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The One True Book




Why don't we just teach the Afghanis, the Taliban, the Israelis and the Palestinians to play Test Cricket?

A Test Series usually spans five matches. It's a genteel game, played over five days per match. That’s twenty five days in which nothing very serious ever happens.

Test Cricket is an internationally sanctioned form of ritualised aggression. It is extremely formalised. For spectators of this game quite a lot of time is spent watching seagulls avoiding being hit by the ball. Otherwise, if a match is not quite as lively as usual, just watching the grass grow! And when it rains the spectators just sit around chatting under their umbrellas and plastic ponchos waiting for the rain to end. Sometimes an entire game can be washed out by rain and at such times even the most fanatical supporters may go missing.

Cricket is a most complex "historical" game, full of facts which are duly recorded in The Book of Wisden. The Book of Wisden is really quite an authoritative text. It differs from other so-called historical texts such as the Bible, the New Testament, or the Koran, which also claim that their particular version of history is “true”, while at the same time dismissing all the other big books as “manifestly false”.

If the Book of Wisden claims that a particular Batsman scored 135 runs in an innings, and that he was dismissed by being caught or run out at that score, and that the name of the catcher or fielder is such and such, well... that is an undisputed fact. And if it says that a particular Bowler took 5 wickets at a cost of seventy runs in that innings, that achievement is also recorded as an undeniable fact.

Some other “big books” are not quite so factual. For example, The Bible states that Joshua and his allies, the men of Gibeon, needed extra time to win a decisive battle against his God’s enemies, the Amorites, and that his God was good enough to stop the Sun in its passage across the sky, holding it stationary until the victory was completed by the end of the day’s play. This was not a statement of fact. At best it was simply an imaginative distortion. We might call it poetic licence. We might also call that colourful account of the battle, a lie.

Clearly, if Joshua and his enemies had been contesting a five day Test Match, God would not have been required to intervene and cause the Sun to pause in its passage across the sky. And this would have made life a lot easier for Galileo during the many years he endured under the Inquisition, two thousand years after that lie was invented by the Scribes who wrote that particular text.

Another thing about the game of Cricket, which the British introduced to all their colonial outposts over recent centuries, is that it is played on a level playing field. Even in the Trobriand Islands where they have evolved their own version of the game, they play upon a level playing field, well, pretty level... it sometimes gets a bit ragged near the perimeter where the ball is frequently lost amongst the shrubbery.

None of the many little wars which preoccupy us today are played on a level playing field. And the rules of war established under the Geneva Convention are frequently disregarded. Well, let’s be more accurate about that. When are the rules for the proper conduct of warfare as enshrined under the Geneva Convention ever followed? Whether we are talking about cluster bombs in Lebanon and Laos, landmines in Afghanistan, white phosphorus artillery in Gaza, torture of suspects in the War Against Terror, the mass murders of thousands of Bosnian prisoners in Srebrenica, wherever you look you will see that the rules and codes established for the proper conduct of war, the gentlemen’s rules enshrined under the Geneva Convention, and agreed to by all the Nations of the World, do not seem to apply very much at all.

Now I don't mean to suggest that in Test Cricket people never get hurt. Of course they do. Sometimes batsmen are hit on the head by an extremely hard ball travelling at 140kms per hour. Even when wearing a helmet this can leave such an unfortunate batsman staggering and concussed, not knowing who they are or how they got there. Occasionally fielders run into each other because they are doing the right thing and keeping their “eye on the ball”. This is a good idea most of the time, but a little risky if two of them are running after the same ball at the same time, trying to occupy the very same space at the very same time, and as you know, the laws of Physics simply do not permit this. Sometimes fielders break their arms or dislocate their shoulders just trying to keep their eyes upon the flight of the ball.

So, I’m forced to admit it’s true that in Test Cricket people do occasionally get hurt, but hardly anyone is ever killed. No one is tortured until they break down and spill the beans. Nor are families ever evicted from their homes just because one side is more successful than the other.

