Stovepipe with a quick legover – Bill Bryson on cricket

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In his book on Australia, Down Under, (entitled In a Sunburned Country in the USA and Canada), there is a moment when Bill Bryson is trying to find something to listen to on the radio while driving towards, if I recall properly, Adelaide. Nothing seems to be on the air. But, eventually, he comes across coverage of a cricket match. This gives him an opportunity to unleash a hilarious parody of cricket terminology and commentary styles. If you don’t know anything about cricket and can’t tell a square leg from a silly point or a third slip, have a look at the map of real fielding positions above, which may help you to understand what he is making fun of.

 

Eventually the radio dial presented only an uninterrupted cat’s hiss of static but for one clear spot near the end of the dial. At first I thought that’s all it was — just an empty clear spot — but then I realized I could hear the faint shiftings and stirrings of seated people, and after quite a pause, a voice, calm and reflective, said:

“Pilchard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . . oh, he’s out! Yes, he’s got him. Longwilley is caught legbefore in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now what do you make of that, Neville?”

“That’s definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don’t think I’ve seen offside medium-slow fast-pace bowling to match it since Badel-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.”

I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.
 

 

[…] it must be said there is something incomparably soothing about cricket on the radio. It has much the same virtues as baseball on the radio –an unhurried pace, a comforting devotion to abstruse statistics and thoughtful historical rumination, exhilarating micro-moments of real action – but stretched across many more hours and with a lushness of terminology and restful elegance of expression that even baseball cannot match. Listening to cricket on the radio is like listening to two men sitting in a rowing boat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren’t biting: it’s like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what’s going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.

‘So here comes Stovepipe to bowl on this glorious summer’s afternoon at the MCG,’ one of the commentators was saying now. ‘I wonder if he’ll chance an offside drop scone here or go for the quick legover. Stovepipe has an unusual delivery in that he actually leaves the grounds and starts his run just outside the Carlton & United Brewery at Kooyong.’

‘That’s right, Clive. I haven’t known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of a number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up at Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction.’

After a very long silence while they absorbed this thought, and possibly stepped out to transact some small errands, they resumed with a leisurely discussion of the England fielding. Neasden, it appeared, was turning in a solid performance at square bowel, while Packet had been a stalwart in the dribbles, though even these exemplary performances paled when set beside the outstanding play of young Hugh Twain-Buttocks at middle nipple. The commentators were in calm agreement that they had not seen anyone caught behind with such panache since Tandoori took Rogan Josh for a stiff at Vindaloo in ’61. At last, Stovepipe, having found his way over the railway line at Flinders Street – the footbridge was evidently closed for painting – returned to the stadium and bowled to Hasty, who deftly turned the ball away for a corner. This was repeated four times more over the next two hours and then one of the commentators pronounced: ‘So as we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain.’

I may not have all the terminology exactly right, but that I believe I have caught the flavour of it.

 

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