[Book review]The oddity of cricketIt’s impossible to explain cricket to someone who didn’t grow up with the game. To outsiders, a sport that lasts five days, is played from noon to dusk and doesn’t always end with a victor is odd, to say the least.
But “Parachutist at Fine Leg” by the Australian cricket journalist Gideon Haigh is an entertaining introduction to the some of the more idiosyncractic features of the game.
“Only a game so traditional, so formal and so ritualized could find so much scope for the odd, the unexpected and the ridiculous,” Haigh writes.
His book is a collection of tall tales from the annual publication Wisden, the world’s oldest extant sports annual. It started in 1864 and is published in April, signaling the start of the English cricket season.
Haigh has trawled through these Wisden match reports and selected some of the more unusual entries.
In addition to tales involving high and low scores, deaths on the pitch, individual feats and classic matches, we are treated to snippets of about a match in 1877 that was interrupted by “slowly promenading society belles.” There’s another entry about a clash between Leg vs. One Arm, which was presumably a game between amputees. Then there’s the game that was interrupted for “little more than half a minute” when a German V-1 flying bomb exploded nearby, and any number of matches delayed by bees, sparrows, elk, deer and, in at least one case, snakes. And, of course, the tale that gives book its title: the Chilean who combines skydiving and cricket.
The humor is acquired: It’s heavily ironic and doesn’t translate well into other languages and cultures. I wouldn’t be surprised if Haigh’s book merely confirms the suspicions that cricket-lovers, and especially the English, really are a bunch of cranks. But if you ever visit a cricket-playing nation, especially India, a few quotes from Haigh’s book will win you many friends. By Michael Gibb
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