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"What you have here is a theoretical cricket lesson, a dose of both world and South African history (through my own prism), a story of perhaps lesser-known but no less colorful South African sporting personalities and other quirky individuals, and a bunch of Rolling Stones anecdotes...."

hell for leather (part one)
- on cricket, south africa, sport and the mother's little helpers-
by mike morgan


“Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theater, ballet, opera and art....The players are always players involved in the elemental human activities, qualities and emotions – attack, defense, courage, gallantry, steadfastness, grandeur and ruse.”

– C.L.R. James “Beyond the Boundary.”

“You won’t catch me singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 35.”

- Mick Jagger

Introduction

On the eve of opening day of a cricket test match (an international contest) between the home team and a visiting one, a lowly office worker approaches his overseer seeking compassionate leave for the next day. His boss responds with this, “Should it rain tomorrow, you can go to your grandmother’s funeral. Should it not, I’m going to mine.” If you didn’t grow up in a society where cricket is the dominant sport, it’s difficult to comprehend the electricity and excitement that an international game of cricket brings to the community. Forget that the match itself can last five days and finish in a draw. Ignore the possibility that rain could delay play for hours, or that bad light at dusk could shorten play for the day. Pay no attention to the rituals of breaks for drinks at 11 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and tea at 4 p.m. Cricket is indeed a strange animal in the world of competitive sports, even though it is older than most. Its finer nuances can be understood by an impoverished West Indian cane field worker, yet the basics of the game itself can baffle an American university graduate, partly because it enjoys minimal popularity in the U.S., except in communities of immigrants who played it in their former home countries, but mainly because its complexities aren’t easy to absorb. Cricket can be a snob’s game, but it can also be the passion of the township and the market place (the vegetable and fish one, not the stocks and bonds one).

As someone who came of age with cricket and played it as a kid, I am often approached by inquisitive minds in Brooklyn as to what the fuck it’s all about (usually in a bar). What follows is a stab at shedding light on that question. Of course this creates a gargantuan writer’s conundrum and that is in order to tell stories related to cricket, one has to actually explain the rules. Now the Elias Official Rules of Baseball tome is biblical in length, and baseball’s a stroll down to the old boozer compared to the machinations of cricket. So the question is posed, “How does one go about explaining the rules of the game, and not bore the pants off the readers or discombobulate them by throwing around familiar cricket phrases and words such as ‘silly square leg’ or ‘bowling a beamer’ and expect anything but derisive snorts and comments like ‘Stop pulling my leg, fer Chrissakes’?”

To ease the pain, this is what I have come up with, namely borrowing a page from the very talented American writer, Stanley Booth. Stanley, when he wrote the only book worth reading about the bad boys of rock & roll “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones,” employed an interesting technique of meander to maintain his audience’s attention. When one couldn’t possibly digest another Keith Richard’s drug binge story, Stanley Booth would disregard the Rolling Stones entirely in favor of a short chapter on his own drug addiction’s highs and lows. All of a sudden, the reader would be transported from a chateau in the South of France, where Keef and Anita “Whatserface” Palindrome would be shooting heroin between their toes, to Memphis, Tennessee, where Mr. Booth, on sabbatical from the Rolling Stones pantomime, would be swallowing large quantities of LSD and hallucinating about golden spiders. These breaks were welcome because they relieved what could possibly become tedium, i.e. finding out that the Sympathizers for the Devil were in reality a mere bunch of rich, decadent tossers (except for Charlie). As an aside, Stanley Booth was commissioned by the Stones to write the book about them in 1969. He completed it in 1984, such was the potency of the acid he scored and the gravitas of the story. Naturally, I cannot rival the hi-jinks of the Rolling Stones or Stanley Booth for that matter, but I can occasionally change the subject and shall do so, should we become too bogged down in cricket intricacies and minutia. And what better diversion than old Rubber Lips and his band to accomplish that. More about this later. (I am befuddled as to how to spell Keith Richard. On the records “Out Of Our Heads” and “December’s Children,” it’s in the singular (Richard). On “The Rolling Stones Now!” and “12 x 5" it’s plural (Richards). My friend Dave Califano, an assistant editor at Rolling Stone Magazine, swears it’s Richards, according to the poohbahs there. I’ve opted for the singular, so as not to confuse Keith with the cricketers, Viv and Barry Richards. This puts him in the stellar company of one Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, a man who claimed that he was the only Jewish kid in his class at high school, everybody else was black, and author of the following opening shout on “Tutti Frutti,” namely “Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom.”)

