Alex Massie

Let Us Now Praise Frank Keating

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A new cricket season is upon us and something to take our minds off this election caper. Happily this also means it's time for another lovely piece from Frank Keating, still the doyen of British sportswriters. This time he's strolling down Shaftesbury Avenue, compiling an XI of playwrights who have played and loved the noblest game. It is everything you would imagine and hope it to be. Beckett* and Pinter and Stoppard feature prominently of course; so too Simon Gray.

There's this too, from Peter Gibbs, once of Derbyshire and subsequently of the stage:

In that long ago piece Gibbs had been, in real life, even more metaphysical than Stoppard in explaining how a single stroke had determined his retirement from county cricket.

"I'd hit my twelfth century in Derbyshire's match at Edgbaston when, of a sudden, sublime revelation took over. I hit Lance Gibbs off the back foot through midwicket, an old-fashioned attacking shot, one of the most difficult imaginable, and I played it to absolute perfection, consummate, transcendental, flawless. Yet back in the pavilion, the moment taunted, tormented me. I knew I'd probably never recapture such a supreme sensation again, never ever play such a shot as that – while somebody like Barry Richards was strolling out and doing it without a thought on any day of the week." Gibbs called it a day there and then.

That's Peter, not Lance who retired - though heaven knows many a duffer (not that P Gibbs was in that category) must have persuaded many a proper player that if this is how it was going to continue it must be time to retire from the fray before folk start taking the mickey.

These moments don't come often. And, yup, they stay with you forever as a halcyon reminder of what once was but also, alas, what could never be on anything like a consistent basis. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that.

*This, from Old Sam is splendid: "I read the other day that actor John Alderton, a fine Estragon in Waiting For Godot at the National in 1987, had been given a note by Beckett to imagine the parts of Vladimir and Estragon as 'batsmen numbers five and six fretfully waiting to begin their innings at a Test Match at Lord's'."  Very good, even if it's tough to imagine Ian Bell as Estragon...

**Two overs later I played around an inswinging half-volley and was bowled. That was foolish and annoying but doesn't even warrant a mention in the Top Dozen Humiliating, Stupid, Vexing, Bat-Throwing, Horrendous Dismissals...

[Hat-tip: the Old Batsman]

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.

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