Sunday, 28 August 2011

Flannelled Fools

It's  nearly the end of summer and I haven't posted about cricket. Very remiss of me, considering the England team's terrific performances in the Ashes in Australia last winter and against India at home this summer.

Cricket is not just a game of physical skill and stamina. The most successful captains are those with the best tactical skills. And then the most careful plans can be undone by the English weather.

Cricket seems to have originated in south east England. The earliest known documented reference is in a court case in Surrey in 1598. A witness recalled playing fifty years before.

In the summer of 1652 several men were indicted for 'playing an unlawful game called crickett' on several occasions in Ballfield in Cranbrook in Kent.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 cricket was no longer unlawful, but it could be dangerous.

In April 1662 John Carely ‘being playing at a sport called cricket with David Morgan and others at Goudhurst  .... in striking at the ball thrown against his wicket with [a] cricket bat which he had then in his hand ... did strike the said David Morgan under the ear ... inflicting an injury  from which he died.’

John Carely was indicted for  murder, the charge later being reduced to manslaughter. The jury, however, found that Carely ‘had no malicious intent’ and Morgan died ‘not by any homicide.’

Cricket was played by all social classes. The cricketers at Cranbrook and Goudhurst in the seventeenth century included a gentleman, a clothier, a husbandman and a labourer.

In the mid eighteenth century the Sussex shopkeeper  Thomas Turner often watched, and sometimes played in, matches between parishes in his neighbourhood. He also occasionally had a bet on the results. He seems to have been well informed about the game, recording after one match that ‘Lindfield kept the field best and batted best in general, but could not bowl.’

The game was becoming more organised by the later eighteenth century. Thomas Turner saw a team that purported to represent the whole county of Sussex. The Marylebone Cricket Club was founded in 1787 and a year later the Laws (not Rules) of cricket were laid down.

The best known lines of cricketing poetry are probably those by Sir Henry Newbolt:

There's a breathless hush in the Close tonight -
Ten to make and the match to win -
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.

The game is a popular subject for prose writers in both fiction and non-fiction. Lord Peter Wimsey is probably the best known fictional cricketer.

Some cricketing moments have become part of the national memory. Anyone who has any interest in the game will remember where he or she was on the fourth and fifth days of the Headingley Test  in 1981. Or the moment when a large part of the nation was reduced to giggles.

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