I find myself in a position, not necessarily unique but I believe certainly different from most of the audience here, of having grown up in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Because I adhere to the position that anything worth reading should contain yarns, it’s difficult, nigh impossible, for me to explain cricket without shedding light on what was going on in South Africa back then. While these tales sometimes might be personal in content, they are told from that experience. So what you have here is a theoretical cricket lesson, a dose of both world and South African history (through my own prism), a story of perhaps lesser-known but no less colorful South African sporting personalities and other quirky individuals, and a bunch of Rolling Stones anecdotes. In other words, it’s about life. The intent of this is not to weave, in the words of The Temptations, a “ball of confusion,” but to open a window for readers onto a world that, for the most part, is foreign to them. Good luck!

* * *

Part One: How The Game Is Played

“Cricket is like baseball on valium”

–Robin Williams

“I’m a flea-bitten peanut monkey
All my friends are junkies.”

- “Monkey Man” by Mick Jagger and Keith Richard

First and foremost remember this...When a bowler bowls a maiden over, he’s not making goo-goo eyes at a pretty gal or secretly pouring gin into her Coca-Cola. Cricket has its own weird lingo and part of learning what the sport is all about is familiarization with the terminology, which to the untrained ear is outlandish to say the least. For convenience sake, I will parenthesize unheard of terms with their baseball equivalent.

The Field of Play:

There are eleven players on each team. Some are selected for their batting skills, others for their prowess as bowlers (pitchers), all are required to be credible fielders, and some are all-rounders. Each team has a captain and he calls the shots, i.e. who bowls, who fields where, and who bats when. The captain is not a symbolic fan favorite as in baseball, where his decisions would be overridden by those of the manager. The captain has to have a shrewd cricket brain. Often, his calls can win or lose a game. The game is played on a grass oval or round field (about the size of a baseball field) and the major activity occurs on the pitch or wicket (22 feet long x 5 feet wide), which is a strip of carefully maintained mown and rolled grass slap bang in the middle of the field. Pitches, depending on weather conditions and how they are maintained by the groundsmen, can favor either the fielding team by creating movement on balls bowled, or the batting team by being easily readable to a batsman with good instincts. The term “sticky wicket,” sometimes heard around these parts, might mean predicament, but its derivation refers to the state of a pitch in a cricket game.

On each end of the pitch, wickets or stumps are set up. These are three sticks spaced closely together about waist high. On top of the wickets, two smaller pieces of wood rest. These are called bails. It is the job of the batsman to protect his wicket from being broken when he bats (preventing the bails from being knocked off the stumps, or the stumps themselves from being broken up). It is the task of the bowler to get the batsman out, and one way to do that is to beat him with the ball and hit the stumps (“clean bowling” him). Two sets of wickets are in place, one each at either end of the pitch, 22 feet apart. Each end of the wicket has a batsman’s crease, similar to the lines making up a batter’s box in baseball, and a bowler’s crease. Two batsmen take the field for the team at bat, one at each batting crease. From one end of the wicket, the bowler operates. He bowls to the batsman, who faces him perpendicularly (as in baseball), and his fielders are strategically placed around the field. Fielding positions are determined by the batsman’s stance, where he is most likely to hit the ball, and what kind of bowler is at work. The off side is that facing the batsman. The leg or on side is the side behind him as he stands in the batting position. The other batsman is idle until run scoring brings him to face the bowler, or an “over” change makes him the facing batsman.

Game Play:

Schoolboy cricket games last a day. Provincial and County games can last three days. International test matches are five days in length (there are now special one-day international games with a fixed limited batting time). Play usually takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with an hour break for lunch, a drinks break in the morning and a tea intermission in the afternoon for a quarter of an hour apiece. There are two official umpires on the field, one facing the batsman at the other end of the wicket, the other directly at a right angle to his side. Off the field, there is an official scorer who keeps track of all batting and bowling tallies.

