A Word About Cricket

These articles were published in my column in The Hobart Mercury in 2003 and a version of the first one was broadcast on ABC Grandstand

I have an aversion to GBH of the ’earole, as they say on The Bill.  So I tend to reach for the TV remote control or the radio off-button when what I once heard a kindred spirit call the ‘boofy bellowings’ of football commentary come on.  To this I would add:  the frenetic monotony of motor-racing commentary and the nasal shrieking of the gee-gees callers.   But cricket!  Ahh… that’s a different story.  Like tennis, it’s an old sport and has likewise evolved its own distinctive language with charm aplenty to disarm this non-sporty youngish curmudgeon. 

‘….Waugh is playing in the Vee, but can’t penetrate.’

‘I fancy deep extra cover was very substantially discomforted…’

‘….tickles Waqar behind square leg and coasts for a single.’

‘…leg stump to Waugh who tucks himself up and dollies out to cover.’

Isn’t that delicious?  I have only the vaguest idea what they’re talking about, but who cares?   I’ve been in love with cricket language ever since, as a girl, I used to chuckle over such concepts as googlies, gullies, silly mid-on, and bowling a maiden over.  ‘Tickling Waqar behind square leg’ is my new personal favourite.

And the names!  I love the foursquare rhythmic symmetry of the Pakistanis – Shoab Aktar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Javed Miandad.  Once the unfamiliarity wears off, there’s something deeply appealing to the Australian psyche about these names.  I mean, what Aussie could resist a bloke named Waqar?  As for ‘Javed Miandad’, it’s an almost reverse-anagram of ‘Dad ‘n Dave’, give or take, and in its suggestion of tripleness of persons, it pleasingly reminds me of my late grandfather, who took inordinate pleasure in hearing the name McInerney spoken, because it afforded him the opportunity to trot out his favourite gag, viz, and for instance, the time my big brother complained that Tom McInerney had nicked his football, and Pop mirthfully replied:  What, all three of them?  He never tired of that one!

I love the rolling multisyllabic euphony of the Indians and Sri Lankans – Tillakaratne, Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan, and I love the ones that remind you (sometimes inescapably, which can get tiresome) of a song:  Lokuarachchi, Manamana, and Ganguly, as in gooly gooly wotcher.  Why the latter hasn’t been nicknamed ‘Ging’, I can’t imagine.

Actually, yes I can.  In these days of hair-trigger sensitivity on matters of race, ethnicity and culture, such innocent playfulness might be construed as a dig or a slur, more’s the pity, and I know for a fact that the ABC insists its commentators master the names of visiting players well before play starts.    

Not like in the old days.  Remember the former Indian captain, the Nawab of Pataudi?  As I recall from seeing him on telly, he had a certain languorousness about him, an air of aristocratic disdain for the presence of the media.  And I remember how he once scandalised us all by leaving a test series in Australia to pursue his latest ladylove, a famous bellydancer.  There’s style for you!

Our commentators used to call him simply ‘Pat’. 

This was the follow-up column ….

I was looking forward to a deluge of sporting cliché in the wake of my last column, but all I’ve had so far is a ticking-off from Eleonora Court, who tells me there’s no such word as languorousness, a quality I attributed to the Nawab of Pataudi, former cricket captain of India.

Simple ‘languor’ would do, she reckons.  My Macquarie Dictionary partly defines this as ‘lack of energy, indolence’, and goes on to say that ‘languorous’ means ‘characterised by languor’.  Hmm.  That is exactly what I meant about Pat, and while the dictionary allows for ‘languorously’, it does seem there is no call for a further ‘-ness’.     

Okay, I plead guilty to an excess of suffix.  Fifteen love to Eleonora.  BUT I can reveal to the world that Eleonora pronounces the word ‘sparse’ to rhyme with ‘scarce’.   Fifteen all!

Warwick Hadfield deflates my romantic notion about Pat’s ‘air of aristocratic disdain’ by pointing out that he only had one eye, having lost one in an accident.  Oh.  And there I was imagining that it was his interesting, er, languor.

Wocka reckons your average cricket commentator has used more euphemisms than any other person extant in describing that bit of a cricketer between the neck and the knees which from time to time comes into contact with a fast-moving chunk of leather.

‘A nasty blow’, ‘a low blow’, ‘a blow to the nether regions’, and so on.  Warwick says he himself took to saying of a player thus stricken that he’d sustained ‘a blow to the euphemisms’.

Warwick tells the following story:  Once, Wes Hall hit Keith Fletcher in the groin and the commentators outdid themselves in euphemism while the poor chap lay for some time on his back with his knees compressed into his chest.

Eventually Fletcher struggled to his feet in a flurry of departing physios, and made his way back to the crease.  Hall went to the top of his run-up to bowl the last one of the over.

‘One ball left’, said the commentator.

Wes Hall features in another story eminently worth the re-telling.  The late Maharaj Kumar of Vizianagaram, generally known as Vizzy, was for many years a cricket commentator on Indian radio, famed for his spoonerisms.  When the Windies visited India in 1959, Wes Hall had to leave the field briefly during the fourth test at Madras, following an attack of the cramps.

Vizzy told the listeners: ‘Hall is injuring a nurse in the pavilion.’

John Sluis’s all-time favourite felicitous cricket utterance is so good that even I have heard it several times.  John can’t say exactly where or when it occurred, although the names will give an idea.  Is it urban myth?  It’s the one where the commentator, setting the scene after a commercial break, says: ‘The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.’