I answered with another question: "Don't you think, sir, that you ought to start a base cricket team?"
"Sergeant," the colonel replied, his voice steel hard, "I doubt if there's a man jack on this base who knows or cares the first damn thing about cricket."
I smiled. "That, sir, is precisely what I'm counting on."
Colonel Marsh did not smile back, but I sensed that the penny had, as the British say, dropped. He promised that he would discuss the matter with Captain Jack Grant, his Special Service officer, which he did.
Grant wangled a challenge from the cricket team at the Royal Air Force station at nearby Uxbridge, then told me, "This job is a natural for our Basil."
Born and brought up in London's working-class district of East Hackney, Basil Kane had left England to live with an uncle in Chicago in 1948, had been naturalized and at draft age had joined the Air Force—which sent him right back to London. Basil smoked fatter cigars, chewed more gum and spouted more American slang than any airman at Bushey Park, and I remember him emerging from Grant's office, shaking his head and muttering, "Cricket, shmicket! So what's wrong with baseball?" Then he saw me. "What's with this cricket nonsense, Lampe? Can you see any of our blokes volunteering for a cricket team?" Basil must have been shaken; he'd said "blokes" when he meant "guys."
I tried to calm him. "Appeal to our men's sporting instincts," I suggested. "Tell 'em that cricket is so much slower than baseball they'll make monkeys out of the Limeys." But Basil was right: nobody volunteered. Finally Captain Grant arbitrarily detailed 11 men from Bushey's baseball squad to become cricketers. A 12th man was Lieut. Don Bell, the base adjutant, a former radio announcer who presumably would be able to cope with reporters.
At the first practice Basil lined up the team and began a lecture only Bell listened to. The rest tossed baseballs from hand to hand, whispered to each other and thoughtfully scratched themselves.
"Now listen, you guys," Basil pleaded, "cricket is not the same as baseball."
"You can say that again!" somebody hissed.