Each team bats twice and everybody on the team bats. Games lasting a day are designated as one inning affairs. Which team bats first and which team fields first is determined by a coin toss. Because batting requires two batsmen, when ten batsmen are out, the team is retired. After that, the other team bats. Then they do it all over again. The team with the most runs scored at the end of the game, having successfully gotten the other team out twice, is the winner (if it is not a single inning game). This doesn’t always happen. A team can be losing by hundreds of runs on the last day of a match, but if they are not entirely out by the end of match play, the game is a draw. When the score of a game-in-progress is announced as a news update, for example it will be said that a particular team is 120 for four. This means that the team at bat has scored 120 runs for the loss of four wickets (four men out). When ten men are out, this is referred to as the team being “all out.” Sometimes the second team at bat has to “run on.” This occurs if the batting team has scored an inordinate amount of runs in their first at bat and dismissed the other team for a paltry score (there is a fixed differential of runs here which requires a team to run on), then the team with the lower score is required to bat again. A team that has amassed a high score can also declare, without the lower order batsmen having a go at bat. Often, this will occur late in the day, when the bowling team that has been in the field for most of it is spent, and the captain of the opposing team smells the opportunity of putting them further on their heels by taking some wickets (getting a few outs) before close of play. Both of these circumstances can often result in a one-sided walkover, commonly known as a rout or “doing the Walter Mondale.” A decent team score for an entire inning is three hundred runs. A good score is four hundred runs. A great score is five hundred runs. Anything under one hundred runs is a miserable schtoomer of a performance, aka “Walkin’ with Mr. Dukakis.”

When I was fifteen, I discovered the mind-expanding qualities of dagga (pot) in South Africa, and “Their Satanic Majesty’s Request” by the Rolling Stones, their peculiar answer to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Pet Sounds.” I believe the Glimmer Twins thinking went something like this, “If the competition can bring out an album about getting schnockered on narcotics, why not us?” Now there’s two types of killer weed in South Africa, “Durban Poison” and “Maritzburg Deadly.” My best friend at the time, Richard Mackenzie, invited me on vacation with his family to Uvongo Beach, garden spot of the South Coast of Natal, and a trailer park home to gun-toting white Rhodesian tourists and Boer (white Afrikaner) farmers with enormous families from the Orange Free State. Mac and I would practice rolling joints on the beach while listening to “She’s a Rainbow” on the portable turntable until the sand did it in. I don’t remember if this experiment was conducted with the Poison or the Deadly but its results were certainly flabbergasting. Such tomfoolery also happened to coincide with the arrival of the farmer’s daughter, who fulfilled all of the necessary requirements of the farmer’s daughter, one of which was having a brutus farmer for a father. I won’t bore you with all of the grisly details but the whole shambolic affair came to an end abruptly when the farmer let loose with both barrels of the shotgun as I was serenading the daughter with “Sing this all together (See what happens),” loaded to the gills outside of the farmer’s bungalow. He missed (I don’t know whether on purpose or not), but to this day I cannot listen to that record without being reminded of the farmer’s phrase in broken stentorian Boer English...“Full of drugs and he comes knocking on my daughter’s door.” I have to hold the Rolling Stones responsible for the entire sorry episode.

Batting:

The bat is wooden and has a long handle. It is held at the waist and its end touches the ground. Bats are about three feet high, flat on one side and curved on the other, and have built-in springs. Naturally, the flat end is the one to hit with. The ball is made out of red leather, with a seam around the circumference. It is slightly smaller than a baseball and extremely hard. Being hit on the body by a cricket ball can hurt like the smithereens. The same ball is used until it is time to replace it much further into the inning. This is because a new ball favors the fast bowlers (the starting pitchers). Once a ball has been scuffed around a bit, it’s time to use the spin bowlers (the knuckleballers) who can employ all sorts of english to fool the batters.

