Cricketers socialise in the tea break as pies and sandwiches get served during a 1st grade match between Crib Point v Rye at Crib Point Recreational Reserve

Leave some for Toby, won't you?

© Getty Images
5

The Jury's Out

The best-behaved cricketer

Five jurors congregate at a secret high tea party and discuss the most critical issue in the history of cricket. Or mankind

Toby
By Imran Yusuf

Every village cricket team in England has a Toby. That's not his real name, which these days is often several longitudinal degrees more exotic (what's Tamil for Toby?). But to achieve the more universal and acute truths of fiction, let us call him Toby.

After all, we call it "village cricket", which is collective fiction on a grand scale. Most of the village grounds I've encountered are bordered by motorways; one pavilion doubled up as a Little Chef and I had to explain bat-pad to a bemused Polish lorry driver. The biggest myth is the "village green": to patrol these outfields is to dodge used crisp packets and used condoms and unused landmines. England has changed, and cricket has changed, but Toby is eternal.

So who is this Toby? At his core, he is a man who doesn't mind anything. "Toby, have a blow, mate, just the one over, I know, sorry but it's a strong attack today - you can come on later and clean up the tail!" the skip says before banishing him to deep square leg and forgetting him for the rest of the innings. "Hey, Tobes, you don't mind coming in at nine today, do you, oh thanks man, you're a star, and I'm sure we'll need you to take us over the line!" he is back-slappingly told as a chase of 58 commences against a team of grandads three players short.

It is Toby's hands left empty at the drinks break when it turns out there are only ten glasses; it is Toby who misses out on the final strawberry tartlet at tea; it is Toby who has to drive us all home after a quiet post-match pint turns into tequila shots and B-52s and the wicketkeeper's teary confession of sleeping with his gloves on.

England has changed, and cricket has changed, but Toby is eternal. At his core, he is a man who doesn't mind anything

But through all of Toby's humiliations - made doubly, triply humiliating for nobody even notices them - he is the definition of perfect manners. Amateur Sunday cricket in England is a magic-realist world, a place of ghosts and legends and misty dreams and major miracles, but the most mysterious occurrence of all is Toby's everlasting good behaviour. He turns out every week for this ritual abuse and turns the other cheek over and over again, season after season. He is, simply, the best-behaved cricketer in the game.

He never takes out his frustration by cursing an opposition batsman (if he even gets a bowl). He never fails to walk as soon as he's even mildly suspected of being out, including for lbws (if he ever gets a bat). His handshake never drops, his smile never fades, and at tea he always puts his paper plate in the bin, to the delight of the tea ladies, who never remember his name.

Some might say Toby is a hero: "Every XI needs a Toby. Every club's backbone is its Toby." But I long for the day Toby shocks us all by picking up his bat and marching onto the field ahead of the big-headed opener who seems to have been awarded the position as a hereditary lordship, and playing for himself. I await the moment he grabs the ball off the captain's favourite, who always gets his "one more over, I fancy this one", and plays for himself. Because by playing for himself, he'd be playing for us.

Like slavery, which oppresses the slaver as well as the slave, good behaviour in cricket keeps things orderly, keeps relations in their fixed place, but imprisons the soul of every man involved. So to all the Tobys of the world, I say this: for the love of the game, please stop behaving yourselves.

Imran Yusuf is from London and lives and works in Karachi

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Arthur Coningham
By Ben Pobjie

Modern cricket is blessed - or plagued, depending on your point of view - by a wide variety of behavioural styles, and passing judgement on them is a popular hobby for the sporting aficionado. But in pretty much all cases where cricketers' behaviour is critiqued, the problem can be boiled down to one word: priorities. Too many cricketers today have got their priorities out of whack, obsessing over the game to the point where that obsession spills out in unhealthy ways like on-field abuse, off-field punch-ups, and Twitter.

