Sunday, 7 June 2020

It's Not Cricket

There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
‘Play up, play up, and play the game!’

As I walked past the Sticky Wicket pub in Victoria, I thought about the contribution of cricket to the English language. Nothing, of course, compared to Shakespeare, the King James Bible, or the sea ( I wrote about nautical allusions in an earlier post), but a significant contribution, nonetheless.

I recently celebrated my seventy-ninth birthday. I hope that it’s not yet time to call stumps, but I’ve had a good innings. I’ve been bowled the odd bouncer or googlie, but I’ve tried to keep my end up while playing a straight bat. Not that I can claim to be a safe pair of hands for I’ve dropped the ball on occasion. I’ve never really been a team player: I often do things off my own bat. However, I don’t bat for the other side, and I’ve never played away from home. If you don’t understand what any of this means, I’m happy to field questions. That’s the state of play for now.

Cricket is something you have to grow up with to understand. I remember listening as a boy, late at night in Perth, to the commentaries on the test matches (the Ashes) coming to us from England on the wireless, so far away, and sounding like a man “speaking through a tube”, I used to think. They must have been transmitted to Australia by short wave radio to be broadcast by the ABC on 6WF. These test matches, five games of cricket between England and Australia, four of them lasting five days each, and the fifth one, six, were known as the Ashes. 

Elizabeth George, American author of the Inspector Lynley series, has written twenty of these books, all set in England, with a good eye for British manners and ear for the English idiom. Only once did she give herself away, when in a novel called “Playing for the Ashes” she wrote of the second “inning”, not “innings”, a mistake that no one from England (or Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India Pakistan, or the West Indies) would make. She had grown up with baseball. That’s not cricket.

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