A large part of the appeal of the stories was the wordplay and jokes, and I remember one to this day. Jennings has a pet rat, which he keeps in a shoe box as I recall. He is discussing the rat with his amiable housemaster – Mr Carter? – and tells him, “I call it Gloucestershire, sir, because it’s got a long tail.”
If you are not smiling, I should explain that, in the cricket county championship of that year, Gloucestershire was noted for its poor batting. Batsmen 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 were incapable of reaching double figures and this was known, in cricketing parlance, as a “long tail”.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it; I haven’t heard the expression in years. But my point is that, back in 1957, I and all my fellow 8 year old chums did get it, just as we also got Buckeridge’s Latin puns! Cricket was part of our lives. We knew the scores each day; we knew who was top of the championship, and who was top of the averages.
I don’t know any of these today. The county scoreboards are not easily come by. Most of the time, one is not even aware that games are being played. There is no structure to the season. A four day county game or two is followed by a random assortment of one day games, one night games, and day-night games. And we are told that, next year, we shall have yet another competition of 10 overs of 10 balls. Or something like that anyway.
Even the test series is being subjected to the same cavalier treatment of the schedule. Starting today is the second test. And then, nothing until August – apart from ODIs. It’s madness.
Matthew Engel, once the editor of Wisden, the cricketing bible, wrote recently about this lack of a season-long narrative, attributing his falling out of love with cricket to this vandalism. He used a religious metaphor: he still believes, but no longer attends church with any regularity or enjoyment. And he contrasts cricket with baseball, referring to his daily check on the box scores from St Louis (unaccountably he is a Cardinals fan) and wondering whether next year’s proposed two game series between the Sox and the Yankees may remind English sports fans of what they have lost, certainly what they are missing.
I suspect it will. Like Engel, I have embraced the game of baseball. And although I am currently listening to Test Match Special from Headingley, and although I managed a day the Oval test last year, it is baseball that keeps my summer on the daily straight and narrow.
The prospect of rain at Headingley could well England’s best chance of avoiding defeat in the test match.
But whatever happens, I fear that English cricket is already facing an innings defeat.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Been listening to the Dead’s run at the Warfield in October 1980. Not my favourite period by any means, but these are very good shows and the work of the digital engineers has worked wonders with some iffy SBDs and audience recordings. Also, on the 11th, John Cippolina makes a guest appearance.