I discovered ‘The Wit of Cricket’ last month, when I went to the bookshop to get another book that I had ordered. I picked this and a few more and suddenly my resolution of not buying any book during that month, evaporated into thin smoke. But this was a book that I couldn’t resist, because though I have read many cricket anecdotes forwarded to me by friends by email and also have read anecdotes in different books, I haven’t read any books which had many of the anecdotes compiled in one place. So when I saw this book, I got quite excited and got it. I started reading it during the read-a-thon and finished it a few days later. Here are the review (short) and the excerpts (long) 🙂
What I think
The book is a collection of humorous anecdotes told by various interesting characters, some of whom have played cricket, and others who were cricket commentators. It has many of the famous anecdotes and many less known ones. It is anglo-centric with some Australian flavour – humour from other countries like India, South Africa, West Indies and others is nearly absent. Inspite of this limitation, this book is excellent. It makes one laugh. Many of the anecdotes are very funny and I nearly got a bellyache laughing 🙂 Many of the anecdotes are not politically correct, which adds to the humour. If you are a cricket fan, you will love this book.
It was a difficult choice for me to select a few anecdotes to give here, because I had many favourites. However I have tried giving a few below, to give you a flavour of the book. I have also posted a couple of anecdotes from this book on my blog here. I have given the anecdotes under two categories – legendary ones and the no-so-famous ones. Though I have categorized them thus, both of them are equally enjoyable reads. I also hope that the anecdotes which are not politically correct don’t annoy you.
Even if you are not a cricket fan, I hope that these anecdotes make you laugh and brighten up your day.
Legendary anecdotesIn his old age, Sir Donald Bradman retained a wicked sense of humour. He was once asked by a newspaperman, ‘How do you think you would have fared against today’s bowlers, Sir Donald? Your career average was ninety-nine in Tests; what do you think it would have been against modern bowling and field-placing?Bradman pondered the point for a moment, then replied, ‘I think I might have averaged about thirty-eight or thirty-nine perhaps.’The reporter was shaken. ‘Do you mean,’ he asked breathlessly, ‘that you regard today’s bowling as so much better?’‘Oh, no,’ said Sir Donald. ‘What you asked was what do I think I would have averaged today, and the answer is thirty-eight or thirty-nine. Don’t forget that today I’m eighty-four years old!’ (as told by Fred Trueman)Brian Close was one of the bravest cricketers I’ve ever seen. Remember him batting against the West Indies in 1963, against Hall and Griffith? Rather than risk giving a catch, he bared his chest at them and let the ball hit him. You could see the maker’s name all over him. He was very brave and, of course, he always fielded near in at short-leg.There’s a story about when Yorkshire were playing Gloucestershire and Martin Young was batting; Ray Illingworth was bowling and Close was right in there at forward short-leg.For once, Ray bowled a bit of a short ball outside the off stump, which Martin Young pulled and he got Close above his right eye. The ball ballooned up over Jimmy Binks, the wicket-keeper, and into the hands of Phil Sharpe at first slip – caught!Blood was pouring down Close’s face. It didnt’ worry him, he just wiped it away, and fielded for about another ten minutes. Then the lunch interval came and he walked back – blood still pouring down – and as he went in, one of the members said, ‘Mr.Close, you mustn’t stand as near as that. It’s very dangerous. What would have happened if it had hit you slap between the eyes?’He said, ‘He’d have been caught at cover!’ (as told by Brian Johnston)During a county championship match between Glamorgan and Somerset, Greg Thomas was bowling to Viv Richards. The Glamorgan paceman had managed to beat the bat a couple of times and was feeling rather pleased with himself. He taunted Richards, ‘It’s red, round and weighs about five ounces, in case you were wondering.’The next delivery, Viv Richards took an almighty heave at the ball and smashed it straight out of the ground and into a river – after which he turned to Thomas and said, ‘Greg, you know what it looks like. Now go and find it!’(as told by Barry Johnston)During a Test match, Fred Trueman forced an edge from the batsman and it flew straight towards Raman Subba Row standing at first slip. Not only did Subba Row fail to catch it, but the ball went right through his legs and carried on down to the third-man boundary. Trueman was silently fuming as he trudged back to his mark. At the end of the over, Subba Row, looking suitably embarrassed, went up to the bowler and said apologetically, ‘Sorry, Fred. I should’ve kept my legs together.’Trueman snorted, ‘Not you, son. Your mother should’ve!’ (as told by Barry Johnston)Harold Larwood was once staying with a friend in the West Country, an visited a village cricket match on the Saturday afternoon. The visiting side were one short and Larwood was pressed to play without anyone knowing who he was. As both umpires came from the home side, who were batting, it proved difficult to get them out.In desperation, the captain asked Larwood if he could bowl. He said that he would have a try and, taking a short run, sent down an off-spinner, which the batsman missed. It hit him in the middle of both legs, which were right in front of the wicket. Larwood appealed and ‘Not out’ was the reply. The next one, a leg-break, was snicked into the wicket-keeper’s hands. Again ‘Not out’ was the reply.Larwood then took his usual run of over twenty yards and sent down a thunderbolt, which knocked all three stumps out of the ground. Turning to the umpire he said, ‘We very nearly had him that time, didn’t we?’ (as told by Brian Johnston)Not-so-well-known anecdotesDuring a county championship match between Middlesex and Yorkshire at Lord’s, Geoffrey Boycott kept reminding everyone that it was his one thousandth innings in first-class ‘crickit’. Angus Fraser bowled superbly in the match and got so frustrated with Boycott’s playing and missing that he finally emitted an agonised, ‘D’you want a bell in it, Granddad?’‘If tha can see so well, why doesn’t tha bool stoomps?’ came the triumphant reply. (as told by Simon Hughes)Brian Johnston was an enthusiastically active president of the Metro Club for the Blind and his regular plugs for the Primary Club on Test Match Special greatly boosted that famous charity’s membership. One of Johnners’ favourite stories involved his interview with a blind parachutist.Brian said, ‘I am full of admiration for what you do. Incredibly courageous. But how on earth do you know when you are about to land?’The blind man replied, ‘Oh, that’s no problem! The lead on the guide dog goes slack!’ (as told by Bill Frindall)One of the things we like to do on Test Match Special is an interview during the lunch interval on Saturdays, called ‘A View from the Boundary’, where the great and the good, who’ve got an interest in cricket, come into the commentary box for a chat. In 2005 the actor Nigel Havers came in to be my guest during the Edgbaston Test match. After we’d talked for about a quarter of an hour, I said to him, ‘Tell me, Nigel, do you have any trouble with sex scenes?’He said, rather quickly, ‘What do you mean?’I said, ‘Oh, nothing really, I just thought you might have found them rather embarrassing.’‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘I thought I was going to, but I didn’t. The reason was that before I did my first sex scene on a movie I ran into Roger Moore, who gave me a great piece of advice. He said that before you embark upon a sex scene you’ve always got to apologize to the girl, before you even go into the first rehearsal, and you make two apologies. First of all you say to her, “My dear, I apologize heartily if I get aroused during the course of this,” and then you add, “but I apologise even more if I don’t get aroused!”‘ (as told by Henry Blofeld)Another great character on Test Match Special was Don Mosey, who was known as ‘The Alderman’. He was talking about David Gower at Headingley in 1989 when he said, ‘This is David Gower’s one hundredth Test match and I’ll tell you something. He’s reached his one hundredth Test in fewer Test matches than any other player!’ (as told by Brian Johnston)John Arlott was never at a loss to find the right words to describe a situation for those who could not see it. Many of his descriptive phrases have passed into both broadcasting and cricket legend :‘Umpire Fagg, his face like Walt Disney’s idea of what a grandfather should look like.’On a characteristically long and dogged innings from Geoffrey Boycott : ‘No man is an island, but he has batted as though he was a particularly long peninsula.’‘Bev Congdon remains at the crease to frustrate England, like some lingering, unloved guest at a party.’‘Charlotte Rampling is in the crowd. Charlotte Rampling. Her name to me suggestive of an active verb.’(as told by Fred Trueman)(Comment : I really missed listening to Arlott’s commentary. Reading the above, one feels that it must have been an absolute pleasure listening to his commentary. I loved his comment about Charlotte Rampling!)Colin Milburn, known to everyone as ‘Ollie’, was in the same league as P.G.Wodehouse’s Right Honourable friend who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!’ Fat men are often naturally humorous and Milburn always seemed to be the ideal chap to audition for the job of Stan Laurel’s partner if ever another had been needed.Milburn’s figure raised a few eyebrows when he first joined Northamptonshire. They sent him on training runs with the rest of the team, but he was just not built to run a long way. After about half a mile the others had left him behind, so he thumbed a lift on a milk float and sailed past the rest of the team a bit further up the road!On another occasion, Keith Andrew, his county captain, suggested that Colin should try to do something about his weight, and also get some more hundreds.‘Why don’t you drink halves instead of pints?’ Andrew asked. Milburn made 150 that day and it was only about halfway through the afternoon.‘What are you going to drink then, Colin?’ Andrew asked him.Quick as a flash he said, ‘Two halves, please, guv!’ (as told by Henry Blofeld)A Yorkshireman who played with Northamptonshire in the 1950s was Des Barrick, a big practical joker, who was born in the same row of terraced houses as Geoff Boycott.A legendary fast bowler Frank Tyson was one of Des’s team-mates. Now Frank did not care much for the ground at Derby, but there was one consolation – the enormous antique baths, ideal for a post-match soak when the old bones were aching like mad and the biting wind had reached the parts that other winds could not reach. One typically freezing day, he had jumped straight in the huge bath and was just beginning to get some feeling back into his fingers and toes when Des ‘Roly-Poly’ Barrick tiptoed in and poured a bucket of ice-cold water over him.Frank almost hit the ceiling, not to mention Des. In any case, the cackling Des was off like a shot. So Frank decided on revenge. He wrapped his towel round him, filled another bucket with ice-cold water, marched into the adjoining room where Des was sitting, and poured it over his colleague’s head.Des was fully dressed by this time, and he stood there, as if in a state of shock, with the water soaking into his clothes. A wicked grin slowly spread across his face and Frank was a bit taken aback. Then came the punchline. Chortled Des, ‘I’ve got news for thee, Frank, old lad. I rather thought you might try summat like that, so I’ve put thy clothes on!’