After winning the Ashes in the summer, England went Down Under and were poisonously defeated in the First Test.
Of course the Aussies were cheating. They had bats.
There were also verbals. Sledging, making less than charming remarks to the opposition, was invented by Australia.
It has been around a long time. A bespectacled friend of mine, an opening bat for the fearsome Manchester Guardian XI, was asked at the last minute to play for a team in the Lancashire League. He went in wearing his glasses and faced a hurricane West Indian pace bowler. Out of fright, my friend let his bat get in the way of the first lightning delivery. It went for six.
The West Indian paceman ended two feet from my friend and said:
“The next one’s for your glasses, white man.”
I have witnessed extreme behaviour in a match I played in one glorious summer afternoon.
I was fielding in the slips alongside a visiting Australian. A man was batting the ball all over the place. He was obviously heading for a century.
A ball came between me and the Australian. He picked it up off the ground and hurled it. Not at the wicket but at the running batsman, who fell to the ground spurting blood.
He lay unconscious. The Australian turned and looked at me.
“That was the only way we could get him out,” he said.
An ambulance took the man sway, but like a Boys’ Own story he returned with a bandaged head and scored the century.
That was a quiet friendly match on an English summer afternoon.
Those were the heavenly years I spent at a cricket club drinking beer with my fellow cricketers around me talking about how drunk they were the night before and how late they were going to be getting home for the dinner the little woman was cooking for them.
As a former third baseman for the Highland Bulldogs in leafy Massachusetts, cricket was not my native ballgame. I took it up when I learned that the bar stayed open all day when a match was being played. This was in the dear dead days of early closing.
Cricket and beer used to go together like fish and chips. Centuries of cricket and beer proved this sacred truth.
Just before the First World War poetry was added to beer and cricket.
Apparently you could not go to a rural cricket match without half of the XI being well-known poets. Beer and cricket were supposed to be manly and poets were supposed to be manly fellows. This ended in 1918.
There has been some very good writing about cricket. When I joined the Guardian Neville Cardus was the cricket man. Later John Arlott took over. He had been a 12th man for Hampshire but he never got in to bat. The best sportswriters in the past had never played the game professionally. Now they have and none of them are the equals of the men of long ago summers.
Cricket has also featured in many books. England, Their England (1933) by A.G.MacDonell is a major one. Set in the 1920s it is written as if it is the travel memoir of a young Scotsman. Cricket is only part of the book but it is the best part and the only reason why England, Their England is still around.
Incidentally when I looked this up I got England, My England by mistake. This was written by D.H.Lawrence and for a moment I thought I was going to get Lady Chatterley’s wicket-keeper.
Love On A Branch Line (1959) by John Hadfield, perhaps remembered as editor of Saturday Books, has a famous cricket match. Jasper Pye, the hero, goes in to bat nearly dead drunk after being locked in a wine cellar..
The Go Between has a good match and Siegfried Sassoon had perhaps the most pleasant match in The Flower Show Game, in which a young boy goes in to bat for the village for the first time.
Americans do not continue to play baseball after they leave school. Fat old men play softball instead.
Because of this there are no comic baseball games in American novels.
In fact the only baseball novel I know is The Natural (1952) by Bernard Malamud. The story of Ray Hobbs is based on a true incident when Eddie Waitkus of the Philadelphia Phillies was shot by a woman during a game. This was not the first such incident. Billy Jurges, the short stop for the Chicago Cubs, was shot while playing by a showgirl with whom he was as they say, romantically linked.
Malamud’s story has a magical twist. Hobbs has a handmade bat called Wonderboy – shades of King Arthur’s Excalibur.
In my fantastical disclosure of life, love and murder in a small New England town, Murder In A Cold Climate, it is winter and no one is playing baseball, but Police Sergeant Davy Shea dreams about the Boys of Spring. And my hero, Boomer Daniels, wishes he had a love for a game that Davy has. It is beautiful – get out and buy!