The pecking order of the batsmen’s lineup is similar to baseball, the best come early, the more unreliable ones later. A batsman wears knee high pads to protect his legs, a box to cover his crotch, and gloves with sausage looking stuffing over the fingers, knuckles and thumbs to avoid them being bruised, broken or severely sprained. Today, batting helmets are worn. A run is scored when a batsman hits the ball, or it is mis-fielded by the wicketkeeper (catcher) and goes astray, and the batsmen at either end cross paths and end up at the opposite creases. This means that either batsmen can face the bowler, depending on the run circumstance. This is important for my American compadres to understand. When a ball is hit into play in baseball, the batter is required to run to first base. This is not so in cricket. The batsmen can choose to run or not, there is no penalty for not running. A ball hit straight to a fielder, especially one close in to the wicket, will usually result in one of the running batsman not making it to his opposing crease in time and being “run out” (akin to being beaten out at first base). In these circumstances, batsmen decide to stay put. So the goal of the batsman is to hit the ball where there aren’t any fielders positioned, or to hit the ball hard enough that it beats the fielder. The ball can be hit anywhere on the field, including behind the batsman. There are no foul balls hit in cricket. Decisions as whether to run or not are made by the batsmen. If the ball is hit in front of the facing batsman, he will run and call on his partner to do the same. If he hits it behind himself, the batsman with the clearer view at the other end will make the choice. More than one run can be scored on a well-hit ball enabling the batsmen to cross over two or three times. A ball that is hit to the fence (the boundary) on the ground is automatically four runs. A ball that is hit out of the field without a bounce (a home run) is automatically six runs. Sir Garfield Sobers, captain of the West Indies XI during the 1960s, and one of the few black people ever knighted by that empire (apart from Mick Jagger), once hit six sixes in a row against Glamorgan during an over (an over is the six balls that a bowler must bowl from one end, before another bowler performs the same task from the other end). This is akin to a baseball slugger hitting six home runs on his first-faced pitch in six successive times at bat, something yet to be done in the annals of baseball. The only other international cricket player I know of to achieve this goal was Mike Procter, who played for Natal, South Africa and Gloucestershire in the English County Cricket League. Procter was a household name when I was young and was one of the game’s premier all-rounders. I had a Mike Procter Slazenger cricket bat as a lad.

Unlike baseball, there is no limit to the number of defensive plays that a batsman can make to protect his wicket. This is called blocking. A block is like a bunt. It’s tapped to a fielder along the ground. A batsman may defend his wicket by blocking off the front foot (a forward block) or off the back foot (a back block). Batsmen are under no obligation to run in these circumstances and a good defensive batsman can bat for hours, sometimes a day, and hardly score any runs. During the 1960s, the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club – the English international team) were full of such players...Colin Cowdrey, Ken Barrington, Ted Dexter, Peter Parfitt and Geoff Boycott. The English would win by wearing down the bowlers of the fielding team and boring the hapless spectators to tears. Watching England play back then was a lot like being stuck in the second row of an Emerson, Lake and Palmer concert in 1972, with all of it’s pomp and circumstance, stage-loads of moog synthesizers and Steinways, and deadly dullness to boot. God bless the punks for burying that limping dog of an excruciating experiment (especially the drum solo).

Here are some examples of run-scoring shots. A batsmen may approach the ball on the front foot, meet it at the bounce and drive it. Or he can go on the back foot and either cut it or hook it. Dennis Lindsay, the South African wicketkeeper, tore the hearts out of the Australians in 1968 by hooking the life out of their bowlers. Perhaps the most beautiful shot in the arsenal of a batsman is the square cut, where the ball bounces waist high on the bat side of the batsman (the off side) and he can lean on his back foot as he cuts it as a ground ball through the outfield. Barry Richards, the opening batsman (the lead-off man) for the Natal provincial team, the Springboks, and later Hampshire, could square cut with the best of them. He could also play an immaculate leg glance, which is a very gentle hook that uses the speed of the ball bowled to propel it along the ground into the outfield. The worst score for a batsman is a duck (no runs). A respectable score is 50 runs. A pinnacle score for a good batsman is a century (100 runs). Top batsmen can and do reach double centuries (200 runs) and occasionally triple centuries (300 runs).

