He ain’t no pie thrower*, he’s a bloody brilliant bowler

Jake Kilrain couldn’t stop Johnny Sullivan in 75 rounds, but how would he have fared against Freddie Flintoff?

The baseball trade deadline has passed us by, and two grueling months remain in what promises to be a season of eviscerating heartbreak. So naturally, it’s time for a look-in on the ever-baffling universe of cricket.
Every now and then I find it illuminating to check in on cricket, just to affirm my thoroughgoing and unrivalled ignorance of the sport.
Just cause one doesn’t know fuckall about something, it doesn’t mean one should ignore it.
Au contraire.
One bloody brilliant paragraph in, I’m reeling. I don’t know what a word of it means, yet I love it all the more for its soaring inscrutability.
Perhaps it’s something like stumbling blindly through Joyce. The deeper you get, the less you understand, and the more enthralling the whole experience becomes.
Without further ado, here’s the smashing first blow of Mike Selvey’s story in today’s Guardian:
For 15 minutes yesterday evening, as the crowd bayed and adrenaline pumped, a day’s cricket that had carried a dull inevitability about it was stripped down to bare-knuckle fighting, a gladiatorial contest between a great batsman and a colossal fast bowler. And at the end it was Andrew Flintoff who almost single-handedly had pulled his side back from the brink to a position from which, if they can draw further strength from his deeds, they may go on to win a match that after the first day had seemed doomed.
Let’s rewind a bit of that, in slow motion.
A dull inevitabiilty, which, thanks to an epic deul between a great batsmen and a colossal fast bowler, metamorphoses into bare-knuckle fighting, for which the crowd got worked into a lather and, with little option, bayed.
Suddenly, we’ve gone from the prosaic boredom of English rain to pugilistic imagery of Jake Kilrain and John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strongboy, going toe-to-toe for 75 rounds in sometime in late 19th century. The last bare-knuckle championship bout.
Back off the canvas, they are, up from the precipice of doom.
Whoever they are.
In the dour, death-rattle world of the American daily newspaper, this sort of opening would border on the blasphemous. Copy editors would snicker.
One paragraph in, and what do we know? Where’s the who, when and what? Why?
We know it’s a cricket match, but we don’t know who’s playing. At least we know it was yesterday evening. But we don’t have a score, a venue or either of the combatants.
And who the hell cares?
Ever wonder why the once-proud ink-scribblers of the Fourth Estate are rushing headlong over the cliff of oblivion in lock-step?
Well, it can’t help that their readers never get much in the way of dull inevitability-cum-bare-knuckle boxing. If they offered something worth reading more than just once in a while, maybe, just maybe, your 18-to-34 demographic poster boy would plunk down 50 cents and pick up the old paint-catcher. Nah, you’re right. To hell with the newspaper.
It’s Internet or bust, and it’s getting harder and harder to bet against the latter.
Better move on to paragraph two, see what else we might learn:
Jacques Kallis, one of the finest technicians of this or any other age, was constructing another masterpiece, on the way, with absolute certainty it appeared, to another century to go with the 30 he had already acquired in Tests, when he encountered Flintoff, on the rampage after a rain break which had delayed the resumption after tea. It was gloomy, almost too gloomy, but 10 deliveries were all it took to create a legend to rank alongside Allan Donald’s spell to Michael Atherton and Flintoff’s defining over to Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting three years ago.
Poor Selvey, what’s he on about?
Never heard of this Jacques Kallis bloke, but now I immediately know him as one of the finest technicians of this or any other age. So I don’t know which team he represents? I don’t mind. Just one more thing I don’t know, which I failed to notice against the backdrop of all-consuming ignorance.
Cricket, after all, must have it’s Ruths and DiMaggios, its Gibsons and Koufaxes. Its Ted Williamses and Ty Cobbs, Satchel Paiges and Walter Johnsons.
Sure, I still have no idea what the bloody hell is going on. But it’s pretty fascinating, a legend, even, that rates right up there with Allan Donald’s spell to Michael Atherton?
