On a pleasant late Sunday morning, our last full day in Cambridge, Dennis Ryan and I took a taxi to the famous Orchard Tea Room in Grantchester, just a couple of miles from Sidney Sussex College, our home away from home. The Orchard is more than a room, it is an apple orchard as well. Tables and chairs are scattered under the apple trees where, since 1897, Cambridge students, faculty, townspeople, and tourists have taken morning coffee, lunches, and afternoon high teas.

The Orchard grew in popularity when the poet Rupert Brooke, then a popular graduate student of King’s College, took up lodging in the Orchard House in 1909. Brooke attracted a great following at the Orchard, among them John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—the so-called Grantchester Group, or the neo-pagans as Woolf called them. A poet of the First World War who never saw action, Brooke is famous mainly for one poem, The Soldier.  You are probably familiar with its opening lines: If I should die, think only this of me / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England. The foreign field in which Brooke is buried is an olive grove on the island of Skyros in the Aegean. Brooke died, not of battle wounds, but of a mosquito bite and an ensuing blood infection. He was not yet 28.   Brooke’s presence, and the presence of the other neo-pagans, is memorialized by a simple display board in the orchard that was just a few feet from where Dennis and I sat.

Orchard Tea Room orchard

We offered to allow management to take our pictures and add them to the board, but we were rebuffed. Undaunted, we finished our lunch and strolled down a short and gnarly path to a rusted gate that opened onto a large, green meadow where the Grantchester Cricket Club was assembling for a friendly afternoon cricket match with Liddgate-Ousden.

The featured image above is the Meadow. We chatted with a few of the players who were standing around and they graciously invited us to sit with them on the sideline as the match was about to commence. Dennis and I sat for a time and watched the match unfold, aided in our understanding by the commentary of Johnny Anderson, about whom you will hear more in a subsequent post I am tentatively calling A Connecticut Yankee In King Johnny’s Court. That will be the third of a three-part post on cricket. This is the first. The second post is tentatively titled It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish.

Cricket is, I suppose, the quintessential British sport. Wherever the British Empire reigned, cricket reigned too. Its origins are lost in the misty veils of history, but when the tower of St Bene’t Church (you’ll recall that we strolled by the church in an earlier post) was being built, about 1020 AD, a form of cricket was already being played in England.

Cricket is a truly international sport played by millions of people in 92 countries.  But not, seemingly, in the United States. And that is ironic because cricket was once the national game of this country. “The Hell, you say!” Yes, I do say. I do not lie to you, Gentle Reader. Cricket was one of the first outdoor sports to be played in America. An 1844 cricket match between sides (cricket “teams” are called sides) from the United States and Canada was the first international sporting event in the modern world, predating the revival of the Olympic Games by more than 50 years.

In 1751, the New York Gazette and the Weekly Post Boy reported on a match between a London “eleven” ( as sides are often called, there being 11 men on a cricket side) and one from New York City. This may be the  first public report of a cricket match in North America.  Both sides were probably from New York.

An article in the  Smithsonian Magazine in 2006 noted that the rules of cricket in North America were formalized in 1754 when Benjamin Franklin brought back from England a copy of the 1744 Laws, cricket’s official rule book. By the way, Dennis and I were admonished by one of the cricketers on the Meadow at Grantchester, “Rules are for Monopoly; cricket has laws.” One further reads in The Smithsonian  that “there is anecdotal evidence that George Washington’s troops played what they called “wickets” at Valley Forge in the summer of 1778. After the Revolution, a 1786 advertisement for cricket equipment appeared in the New York Independent Journal, and newspaper reports of that time frequently mention “young gentlemen” and “men of fashion” taking up the sport. Indeed, the game came up in the debate over what to call the new nation’s head of state: John Adams noted disapprovingly—and futilely—that “there are presidents of fire companies and cricket clubs.””

Abe Lincoln reportedly turned up somewhere to watch Chicago play Milwaukee in a cricket match in 1849. By then, an estimated 10,000 Americans were playing the game, and many more were watching.

The website of the United States of America Cricket Association, headquartered at Miami Beach, says that there are 1,000 clubs with more than 600 playing fields, and more that 24,000 active players of cricket in this country.  I suppose they should know and why would they lie? So, say what you will about cricket, but do not call it un-American.

But, let’s face it, most Americans dismiss cricket as an elitist game played by girlie-men who  dress in traditional whites and break for tea. And it’s slow. A match can take days to play. As slow as a baseball game might seem to some, cricket unfolds with glacier-like slowness. The longest recorded cricket match (a “Test” match—you’ll learn about that in Part II of this three part blog on cricket) was between South Africa and England played in Durban in 1939. The match lasted nine days (about eight hours each day with tea breaks of course), and ended in a draw when the British side had to board a boat back to England. International Test matches last five days. The friendly match on the Grantchester Meadow was going to be played in an agreed-upon two hours. Johnny’s wife was bringing sandwiches to the Meadow at 4 o’clock.

Cricketers are quick to argue that the game is far more dynamic, and more dangerous, than baseball. Johnny, our guide to the arcania of cricket, showed us a cricket ball: it is heavier—by half an ounce—than an American baseball. A cricket ball has a core of cork, is sheathed in layers of twine and cork shavings, and then wrapped in a bright red leather casing.

cricketball

Johnny said that a cricket ball launched at a batsman by a skilled bowler (that’s like a pitcher in baseball) can be a dangerous projectile. The bowler, unlike a pitcher in baseball,  is in a full run after sprinting for up to 30 paces before hurling the ball. and unlike a baseball pitch, which is not intended to be bounced off the ground, a cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced off the ground of the cricket “pitch”whose grass has usually been trimmed and rolled to a concrete-like hardness. Johnny says that he has been hit in the chest by a “bouncer” and that it “hurts like hell.” Johnny said that the best bowlers can launch a ball at 95 miles per hour or more. That’s as fast as a major-league fastball. Johnny said all this and we believed him.

So, I don’t know about cricketers being girlie-men. And I certainly would not call a cricketer that to his or her (mostly his though) face. Johnny, for example, is a six foot and solidly built 62-year-old who had been a Cambridge policeman before he retired. No girlie-man he. But, Dennis and I both agreed, he did look fetching in his dress whites.

 

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