Runs can also be scored by errors being committed by the fielding team. Known as “extras,” these are penalty runs and the umpire will indicate to the scorer to add them onto the team total. Extras are not accredited to any batsman as part of his individual score. An example of an extra is a “no ball.” A no-ball occurs when the bowler’s front foot oversteps his delivery crease (like a pitcher stepping off the mound). Another extra is “a wide,” whereby the ball is bowled so wide from the batsman that is unreachable ( a wild pitch). In certain circles, this is commonly known as “driving with Teddy Kennedy.”

This is how a batsman can be put out. He can be beaten by a ball and have his stumps broken. He can be caught by any fielder when the ball is fielded on the fly. Here’s an obscure one. He can be out lbw, the abbreviation for “leg before wicket.” This is a somewhat bizarre ritual whereby the ball hits the batsmen on the pads or the gloves and, if the ball hadn’t hit him, it would have broken his wicket. The bowler appeals to the umpire facing the batsman in this situation and yells his appeal “How’s That” which often comes out “Haa Zaa,” “Yay Yay,” “Brouhaha,” “Rhubarb,” or some other such nonsense. These are amongst the few questionable calls in cricket, where the batsman’s fate is in the hands of the umpire alone. The umpire then decides if the batsman is out and indicates so by raising his finger, thus telling him to get lost. This could well be the birth of the infamous finger, a popular method of social dismissal here, especially towards automobile drivers from New Jersey. A batsman can be stumped by swinging at a ball and missing while moving out of his batting crease, and the wicketkeeper (the catcher) or the fielder nearest to the wickets knocks the bails off with the ball in hand before the batsman can return to it. In the process of attempting to make a shot, a batsman can step back and either break his own wicket with his bat or his body. This is an automatic out. A batsman can also be run out by not reaching the opposing crease for a run before the wicket is broken by a direct hit from a fielder, or the ball is thrown to the wicketkeeper or a fielder (the cut off man) and he breaks the stumps. Colin Bland, a member of the South African XI during the 1960s could hit the wicket from long mid-on (the outfield) almost every throw. When Bland played, us youngsters would arrive early to watch him at fielding practice, such was his accuracy. Only foolish or desperate batsmen attempted to run on a ball hit to Colin Bland.

When Brian Jones, founding member and lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, was found dead in a swimming pool in 1969, the band set about seeking a replacement. Rumors abounded regarding Brian Jones’ death; he was snuffed at the behest of Jagger and Richard, who feared him forming a supergroup with two other notorious superstars (and flakes), Jimi Hendrix and Keith Moon; he was murdered by a roadie whom he had dissed; a jealous girlfriend took him out. The conspiracy theorists had a field day with this kind of malarkey, which was all it ever was. A few ambitious ones even penned their breakfast table theories into books, which only suckers like myself read. In all probability, the Jones boy had too much to drink and snort and was as lousy a swimmer as JFK Jr. was a pilot. Anyway, the Stones, always able to rebound the right way up, picked Mick Taylor to fill Brian Jones’ flippers. In this writer’s estimate, Mick Taylor was the most accomplished player throughout the Stones history. By 1975, he left the band, went a little crazy for a number of years and emerged in the1990s playing with Carla Olson, the Texas gal and previous front woman for the Textones. It’s worth shelling out some shekels for their 1991 live album “Too Hot For Snakes,” if you can find it. Mick Taylor blew the roof off on that one. Anyway, to celebrate the new incarnation of the band, the Rolling Stones held a massively attended free concert in Hyde Park, London, and they invited the London Hell’s Angels to provide security, a mistake that later they would compound on their U.S. tour. The black & white photo of Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful surrounded by the cadaverous looking “Wild Child ,” the leader of the pack, and his leather-clad minions only enhanced the Stones reputation as rebels. The rest is history. With the Oakland Hell’s Angels filling a similar job description at the Altamont Speedway show in California later on that year, all hell broke loose. A black spectator was murdered by the bikers, Paul Kantner, the Jefferson Airplane guitar player was beaten up by the same while actually performing on stage, and both a whining Mick and Keith appealed to the Angels to “act cool.” Captured in all of its glory in the film, “Gimme Shelter,” the outlaws of rock ‘n roll were stripped of their tough veneer. In fact, they were scared shitless. Earlier on that same tour, the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (the above-ground support group for the Weather Underground) handed out leaflets at the Stones’ Madison Square Garden gigs in New York City proclaiming that the Rolling Stones embodied the war cry of the New Left, using the lyrics of “Street Fighting Man” as proof of the band’s revolutionary character. While the Stones might have welcomed such absurd rhetoric (if they ever noticed), such a ridiculous position only served to expose the Prairie Fire people as bullshit artists, the Rupert Murdochs of the left, exercising a brand of rich people’s Solidarnosc. But it was hard not to dig the Rolling Stones back then, they were making such superb music. And all of this came to Durban, South Africa on the big screen in 1972. That’s when I dragged my dad, Mogs, to the local Embassy bughouse to see “Gimme Shelter.”

