Miss Gertrude Jacobs does not look like a demon on the rules of sport. An ample woman in her middle years, with brown hair going haphazardly gray, she looks like Aunt Alice back home. And talks a little like her, too, breathlessly, elliptically, blue eyes regarding you through blue-rimmed glasses. But Miss Jacobs is a demon on the rules of sport, a woman who goes to ball games and raptly follows the performance of the umpire, so it is no particular wonder that she should be the woman who has broken the cricket barrier. Gertrude Jacobs has subdued the game of cricket to a series of filmstrips from which anyone can come away with a grasp of essentials and with no need to blanch even if a conversation turns to the ghastly question of leg before wicket.
The Peace Corps put her up to it. The Corps reasoned that closer relations would be possible with the peoples of former British possessions if its members could at least look at a cricket match intelligently. But cricket is not Parcheesi, with the rules set down on the inside of the top of the box. The rules did not seem to be set down anywhere, in a form intelligible to Americans, and cricketers were relatively few.
Miss Jacobs has an office at International House, which is a residence, a club, a social and study base for foreign students in the U.S. doing graduate work, and there the Peace Corps found her. She runs the Audio-Visual Workshop, taping languages and accumulating a picture and film library. But apart from this work at International House, she operates, singlehanded, a thing called the School Film Service, and one of the School Film Service's services is the making of filmstrips on game rules.
Her strips on baseball have been turned from film into books, have been translated into Japanese and will soon be put into Spanish. She has done basketball, Softball, hockey, badminton, field hockey and Little League rules. "In cricket, I found I had no place to begin because I had no vocabulary," Miss Jacobs said. "I would read, 'If you have an Aunt Sally on your team...' and I'd stop and think, now what in the world does Aunt Sally mean? A player who can't do anything, I found out, and a skier—pronounced sky-er—is a fly ball. Of course, that makes sense. Well, it all makes sense, after you know.
" New York is virtually a cricketless town," Miss Jacobs said sadly. "I thought if anybody would know about it Abercrombie & Fitch would, so I went down there and at least got to see what a bat looked like, and they gave me a little bitty rule book. But I finally had to get the bulk of my books from England. I had seen the name of Sir Donald Bradman used with such great respect for his playing ability that I figured if he was such a good player he must have written something. So I went and looked him up in the card index and there was a book. I tried the British and Australian consulates and the English-Speaking Union. They all knew about the book, but nobody had it, and I had to send to England. Nobody has ever read that book more carefully than I did. I cannot praise it too highly for anybody who's interested in cricket. There's never been another cricket player like him," Miss Jacobs said reverently. "Perhaps there won't be for a good long time. Now he is a broker, and I think he lives in Adelaide, Australia. No, I haven't written to him—I haven't had nerve enough to write to him."
But Miss Jacobs had resources other than Sir Donald and Abercrombie & Fitch. Her office, after all, was strategically located in a houseful of young Indians, West Indians, Scots, Australians—and she drafted them as technical experts. "They were skeptical at first," Miss Jacobs observed. "They thought it was just impossible for a beginner. One of the Indian boys, when I told him I was interested in cricket, said 'You!' as if it were the most hopeless thing in the world."
Miss Jacobs would descend upon the students at breakfast. "I'd just automatically move the salt and pepper into position for a match and say now, here's the pitch and here's the wicket. I'd usually get about an hour of cricket a morning. I could absorb just about enough a day for a new set of questions the next day. I deliberately didn't see any games at first. When I did see one, out on Staten Island, I didn't realize it was my first match. Because I knew what they were doing. I'd been studying it so hard and so intently that changing the salt and pepper shakers to men didn't seem to make much difference."
The filmstrips that resulted from all this are clear and rather charming. Appropriate old cricket prints precede the plunge into exposition; on strip one is a reproduction from London's Marylebone Cricket Club of The Laws of the Noble Game of Cricket.
"The Marylebone Cricket Club has been the central authority on the laws of cricket since 1787," Miss Jacobs said from behind the projector. "Look, that's all the rules there are. Isn't that amazing? But now there are whole books about them. You know, the rules have changed very little—sometimes there was no change for a period of a hundred years. Now here"—she was explaining another strip—"the batsman wears pads, and also the wicketkeeper. They protect everybody but the poor fielder. The umpires have worn those butcher's coats since before the dawn of Christianity, I guess.
"Now this is a normal field for an off-spinner. The captain has all these choices for the field, and they are only approximate. Sometimes you want them close in to the batsman, sometimes you want them way out. Now that position is called a silly mid-on because it's silly to stand there. He's apt to get hurt. Silly mid-off means he's standing in a very bad place up there on the off side of the batter.