Arthur Coningham (seated on ground, middle): a role model - and not just in the facial hair department

Arthur Coningham (seated on ground, middle): a role model - and not just in the facial hair department © Getty Images

Not that it's a purely modern phenomenon - WG Grace took everything entirely too seriously, as did Douglas Jardine - but the latter-day flannelled fool does have a stronger tendency than ever to make everything dour and mechanical, to mistake passionate care for a sport for the relentless grind of a chore.

There are those, however, whose pages in the annals of cricket history serve as salutary lessons to their descendants in how to approach the game in just the right way. Prominent among them is Arthur Coningham.

Coningham only played one Test, which should by rights consign him to the same obscurity as Hans Ebeling and the less famous Wayne Phillips. And yet more than a century later he remains memorable due to his irresistible sense of style. For a start, in that one Test he took a wicket with his first ball, an achievement he shares with only 18 other players. The fact that the golden duck he inflicted on English champion Archie MacLaren constituted exactly half of his entire career haul of Test wickets only adds to the romance of the moment.

Coningham clearly had an instinctive understanding of the drama and poignancy of Test cricket. In just one match he managed to pack his career with the full gamut of emotions - the euphoria of that first ball, the grim despair of a wicketless second innings, and of course the wild fury of being no-balled, to which he responded by flinging the ball angrily at England captain Andrew Stoddart's head. For a man whose stay on the biggest stage was so brief, young Arthur had an astonishingly clear grasp of its narrative imperatives - he encapsulated the glorious kaleidoscope of feeling that the game arouses in just a few days. Can there be any better way for a man to behave on the cricket field than to make of himself a story to be handed down the generations?

It seems that in everything he did, Coningham's first motivation was to ensure that in his life, future cricket lovers would find a tale worth telling. How could we ask more of any man?

Coningham emphasised the point on the 1893 Ashes tour. On a freezing cold day in Blackpool, he rightly came to the conclusion that cricket is all very fine, but man cannot live by balls alone - all too aware of the insidious condition that is Fielders' Frostbite, he started a fire in the outfield. In today's more censorious climate, this would probably be frowned upon as "inappropriate" or a "safety hazard". But Coningham, a man with his priorities straight and a clarity of mind that today's players could learn from, saw the issue in the most elegantly simple terms: I am cold, and fire is warm. How we yearn for a cricketing hero who acts so consistently in accordance with his needs and instincts - it's all very well for David Warner to slash hard outside off stump, but let's see him rubbing two sticks together when The Oval starts to cloud over. Then he can call himself a "natural".

On that same tour, Coningham won an award for bravery after diving into the Thames to save a boy from drowning. After his cricket career ended he gained fame for suing a Catholic priest for having an affair with his wife. It seems that in everything he did, Coningham's first motivation was to ensure that in his life, future cricket lovers would find a tale worth telling. How could we ask more of any man?

Ben Pobjie is an Australian writer whose columns appear in the Roar, the Age and Sydney Morning Herald, and the author of The Book of Bloke

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Lambert Penshurst
By Andy Zaltzman

Lambert Penshurst (1894-unknown) is a figure seldom mentioned in the annals of cricket. In an age of disputatious and predominantly needless cantanker on the cricket field, however, it is right that we should remember a man renowned in his time as the most polite player in the history of the game.

You will find no record of Penshurst in the pages of Wisden, nor even in the hallowed virtual archives of ESPNcricinfo. He was so anxious to avoid upsetting others that he refused all call-ups to play first-class cricket, despite his rampant yet honourable run-scoring in the lower echelons of the game, stating: "It would be awfully discourteous to deprive another man of the opportunity."

So retiring was Penshurst that he permitted pictures to be taken only of his shadow as he batted

So retiring was Penshurst that he permitted pictures to be taken only of his shadow as he batted © Getty Images

He even resorted to concocting genuine but convoluted reasons for being unable to play - he bought his aged Aunt Millie a new cottage on at least 14 separate occasions, so that he could use his nephewic house-moving duties as a pretext for rejecting an invitation to play for his county. On one occasion, when the selectoral pressure grew particularly intense after he made 150 against an all-Test attack in a secret match at Tunbridge Wells, staged as a 75th birthday present for Lord Harris, Penshurst paid for himself to be kidnapped by gangland goons and put on a train to Inverness, even reportedly tipping his assailants handsomely for furnishing him with an authentic fractured eye socket to corroborate his story.