Bowling:

The opening bowlers on the fielding team are the fastball guys. What differentiates a bowler from a baseball pitcher is that he cannot throw the ball, it has to be delivered overarm, without the arm bending at the elbow. The ball should bounce once before it reaches the batsman. A ball that doesn’t bounce, known as a “full toss,” is considered as a bad ball bowled and easy to hit. A bowler bowls an over (six balls) and then the fielding team switches to the other end of the wicket and another bowler has his over. The same bowler cannot bowl two overs in a row. Bowlers can be recycled, unlike in baseball when, once a pitcher has been replaced, he can no longer return to the game. Bowlers do not let loose from the stationary position, they are allowed to run up to the delivery crease at one end of the wicket to let fly. A fast bowler can be terrifying to face, thus all of the protective gear donned by the batsmen. Wesley Hall (the West Indies), Fiery Freddy Trueman (a Yorkshireman), Mike Procter (South Africa) and Dennis Lillee (Australia) delivered their balls with such ferocious speed that they were almost undetectable to the human eye in the bleachers, over one hundred miles per hour in velocity. In the 1930's, England sent a touring team to Australia in what was known as the infamous “bodyline” series. Harold Larwood, the opening English bowler, made a point of aiming straight for the body of the opposing batsmen (Roger Clemens-like). Players were hospitalized. It was the only moment that Australia ever came close to declaring war on Britain. Then there are the medium seamers, semi-fast ball bowlers, who depend on pinpoint accuracy to keep the runs down. Finally, there are the spinners, slow ball pitchers, who use a combination of the wrist, grip, fingers and seam of the ball to allow it to bounce in an unpredictable fashion. There are off-spin bowlers and leg-spin bowlers, identified by which way their balls turn (an unfortunate phrase). There is even “the Googly,” a type of cricket screwball, designed to bamboozle the batsman, forcing him to hit the ball on the edge of the bat and pop it up for a catch. Compared to the fast bowlers, facing a spinner appears to be a breeze, but, in reality, spinners can contain runs and often obtain their outs by balls mishit into the air or by batsmen missing completely. It’s psych-ops at this point of the game. Johnny Gleeson, the Australian spinner in the late 1960s and early 1970s, insured his bowling hand with Lloyds of London for a million pounds. Pre the era of over-inflated professional sports player salaries, corporate sponsorship etc., this was unheard of, such was Gleeson’s value to the team. Freddie Titmus, the famous English spin bowler, could tie a batting team up in knots for hours on end, bowling maiden over after maiden over. A maiden over is six balls bowled with no runs scored (a poor man’s no-hitter). Batting against a spinner who knows what he is doing demands full-blown concentration. Any deviation can result in disaster.

