Cricket and Cricketers, Words by M. Randall Roberts
Pictures by Mr. "Rip."
Why is it, in these days of up-to-date cricket reporting, no one has
noticed the most striking characteristic of Ranjitsinhji's play? The
pose of W. G. Grace's tip-tilted foot as he stands at the wicket, Abel's
serio-comic expression as he cocks his eye and ambles from the pavilion,
and Mr. Key's rotundity, are as familiar as Mr. Chamberlain's eye-glass
even to the non-cricketing public; but the ballooning of Prince
Ranjitsinhji's silk shirt has hitherto been allowed to lie in obscurity.
About the silk shirt itself there is no particular mystery; dozens of
other cricketers wear one exactly like it; but none of these garments
"balloon" with the same unvarying persistence as Ranji's. Whether half a
gale is blowing on the Hove ground, or there is not enough wind to move
the flag at Lord's, the Indian prince's cricket shirt always presents
the appearance of the mainsail of a six-tonner on a breezy day in the
Solent. Anyone can satisfy himself as to the truth of this assertion by
glancing at the first illustration on page 213. The
batsman's face is concealed by his arm, and his attitude in playing the
ball is almost identical with that of hundreds of other cricketers. Yet
there is no mistaking the player. It's Ranji as plainly as if his name
was printed all over it; the curve in his shirt gives him away at once.
Unkind critics, indeed, declared that the secret of his success in
Australia was that, while the rest of Mr. Stoddart's team were panting
for a breath of fresh air with the thermometer at 100° in the shade,
some mysterious Indian deity was perpetually blowing on Ranji with a
thousand cooling zephyrs. Nowadays, Ranjitsinhji's critics are becoming
more sane; but when first he burst into splendour, many of his weird
strokes were attributed to some supernatural agency. Ranji's most
telling stroke, as every cricketer knows, is what is technically known
as the "hook" stroke. Most fine batsmen are content to stop short
straight balls on a fast wicket. Ranji is more ambitious. When he sees a
ball of this kind coming, he stands directly in front of his wicket, and
at the moment when the ball is apparently on the point of going through
his body, he "hooks" it round to leg.
How hazardous this proceeding is may be gathered from the obvious fact
that if the batsman fails to get his bat exactly in the proper place in
exactly the proper fraction of a second, he will infallibly have to
retire either with a fractured skull or "leg before wicket."
While the cricket scribes used to regard Ranjitsinhji's good fortune in
escaping a violent end while playing this speciality of his as a
supernatural gift, practical cricketers consider the stroke bad form.
"That leg stroke of yours," said an old player to him in the pavilion
at Lord's, "is all very well now and then, but it's not cricket; it's
far too risky. If you miss the ball, you're bound to be out leg before."
"Quite so," replied Ranji; "but one would be out pretty frequently,
clean bowled, if one missed the ball—every time a straight ball came,
Ranjitsinhji's batting has been variously described as satanic,
electric, and elusive. "Serpentine" would be far more accurate. Anyone
in the least familiar with the famous Indian's style will at once see
the point of the epithet.
The line of beauty, we all know, is a curve; and the real secret of the
attractiveness of Ranji's batting (from the spectators' point of view)
is that every position he assumes seems to be laid out in a curve.
In the illustration on page 215. "Rip" has but very
slightly exaggerated the effect of the sinuous curves into which Ranji's
body resolves itself before he makes a stroke. That he can unbend faster
than any other cricketer past or present is an incontestable fact. The
yarn of how in a match at Cambridge he once brought off a catch with
such amazing rapidity that the batsman, under the impression that the
ball had travelled near the boundary, continued running till Ranji
extracted the ball from his pocket, is most likely apocryphal; but to
anyone who has seen him fielding slip the feat ascribed to him won't
RANJI BATTING—A STUDY IN GRACEFUL POSE.
By the way, it's an odd thing that while Ranjitsinhji's batting owes its
attractiveness to the "curves" of the batsman, an equally graceful
player—to wit, the lengthy William Gunn—is built on uncompromisingly
straight lines. Somebody said that if Gunn were to model his style on
Ranji's the result would be a sea-serpent—six and a half feet of
Briggs has so many attitudes and antics of his own that he can't be said
to have any characteristic pose. In everything he does he's "Johnny."
Briggs may be said to have just missed greatness by a lack of
seriousness. According to George Giffen, if he had only taken batting
more seriously Briggs would have been, after W. G. Grace, the second
best all-round cricketer in England. There's a deadly earnestness about
his bowling and fielding, but as a batsman he always seems more anxious
to amuse the spectators than to improve his average. Like other famous
men, Johnny Briggs may be often misunderstood, but at any rate this is
the impression he creates. About six years ago, in the middle of the
cricket season, Briggs appeared to have suddenly gone "stale," and the
Lancashire Committee suggested to him that he should take a week's
holiday. Briggs selected a remote village in Wiltshire; but, as luck
would have it, the villagers were particularly keen cricketers, and when
the news got about that the great Briggs was in their midst, the captain
of the local team at once waited on him to ask what would be his terms
for playing in a match against a neighbouring town.
JOHNNY BRIGGS MEANS BUSINESS.
AND TAKES A WICKET FIRST BALL.
"I asked," says Briggs, "what I thought were absolutely prohibitive
terms, namely, £10; but the terms were accepted, so of course I had to
play. My side lost the toss, and I had to begin the bowling. My first
ball was hit out of the ground for six, and in a short time 100 went up
with no wicket down. I suggested to the captain that he had better let
someone else bowl, but he said that if he took me off, the spectators
who kept pouring into the ground would want their money back, and would
see that they got it, too. Finally, I had two wickets for about 120
runs. The crowd looked a trifle nasty, but what finished them was when I
went in to bat and was bowled second ball.
"As I left the ground I heard, 'That's him. 'E's no blooming Briggs,
'e's a blooming fraud. Let's give him a jolly hiding.' Only the railway
station and a couple of stalwart policemen saved me from the jolly good
hiding, and I have never tried village cricket since."
MAKES THE CROWD LAUGH.
A. G. Steel declares that the secret of Dr. Grace's phenomenal success
against young batsmen is the terror inspired by the sight of his beard.
Batsmen meeting the champion for the first time see an enormous man,
with a great black beard waving in the breeze, rushing up to the
wickets. They expect something quite different from the gently lobbed-up
ball which this black-bearded giant delivers; before they can recover
from the shock of surprise they find themselves clean bowled.
But W. G.'s beard does something more than frighten young cricketers. As
Maurice Read says, "it talks to you." Other human beings wag their
heads; Grace wags his beard when things are going wrong. It is even said
that, with a team that knows him, he can indicate to the fieldsmen to
change their positions by merely moving his beard.
WAITING FOR ANOTHER.
A RARE CATCH.
There are dozens of persons all over the country who pose as cricket
authorities on the strength of having once watched the champion
practising at the nets. At a cricket match in a small Welsh town one of
these gentlemen was acting as umpire, and could not agree with his
fellow umpire as to whether a certain batsman was run out.
The argument waxed very fierce, until the umpire of the visiting team
"What do you know about cricket? You 'aven't shook 'ands with Lord
Hawke, 'ave yer?"
"Well, I 'ave," triumphantly declared the other, as the crowd dispersed.
And the batsman was declared out.
A STUDY IN CURVES.