Penshurst played many games under pseudonyms to avoid drawing attention to his own achievements - once scoring a century before lunch in an early-season match for the Middlesex 2nd XI after pretending to be England batsman Patsy Hendren returning early from holiday in search of match practice.

"There is no doubt," wrote 1920s cricket scribe Harcus Dribbett, best known for making a frantic Neville Cardus give him a piggyback across the Old Trafford ground in exchange for a borrowed typewriter, "that Penshurst could have outshone the great Walter Hammond as an all-round cricketer, if only he had been less restrained by his own manners. A sublime slipper, he wilfully dropped chances given by batsmen who looked a bit sad. A bowler capable at his best of matching the immortal SF Barnes, he would bowl slow, wide long-hops outside off stump with a 9-0 leg-side field to a player he thought needed some runs. On occasion he batted with his cap pulled down over his eyes to improve young bowlers' prospects of a morale-boosting wicket. In fact, his 53 for Viscount Haughscough's XI against the MCC on a tricky wicket whilst fully blindfolded, in an effort to help an 18-year-old Gubby Allen gain form and confidence, remains one of the finest innings I have ever seen."

Penshurst played many games under pseudonyms to avoid drawing attention to his own achievements - once scoring a century before lunch in an early-season match for the Middlesex 2nd XI after pretending to be England batsman Patsy Hendren

Penshurst was renowned not only for apologising to bowlers after striking a boundary, but also for loudly thanking any umpire who gave him out. He once presented Frank Chester with a commemorative bronze statuette of an extended index finger, commissioned exclusively from the renowned sculptor Jessicus Roup, inscribed (in Latin) with the phrase, "Congratulations on an outstanding leg-before wicket decision."

No hint of scandal ever attached itself to Penshurst, although he did once ban himself from all cricket for two years after appealing for a catch behind, which, on reflection, he concluded had in fact merely clipped the batsman's thigh.

Blessed with a throwing arm to rival the finest - he represented Great Britain in the Coconut Shy at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam - Penshurst was a dazzling outfielder, but would nonetheless allow the batsmen to reconsider an intended run. After swooping balletically to field, he would pause before returning the ball to the wicketkeeper, and enquire: "Are you sure, gentlemen?" He famously hurled six overthrows to enable the Duke of Nantwich to complete his first career half-century, at the age of 83. The first 44 runs had been scored with Penshurst fielding dangerously close at short leg, then leaping in behind the doddery octogenarian as the ball was bowled, grabbing him by the hands, and helping him stroke the ball to all parts.

A man with innumerable friends, no enemies, and a lauded career as a diplomat (he is considered to have averted minor wars on three different continents by sheer weight of manners), Penshurst was last seen in the early 1980s, when he announced that he would impinge on the time of others no longer, and disappeared to live out his days in private seclusion on a deserted island off the coast of Northamptonshire.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer

****

Sidin Vadukut
By Sidin Vadukut

Who is the best-behaved cricketer? This is a question that, like Poland or Chettinad idli, can be attacked successfully from multiple angles.

Now many cricket fans will say that the best-behaved cricketer is someone in the league of Ricky Ponting or Shanthakumaran Sreesanth or Jacques Kallis. By which I mean someone who is capable of showing great technical quality on the pitch but also raw, animal aggression when the situation demands it. Someone who balances action with restraint and class.

