Playwright’s XI deliver a good line

Cricket, lovely cricket….

Cricket - from Punch Magazine, June 1937
Cricket on the village green: where even failure causes jollity (Punch cartoon from June 1937)

Regular readers (if there are any) may suspect I rarely even glance at the sports pages of the paper. This morning, however, just as I was about to toss the Guardian’s supplement into the recycling bin I caught sight of Frank Keating’s elegant column on the back page. His opening stroke, mentioning Stoppard’s The Real Thing, was followed by further evidence of the ways playwrights throw in allusions to the game. Gems include a reference to the scary brainwashing scene in The Birthday Party which includes the unanswerable question ‘Who watered the wicket in Melbourne?’ (which, Keating adds, “the Germans translated as ‘Who pissed on the Australian gate?'”). There is also a reminder of Jack Rosenthal’s beguiling play, P’tang Yang Kipperbang, woven around the commentaries of John Arlott. I loved to use this TV play with classes who had probably never heard the man himself on the radio.

The online version of Keating’s article has the rather more clumsy headline ‘Playwright’s XI would know how to bowl a good line’. Evidence, perhaps, that the possibility of greater prolixity away from the restrictions of a fixed page width is not always a good thing. To confirm this, today’s G2 supplement has an article about a sporting match headed, in print: ‘It’s just not cricket!’ The online version is the more prosaic ‘Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik: the romance that gripped two nations’. The article, alas, has nothing to match Keating’s inclusion of Beckett’s alleged instruction to imagine the parts of Vladimir and Estragon as ‘batsmen numbers five and six fretfully waiting to begin their innings at a Test Match at Lord’s’.