The Watchers : Silence At The Cricket

Caption competition, anyone?

The Watchers

The original caption to this sketch, published in “The Field” in (I think) 1939 or 1940 was “Democracy in cricket.  These two spectators, seen at Lord’s might be colonel and batman”.  “Punch”, no doubt, would have offered some similarly class-based dialogue (the man on the left, with the cloth cap and fag, would have dropped his aitches).

But that, I think, would be to miss the point, which is that neither of these men are speaking.  They are, in fact, sitting in companionable silence.

My suggestion would be the following, from the Czech writer Karel Čapek’s “Letters from England” (1924).  He is describing the silence of a Gentleman’s Club, but then, of course, that is precisely what a Cricket Club is.

“not the silence of a man in solitude, nor the silence of a Pythagorean philosopher, nor silence in the presence of God, nor the silence of death, nor a mute brooding, it is a special silence, the silence of a gentleman among gentlemen.”*

Silence in and at the cricket merits consideration at greater length, but its greatest exponent was John Arlott.  Firstly in the obvious sense that he had a Milesian grasp of the potency of the space between the notes (as opposed to the “no-one solos, everyone solos” jazz-rock frenzy of today’s TMS).  The four or five minute silences he used to employ when commentating on the JPL for the BBC were the equivalent of Davis turning his back on the audience to commune with his horn before delivering a crucial sequence of notes (not, as popularly supposed, because he’d drunk too much claret and fallen asleep).

As for the less obvious sense, the truism is that listening to TMS is like a day at the cricket with a group of friends.  Some are affable companions, some are wellsprings of useful information, some are fine in small doses and some are frankly bores.  But Arlott was the man, the ideal companion, who knew how to sit in companionable silence; what you heard when you were listening to him was not so much conversation as privileged access to his interior monologue, of a quality that most of us achieve only in dreams.

*”Gentleman”, in this sense, includes Ladies, of course, as well as those of us who smoke fags and wear cloth caps.

4 thoughts on “The Watchers : Silence At The Cricket

  1. My entry:
    “Prospects of play bleak… but we’ll give it another hour or two, to be sure.”

    I have spent many pleasant days watching cricket with my father when, while there’s play, we’ve muttered and grunted to each other, but not managed a conversation.

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