(as told by Dickie Bird)The Reverend David Sheppard had one or two catching lapses on the 1962/63 MCC tour of Australia. They were all the more poignant to me because they occurred when he was fielding at short fine-leg, a position I regarded very definitely as mine. I couldn’t field there to my own bowling, of course, and so the future Bishop of Liverpool was occasionally to be found there. Eventually, his mistakes caused him to be moved to deep fine-leg, and it was there that his moment of triumph came…or so he thought. Fred Titmus dropped one short, the batsman hooked, and Sheppard, on the boundary, held the catch.In a frenzy of delight, he hurled the ball high into the air and, as he waited for the ball to return to his hands, the voice of Brian Statham was heard from the neighbouring third man : ‘You’d better chuck it in, Rev. It was a no-ball and they’re on their third run!’ (as told by Fred Trueman)Whenever I go out to Australia I always fly straight back, I don’t stop off for a day’s rest on the way. But when I was there last time we had a married couple with us and they decided to have three days in Bangkok on the way back. They had two very pleasant days and on the last day the wife said, ‘I’m going shopping, you go and amuse yourself.’He thought, ‘Good idea!’ So he went to the hotel porter and got the address of a massage parlour. He went and knocked on the door and a little Thai girl came and said, ‘What can I do for you, sir?’He said, ‘I’d like a massage.’‘Certainly, sir.’‘How much will that be?’‘A thousand dollars.’‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I can’t afford a thousand dollars. Two hundred dollars is the most that I can afford.’She said, ‘I’m sorry, a thousand is our price. You’d better go somewhere else.’Well, he didn’t bother. He went window shopping and went to pick up his wife at the appointed time. They were walking back to the hotel when down the street came this Thai girl, who looked at his wife and said, ‘There you are. See what you get for two hundred dollars!’ (as told by Brian Johnston)One of the great umpiring remarks of all time must be that of Arthur Jepson, formerly of Notts, who was standing at Old Trafford during that celebrated limited-overs match against Gloucestershire, which went on unitl a few seconds before 9 p.m.It was late in the day when Jackie Bond, the Lancashire captain, came in to bat. The lights were on in the pavilion and in Warwick Road station; the moon and the stars were clearly visible in the night sky. Bond looked at Jepson and asked, ‘What are we doing, playing in this light?’Jepson replied, tartly, ‘What about the light?’‘Well, it’s pretty dark, isn’t it?’ retorted Jackie, staunchly.‘What’s that up there?’ questioned Jepson, gazing up at the sky.Bond responded, ‘Well, that’s what I mean – it’s the moon, isn’t it?’Jepson returned, ‘And how far away is that?’Bond thought for a minute, and replied, ‘It’s about two hundred and sixty thousand miles, isn’t it?’Jepson ended the conversation with, ‘Then how bloody far do you want to see?’ (as told by Fred Trueman)A man, whose wife was in hospital expecting a baby, telephoned one afternoon to see what the news was. By mistake he got the local cricket ground. When he asked what was the latest position the reply came back, ‘There are seven out already – and the last two were ducks!’ (as told by Brian Johnston)It was the first day of a recent Test match between England and Australia at Lord’s. A smartly dressed, athletic figure strode up to the Grace Gates to collect his ticket, which had been left for him by one of the England players. He approached one of the famous Lord’s gatemen.‘Excuse me, has a ticket for Lord Coe been left here by one of the players?’‘I’ll have a look, sir, but I don’t remember any name like that. No, I am afraid there isn’t one here.’‘Are you sure? It’s for Lord Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 Organising Committee.’‘No, I’m sorry, sir. But sometimes tickets are left at the North Gate on the other side of the ground.’‘No, he definitely said the Grace Gates. Surely you recognize me? I’m Sebastian Coe, the double Olympic gold medallist and world record breaker in the 800 metres, 1500 metres and the mile.’‘Well, I wouldn’t know about that, sir, but if you really are Sebastian Coe, it shouldn’t take you too long to run round to the North Gate!’. (as told by Barry Johnston)(Comment : Sunil Gavaskar, the great Indian opening batsman, took offence to his not being admitted into Lord’s once, and so when the MCC (Marylebourne Cricket Club), which owns Lord’s, invited him to become its member, he rejected the invite. When the legendary Lord’s gatesmen didn’t admit Sebastian Coe inside and in another case they gave the same treatment to Tony Greig, the England Test Captain (when a test match was in progress at Lord’s), I don’t know why Gavaskar took offence. He should have probably laughed it off.)
I hope you enjoyed reading the humorous anecdotes and I hope it inspires you to read the book.