Baseball or cricket? It's a no-brainer
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
“Gerald died that afternoon. He was broken up in the football match.” This anecdote appears in E. M. Forster’s novel The Longest Journey, and has always struck me as oddly phrased: “broken up?” And how exactly did he die as a result of an injury during a school football match? We’re not told. It happens early on in the novel, so poor Gerald doesn’t have much impact on the story.
It occurs to me that organized team sports play really quite a small part in C20 English fiction. For example, if you exclude P. G. Wodehouse it’s striking how infrequently cricket appears in post-WW2 novels (or maybe I’ve just been reading the wrong ones). Looking at the “cricket in fiction” section of a certain website confirmed that there are indeed slim pickings.
This is not an original observation: it’s often been pointed out that a game that has over the decades attracted so many good writers lacks its great novel. Yet it’s a game made for a set piece at least – a Test match, or even a village game would do. Yes, there is L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between, memorably filmed by Joseph Losey with that great scene involving the rustic lover Ted Burgess played by Alan Bates smiting a six off the bowling of the aristo cuckold Trimingham (Edward Fox).
Joseph O’Neill’s acclaimed novel Netherland has sat on my shelf unread for some time now. Opening it the other day I came across the following (the novel is partly about a cricket team . . . in New York): “Softball, my teammates and I observed with a touch of snobbery, was a pastime that seemingly turned on hitting full tosses – the easiest balls a cricket batsman will ever receive – and taking soft, glove-assisted catches involving little of the skill and none of the nerve needed to catch the cricket ball’s red rock with bare hands.”
You could extend that definition to baseball – I’m sure that’s the implication. (And what about baseball’s role in American fiction? There’s Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding and the opening of Don DeLillo’s door-stopper Underworld, which I haven’t read . . . and many others no doubt – although, looking again at Richard Ford’s fine The Sportswriter, I couldn’t spot any refs to baseball in that novel.)
Which brings me to a direct and totally unnecessary comparison between the two sports: one is played professionally in a World Series, that world stretching from the East Coast to the Pacific and the Canadian border to Mexico. The other stages a World Cup every four years, featuring 16 teams. It’s not a “world” cup in any real sense, but there are plenty of associate members of the International Cricket Council, including the rapidly improving Afghanistan, Kenya, Canada and . . . the United States.
What about the game itself? In one, the pitcher generally hurls the ball at the batter; it doesn’t bounce. The batter tries to whack it out of the park and if he makes contact, drops the bat and runs to first base, or, if he gets lucky, makes a home run. The fielders wear mitts in order to facilitate the catching of the ball. It strikes me as being not much more than glorified rounders (a game I played in the park last Sunday).
Cricket’s equivalent of the pitcher, the bowler, comes in many guises: fast, medium-fast, swinging, seaming, leg-spinning, off-spinning. The ball almost always bounces of course, and deviates off the pitch: the batsman therefore can’t just whack it, but has a range of strokes, defensive and attacking, at his disposal. Of those in the field, only the wicketkeeper wears gloves. Add to that the influence of the weather conditions. And then there’s the fascination of the statistics: batting and bowling averages, immortalized in the game’s annual, Wisden.
I would rather watch somebody like David Gower stroking the ball effortlessly to the boundary (below, twice) –
than some guy trying to slam it out of the park.
And when it comes to poise and athleticism in bowling, what about the great Michael Holding in full flow (below)?
I'm sure this guy's a great pitcher, but it just doesn't do it for me:
The complexity and sophistication of cricket means that it simply has no peers. And as the current Test series between England and Australia shows, it can be pulsating over a full five days.
As for golf – a good walk spoiled as Mark Twain said – don't get me started.