Alex Massie

Cricket & Tobacco: A Match Made on a True Pitch

Text settings

I have many more enthusiasms than convictions (in any sense of the word) but I am certain about some things and enthusiastically so. Cricket and tobacco, for instance. They're as natural a fit as ham and eggs. If the government really wants to clamp down upon smoking they should probably consider banning cricket - for in no other sport does Lady Nicotine provide such a useful, nay vital, service.

There are the cigarettes you smoke when you're waiting to bat and the wicket looks a little lively and the other mobs' fast bowler has a vindictive look about him and you're just hoping that he'll have exhausted his allotted overs by the time you shuffle in to bat or that, failing this, you'll be out before the bastard comes back. These might be considered fretting cigarettes.

Then there are the tabs you consume after you've played a damned silly shot and been dismissed in single figures for the


seventh consecutive innings. These are cigarettes filled with regret and fury and self-loathing and the terrible fear that you'll never do anything right ever again. Also, the troubling but perhaps not unwarranted suspicion that you're just a damn fool who always gets out in the same damn foolish ways. So you make a promise: next season no cover-drives, and then in April you break that promise and it's all rubbish all over again and so are you. You need a cigarette then too.

And then there are the cigarettes you puff on after you've been sawn-off by the other team's umpire or run out by one of your idiotic team-mates*. Those are the fags you smoke to calm down for fear that without them you'd end up in court having done some damage to the next fellow who innocently suggests "That was a touch unlucky".

And of course, there are the cigarettes you smoke to kill time while it's raining. Or when it's all actually a little bit boring. These too are soothing creatures.

In each and every case the tobacco valve is useful.

All of which is to say that thanks are due to Andy Bull for this piece and, most especially, to him for linking to this celebration of cricket and tobbaco written by the grand-daddy of all sports writers Frank Keating. These were the days, not just of English cricket but of tobacco too:

Each of these boyhood saints smoked - the phrase was, and is - like a chimney. Like the two captains, some were pipemen: dapper Bill Edrich puffed on a sleek, stylish and creamy meerschaum; doubtless his tobacco, too, was also a singular brand, a St Julien fine leaf or Gallagher's rich dark honeydew; from life-and-soul Godfrey Evans's flamboyant hookah-type knobbly briar plumed clouds from, we fancied, a fashionable Dunhill mixture sold in London's St James's, or perhaps Gold Block Virginia, or Three Nuns coiled; and the even more pungently ripe emissions from the short-stemmed, small-bowl furnace of popular pied piper and tubby Black Country leg-spinner, Eric Hollies, suggested at least Condor extra-strength or Afrikaaner dark shag.

The two must-have autographs that day were those of Test debutants - Derbyshire miner and brooding new-ball bowler Les Jackson and (at 18 years, 149 days) still England's youngest player, Brian Close. They were Woodbine men. Before Brian (sheepishly) signed my book he asked me to hold his ciggie's still-burning dog-end.

Preux chevalier Denis Compton was not signing, but I saw him readily offer from his gold cigarette-case a Senior Service to every new adult acquaintance who jostled to join his group. Alongside him, almost as handsome, Trevor Bailey chainsmoked his own Senior Service. The world knew Len Hutton advertised both the downmarket Black Cat cork tipped and Phillips's "Special Sport" tipped, but now we noticed, detached in sole private conflab with one friend, the pale maestro was chainsmoking upmarket John Player untipped. And so, taking their smokescreens with them, these gods went in to change, and we hared to claim our place-bagging picnic bags left on the Warwick Road grass.

*Jeshuran: Not that I'm thinking of anyone in particular or remembering a particular game in County Kilkenny last year. It was my call for fuck's sake. And I did call. No! Loudly. I haven't forgotten and nor has Oborne Junior who, you will recall, you also ran out that day.

[Thanks to NR for the tip.]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleSocietycricketsmoking