks for the explanation, AJP, and I’m glad to know a cricket fan was similarly disappointed with the book (not that it’s at all a bad book, just, as you say, overhyped).
    Excuse me, I’m looking for a blog called “Language Hat”, which specializes in questions of language and literature.
    Excuse me, but are you familiar with the phrase “hat trick”? It means (and I quote the OED) “The feat of a bowler who takes three wickets by three successive balls: orig. considered to entitle him to be presented by his club with a new hat or some equivalent.” I rest my case.

  27. Re Language Hat’s comment towards the end of his post, ‘the etymology of the word cricket is, in the OED’s word, uncertain’.
    The third entry for ‘cricket’ in the OED (after the insect and the game) defines ‘cricket’ as a low wooden stool. The forerunner of cricket is the very old game of stoolball, still popular in SE England. I mentioned it in my blog post for 11 October, and someone from the Stoolball Association left a comment with a link to the Protoball project, an American baseball site, which also has masses of information about stoolball, mentions cricket, too, and, if that doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of references to milkmaids and bawdy wenches!
    My post is here:
    http://virtuallinguist.typepad.com/the_virtual_linguist/2008/10/theyre-not-rare-words-if-you-know-them.html
    and the Protoball project site is here:
    http://retrosheet.org/Protoball/Stoolball
    (see 1344 reference)

  28. who tried to slash opposing infielders with his spikes: the unfortunate but all-too-human flaws of great sportsmen
    Does anyone still remember Mary Decker “Queen Mary” of Olympic fame? She had a reputation for being a ruthless competitor and would even try to spike the legs of other athletes during training sessions. No, they don’t remember her. They remember Joan Benoit, who beside being a tremendous athlete was also an inspiring role model for gracious sporting behaviour. I remember watching mesmerized on television as she effortlessly won the Olympic marathon the first year women were allowed to compete and again later when I saw her in person on Chicago’s lakefront crossing the finish line to win the Chicago marathon. There is something poetic about seeing an athlete with common decency finish first.

  29. Didn’t know that ‘hat trick’ came from cricket– I’ve known it from ice hockey.

  30. that’s not easy in the States
    Really? There seem to be matches (is that the right word?) regularly on the MIT field.
    I worked with someone who went to Haverford and I think he still played around Boston somewhere, too.

  31. I’m surprised that in a forum of “literature and cricket” nobody’s yet mentioned NETHERLAND — a novel that, though definitely flawed, had some excellent descriptions of the game. (Or at least, so say I, a cricket virgin, even as a spectator.)
    “What all these recreational areas have in common are rank outfields that largely undermine the art of batting, which is directed at hitting the ball along the ground with that elegant variety of strokes a skillful batsman will have spent years trying to master and preserve: the glance, the hook, the cut, the sweep, the cover drive, the pull, and all those other offspring of technique conceived to send the cricket ball rolling and rolling, as if by magic, to the far-off edge of the playing field. Play such orthodox shots in New York and the ball will more than likely halt in the tangled, weedy ground cover: grass as I understand it, a fragrant plant wondrously suited for athletic pastimes, flourishes with difficulty; and if something green and grasslike does grow, it is never cut down as cricket requires. Consequently, in breach of the first rule of batting, the batsman is forced to smash the ball into the air—to go deep, as it’s said, borrowing the baseball term; and batting is turned into a gamble. As a result, fielding is distorted, too, since the fielders are quickly removed from their infield positions—point, extra cover, midwicket, and the others—to distant stations on the boundary, where they listlessly linger. It’s as if baseball were a game about home runs rather than base hits, and its basemen were relocated to spots deep in the outfield. This degenerate version of the sport—bush cricket, as Chuck more than once dismissed it—inflicts an injury that is aesthetic as much as anything: the American adaptation is devoid of the beauty of cricket played on a lawn of appropriate dimensions, where the white-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison toward the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.”
    For balance, though, I feel obliged to include this other paragraph of pretentious mythopoeia:
    “I’ve heard that social scientists like to explain such a scene – a patch of America sprinkled with the foreign-born strangely at play – in terms of the immigrant’s quest for subcommunities. How true this is: we’re all far away from Tipperary, and clubbing together mitigates this unfair fact. But surely everyone can also testify to another, less reckonable kind of homesickness, one having to do with unsettlements that cannot be located in spaces of geography or history; and accordingly it’s my belief that the communal, contractual phenomenon of New York cricket is underwritten, there where the print is finest, by the same agglomeration of unspeakable individual longings that underwrites cricket played anywhere – longings concerned with horizons and potentials sighted or hallucinated and in any event lost long ago, tantalisms that touch on the undoing of losses too private and reprehensible to be acknowledged to oneself, let alone to others. I cannot be the first to wonder if what we see, when we see men in white take to a cricket field, is men imagining an environment of justice.”
    Excellent review here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n14/kunk01_.html

  32. “Oh, and BTW Stuart, the Don was Australian :-)”
    Thanks, Paul, before you shared that with me, I had managed to stumble through nearly 40 years of watching and discussing cricket with absolutely no idea whatsoever where the best batsman ever and most famous name in the game came from.
    To tie this back to literature, vaguely, there was a short series of detective novels I read once featuring a cricket-hating protagonaist whose surname was Bradman and whose given name initials were D.O.N.

  33. “Language Hat”, which specializes in questions of language and literature and cricket.

    And hats. Everyone always forgets about the hats.

  34. Is there any chance that the Tim May posting to this cricket thread is this Tim May?

  35. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Or perhaps he’s related to Peter May?

  36. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Jamessal, thank you. I’ve been trying to remember the name of that book all day. I did read the LRB review, but not the book though I did think it sounded good. Perhaps I will get it. I think I remember they play in Staten Island although all the cricket I’ve seen is in Brooklyn. Even if I don’t like it, it will be nice NY and cricket nostalgia.

  37. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Harry and Sharon, I didn’t mean to be rude about you watching telly all day long and there’s certainly no law against eating chocolates with a couple of six-packs. It’s a ground-breaking teaching method, I expect to hear more of it soon.

  38. OK, to drag this back to etymology.
    What does the word “silly” in silly mid on, silly mid off actually mean?
    The names of the various positions in cricket probably originated in the 18th and 19th centuries, so this can’t be anything medieval in origin.
    And I do agree that watching the film “Lagaan” is probably a good way to be introduced to cricket.

  39. “What does the word “silly” in silly mid on, silly mid off actually mean?”
    Wikipedia has this:

    Silly
    a modifier to the names of some fielding positions to denote that they are unusually close to the batsman

    I grew up understanding the word that way. I’ve also heard extremely close-in placements at these positions referred to by TV commentators as “suicidal mid-on”, etc. There was an outstanding Australian batsman by the name of David Boon who was also one of the very best close-in fielders I’ve seen. He was often at the “suicidal” version of the “silly” placements.

  40. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Well, what would you call someone standing less than ten yards from a huge guy whacking cricket balls at you?

  41. ‘Silly’ in cricket is used in its old (17th century) sense of ‘defenseless’, as far as I know.

  42. ‘Silly’ in cricket is used in its old (17th century) sense of ‘defenseless’, as far as I know.
    Is that likely, given the centuries that had passed before the term was used in cricket? The definition offered by Wikipedia is also cited in the OED’s listing:
    1897 Encycl. Sport I. 246 Silly{em}Applied to point, mid-on and mid-off, when they stand dangerously near the striker.

  43. Arthur: I’m using the book just now, but I’ll send you my copy in a week or so. Overall, I wasn’t crazy about it.

  44. John Emerson says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_May : Note disambiguation of cricket and Usenet
    http://www.amazon.com/Mongol-Art-War-Timothy-May/dp/1594160465 Another Tim May, whom I have met.

