Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When the clock struck four (cricket in Corfu)

Most Scots are cheerful folk, but the race does produce some individuals who are dour, humourless and just plain cranky. Ian was one of these. All the same, we were momentarily sorry when Fred hit him with a cricket ball. Fred was our team’s fast-bowler and Ian was half an hour late on an attempted leg-glance.

(American readers, please just accept the technicalities without question. They’d take too long to explain. Be thankful I didn’t describe the attempt as a shot off his legs. His legs were never in any danger of being shot off. It’s just – oh, never mind.)

The ball hit him on the back of his thigh, behind the pad. He went down in a heap – in obvious pain and cursing fit to bust. We fielders cut short our appeal for LBW and gathered round the fallen warrior. The umpire wandered down from the bowler’s end. “Are you all right, Ian?” Poor Ian. “Of course I’m not all right, you bloody fool! It hurts like hell and I can’t stand up.” The umpire sighed in sympathy. “Well, I’ve got some more bad news for you. You’re out.” Poor Ian – the only man on the field who didn’t see the funny side of that.

The standard of cricket in Vila in the New Hebrides (now Port Vila, in Vanuatu) was low enough to allow me to participate without embarrassment – and Ian too, most days. It was the first time I’d played since high school 16 years before, and the setting was too beautiful to resist. The field was a specially cleared space in The British Paddock, overlooking the little harbour with Iririki Island in the middle distance.

(At this time – the early 1970s – the New Hebs were jointly administered by Britain and France as what was formally called a Condominium. Informally, it was called a pandemonium, which fairly describes the chaos that usually results when the French and the British join forces in any venture. I’ll write about that some other time; this post is supposed to be about cricket.)

A year or so after leaving Vila, we and our new baby were living out of a Kombi van and an old tent in a camping ground on Corfu, where I turned out a few times for The British Casuals. That was a scratch team of whatever foreigners happened to be on the Island. The standard was as low as it was in Vila, so I felt no shame.

The British had introduced cricket during their governance of the Island in the fifty years following the Battle of Waterloo. There was a Greek National Team in my day, whose members were spread among three or four local teams, which played with us on equal terms. All one can decently say about their abilities was that they were better cricketers than umpires.

They weren’t always sure of the rules, which situation generally worked for them. They scrupulously kept the rule about stopping for tea when the clock struck four, but were less fussy about others. On the other hand, they had only a tenuous grasp of tactics, which usually worked against them.

The field was in the middle of the Corfu Town Square, surrounded by seedy hotels and restaurants. Recent photos on Cricinfo.com show that matches are still played there, although there is also a far nicer place elsewhere on the Island. The Greek National Team is now drawn from eleven clubs and plays in a formal ICC league, ranked very low down alongside places like Pitcairn and Lithuania.

At least, they did before the current economic crisis. If the poor fellows can’t afford to import bats and balls any more they may revert to the standards of old. I wonder if they still have my name and address in the archives...