Rising From The Ashes Of An Umpire. Inglaterra Batea De Nuevo A Los Murciélagos del Mundo


"The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new." (Samuel Beckett, Murphy)

No todo fueron derrotas para los ingleses en 2019. Cierto es que perdieron la final del mundial de rugby contra los bóeres. Y lo que más les duele. Fueron vencidos en casa cuando la XVI Anglogalician.

Pero por primera vez en su historia ganaron the ICC Cricket World Cup, que como habrán deducido, es el mundial de ese peculiar deporte llamado cricket.

Admiremos como Algernon Mouse defiende los wickets con su sapiencia habitual.

There's Murphy moving in the shadows as though free; what a fine short leg he makes -an Irishman on an English stage. At a very silly point, Belacqua, entertaining the dual throng of hard-bitten, twice shy members in front of the old pavilion, where the important ins and outs happen.

Then there's Brian O’Nolan’s nameless policeman at third man talking to his bicycle about Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen and the lack of action.

And, at a very deep mid-wicket there’s Myles na gCopaleen mirroring my mood before a cricket match, where “all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.” (The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien)
We  all know Godot won't, can't turn up but we, like Didi and Gogo, cannot resist staying until the bitter end, putting any doubt beyond hope that every doggerel has its day.

Cricket becomes a habit -a great deadener of conversation unless happenstance should ever throw your way a fellow naked-in-the-chair absurdist that welcomes the arrival of two very qualified people in white coats.

Then there are the two men in white coats sucking Malloy's stones, measuring the sun's slap-dash, indifferent progress across the velveteen earth with white markings making creases in the fabric of absurdity, waiting for Nile-ist deliveries infinitely slower than the current tide.

Malone dives under the covers, like a flash rain shower, cutting off a petty four and looking at the sky for half a dozen of one and six of l’autre, unable to prevent crafted singles so that the electronic counter continues to sparkle in recording history of Krapp's annual innings, when draws were honourable after three, four or five theatrical acts.

The tools of these gentle comi-tragic tirades are: six sticks of ash (with four little stubs of the same wood rest atop); a box of carefully stitched leather covered aniseed balls; two lumps (at a time) of lovingly carved willow; a large expanse of greenery; and a length of rope to hang the hopes of a few thousand folks who assemble to witness the spectacle that is cricket.

The produce is of overs and outs -called in the parlance dismissals- constituting multiple innings to achieve one of at least five outcomes: win/loss/draw*/tie/abandoned*.

However, the most important outcome all these results aim to produce is cricketing happiness. This is a complexity of Beckettian dramas recalled by cricket lovers as Krapp's Last Tape. Cricket is found between dust sheets and buzzing ears; memories played over in the brain; Box 3, Spool 2, and where's the banana? Cricket grounds are places of worship where subjectivity playfully tussles with fact; where fiction too real to be dismissed entirely, has a friendly arm wrestle with the cold, isolated numerical non-fiction.

Like those mathematical devotees who find beauty in numbers, cricket lovers find narratives in averages and numbers which are attributed to names to produce iconography and iconoclasts alike. Where scorers fastidiously etch little stories with the title, 'I was there, were you?' The officionados who recall passages of play that might, on the surface, appear deeply mundane, or, as some cruel critics have described as watching the matt white lose its moisture before you hide it behind an underused bookcase or merely hopeful, flat-pack trophy cabinet. Recollection of a discriminating number three, at the fall of the first wicket, intent on smothering even the juiciest half-volley outside off-stump so as to avoid a game of dominoes. Instead he or she shuffles cautiously forward like the second draught in a contest with a chess master.

A word to the wise for those who find themselves attending a cricket match instead of imbibing the sweet smoothie of daytime TV entertainment shows that vaguely resemble cricket: check the scoreboard before you fall asleep, and never sleep with your mouth open.

Apart from the impromptu fly lunch you might involuntary intake, you could also be suddenly woken with a sensation of being a stuck pig as a boundary four hops off the rope like a frightened rabbit on heat, or a boundary six might lodge itself in the gaping cake hole and dislodge your natural smile.

You will also need to be aware of the duration of the match before contemplating entering the land of nod during playing hours. A four day, five day encounter should render places at fine leg, cow corner and, every other over, behind the wicketkeeper and the five run helmet, safe havens.

However, if it's a one-day game of obscene brevity, there's nowhere technically safe as they've invented a few weird shots that can propel the ball anywhere in the 360 degree gamut. If you get an obsessive 'ramper' then anywhere in the cover region should be a good bedding area.

If you do manage to get some shuteye, then you may not miss out on the action as it has been scientifically proved that subliminal cricket 'watching' is possible, now that the public address systems disperse so much information regarding the action of a game.

I would recommend watching the game with eyes and mind wide open to fully appreciate the repeated spectacle of the white-clad players resembling LS Lowry figures lurch, bend, walk slowly in as the bowler runs in with shoulders slumped as if fighting a force-ten gale.