  45. John Emerson says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_May : Note disambiguation of cricket and Usenet
    http://www.amazon.com/Mongol-Art-War-Timothy-May/dp/1594160465 Another Tim May, whom I have met.

  46. ‘Silly’ in cricket is used in its old (17th century) sense of ‘defenseless’, as far as I know.
    That’s a priori unlikely, since that sense of “silly” hasn’t been used since the 17th century; the OED lists it not under that sense but under 5. “Lacking in judgement or common sense; foolish, senseless, empty-headed” (the cricket sense is 5.d.).

  47. “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_May : Note disambiguation of cricket and Usenet”
    Like Nijma’s, my attempt at humour has fallen a lit flat, I fear. I laughed when I saw the name because it seemed so wonderfully apt to a thread on Cricket. Of course I knew thgat it was more likely to be the Usenet Tim May.

  48. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Those people who think cricket might be a slow game will be interested to know that the above-mentioned Peter May served posthumously as President of Surrey County Cricket Club from 1995 to 1996.

  49. It was only when I saw my first (and, thank heavens, only) baseball game that I realized that a game existed that was even more boring to watch than cricket, and lacked even the redeeming aesthetic qualities of cricket. At school I took up rowing, not because I liked rowing but because people who rowed were not required to play cricket.
    Anyway, all this is irrelevant. What I wanted to say is that it works both ways. Some of Stephen J. Gould’s writing is rendered almost unintelligible to many readers by his assumption that everyone knows the technical terms of baseball. At least in a book that is intended to appeal to cricket enthusiasts it’s reasonable to expect readers to know something about cricket, but it’s less reasonable to expect people interested in biology to know anything about baseball. Richard Dawkins parodied this aspect of Gould’s writing style very nicely in one of his books. (Maybe it was A Devil’s Chaplain, but I can’t check right now because I’m in Tenerife and none of my books is at hand.)

  50. Jame’s is often remembered for his line: “What does he know of cricket who only cricket knows?”
    Applicable far beyond cricket of course.

  51. “between wind and water” is a phrase I’ve come across in one context – saying that someone received a punch “between wind and water” means square in the stomach, between wind – the lungs – and water – the bladder.
    And I am somewhat confused by someone who takes up a book about cricket, written by a cricketer, and expects to understand and enjoy it despite a) knowing nothing about cricket and b) regarding learning anything about cricket as “far more effort than I was willing to put in”. This is a bit like picking up a biography of LBJ and complaining that it goes on and on about this mysterious place called “Congress” which one is really too busy to learn about.
    Cricket is really not a difficult game to understand – the strategies are far simpler than those of, say, soccer or American football, the rules are easy enough for an eight-year-old to take in, and the vocabulary, although new, is generally no more obscure than baseball’s “infield”, “outfield”, “strike” and so on.

  52. I had, after all, read a number of books about soccer with enjoyment despite my lack of expertise—but it turns out that an intimate acquaintance with the history, terminology, and experience of the game is a prerequisite to the enjoyment of large chunks of the book.
    I don’t know what’s confusing about that.
    This is a bit like picking up a biography of LBJ and complaining that it goes on and on about this mysterious place called “Congress” which one is really too busy to learn about.
    It really isn’t.

  53. What jamessal said. “Cricket is really not a difficult game to understand” is just wrong; you’ll have to take my word for it.

  54. For what it’s worth, I am none of the Tims May above₁. (I was vaguely aware of the first mentioned, but hadn’t thought of him in years. If I had, I might have added a disambiguating note, given the nature of the thread.)
    [1] Well, apart from the one that was me posting earlier. I am that one.

  55. A.J.P. Crowns says:

    So you’re that one and you’re also this one. Seems like you’re quite a lot of them.

  56. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You may not want people to read CLR James’s book, but he did. Cricket is more complicated than most games, eight-year-olds don’t play with half the rules. Your Johnson analogy is quite wrong, everyone knows what Congress is, but it’s not necessary for an understanding of Johnson from Robert Caro’s biography, if that’s the one you mean. Otherwise you’re right, you are confused.

  57. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Was The Bambino as much of a flagrant cheat as W.G.? Grace’s contempt for the Laws of cricket whenever they were against him is the stuff of legend in cricket-playing nations.
    It is easy to call Grace a cheat but rather less so, I have found upon asking, to get anyone to cite a clear-cut example. Neville Cardus famously took up the subject with one of WG’s Gloucestershire coevals, who replied indignantly, “Not he. The Old Man cheat? No, sir! He was too clever for that.”
    The slop that one sees peddled about him nowadays is nothing short of calumny. There is a difference between breaking the laws and exploiting gaps and ambiguities in them.

  58. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Yes, I realize it would help to actually see the game played, but that’s not easy in the States. I think poor CLR spent fifteen years without seeing a single game after he moved here in 1938.
    Actually, it has rather a large following in and around New York. See, for example, O’Neill’s already-cited Netherland.

  59. Rodney Ulyate says:

    “Whatever are you at?”
    I can’t find it anywhere now. When I was a child this phrase, attributed to W.G. Grace when apparently a bowler bowled a ball through his beard, was a saying in my family.

    Immortal yarn, that, but likely apocryphal. Here is FS Jackson’s forgotten recollection in Ernie Jones’s Wisden obituary:
    http://content-www.cricinfo.com/australia/content/player/6046.html

  60. Rodney Ulyate says:

    8 means he was a shitty batter, so therefore a good bowler or fielder
    Nonsense. Constantine was a magnificent bat, and Bradman went in as low as seven in his first Test series. To equate batting position with batting ability is fraught with peril.

  61. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Equally, it is wrong to suggest that one could get into a team at Constantine’s level based merely on fielding ability.

  62. Rodney Ulyate says:

    and made 24 runs, not out (probably because the captain had declared and let the other team bat).
    More likely his side was bowled all out.

  63. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I agree that your story is apocryphal. But it’s a different story, told by Ernest Jones, the biographer of Freud. What do you think “Mummy and Daddy, whatever are you at?”‘ means in this context? What does ‘bowled’ mean? What is his ‘beard’?

  64. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    From your other remarks I’m guessing that you’ve read about cricket somewhere, because your mistakes are almost inevitable for someone new to the game. Sadly, there isn’t time to go through them with you, but keep up the reading!

  65. Actually, it has rather a large following in and around New York.
    I am well aware of that. I did not say it was impossible, I said it was not easy. If I were still living in NYC, I could of course make a trek to wherever the game was played, but living in Western Massachusetts, I’m not sure I have a similar opportunity. In any case, for any other major sport, all I have to do is turn on the television. I trust you’ll admit there’s a difference there.

  66. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Actually, I know nothing much about boring old cricket and I’m sure you’re right about everything, except the whatever are you at story being apocryphal. It’s in the Oxford Book of Quotations, or some such volume that is currently not available to me.

  67. John Emerson says:

    Cricket is a sport for effete, sissified barbarian subject peoples anyway, isn’t it?

  68. John Emerson says:

    Cricket is a sport for effete, sissified barbarian subject peoples anyway, isn’t it?

  69. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Yes and no. Barbarian subject peoples are the only ones who can play it properly, effete or not. The English and Welsh are hopeless at taking part in sports in general, and cricket in particular, and that makes it all the more absurd when they spout off about W.G-this and Dennis-that like they own the fucking sport.

  70. A.J.P. Crown says:

    It occurs to me that by ‘effete’ you’re talking about cricket whites. Cricket does (or did) have very attractive outfits. This can be proved. In order to conform with international norms of sports ugliness most teams now play in hockey helmets and shiny green-and-yellow nylon long underwear with the name of the local telephone company plastered all over it. Nowadays cricketers are almost as unattractive as the overweight ballerinas who play professional baseball. Not quite, though.

  71. John Emerson says:

    Fuck. I wasn’t trolling for agreement, much less “Yes and no”.
    I’ll try again: Aren’t the “British Isles” inhabited entirely by wankers and scum?

