There is always a
tendency in human nature to decry the other fellow's game, particularly when it
is the national pastime of a foreign country and played almost exclusively by
the people living there.
Few games have
been kidded as much, at least by Americans, as the Briton's cricket, that odd
ball-and-bat match that takes three days to play, in which runs are scored by
the dozens and Centuries, and batting stands of one hundred are not uncommon.
And the break for tea is considered the most deliciously funny business this
side of a comic valentine.
But I can tell you
a little something about this pastime. I am one of the few American
ex-sportswriters ever to have taken part in a real, big-time cricket match and
survived to write about it. And I am prepared to testify that this is a rough,
tough, as well as highly scientific sport and quite one of the best games ever
devised for the exercise and enjoyment of the player as well as the
I got into it as a
gag. I was lucky to emerge from it with my life. You think cricket is a game
for sissies? B-r-r-r-r-other! Field the position called Silly Mid-on, and see
how sissy the game looks from that spot. Silly, eh? Hell, it's suicidal! I
know. I played there. Your position is no more than 10 yards away from a batter
clouting a ball that is harder than a baseball with an erratically shaped bat.
It's a little like standing in front of a .45 waiting to see the bullet come
out. My problem was whether my reactions would be fast enough to enable me to
duck a real hot liner. The British don't duck. Wearing no gloves, they stop the
ball, meat hand.
I do not wish to
take up too much of your time recounting how I got myself into this mess. When
I saw an ad in the personals of the Times of London to the effect that the
authors and the National Book League were to meet in their annual game, it
looked like copy to me. I was writing a column at the time. The game, I
figured, would probably be one of those clown acts we pull off on our side of
the water from time to time when the Baseball Writers play the Girls Team from
the chorus of Oklahoma! at softball, with a keg of beer at first base and
another at home plate. So I wangled myself an invitation.
couldn't have been more wrong. All I did was walk into an annual grudge battle.
Both teams were loaded with ringers. Anybody who could write—"O see the
prety kat," or sign a dinner check in his own hand was considered an
author; any cricketer, pro or amateur, who could lift a book off a table
automatically became a member of the National Book League. There were a couple
of legitimate authors, such as the late Chester Wilmot, who were good
cricketers on the side, but most of the players were of the caliber of my
friend Ian Peebles. All this guy Peebles had ever done was bowl against
Australia in the Test Matches.
haphazard to the uninitiated and in fact in one sense it is. I don't suppose
that outside of basketball anyone has ever really invented a game all ready-set
with rules and implements. Instead, they rather happen or grow slowly as the
result of terrain, kids fooling around at play, national characteristics, older
traditions and personal temperament. And once a game is set by custom and
tradition the British never seem to change the rules at all.
And yet, oddly
there is both rhyme and reason to it, arrived at probably by sheer accident
when the boys were mucking about on the village green centuries ago.