Photo feature

Let's play it by ear

Scores of another kind

Nishi Narayanan  |  

Paul Popper / © Popperfoto/Getty Images

Cricket is a pretty musical sport - a bowler needs rhythm; the ball hums (sometimes) on its way to the batsman; the batsman beats his bat on the pitch while he waits, and if he connects well with the ball, the sound it produces is sweet music.

So it's perhaps not all that surprising that great musicians have been drawn to the game. Buddy Holly and the Crickets toured England in early 1958 and were introduced to their English namesake in the usual way such introductions are made: via a PR brainwave.

Philip Norman writes in Buddy: The Definitive Biography of Buddy Holly:

"The only publicity arranged by the British Decca organization was a press reception at a Soho club, the Whisky A Go Go, where, in a small triumph of addle-brained PR, America's Crickets were ceremonially confronted with two English Test cricketers, Denis Compton [fourth from left in the photo above] and Godfrey Evans [second]. The Crickets' [Joe B. Mauldin, first; Holly third; and drummer Jerry Allison fifth from left] bafflement was as nothing compared to that of the cricketers; nonetheless Compton and Evans posed for photographers, showing Buddy how to hold a bat and take up guard at the wicket…

"If rock 'n' roll left a questionable impression on Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans, cricket had made a lasting one on Buddy. During one of the tours London interludes, he asked a friendly journalist, Keith Goodwin, of the Melody Maker, to teach him more about the English ritual his group's name unintentionally suggested. March being still too early to find a live cricket match, Buddy had to be content to see a cinema newsreel report on the England cricket team's current winter tour of Australia."

© Getty Images

Holly, who died in a plane crash at the age of 22 in 1959, influenced a generation of rock 'n roll musicians. One of them was the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, who watched Holly perform on this 1958 tour, and has been a lifelong cricket fan. Jagger himself was a pioneer in online cricket coverage - his media company, Jagged Networks, was broadcasting matches over the internet in the late 1990s, offering a live audio feed and video highlights, in partnership with Cricinfo.

Steven Siewert / © Getty Images

There's musical talent within the game as well. Brett Lee, and many other cricketers (Graeme Swann, Curtly Ambrose, Mark Butcher, to name a few), have played in bands, though Lee remains the only international cricketer to sing a duet with legendary Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle. In his autobiography, Lee says he wrote the song, "You're the One for Me", in half an hour while Australia were in India for the 2006 Champions Trophy. "I didn't tell any of my teammates what I was up to; when I went to shoot I told them I was going for a look through the streets," he wrote.

Douglas Miller / © Getty Images

Neville Cardus, who wrote on both cricket and music extensively, is flanked by former England captain Len Hutton (right) and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who is also believed to have been a cricket fan.

Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

Need to get into the batting zone? Put on your favourite tunes.

© Associated Press

In the days before video games and Netflix, knowing how to play a musical instrument was a useful skill to have, especially on long tours. Above, England captain Rachael Heyhoe (left) and June Moorehouse play guitars and are backed on vocals by (left to right) Heather Dewdney, Jill Cruwys and Lesley Clifford, at Melbourne airport in January 1969.

Ian Showell / © Getty Images

Before the "Sprinkler" dance, England celebrated an Ashes win by singing. Commentator Brian Johnston (first from left, sitting) composed a tune after Ray Illingworth's England beat Australia away in 1970-71.

Johnston recalled it in his book Another Slice of Johnners:

"After the Ashes victory we wrote a pretty awful song to a delightful old musical-hall tune. When we got back to England we recorded it at the Decca studios. Vic Lewis - the most enthusiastic of cricketers and collector of cricket-club ties - organised a wonderful accompanying orchestra drawn from all the top session musicians in London who were cricket supporters. The end product, called The Ashes Song, sounded smashing to us, though the public didn't think so. We hoped it would top the charts but in fact our total loyalties were £53.86. There was no point in dividing this up, so we decided to have a draw at the Test Trial in Hove in 1973. Who better to make the draw than the England captain? And whose name did he pull out of the hat? Yes, you've guessed it. Raymond Illingworth, none other."

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Cricket fans also make music. Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army's trumpeter, entertains spectators and Geoff Boycott during a Test in Wellington, 2013.

© Patrick Eagar/Getty Images

Australian cricketers have their own musical ritual - the team song, "Underneath the Southern Cross". In this photo David Boon leads the singing/chanting after Australia won the Ashes at Trent Bridge, 1989.

© Popperfoto/Getty Images

Not so much team song as team bonding over a spot of music for the 1971 Indian tourists in Guyana.

© PA Photos

The pop group Bananarama form a slip cordon for an equality drive launched by Labour politician Frances Morell (batting), the leader of the Inner London Education Authority, at a school in Islington, 1985.

Michael Putland / © Getty Images

British singer Captain Sensible, who founded the punk band The Damned, poses with a bat-guitar (for playing great hooks with, no doubt). Sensible guested on the cover of "Cricket in the Jungle" (a calypso by the Tradewinds) by English cricketer Adrian Wykes, who went by the name Percy Pavilion in music.

Hamish Blair / © Getty Images

And finally, here's Shaggy at an event during the 2009 Champions League T20, getting Lalit Modi to rock, presumably to his song "It Wasn't Me".

Nishi Narayanan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo