Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Mythology of Cricket

Forgot to mention in all the excitement over that flame appearing in Cornwall yesterday, but I actually had rather a marvellous day at the Test. I say "marvellous". It was a slow old day's play - England quite cautious against a very average West Indies attack, taking a long time to get up to the Windie's score. It was an utter delight to see Strauss get a ton, though. The real resilience of a true fighter and sportsman. And a quite ferocious delight in the extended ovation he got.

Personally I was sat in an interesting position. In front of me were two posh boys, who consumed four bottles of champagne in between going off to see people called "Rupert", "Eliot" and "Tarquin". While behind me was sat a man who appeared to be channelling the spirit of Geoffrey Boycott. Although as the day wore on I realised that he was listening to TMS on the radio, and merely repeating every word that Boycott said. On the occasions that Geoffrey went off to be recharged, the chap behind e continued with his own dull comments such as "Trott always scores so slowly" and "with a right and left-hander we should be farming the strike". In some ways it was a relief to stagger off the train at Flitwick - although until up to the point when I realised that the "lift home" I'd been promised was Burton Dasset turning up with his tandem.

But I realise that to our American cousins (among whom I count several readers), cricket is a bit of a mystery. A test match can last five days and end in a draw - how can this possibly work as a sport, they may ask? And the answer is that cricket is actually not so much a sport as a religion. The accountants, restaurant workers and motor mechanics who throw leather balls at each other of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon on a dog-dropping-covered municipal rec are as the village churches to the cathedrals of Headingley, Lord's or The Oval. The figures of past cricketers are as the great demi-gods and heroes of the pantheon of Cricket, while the great god Earnshaw watches over those of the Chosen People that are born within the ancient boundaries of Yorkshire. So I hope this explanation may help.

Cake - The food of the gods. The people of Tunbridge Wells, Chippenham and Droitwich hope to achieve blessings on the England cricket tea by sending offerings to the priests of the Cricket religion, the "TMS". The offerings are consumed by the priests, who must all have adopted names such as "Aggers", "Jonners" or "Bumble".

"All in white shall wait around" - Mrs Alexander was inspired to write "Once in Royal David's City" by the realisation that the experience of heaven will be like watching a Test Match. Only shorter.

Old Ladies with Sticks of Rhubarb - Cricket can be played by men and women, of course, with appropriate modifications to the protective equipment. However the ancient Wise Women of Yorkshire needed no such namby-pamby equipment. Using a stick of rhubarb they were able to ward off all evils, including head-high full-tosses and bouncers. The last of these Wise Women was old Mrs Boycott, who so memorably saw off Lillee and Thomson at the Oval in 1975.

"Beefy" - mythical hero in the line of Cu Chullain and Samson. Wielded a tree-trunk as a bat and bowled exploding cricket balls. "Freddie" was a latter-day hero who was never quite so good, incapable of pedalling the simplest pedalo.

DRS - Proof that video technology doesn't necessarily help get decisions right in sport.

"Not cricket" - Given a sport that includes illegal tampering with the equipment, rigged betting and occasional attempts physically to hurt the opposition it's hard to imagine what this might mean.  

Gower - An angelic being cursed, as all such are, with one great weakness. In his case, outside the off stump.

The Bodyline Series - An example of relative morality, given the whingeing from the Poms when the Windies and Australia learnt how to bowl fast.

Farming the Strike - A ritual in which the "tail-ender" always ends up facing 5 balls an over. A kind of meditation on our fallen nature.

Jonners - Ancient sage of great wisdom and immense ability to eat fruit cake.

Middle-Order Collapse - The Fall of Civilisation between the Ancient and Modern worlds, which the England cricket team ritually recreates 20 times a year. 

"The batsman's Holding, the bowler's Willey" - ancient spell of laughter-making. Still used as a counter-spell to rain during boring periods when the covers are on.

Nine-Ten-Jack - People whose ritual role is to be "knocked over". If they "wag" this means they aren't happy with the allotted fate.

Reverse Swing - Witchcraft.

Uncovered Pitches - Proof of how we have fallen from our true nature since early times. In the 1960s, cricketers would trust the gods to give the good weather. Today, we trust in metal and plastic to keep the pitch dry.

The Yorkshire team of the early 60s - a race of super-heroes, incapable of weakness of any kind. 

Pigeons - The spirits of old cricketers are still believed to hover around their former homes in the form of pigeons or seagulls . I reckon. That's the only reason I can think of why they are considered so important.

Blofeld - Evil arch-villain. 


  1. A pretty comprehensive list I'd say, though it does exclude the maverick - odd one or two fabulous flashes of genius - type players.
    e.g. Dominic Corke, Marcus Trescothick, and, a personal favourite when on-form, Alec Stewart.
    Sadly my viewing has always been via TV, not at the ground.

  2. " The accountants, restaurant workers and motor mechanics who throw leather balls at each other"

    I think you'll find that Sri Lankan spinners (quite possibly with the initials MM) tend to throw it more than we noble accountants.

  3. I often wonder why we have someone placed at 'Silly Leg On' which sounds like a John Cleese skit. Another when in the slips, sounds like a ladies undergarment.

    And the bowler sounds like a Gentleman's head wear of yester-year.

    No, cricket is a game for Gentleman amateurs because to all it professional lowers the tone and frightens the horses.

  4. "Reverse Swing - Witchcraft" My son, just turned 14, went to winter nets at a local club that wanted to build up its under-17s. He demonstrated his left-handed reverse swing and was told that they didn't want that sort of stuff, thank you very much.

    No cricket at the school where he went for 6th Form so he hasn't played since.

    Left-handed reverse swing!!!


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