On Saturday I found myself on a village green watching a cricket match. I had not planned to watch it, I just happened to be there and soon became wrapped up in the great contest. I did not know the teams involved, but after a short while spectating the various characters of the players emerged. Batting was obviously the team’s star player, and boy did he know it: he strutted arogantly, prodded the pitch with his bat as if he were at Lord’s cricket ground during a test match. When he received a ball he treated the bowler with disdain and struck it cleanly to the boundary of the field. If he happen to miss a ball (which happened more often than he probably realised, and certainly more often than he would recount in the bar later that evening) he would admonish himself by smacking his bat into his pads and screaming some expletive. Every cricket team has one of these players.
Eventually he hit a ball to the deep and started to run, his partner at the other end responded but our alpha male wanted a second and turned to run again. There was a mix up! Both batsmen at the same end! Shouts from the fielding side, ball thrown in, wickets broken and with a cheer our hero had to depart from the field of play. Oh his exit was spectacularly angry! His erstwhile partner walked towards him to offer a word of apology and consolation, but he was rebuffed and ignored as the bat inflicted damage to the turf. I am sure that when he reached the pavilion we would have thrown his bat against the wall and screamed abuse to all and sundry, and no doubt the rest of his team giggled and exchanged glances as they lounged in the sun and prepared to watch the next stage of the game.
Anyway, the match went on and the batting side seemed to accumulate a good total, although wickets fell regularly until suddenly, and without ceremony, everything stopped and the players trooped back to the pavilion for tea.
It was a scene that was being repeated throughout the nation and in a world of political strife and uncertainty it provided a splendidly reassuring sense of normality.
I have loved cricket since I was around 10 years of age, I played it at school and at club level and followed both the Kent County Cricket Club and the England team through thick and thin (mainly the latter).
I am aware that many of my readers are from the United States of America where cricket is not a popular sport, indeed your knowledge of cricket is probably as extensive as mine is of what you call ‘football’ (a sport where the ball is predominantly thrown and the ‘foot’ seems rarely to come in contact with the ‘ball’ but that is just me being pedantic).
So, let me try to explain. The most important contests, internationally, are the test matches and these are played over 5 days (yes, that’s right – FIVE days). Each team has 11 players and the side that is batting (let us call them a) has to try and amass as many runs as possible until the opposition (for arguments sake let us call then b) has got them all out, at which point they swap over and it all starts again. When each team has had one innings the first team (a) goes in again and scores more runs, leaving their opponents (b) a target to score in the final innings. If team (a) gets all of team (b) out before they have reached the target then (a) has won, but if (b) reaches the target amount of runs then they win. However, if team (b) do NOT reach the target, but are NOT all out, then the match is a draw! Yes, after 5 days of playing it is often the case that a match has no result!
For a much simpler and more concise explanation of our national game allow me to quote from tea towel which was in wide circulation during the days of my youth:
Cricket as Explained to a Foreigner
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.
When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!
What, you may ask, does all this have to do with the works of Charles Dickens? Well, in Chapter 7 of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club Mr Pickwick and his friends, Mr Tupman, Mr Snodgrass and Mr Winkle, travelled to the town of Muggleton where a great cricket match was to be played against the team from Dingley Dell.
The scene was much the same as the one that I witnessed on Saturday:
The wickets were pitched, and so were a couple of marquees for the rest and refreshment of the contending parties. The game had not yet commenced. Two or three Dingley Dellers, and All– Muggletonians, were amusing themselves with a majestic air by throwing the ball carelessly from hand to hand; and several other gentlemen dressed like them, in straw hats, flannel jackets, and white trousers — a costume in which they looked very much like amateur stone-masons — were sprinkled about the tents, towards one of which Mr. Wardle conducted the party…..