  72. John Emerson says:

    Fuck. I wasn’t trolling for agreement, much less “Yes and no”.
    I’ll try again: Aren’t the “British Isles” inhabited entirely by wankers and scum?

  73. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Well quite honestly John it depends whether you’re including Ireland in the so-called ‘British’ Isles. So once again it’s ‘yes and no’, I’m afraid.

  74. I’ll have to go with “yes and no” myself. Let’s see what Percival and Ponsonby have to say, shall we?

  75. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    John, perhaps I can offer some help here. Minnesota: land o’ lakes or in-cest panty haven? Discuss.

  76. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    John, perhaps I can offer some help here. Minnesota: land o’ lakes or in-cest panty haven? Discuss.

  77. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Sorry, I know some things just aren’t that funny. I’m going to have to stop this kidding around about panties.

  78. John Emerson says:

    In fact, I just recently was told about a case of rural Minnesota inc*st ca. 1943. But I refuse to share this story with effete subject barbarian wanker Brits. The story is a real doozer, too.

  79. John Emerson says:

    In fact, I just recently was told about a case of rural Minnesota inc*st ca. 1943. But I refuse to share this story with effete subject barbarian wanker Brits. The story is a real doozer, too.

  80. John Emerson says:

    “effete Brit barbarian wanker subjects”

  81. John Emerson says:

    “effete Brit barbarian wanker subjects”

  82. Rodney Ulyate says:

    I am well aware of that. I did not say it was impossible, I said it was not easy. If I were still living in NYC, I could of course make a trek to wherever the game was played, but living in Western Massachusetts, I’m not sure I have a similar opportunity. In any case, for any other major sport, all I have to do is turn on the television. I trust you’ll admit there’s a difference there.
    Happily, but I was more making a point than trying to refute one.
    Kindest,
    Rodney Ulyate
    PS: Before you give up on cricket literature entirely, it may be worth storing the names Neville Cardus, A.A. Thomson and Harry East somewhere in that formidable brain of yours. Just in case.

  83. Everyone knows Minnesota is the land where the snus flies faster than the snow.

  84. John Emerson says:

    And we are proud of that, Nijma. The Wobegon where I live has its own personal Wobegon called Snus Valley, where three different Lutheran churches can be found within a mile of one another.

  85. John Emerson says:

    And we are proud of that, Nijma. The Wobegon where I live has its own personal Wobegon called Snus Valley, where three different Lutheran churches can be found within a mile of one another.

  86. I grew up just across the border thirty miles from Wobegone and we also had three Lutheran churches besides the Methodist one I went to and the Catholic one. And behind each weed there was a Swede.
    I hope you have seen the excellent video about “How to Talk Minnesotan”. This is an important and neglected language.

  87. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Sorry, Rodney Ulyate. I didn’t mean to be even ruder than normal. Ulv of course is wolf in some nordic languages, so I ought to watch my behavior.

  88. Before you give up on cricket literature entirely
    Oh, don’t worry, I don’t give up that easy, and I thank you for the names! (I actually have a copy of Ranjitsinhji’s 1897 Jubilee Book of Cricket, inherited from my wife’s grandfather, and I enjoy leafing through it. It would be a lot more useful if it had an index, of course, but I realize that’s the kind of thing Victorian Brits left to the pedantic Germans.)

  89. Cricket is more complicated than most games, eight-year-olds don’t play with half the rules.
    Yeah, well, this one did.
    Your Johnson analogy is quite wrong, everyone knows what Congress is,
    True, of course. Any passing Mongolian yak herder will be able to give you a quick rundown on the powers and responsibilities of the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. Parochial? Vous?
    Similarly, “everyone” knows what cricket is – in fact I would bet that more people in the world know what cricket is than know what Congress is – but not everyone knows very much about it.
    but it’s not necessary for an understanding of Johnson from Robert Caro’s biography, if that’s the one you mean.
    No. It was what we call a “hypothetical example”. I picked a prominent congressman at random. Change it to Scoop Jackson if you’d rather.