Then there are captains who scatter their field like seed in the belief that victory will grow, unlike the captains who use sextants, theodolites, spirit levels and spread betting in order to change fate. This cosmic range of approach is a wonder to behold when watching, following or contemplating the essence of cricket.

Before the curtain goes up on a game, the covers are removed and the officials and players come on to the field. Then the batters mark their territory hoping it's not a cat on a hot tin roof wicket, and the bowlers plot their stepped approach as precisely as an air traffic controller, hoping to land in the right area at the crease to deliver their Barnes-Wallis bombs at their damned foe for the day.

A strident burp from the well-breakfasted crowd signals the bowler's run in, before the sacred first ball in a projected, contractual (a modern addition) 576 balls for the day's work, rest and play. The fielders are scattered like dice, reflecting the team's hopes and fears for the immediate future.

A full slip cordon,  gully and square point with possibly a short square leg in catching position would signal attack; whether hopeful folly or wilful expectation would be determined in due time: would it be willow-cracking, ash-cracking or palm warming as a thermometer of the contest's temperature. Will the day's narrative be prose, poetry, doggerel or mime, or indeed, as is more often the same, a potent cocktail of all four?

Once enticed, you might find yourself as Vladimir and Estragon, puzzling over a great existential dilemma: should we wait? Should we go? Let's go! We can't, we're waiting for cricket!

Cricket isn't the easy viewing of last-ball frenzy performance days, it's the sixty delivery spring watch of a batter who is going through cricket hell: who sees the wicket as a vast arid desert, the extent of which his strokes cannot traverse. Alternately, the hell of a bowler, steaming in over after over, who cannot for the life of him make the batsman play a delivery: it's as though the wicket and the ball are of the same polarity in rejecting all the efforts of the non-for worker.

Cricket is one of the biggest, deepest, most profound questions we ask ourselves in life: why are we here? Anything else is merely misguided entertainment. Cricket isn't HD, HDMI or 5G, it's lantern slides and 2D, hand-drawn single-cell animation. Cricket isn't easy listening of the everyday dross of commercial radio and TV, it's Hendrix played at 0.5 rpm. Why else watch a purist top-order batter endure a nerve-jangling half hour without hope of a run then see a farmyard machinery yahoo merchant carve a six first-ball, and accept the sense of it?

Beckett dramatised cricket without trying. The drama is so context-specific. Its narratives are deeply affecting, especially when appearing most boring. It's the train number you haven't seen yet, even though consisting of twelve alphanumerical digits, it differs by one from the ones already seen. Every dot ball is different. If you think two consecutive nudges by the same batter to the same fine leg are repetitively the same, then you are not watching fully. Even at the bald number-crunching level, cricket doesn't produce absolute repetition in its essence. Yes, formulaic structural changes to accommodate the modern professional dutiful day at the office player have brought apparent repetition but it's incomplete as the mandatory 96 overs can take anything from six and a half hours to the eleventh hour.

Cricket gives uneasy birth to tales taller than Goliath. Tales of ripping stickies taking Medusa-like turn, enough to make the mightiest of willows weep; and Boy's Own stories of strident sun-kissed strips where the leather was tanned and dried and stitched like a kipper; yarns of toe-nail extracting Yorkers, Y-front endangering beamers, ball-bursting bouncers and deviously deceiving seamers, all countered with desperately beautiful drives and embarrassing knicks, carving cuts and hopping hooks, petulant pulls and quick glances, all part of the livery of cricket's anvil-forged equipment, displayed in nostalgic meadows, racecourses, amphitheatres and educationally sound grounds in the shadows of academia.

A quick manifest of equipment:

  • Pads like a mother's protection from the bruises and knocks picked up in the rough and tumble of play.
  • Box to protect lineage and eye-watering ball contact, whether direct or the result of an edge.
  • Helmet (a modern addition) as a safety standard to keep the players conscious.
  • Bat to preserve dignity and yet...it can be a paint brush, a wand, a cross to bear, a cudgel, a knife, a rapier, a stonewall, a brickbat, a small tree (a modern phenomenon) waving on a wind, windmill tilting at immortality. And, at the worst of times, a bat can be a cocktail stick poking at the cherries as if drunk before being bounced out in an act of mercy.
  • Sunglasses (a modern addition) to deflect the gloom of an English summer from sleepy eyes still in pyjamas (a modern addition) advertising the commercial influencers of cricket's future.
  • As a fielder, you only need to wear the basic shirt, pants, socks and shoes, over the fundamentals of underwear, probably logoed and sponsored.

