Tony Deyal | Weather for leather
Even by British standards, Harold Pinter, the famous playwright, was considered eccentric, and rightly so. He was even more passionate about cricket than John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, who is still honoured at the tea interval in every match. In June 1945, the Earl received a message telling him that he had been appointed a lord commissioner of the admiralty. He replied, "I'll be at your board, when at leisure from cricket." Even if I felt that way about cricket, I would not be rash enough to say something like that to my wife far less the other powers that be.
What made Pinter more eccentric than the Earl of Sandwich? Was he one of those mad dogs and Englishmen that go out in the midday sun? The fact is, he did go out in the high noon heat because of his great and overwhelming love for cricket, the game that Robin Williams, the American comedian, described as "baseball on Valium". But there is more.
Pinter is well known for his use of English in phrases such as, "In other words, apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?" and "I've been the whole hog plenty of times, sometimes ... you can be happy ... and not go the whole hog. Now and again ... you can be happy ... without going any hog."
'Pinteresque' is the label often given to things theatrical and otherwise which, tense and ambiguous, capture the quintessential Englishness that is not Theresa May. However, Pinter is famous for what he told the Observer newspaper in 1980, "I tend to believe that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth ... certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either."
Perhaps he never had to wake at four in the morning to watch a cricket match. If he ever did, he would not have said so positively, "Everyone knows which comes first when it's a question of cricket or sex - all discerning people recognise that."
One of my friends tried to follow the Pinter path, but succumbed to the second option on Pinter's priority list, perhaps because of a lack of discernment. As he explained, "I woke up." That was his first slip. He continued, "Then my wife woke up." That was his second slip, third slip and gully. While he was bold, he ended up being caught and bowled at what turned out to be cover and extra cover. And he ended apologetically, "Besides West Indies not playing good cricket these days." One of my friends said that a child wanted to replace his parents with the West Indies team "because dey don't beat nobody".
This close connection between cricket and sex is more than merely symbolic. It is symbiotic verging on synergistic. After all, in what other game would a batsman play a half-cocked defensive shot? Are there degrees of cock? Can one play a full-cocked shot and, if so, does that entail as much as it implies? Can one play a quarter-cock or even a no-cock? Additionally, do all cock shots have to be defensive? Can one play an offensive shot at full-cock? In this metric age, should not that rightly be decimalised as a shot made at "point five cock" on a scale of one to 10.
It is not surprising then that Richie Benaud, the commentator and former Australian captain, commented about a batsman: "He's usually a good puller - but he couldn't get it up that time." The great Brian Johnston got into the act 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."
Jonathan Agnew describing a peculiar Ian Botham dismissal, explained, "He didn't quite manage to get his leg over." An original Brian Johnston description, "The bowler's Holding the batsman's Willey" has now become, in this World Cup, "The commentator's Holding the Umpire's Willey."
One of the major distinctions between cricket and sex has to do with the appropriate climatic or climactic or even climacteric conditions required for consummation. The ball in cricket is made of leather and the bat of willow. Among the joys of cricket are reputedly the sound of leather on willow, and for the nostalgic, the faraway smell of grass and leather and linseed oil.
However, what West Indians consider ideal weather for leather is seen as a disaster by cricket fans who don't feel the same way we do about rain. For them, it is a disaster that causes play to stop prematurely. For us it is a blessing, a catalyst and an affirmation that requires spousal or feminine participation.
For the British, spouses are not included in the cricket calendar. Their attitude is consummately captured by Dennis Norden, the comedian, "It's a funny kind of month, October. For the really keen cricket fan it's when you discover that your wife left you in May." The only way that would happen to a West Indian is if there was a very severe drought.
While on the subject of leather, cricketers, while not particularly fastidious, are now talking about perfumed balls. This has nothing to do with sex, but with cricket. A perfumed ball is not so named because it smells good. It is a bouncer that passes so close to the batsman that he can virtually smell the leather of the ball.
And speaking of balls, an English cricket enthusiast died and went to hell. After a few days, the Devil came up to him and said, "What do you feel like doing today? You can do anything you like." The Englishman, eschewing sex, said, "I can't think of anything better than a game of cricket. Can we do that?" "Certainly," said the Devil, and off they went in the midday heat.
They arrived at a beautiful pitch, and the batsman in his new gear took up a stance. Nothing happened. "Come on then," he said to the Devil, "bowl the first ball." "Ah, that's the Hell of it," said the Devil. "We haven't got any balls."
- Tony Deyal was last seen talking about what South African batsman Darryl Cullinan said when asked who were his favourite actors, "Dustin Hoffman and some Aussie bowlers in the act of appealing."