Football may be a funny old game, but cricket is downright peculiar.
England have tonked the West Indies for their first series victory in the Caribbean for 36 years. They are leading 3-0 after three tests; a remarkable scoreline. The Windies are in complete disarray, demoralised, staring in disbelief at the possibility of an unprecedented home whitewash in the four match series. Brian Lara, the Windies only remaining genuinely great cricketer, has scored 100 runs total in the first three tests.
So what happens?
Lara scores 400, reclaiming the world record for the highest individual score in a test innings. It is brilliant, unique, a ridiculous, fabulous end to an increasingly preposterous series. Lara, with the single most outstanding individual batting performance of all time, will probably lose the captaincy of the Windies because, in reality, his team have been thrown to the wolves in this series. If this makes any sense, it must be in a different world to our own.
This is what non-lovers of cricket don’t really understand. It isn’t the sluggish, endlessly unchanging mystery of repute; it’s a constantly fluctuating and developing series of myths. That’s why, for many people, Test Match Special is the true home of cricket. It’s not just a bunch of old stagers chuntering away, talking gibberish about silly points and fine legs, and eating cake (though it is unashamedly all of these). It’s a constantly evolving narration of myth. Devon Malcolm’s “you guys are history” incident, David Gower buzzing the ground in a biplane, Bodyline, Botham at Headingley and a thousand thousand minor tweaks and chirrups of myth bouncing along in an endlessly amiable tide of observation, the trivial bumping alongside the momentous in a joyfully unjudgemental carnival of human nature.
The very best summation of this charmingly batty world is found in one of the late Douglas Adams’ finest moments, where his interstellar travellers, Arthur and Ford, find themselves unexpectedly in the middle of a test match at Lords, sitting on a Chesterfield sofa. Adams, deliciously, switches to the commentators, telling us far more about cricket than about anything so silly as space travel:
“For those of you who’ve just tuned in, you may be interested to know that, er … two men, two rather scruffily attired men, and indeed a sofa — a Chesterfield I think?”
“Yes, a Chesterfield.”
“Have just materialized here in the middle of Lord’s Cricket Ground. But I don’t think they meant any harm, they’ve been very good-natured about it, and …”
“Sorry, can I interrupt you a moment Peter and say that the sofa has just vanished.”
“So it has. Well, that’s one mystery less. Still, it’s definitely one for the record books I think, particularly occurring at this dramatic moment in play, England now needing only twenty-four runs to win the series. The men are leaving the pitch in the company of a police officer, and I think everyone’s settling down now and play is about to resume.”
(Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything, chapter four)
The unimprovable line in here, typical of Adams, is “Well, that’s one mystery less.” Well played, sir. A perfect reverse (logic) sweep.