The writer poses with the very book with which he won the 2013 All Kerala Under-17 Book Cricket League

The writer poses with the very book with which he won the 2013 All Kerala Under-17 Book Cricket League © Ruchika Kapoor

Other fans, from Bangalore, will have none of it. For them the best-behaved cricketer - Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble - is not someone who craves victory or winning or trophies or quick scoring rates or excitement or action or winning or trophies or, indeed, victory. For them best behaviour is an ability to combine great talent with gentlepersonly conduct and, most importantly, a cerebral approach to the game.

For instance he or she will never answer the question "How is the pitch?" with mundanities such as, "Bounce is good but will slow down in the evening", or "It looks like a good bowling pitch but Nehra is playing, so let us see", or "Do you want to poke at this crack with a key, Nasser?"

No chance. Instead Bangalore fans love someone who will respond with deep wisdom: "The question is not how the pitch, as it were, is, as much as it is about what we bring to the pitch as human beings, so to speak, and sportspersons and people of integrity and the spirit of this great game that [pause for applause] has the potential to build bridges and break barriers [pause for applause] for all, ergo, mankind."

But then you assemble a group of cricket fans from Mumbai and Kolkata in a room with washable walls and plastic flooring and ask them who they think the best-behaved cricketer is, and what you get is a clear, concise sense of the cruelty man is capable of inflicting on man.

So what if there was someone who once scored a textbook 57 runs off 134 balls? Does he also have a degree in metallurgical engineering and an MBA with a focus on retail management?

Then there is my dad. My dad's sense of the best-behaving cricketer is very simple: "After discovering cricket at a very young age he or she is then gently cajoled away from this distraction by his or her parents through the method of gunny bags and coconut shells until he or she renounces cricket forever and thereby refuses to prop up this useless sport that is ruining India, unlike football. Stupidity. Twenty-two idiots sit around all day wearing all white like Indian Coffee House staff, waiting for rain, and one billion people take privilege leave and watch them watching the rain like idiots."

So now we have great clarity. The best-behaved cricketer must have technical prowess but also an aggressive streak. He must have talent but also intellect. He likes cricket but is not a slave to its baser time-wasting tendencies. But above all he must bring a certain poise and elegance and gentleness to the pitch and the podium.

So what if there was someone who once scored a textbook knock of 57 runs off 134 balls. And then in the very next match against his younger brother took three wickets with three yorkers?

But does he also have a degree in metallurgical engineering and an MBA with a focus on retail management? During the pursuit of which he once played an impromptu 15-over match wearing a business suit because one attractive Punjabi girl was also playing and he didn't want to run to his dorm room and change into sportswear and run back because by then some desperate, classless fellow - Pankaj Shinde - would have taken his place and tried to chat her up.

This paragon then renounced cricket and management for a life of high thinking, meagre income and low freelance-writing rates. Thus allowing his good behaviour to permeate the wider Indian and global society.

There is little doubt in my mind.

It appears that the best-behaved cricketer is me, i.e. I, namely myself.

Sidin Vadukut is an editor with Mint and the author of four books, the latest of which is The Sceptical Patriot

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Thomas Lord
By Jarrod Kimber

Anyone can bowl on a length, even underarm, wearing a top hat and tails. Anyone can score three half-centuries in a 60-game first-class career. A few players have mastered bowling slow and fast. But only Thomas Lord did all of that and built Lord's.

In fact, he built Lord's thrice. At one stage, Thomas Lord had two Lord's on the go at once. He was a quality bowler, and the Donald Trump of his day.

Thomas Lord: turned in the only 10 not out plus one-wicket haul at Lord's by the man who built Lord's

Thomas Lord: turned in the only 10 not out plus one-wicket haul at Lord's by the man who built Lord's © Marylebone Cricket Club

His father, who came from noble stock, lost his money and land during the Jacobite rising of 1745. So when Thomas Lord came to London to make his money he did it using his nobility, and set up a wine business. Very much like Giles Clarke.

Thomas was a schemer and dreamer, and he built his empire through the connections he made as a bowler at the White Conduit Club of Islington. While he might have been part of the Duke of Richmond's and the Earl of Winchelsea's entourages, he was less a man of the gentry and more an errand boy of the gentry.

