By Anthony Deyal
From the time I was five, I used to go cricket. We booed loudly and clapped intermittently when it was slow cricket. Then the TV came and to my delight, it used to show cricket. We were able to see Lara get cheated in Australia and we thought of it as “low” cricket. Next thing you know there was so much money in the game that players were accused of only valuing “dough” cricket. However, never before in the history of the sport was there ever a time like this when there was no cricket.
Now, ESPN’s cricinfo.com has invented a new way of dealing with this blow to cricket (and their massive income from the game) by inventing the cricketing oxymoron “RetroLive” which for cricket fans is better than all the other morons and oxymorons that abound including Dave Cameron, police intelligence, honest government, gentleman’s game or even popular umpires. In fact, just before a match, the club secretary received a message in his office from the man in charge of the gate who said, “There’s an umpire down here with two friends. He wants to know if they can come in.” “No,” replied the secretary, “the man’s obviously lying.” “How do you make that out?” the gatekeeper asked. The secretary replied, “’Whoever heard of an umpire with two friends?”
Like a lot of other disappointed cricket fans without the IPL or test matches, I was watching a TV retro with the Sri Lankan spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, bowling out England and suddenly, maybe because the Umpires allowed him to bowl without any doubts about his action, my mind was chuck-full of recollections and reminiscences about the great game.
For example, there is the comment that was made about the England team of that time which, in their second innings on June 5, 2006, at Trent Bridge, was powerless against Muralitharan’s off-breaks and doosras. “I love the England team”, someone wrote. “The thinnest guy is called Broad, ugliest guy is called Swann, slowest fielder is Trott, guy who is ‘behind’ the stumps is called Prior, and guy whose father’s name is John is called Peter-son. And the guy who is named Monty goes in with his clothes on. No doubt, this Cricket team deserves to be led by a Cook.”
Sure, I remember the strokes, the wickets, the victories and defeats but what I also like and remember is the talk- the witticisms, deliberate or accidental, the anecdotes by famous cricketers and umpires, the repartee between players and, most of all, the sheer joy of class and classic commentary by the greats-Arlot, Johnston, Cozier, Agnew and so many others.
The first time I saw the filmed version of the tied test between the West Indies and Australia on December 14, 1960, it was as if I had watched it before. I was 15 years old and my father had shaken me awake to listen to the ending of the game on our huge, crackly Blaupunkt radio. The commentary was so good in terms of the setting, the excitement, the crowd, the players, the tension especially, that the imagination which only radio as a medium can stimulate, created images in my head that, even though I was half-asleep, never left me and remain better and more valued than the jumpy, scratchy black and white film images.
Brian Johnston, or “Johnners” as he was called, had no problems laughing at his own mistakes. In one game he welcomed listeners with, “Ray Illingworth has just relieved himself at the Pavilion End.” He made it worse with, “Welcome to Worcester where you’ve just missed seeing Barry Richards hitting one of Basil D’Oliveira’s balls clean out of the ground.” Johnners was also credited with the unforgettable, “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willie.” There is John Arlott, known as “The Voice of Summer” with, “It is rather suitable for umpires to dress like dentists since one of their tasks is to draw stumps.”
Jonathan Agnew (Aggers), “I’ve never got to the bottom of streaking” and when Ian Botham got out trying, while off-balance, to avoid kicking down the stumps, “Botham just couldn’t quite get his leg over.” Trevor Bailey was responsible for this comment which I remember every time I meet one of my favourite cricketers, Gus Logie, “On the first day Logie decided to chance his arm and it came off.”
But it is not just the commentators whose quips have become legendary. There is Mc Grath, the Aussie bowler, trying to unsettle Eddo Brandes, the chubby Zimbabwean batsman, “Why are you so fat?” The response from Eddo, “Every time I have sex with your wife, she gives me a biscuit.” Of course, Mc Grath got really angry when he tried to unsettle W.I. play, Ramaresh Sarwan with a question about the taste of Brian Lara’s male member and Sarwan replied, “Ask your wife.” Then the case of Greg Thomas versus Viv Richards.
Thomas had bowled two balls that Richards played at and missed. He was then cheeky enough to tell Richards, “It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces if you’re wondering.” Richards then hit the next ball for a six so powerful it went out of the ground and into a river. He then told Thomas, “Greg, you know what it looks like. Now go and find it.”
I’ve often wondered if I were placed in solitary confinement, like some of my friends in this COVID-19 lockdown, and had no books or television what I would do. The futurist, Marshall McLuhan, said, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backward into the future.” I will look into a “rare-view” mirror and will replay in my mind’s eye the great matches, incidents or memorable performances by batsmen, bowlers or fielders I have seen in the major Caribbean grounds, abroad, or on television. There is one stroke of genius that I would pull up and look at again and again.
It comes from a series in 1965 when the Australian leg-spinner, Peter Phillpot, who had got six wickets in the first test in Kingston, ran into Gary Sobers who was determined to show him and the Australians who was the boss. I was in grounds, sitting on the grass when Gary came in with his characteristic, “I mean business” stride, collar up and bat under his arm. Philpott bowled and Gary’s lofted and loftily hit on-drive landed on the roof of the Ladies’ Members Stand in a flash.
The dust rose in a slow cloud from the galvanize and only then I heard the sound of the ball hitting the roof and the echo travelling in waves towards me. It was the first and only cricket shot I have ever seen that was faster than the speed of sound.
*Tony Deyal was last seen telling the ICC that despite being the greatest scourge in the modern game, cricketers involved in match-fixing are sure to give you a run for your money.