Fielding:

There are no fielding mitts in cricket. The only fielder allowed to wear clobber and gloves is the wicketkeeper (the catcher), familiarly known as the “wickey.” Everybody else must field barehanded. There are no set fielding positions, such as shortstop, but there are commonly employed ones, each with a name. The players with the safest hands will field in the slip or gully positions. These are the fielders who play on either side of the wickey, hoping for a snicked ball to catch. When a fast bowler is delivering, the wickey and the slip fielders are five to ten feet behind the batsmen. A ball snicked to one of these surrounding back fielders will travel so fast that, more often than not, its only method of detection is the noise of the ball off the bat. Many calls like this are appealed by the back fielders, dependent then on the judgment of the umpire as to whether he’ll give the batsman the finger or not. The fielders with range and strong arms will man the outfield. Here, the positions have names like third man, long stop, point, square leg, long mid-off and long mid-on. Perhaps the most suicidal fielding positions are short square leg or silly mid-on, where the fielder is almost in touching position of the batsman. This is fine if the batsman pops up a ball, but if he lets fly with a hook, cut or drive, it can be catastrophic for the fielder. I have always been in awe of professional baseball players’ fielding ability. But it pales in comparison to cricket in-fielding. Short mid-on is akin to a first basemen playing a quarter of the distance between first base and home plate without a glove. Believe me, it takes either a tremendous amount of courage or stupidity. The bruises after a day in the field will attest to this.

In 1972, my mother was hospitalized for the cancer that would eventually kill her four years later. This was my final year of living at home and Mogs was at a bit of a loss. We would visit the hospital every night, but Thursday nights was when we went to the movies. Mogs would pick a film one week, I another the next week. We saw some real corkers...”The Great Waldo Pepper,” “Five Easy Pieces,” which, after the government censors were done with it, amounted to one easy piece and a confusing one it was too, the Charlie Brown Peanuts Xmas Special, “Yellow Submarine” with the Blue Meanies, and “The Great Race” with Jack Lemmon screaming at Peter Falk to “Push the button, Max!” One night almost turned disastrous when Mogs, in a futile attempt at snobbery, opted for a European movie with subtitles. The film was foreign alright. The only problem was that there were no subtitles. Mogs shuffled back to complain to the manager and was duly informed that it was “Greek evening, chaps.” Mogs made a stink and we almost got beaten up by Durban’s only Greek motorcycle gang, whose leader, Dimitrios Rangousis, a Greyville gangbanger, forced us to stand in penance for the Greek national anthem which I believe was entitled “Never leave your friends behind.” Our choices were limited, but the illness was terminal and to quote the Rolling Stones ”time was on our side.” Thus, with great excitement I announced to Mogs that “Gimme Shelter” was my choice one Thursday. I prepped the old boy by playing him “Get Your Ya-Yas Out,” the live Stones album famous for the Jagger quote, “I think I just lost a button on me trousers...you don’t want me trousers falling down now do you?” I was babbling on about Muscle Shoals and Altamont but it might as well have been “Greek evening, chaps” for poor Mogs. He took it like a trooper though, and the next morning I heard him butchering the words of “Jumping Jack Flash” whilst in the bath. “Jumping Jack Flash, it’s ghastly,” (instead of “it’s a gas”) was Mogs’ version. The Rolling Stones had a new member to add to its legions of fans, although this one was not quite what the spin doctors ordered.

If you’re still with me, kudos to you. This more or less covers the rules of cricket, save for a grab bag of minor statutes and foibles. Of course, I have omitted some of the more telling trivia about the history of cricket. For example I bet you don’t know that in 1624, Jasper Vinall became the first man known to be killed while playing cricket. He was hit by a bat while trying to catch the ball in Horsted Green, Sussex. Nor are you aware that in 1676, cricket was played abroad for the first time by English residents in Aleppo, Syria. Who needs to clutter their minds with unnecessary junk like that?

Now for the fun part. Here’s where we yack on about cricket as a social and political entity and get to ask the fundamental question once posed by a famous anonymous Australian philosopher, namely “What’s it all mean, Sheila?” And the Rolling Stones haven’t gone away. On my break away from the writing keyboard, I saw a Citibank commercial touting their current world tour on the television. They have now been playing as a band for 41 years, reinforcing the adage that old Stones don’t die, they just pogo with walkers and crutches. Bring your Master Card because they don’t take American Express. Gasp!

Next Issue: Hell For Leather Part Two: The Soul of Man


A native of South Africa, Mike Morgan has lived and written in Brooklyn, NY for the last 20 years. He is a founding member of Lurch Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at Freddy's Bar, where he is often found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time.

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©2005 Mike Morgan • Smokebox
Smokebox is a non-commercial, volunteer driven e-zine