“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” asked C.L.R. James the Afro-Trinidadian historian/philosopher. Mr James, a true man of the 20th Century (1901-1989), always spoke with a calm, assured authority. He inspired a hope in myself that I could be comfortable in my own skin for a life well lived as I grew older. He took great pride in the achievements of the young West Indians who’s exploits on the cricket field made them champions of the sport for two decades. James knew that the ” answer involves ideas as well as facts”. This sporting success was a result of, and an influence on, post-colonial Caribbean culture. These wonderful batsmen and bowlers were a gateway for West Indian participation in a wider global context. Let Bunny Wailer elucidate (while he gets rid of an annoying dog) and I Roy celebrate.
Cricket, our Summer sport, has a fine literary tradition which football, a more working-class game, has yet to rival. A.G. Macdonell’s “England, Their England” has a village cricket match at it’s crux.Joseph O’Neill’s fine 2008 novel about memory “Netherland” is about the game in New York. The journalism of Neville Cardus and others is of a quality which reaches readers who could not care about the scores and who scored them. Of course the structure of the game easily serves as a template for wider English society. The cultured elegance of the aristocratic batsman, the broad-backed, stout-hearted fast bowler, the over-riding concept of fair play, are easy, and lazy stereotypes and Moby Dick was just a whale, man, just a whale.
However, fielding on the boundary in the late evening Summer sun with the long shadows of mature trees in full leaf stretching across the green field a reverie and reflection on the world, and an Englishman’s place in it, is unavoidable and understandable. The spell can be broken when a ball which should have been caught lands unnoticed just yards away. If. at your, much anticipated, turn to bat, the wicket is disturbed by the first ball you face from the opposition’s woman bowler then it just seems like a bloody silly way to spend your time. She was good, I was not her only victim. A couple of beers in the pub later and on to the next game.
Roy Harper’s song from 1975 “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease” is worthy of entry into the pantheon of cricketing cultural contributions.
This is a valediction to two legends of English cricket, John Snow & Geoffrey Boycott (after whom a good friend, an otherwise rational member of society, named his second son). Harper pays a deserved tribute to the men and the game. The arrangement by David Bedford, a man with a long and interesting contribution to British popular and classical music, is evocative of times past. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band is a survivor from a time when English miners played brass instruments just as Welsh miners sang in choirs. Their playing is beautiful and suits the song so well.
“The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days” could, I suppose, be interpreted as referring to a loss of Empire, of an England that no longer exists. I think not. The song is about time passing, about change, but personal change. As Alan Ross, another fine cricket writer said …
“Heroes in fact die with one’s youth. They are pinned like butterflies to the setting board of early memories—the time when skies were always blue, the sun shone and the air was filled with the sounds and scents of grass being cut… I no longer worship heroes, beings for whom the ordinary scales of human values are inadequate. One learns that as one grows up, so do the gods grow down. It is in many ways a pity: for one had thought that heroes had no problems of their own. Now one knows different!”
We know different but we remember them…This song captures the unique beauty of an English Summer evening and the legacy of our childhood heroes. What a lovely thing that is. This song can move men of a certain age to tears (not just me…really) and it may be from remembering past times but it is not from sadness.