….All–Muggleton had the first innings; and the interest became intense when Mr. Dumkins and Mr. Podder, two of the most renowned members of that most distinguished club, walked, bat in hand, to their respective wickets. Mr. Luffey, the highest ornament of Dingley Dell, was pitched to bowl against the redoubtable Dumkins, and Mr. Struggles was selected to do the same kind office for the hitherto unconquered Podder. Several players were stationed, to ‘look out,’ in different parts of the field, and each fixed himself into the proper attitude by placing one hand on each knee, and stooping very much as if he were ‘making a back’ for some beginner at leap-frog. All the regular players do this sort of thing; — indeed it is generally supposed that it is quite impossible to look out properly in any other position.
The umpires were stationed behind the wickets; the scorers were prepared to notch the runs; a breathless silence ensued. Mr. Luffey retired a few paces behind the wicket of the passive Podder, and applied the ball to his right eye for several seconds. Dumkins confidently awaited its coming with his eyes fixed on the motions of Luffey.
‘Play!’ suddenly cried the bowler. The ball flew from his hand straight and swift towards the centre stump of the wicket. The wary Dumkins was on the alert: it fell upon the tip of the bat, and bounded far away over the heads of the scouts, who had just stooped low enough to let it fly over them.
‘Run — run — another. — Now, then throw her up — up with her — stop there — another — no — yes — no — throw her up, throw her up!’— Such were the shouts which followed the stroke; and at the conclusion of which All–Muggleton had scored two. Nor was Podder behindhand in earning laurels wherewith to garnish himself and Muggleton. He blocked the doubtful balls, missed the bad ones, took the good ones, and sent them flying to all parts of the field. The scouts were hot and tired; the bowlers were changed and bowled till their arms ached; but Dumkins and Podder remained unconquered. Did an elderly gentleman essay to stop the progress of the ball, it rolled between his legs or slipped between his fingers. Did a slim gentleman try to catch it, it struck him on the nose, and bounded pleasantly off with redoubled violence, while the slim gentleman’s eyes filled with water, and his form writhed with anguish. Was it thrown straight up to the wicket, Dumkins had reached it before the ball. In short, when Dumkins was caught out, and Podder stumped out, All–Muggleton had notched some fifty-four, while the score of the Dingley Dellers was as blank as their faces. The advantage was too great to be recovered. In vain did the eager Luffey, and the enthusiastic Struggles, do all that skill and experience could suggest, to regain the ground Dingley Dell had lost in the contest — it was of no avail; and in an early period of the winning game Dingley Dell gave in, and allowed the superior prowess of All–Muggleton.
The original idea behind the Pickwick Papers was not Charles Dickens’ at all; he had been approached by a famous illustrator and caricaturist by the name of Robert Seymour who had built his reputation on creating either political or sporting cartoons. Seymour’s idea was to produce a series of sporting prints chronicling the adventures of a club called The Nimrod Club. Rather than just publish the illustrations Seymour set out to find a young author to provide witty captions for his work. Dickens, using the name Boz, was the succesful candidate.
Far from being a submissive junior partner 24 year old Charles rather took the project over and convinced Robert Seymour that a full-length serialised novel was the way to go, suggesting that comic prints were too old fashioned, the sort of thing William Hogarth had been producing a century before. The idea of a club appealed however, but why not make it a corresponding society? That way the members could travel throughout Britain and the book would be made up from their written accounts. The subject matter could be so more far reaching than simply sport.
As to the clubs name? How about the Pickwick Club?
Seymour’s involvement did not last long, he provided the illustrations for the first monthly instalment, including the famous picture Mr Pickwick addressing the club, but during the preparation of the second month’s adventures Dickens and Seymour had a disagreement over an illustration entitled The Dying Clown.
Dickens (remember very much the junior partner, unknown and writing under a pseudonym) vigorously argued that the face of the clown was too grotesque and terrifying, and suggested in no uncertain terms that Seymour should return home and produce a new picture that was more suitable. Charles did send him on his way with a glimmer of hope, offering a grain of faint praise, for he suggested that the proportion and perspective of a little table in the foreground had been ‘achieved admirably’.
That night Robert Seymour committed suicide.
Chapter seven of The Pickwick Papers contains not only the account of the cricket match but also a brilliant description of Mr Winkle trying to shoot rooks, but only succeeding in wounding Mr Tupman.
Above all others Chapter Seven represents Robert Seymour’s forgotten dream.