All these extracts from Denis Compton’s autobiography may have given the impression that getting drunk is the only way for England cricketers to enjoy themselves on tour. Far from it. A little light adultery also helps to take the mind off events on the field, as this extract from Lionel, Lord Tennyson’s second autobiography ‘Sticky Wickets’ suggests. He is writing about the 1913-14 tour of South Africa (the last before the outbreak of war, in which Tennyson served with some distinction). I’m not sure whether the dialogue indicates that the subtitles in silent films were more realistic than is usually supposed, or that Tennyson was employing a little poetic licence.
“It was one evening when things were at their blackest that the absurd adventure occurred to which I have alluded. The City [Johannesburg] was under Martial Law [because of a strike in the mines] and everyone required a pass to be out after 8 p.m. Having proposed to dine with a married couple I had recently met, who lived two or three miles away in a suburb of Johannesburg, and not wishing to disappoint them, I obtained a pass and went out to their house. I was somewhat surprised when I arrived – rather late as usual – to find the lady alone. She explained that her husband had been called out for duty at the Mines and it had been impossible to get any other guests to meet me. Would I mind if we were quite alone together? Being, I trust, the essence of politeness, and as she was very good looking, I, of course, replied that though I deplored the husband’s call to duty, the prospect of an evening without him did not utterly displease me! My hostess suitably acknowledged my compliment, we went into dinner, talked still more pleasantly together and finally felt as if we had known each other all our lives! It was a very hot night and for greater ease I sat in my shirt sleeves, my kind hostess waving [sic] all ceremony. Neither of us noticed, however, that time was creeping on.
Suddenly our pleasant conversation was violently interrupted by a tremendous knocking at the front door.
“Oh! My God!” cried my hostess, turning deathly pale. “We are lost.”
“Why, what on earth’s the matter?” said I, startled.
“It’s my husband,” whispered she, looking as if she was going to faint. “You must fly – fly at once.”
“Fly!” I exclaimed. “Why?”
“Don’t linger for God’s sake,” exclaimed she. “You don’t know how jealous he is. You and I together at this time of night! It would drive him mad. And he has his revolver too. You are a dead man if he finds you here.”
The banging at the front door continued more violently than ever and, alarmed by the lady’s distress, I hastily snatched up my hat and coat and began to look for the most suitable means of exit.
“Not that way!” said she in an agony of apprehension. “Upstairs! It’s your only chance.” Upon which she half-pushed me up the staircase and opening a bedroom window at the rear of the house told me to make my way down a very unsafe looking trellis-work covered with rambler roses. By the time I reached the ground my clothes were torn to shreds and I was bleeding from dozens of small lacerations all over my body. In fact I had to knock up a doctor on the way back and get him to dress my wounds. On the occasion of my next appearance on the cricket field, my fielding in the deep was greatly praised by both spectators and Press. Their praise would have been even higher had they appreciated the physical difficulties under which it was done!”
It’s hard to picture any of the current England team getting up to these tricks, but, if the camera happens to reveal that Monty Panesar – say – is covered in small lacerations when he next takes to the field, I think we’ll all know what he’s been up to.