Another thing about Test Cricket is that you can’t just go and play the game with anyone you like, at any time you like. These games are subject to considerable protocols including the detailed planning of the series, organising accommodation for the players in fine hotels, even when they venture into the territory of the enemy. It is a game of extreme aggression played out by diplomats and gentlemen. Also Gentlewomen, I hasten to add!

Gentlemen and Gentlewomen of many races, colours, and creeds, meet to play cricket with each other in a politely hostile manner, and most of the time they follow the rules of the game, meticulously. Because it is a ritualised form of aggression there are occasional glitches, when the rules have been “put aside”, but generally they are re-instated quite soon after.

All in all, Test Cricket is a most civil "historical" game!

The Book of Wisden is the Book of Cricket. Followers of Cricket in England, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe, all of these players, in all of these different countries with quite unalike cultures, try to play the game according to the rules in a gentlemanly and sporting manner. They are obliged to accept the decision of the umpire, even when the umpire gets it wrong. It is not uncommon for umpires to get it wrong. Sometimes the "third umpire" corrects the on-field umpire, and some players take this very hard. But usually the gentlemanly rules prevail: the player must "walk" when given "out". Even when the new-fangled technology shows that a batsman was not out and the umpire got it wrong, that player must walk if the team has run out of challenges!

And women are permitted to play Test Cricket in a gentle-womanly fashion in most of Britain’s ex-colonies. This is possible even in countries such as Pakistan where Islam is the major religion, and it certainly looks like a fun game for a bunch of women to be seen running around in Burqas.

It’s true that events of a political nature occasionally make it difficult for the game to be conducted in a gentle or peaceful manner. Sometimes spectators have been known to throw missiles upon the players, and some spectators have even dared to wander nakedly upon the sacred field of play. Such incursions do not last very long and the offenders are often escorted to a cool room in the stands where they wait patiently for their clothes to be returned to them.

Although lovers of Cricket sometimes slip from their high ideals, The Book of Wisden does not encourage them to shower rockets or bombs upon the children of their enemies. There is only one form of missile sanctioned for use on the Cricket pitch... the designated “ball” which is very much the same size and weight in every country, although there are some very slight variations.

The ball which is provided for a series of matches is the choice of the home country or nation, and the visiting nation will use the ball of the home nation when playing abroad. In a particular game the old ball is replaced by a new ball at the end of eighty overs of play, so you can see that this keeps the number of missiles required for any match down to a very small number. However amongst nations at war with other nations, or even at war with themselves, the number of missiles has no limit. None at all! The nation which can afford to purchase the most missiles can fire off as many as they like, while their enemy may fire off a much smaller number because of their relative economic disadvantage. And of course, one nation may be able to afford the latest and greatest hi-tech missiles while the other nation must make do with missiles of the home-made variety.

Occasionally, an entire Test Series has been abandoned or re-scheduled and relocated in another country because of the actions of terrorists in the country where the series was first intended and arranged to be played.

The rules of Cricket do not permit or encourage the torture of participants or their removal to a foreign location for an unspecified time for “interrogation”. To the best of my knowledge, it has never been recorded in The Book of Wisden that any team from any Nation had left any landmines or unexploded cluster bombs on the level playing field for children to stumble upon after the game. It is simply unthinkable that one would have to travel to another country to play the game on a field in which unexploded devices remain from a previous encounter. Whereas in modern warfare there have been many examples where UXOs have been left in countries for many years after the war had ended, simply because the nation which spread the UXOs could not be bothered to clean up after the contest. Some of these offending countries do not think it is at all amiss that they have left such a legacy for the innocent descendants of their enemy. They do not consider that what they have done is a crime against humanity. And they do not think they should in any way change their behaviour in current engagements.

So we should encourage the Israelis, Palestinians, Afghanis, the Taliban, even the soldiers of the mighty USA, to play many series of Test Cricket. These contests would then be recorded in historically accurate detail in The Book of Wisden. Warlike peoples on all sides could then continue to struggle aggressively against each other in a more dignified way. At the same time, despite all their racial distinctions, despite all their religious differences, they could share their love of history, and thereby they might save themselves the agony of seeing so many of their children being blown to smithereens.


MONDAY, JULY 28, 2014