  90. I was having trouble understanding why anyone would be so pointlessly petulant as to twist a perfectly reasonable statement out of context solely to accuse someone they don’t even know of parochialism (a charge more silly than you can know), or so willingly obtuse as to miss the obvious point that there’s no reason to assume any book involving any subject requires or even explores that subject’s most esoteric aspects, but then I read this — “Cricket is more complicated than most games, eight-year-olds don’t play with half the rules.” “Yeah, well, this one did.” — and it all made sense: You’re eight!

  91. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Oh God another person I’ve been rude to. I’m sorry.
    Look, I know nothing about cricket, in fact I hate watching sports. If you people who know about it had come in and explained everything earlier on, I wouldn’t be in this position of having to defend my half-arsed understanding of the game.
    I do think that cricket, although it’s simple in principle, has the most arcane set of terms and rules. The only thing that’s difficult in football is the offside rule (soccer, I mean), whereas cricket has lots of obscure things, just look at the discussion above.
    If you had only said Scoop Jackson in the first place, your argument would have been clearer.
    I don’t know any yak herders, so I can’t say if they read Robert Caro’s biography of Johnson, or the one on Robert Moses for that matter. To take the country I’m living in I do know that your average Norwegian knows (from school) that the US Congress is bicameral — and they’d have heard of the Senate, for example, from the news media. They wouldn’t know anything (and I do mean anything) about cricket, except that it’s played in England and (maybe) some former British colonies.

  92. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Oh, hello Jamessal. I took painkillers and brandy and now I’m much happier. I’m off to make my daughter some stewed apple (with cloves, brown sugar and limes).

  93. Ah, now I feel all immature and whatnot. Maybe if I’d been drinking brandy and taking painkillers I would have resisted responding like such an asshole. Apologies, Ajay. Retraction and all. We should be able to disagree with calling each other names (or being snarky). Apologies, again.
    Let me know how she likes the apples, Arthur. Good to know you’ve recovered from the torture.

  94. a prominent congressman
    The last time I checked, LBJ was the U.S. president sworn in after Kennedy was shot, but I didn’t know that until I was 14.
    When I was 8 I knew what Congress was, also Parliament, and also a yak, having seen one in an alphabet book with the letter “Y”.
    Children probably learn the rules for American baseball when they are 10 or so–don’t you have to be ten to play Little League? Before that they just play catch and stuff. They can probably describe baseball when they are 10 as well.
    Until I was 35, I thought cricket was a small black insect that could jump and make chirping noises. Then one day I was walking past the television room of a hostel in London and on the television I saw a bunch of people standing around in a sunlit field. Nothing happened. I waited a little bit and still nothing happened. What’s that I said. It’s cricket, someone said, not taking their eyes off the screen. Oh, I said, discarding my mental image of the chirpy insect and moved on to a different TV room where some people who were a bit less laconic were watching Dr. Strangelove.

  95. My four-year-old grandson already has a decent grasp of baseball rules (not to mention catcher’s signs), and by the time he’s six he’ll probably be able to explain some of the finer points to me. Never underestimate the power of youthful enthusiasm.

  96. I just watched Dr. Strangelove again the other night. Man, does that movie hold up! Can they make it?!

  97. George C. Scott, the itals.

  98. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    on the television I saw a bunch of people standing around in a sunlit field. Nothing happened.
    I think you caught the essence of the game, except that there’s sometimes a mild drizzle and they’re not usually standing on the television.
    One difference between cricket and baseball is the architecture and the acoustics. If you compare Yankee Stadium, which is like a Roman amphitheatre, almost cup-shaped in section, with Lords Cricket Ground — more open to the sky, bleachers, walls don’t climb so high in the air — the roar of the crowd at Yankee Stadium is much more like when the lions were eating the Christians or the sound at a football match, whereas the flattened-out clapping at Lords sounds polite and sunny Sunday afternoony.
    Jamessal, I can out-rude you any day of the week. Just not so articulately.