That is why, when asked, he went and set up the first Lord's ground: because he was asked to. Listening to your betters is a great way to get ahead in life, and Lord's good behaviour was repaid when the Duke and the Earl agreed to cover any potential losses he might make.

Much like the great Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Vijay Ananda Gajapathi Raju, or Vizzy, India's fearless leader of the 1930s and cricket patron, Lord built his own ground, and then played in the games as well. Much like the cricket visionary, Lord's visitor and patron Allen Stanford, Lord promoted and organised winners-take-all games. And when cricket wasn't making enough money, he hired people to float hot air balloons from the ground, in a sort of genius Lalit Modi move. And had pigeon-shooting contests, much like when former Australian cricketers go and hunt African big game.

Much like the great Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Vijay Ananda Gajapathi Raju, or Vizzy, Lord built his own ground, and then played in the games as well

At the new ground, to ensure that the very cream of the London crop would not be troubled, he built a fence around his game. No one wanted the unwashed, uninvited undesirables ruining what was a perfectly good game for drinking and betting. Always eager to provide merriment to the noble, Thomas Lord placed the entrances to one of his Lord's through his wine shop. When cricket struggled to make money, he devised a new plan to build houses on the ground to increase profits, while constricting the game. It was a blueprint the ICC still uses.

Eventually, like Kerry Packer, Thomas Lord sold up and took his profits, while allowing others to talk up his many great deeds in the game. His last first-class game was his first at the last Lord's he owned. At the age of 60, he made 10 not out and took one wicket. His team, Epsom, beat Middlesex by an innings and 358 runs.

His unbeaten 10 and one wicket may not go down in history as the greatest all-round performance, but it was the only 10 not out and one wicket at Lord's by the man who built Lord's. It should be an inspiration for all those who run the game. It was as if cricket was giving this man something back for all he had done to fence cricket in and make it a profitable and exclusive club that rich people could drunkenly bet on.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

 

LOGIN TO POST YOUR COMMENTS

  • POSTED BY Varun Aggarwal on | September 25, 2015, 22:34 GMT

    Growing up I loved the notion of the gentlemen's game. I did not exactly know what a 'gentleman' really meant, but the idea conjured up images of proper-ness, the Victorian age, Geoffrey Boycott lookalikes, and, finally, of that intriguing and sacrosanct intangible -- the spirit of the game, without the lectures. But alas these were merely shallow images, ingrained in me through hours spent everyday consuming cricket media. As I grew up more, slowly, I started to understand the more subtle, the more in depth clues about the qualities which define a gentleman. They had very little in common with those defined, and unofficially enforced, by the mainstream cricket culture.The ideal gentleman according to cricket is from another era. He would now days be considered an outdated character. In fact, this ideal gentleman, would find it very hard to get through life today. At the best he would be regarded as an affable, eccentric has been.

  • POSTED BY Amit on | September 25, 2015, 21:45 GMT

    Hilarious!! Articles like these make me visit espncricinfo even when cricket is not being played.

  • POSTED BY varsha on | September 25, 2015, 20:33 GMT

    Talent and good behavior usually have an inverse relation (Kohli, Pietersen plus the likes of Warne, Ponting etc, who are extremely talented but not behavior role models). That's why you have to appreciate people like AB de Villiers, Dravid, Tendulkar, Gilly and of course the most unflappable Zen master Amla - who, despite being stupendously gifted, all manage to remain likable and nice guys.

  • POSTED BY Ganesh S on | September 5, 2015, 19:30 GMT

    My family may sue you since I happened to die laughing reading these pieces, however, I crib not. Have reached heaven and turns out it is a cricket field where you play in whites through the year. Somehow they have managed to print all the back issues of the Cricket Monthly, to read after stumps.

  • POSTED BY Nitesh on | September 3, 2015, 14:49 GMT

    Modern Day names that come to mind are Laxman, Hussey, Sachin...