An underlying premise of fielding is the ability to dream. Imagining you might cradle a catch in the slips to delight your bowler; or pouching a square cut in the gully or on point duty; bagging a dolly off a skier after stretching a long leg to wait under a mistimed hook or pull. Or to swoop like swallow and shy at the castle to enact a glorious run out, or flip like a dying fish and make the catch of the day at silly point, silly mid-on or very silly short-leg. Or, on those cosmically cruel days a fielder might graze on lush grass, not feeding on any cherries from life's bowl, merely watching the Rosebud bloom from a distance, unsullied by the fielder's hand, completing a day's ruminating without registering in any scorebook or being remembered by one man and his dog, realising that even the dog's barking had nothing to do with you. At least days like this give a cricketer time to read and cogitate over an Albert Camus novel or two depending on their thickness. Where someone of a certain character can savour their role in folding the space time continuum by spending an hour at the crease scoring fiver runs in five tortured scoring strokes only to see another player of a dissimilar character score one more run in the blink of an eye with one weft of their hefty loom. The term 'different strokes for different folks' could not be better illustrated. Just as a clinician often wears white, a rude mechanical often wears (a modern addition) coloured overalls.

And so, the noiseless tenor of cricket's way ploughed over and the combined harvest of money boils the colours and turns the ball into a pigeon pellet, shrinking the eloquent attire of the funny old game.

Today, stumps light up and the old heart dims, and faulty jacuzzis can stop play. The numbers spin like a one armed bandit, spinning and crunching whilst the narrative of cricket is gradually silenced, outspoken, drowned out by brash loudmouthed chattering big cash.

Some say, quietly, out of earshot of any listening device, and with a real tinge of sadness, that might lead to lachrymose sepiage, that modern scorebooks have a double-entry system and that coins tossed are too clean with their fixed win-loss monologue mindset.

Cricket is a myriad narratives reliving the escapades of colourful characters - even those recalled in B&W -who made pigments of themselves feasting on occasion, setting a banquet before audiences hungry for heroes. Audiences, aka crowds, that hang around like puddles under a seeping frieze-grey sky wishing for even an hour of Beckettian play, eager to see a rocket pinging off a helmet, with tingling hands remembering the very first sting of swallowing the little red pills that turned out to be anything other than they seamed.

Whether it was a missile hissing not so sweet nothings in an ear, or a whispering, beguiling siren song of a high looping googly, and grandiose poesy of a destructive Bosie bringing down a wild giant, or long, lonely sojourns in the longer grass waiting for a late cut, an edge or a leg glance so you could show off your prowess at throwing, knowing there's nowhere else in the wide world you would rather be.

These exhibitions of glorious absurdity might be to temporarily possess ashes, or indelibly establish a great name in the game, it may be merely to establish the title of cock-o-the-north, or to be the true champion county, but only when the attire and not the ball is white, you'll find an existential tussle you can scoop like ice-cream, number-crunch like wafer, causing your brain to freeze in wondrous absurdity.

At the home of the cobblers, where Samuel Barclay Beckett shuffled briefly, a single breath, for two consecutive years, in a worldful of obscure statistics and fictions fused with fact.

His brief contribution is noted in the cricketing Bible (Wisden) where records are studiously kept of exploits of dons who were taught lessons by their pupils; illustrating like Boz, the detailed episodes of how their uppity charges outscored them in practical tests; where coal miners could tap into another seam with the wind behind them, chasing ducks by throwing hot coals at the surface-dwellers, doing simple, twenty-two yard mathematics in taking away one or two from three to avoid further addition to the score; and where legends are made of the like of fiery Fred destroying castles to become the first of the three-hundred club, and his pal Brian moving at anything but a snail's pace understatedly and modestly devastating all and sundry; then there's Jack Hobbs, the leviathan of runs, and the Don - an honest giant of the game, defying the averages and becoming the father of all batsmen, striking fear into others without any semblance of malice towards opponents; and the West Indian threesome of WWW, connecting the world to cricket long before the world wide web was conceived.

The Old Masters mostly have only two lines of statistical dialogue in the cacophony of numbers, yet their voices have so much resonance and tremendous timbre in speaking to us of the essence of cricket.

The modern phalanxes of experts analysing to a pixelated degree somehow sully the essence of cricket. This revisionist cynicism - fuelled by mammon and a misguided neophilism - puts me in mind of a wonderful Spike Milligan poem of love and trust destroyed by crass ignorance:

            “Painful though it was,
                        I cut my last winter rose for her.
            She turned it inside out
                        to see who the manufacturer was.”
                                    (from Open Heart University, Spike Milligan)

 So, on that melancholic note I'll leave the ground to darkness and to tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow with an abiding memory of a classic Black&White, pre-streaming TV cricket moment: Colin Croft, playing for Lancashire in a Roses match, bowling in such an idiosyncratic,  efficaciously fearsome manner, removed the off-stump of the great GB; the middle stump of a future England international, and the leg stump of one of Yorkshire's greatest stalwarts, causing the stumps as well as the modest, hardy crowd to dance, all in the space of a few twilight overs.

Now, you could look up the event to find out what exactly happened, on record in bald statistics, and possibly prove my memory faulty and/or fanciful, but you could also let such a vital, vibrant, voluminous vision enter your mind, move across your synapses like sunshine shadows scudding over verdant fields: it's your choice but either way it will always be cricket. As the lad himself said:

"You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on." (watching cricket) Samuel Beckett The Unnamable.