  99. ft

  100. Have never been to Yankee stadium, but I did write a paper about it once. The coliseum in Rome seems intimate as far as size, but it’s a museum.
    Much nicer the Roman amphitheater in Amman with its amazing acoustics. You can stand on the stage, talk in a normal voice and be heard way in the back. I used to meet my Arabic tutor there (part of the Arab world safety drill was that no males knew where I lived). There is also a circular formation at the side of the front row where you can whisper and be heard at a circle formation on the opposite side of the stage. Another Roman theater in Jerash is used as a real theater for the Annual Jerash festival–I heard George Wasouf in concert there. Amazing acoustics there too and you can see the entire audience and interact with them too. They all knew the words to the songs and were singing along. And a kilometer or so north at Birketain there is another smaller theater, this one with a pool that was used for baptisms and for some sort of Bacchanalia rites that the ecclesiastical authorities kept banning year after year after year. Oh there’s a pre-Roman theater at Petra–it seems these things are all over the ancient world.
    Of course I could out-rude and out-swear both of youse guys if I wasn’t trying to stay in character–but I have to admit that apology was a classic.

  101. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Cyril Harris, an acoustical engineer at Columbia knows a lot and has written about amphitheatre acoustics and the differences between Greek and Roman. I used to know it because he would fail people, the bastard.

  102. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Oh, don’t worry, I don’t give up that easy, and I thank you for the names!
    Pleasure. Thanks to the copyright infraction below, I can get you started on East immediately:
    http://cricketfansforum.net/showpost.php?s=89963123bee7da0c7f20052fafb6437d&p=105983&postcount=1
    (I actually have a copy of Ranjitsinhji’s 1897 Jubilee Book of Cricket, inherited from my wife’s grandfather, and I enjoy leafing through it.
    It contains probably the most-cited quotation on WG’s impact on the game: “He turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many-chorded lyre.”

  103. Thanks, that was a delightful read! Here‘s the direct link, if anyone else would like a taste.

  104. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Wish I knew more about Mr East. He is a virtual nonentity even within cricket’s rich literary circles, and Google offers only Tom Brown’s compadre. Anyone?
    Yours,
    Rodney Ulyate
    PS: How, for future reference do I make direct links of my own?
    PPS: Just learnt to my surprise that I picked up a copy of Ranji’s book for Christmas two years ago. How and why I told The Guardian about it, though, I have no idea. Was probably drunk, if the quality of the writing’s anything to go by:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2006/dec/26/ashes2006.cricket1

  105. How, for future reference do I make direct links of my own?
    I do it in WordPress. You can sign up for a free blog at wordpress.com and use it for whatever you want. Once you have your blog, go to their editing page, there are two tabs for writing a post, visual and HTML. I write it in visual, using their link icon to make the link, then click on the HTML tab to find it neatly written in HTML, which is what the comment section is looking for. There is a fancy word for it, “HTML editor” or somesuch, and there are probably some other free ones around, but this one is very easy, at least for me.

  106. Rodney Ulyate says:

    Thanks.

  107. Or you can do what I do, which is to type the HTML directly: <a href=”URL”>site</a> creates a link to the site.

  108. Thus <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2006/dec/26/ashes2006.cricket1″>cricket report</a> gives cricket report.

  109. Ha! I’ve been wanting to know how to do this forever. Why didn’t I ask? I have no idea.

  110. A.J.P. Crown says:

    What I want to know is how does he get the HTML to appear here in the comments without it having turned into a link?

  111. Aha, there you dive into deep waters. To get an angle bracket that is not taken as an HTML symbol, you must use & lt ; (without the spaces) = “less than” (<) or & gt ; = “greater than” (>).

  112. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    Well described, sir.

  113. This morning’s breakfast reading, a free magazine available in Indian stores / restaurants, offered a selection of poetry about cricket.

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