It must be cracking good, whoever the hell Allan Donald and Michael Atherton are/were.
Onward I plunge:
The first ball set the tone, a yorker which Kallis failed to pick up out of the pavilion background. The batsman grinned at the absurdity; it was the last smile he had. Flintoff thrashed in successive bouncers which had Kallis snapping his head back. Another yorker appeared to hit him full on the toe and slap bang in front but Aleem Dar ruled against Flintoff’s impassioned appeal. The bowler was incensed. Further deliveries, swinging away, seared past Kallis’s groping outside edge before Flintoff produced one more perfect yorker, wickedly fast, shaping away, which eluded the bat and detonated the off stump from the turf.
Replay, for an instant:
The batsman grinned at the absurdity; it was the last smile he had.
The reader, still able and willing to grin, is infinitely more fortunate than poor Kallis.
And then, the yorker. Now we’re getting somewhere. A more perfect yorker. The contradictory, warring images conflate wildly in my overmatched cerebrum.
A yorker?
The New Yorker? Fond thoughts of wonderful writers of yore, Joseph Mitchell, A.J. Leibling. Oh, and that recent cover art that caused quite a firestorm on the domestic political front.
A yorker?
Beautiful as a rose? Hazy memories of Shakespeare and wars and roses and a bit of nasty bloodshed between royal houses in Olde England. Whatever little I recall owes to my roots in eastern Pennsylvania, where U.S. Route 30 runs westward, first through Lancaster and later through York, on its way to nowhere in particular.
A more perfect yorker.
Three paragraphs in, and I don’t know who’s winning, who’s losing, what the score is, or anything else, really. And I couldn’t care less. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun, more than any three paragraphs I’ve encountered lately in the quotidian diet of dull inevitability I must consume 40 hours of each forgettable week.
Right off the bat come troubling evocations of Eliot’s Wasteland (April after all, is a bad month, what with how it breeds those intoxicating lilacs from dead lands, confuses memory and desire, then stirs dull roots with spring rain). Moving right along, we come to the wonderfully anachronistic world of bare-knuckle boxing. Before we know it, we’ve encountered Shakespearian tragedy, taken a brief, nostalgic trip homeward, paid our respects to Joe Mitchell and wondered if the preamble to the constitution still means anything in the final year of the Bush Imperium.
A bloody mess, to be sure. But I sure enjoyed the ride.
For the record, I did make the obligatory gesture of consulting the great God Wikipedia for an explanation of the yorker:
“In cricket, a yorker is a delivery where the cricket ball bounces on the cricket pitch on or near the batsman’s popping crease.”
Popping crease? I don’t even want to know, I just want to enjoy a bit of free association.
Paragraph four?
Too often in this series batsmen have donated their wickets to unworthy deliveries. There was no shame to Kallis, unseated for 64 by a genuinely great fast-bowling cameo
A heroic donation of wickets, it appears. No shame, to be unseated for 64 by a genuinely great fast-bowling cameo.
Again, I’m in utter darkness, but I can enjoy a timeless duel between worthy adversaries, one where there’s no shame, only honor.
And finally, in paragraph five, we get what the Rousseaus of the American journalism schools might call the nutgraph. The news, in brief. Please:
The close came three overs later, 14 overs early because of bad light, by which time Flintoff had removed another previous thorn in England’s flesh in AB de Villiers to complete a six-over spell that brought two for 15 and four for 68 in all. So South Africa will resume this morning on 256 for six, a lead of 25, with Ashwell Prince (37) and Mark Boucher (11) the last batting bastions. The game is far from over.
Still inscrutable, but there are a lot of numbers, which gives me the idea that he’s giving us the bottom line. I have no clue what a six-over spell that brought two for 15 and four for 68 in all connotes in England’s chances of fending off defeat.
South Africa, we discover, is the opponent, because they will resume on 256 for six, a lead of 25 as their last batting bastions approach the popping crease.
The game is far from over.
Thank goodness. And thank you, Mike Selvey.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
*A Pie Thrower, according to the BBC’s glossary of cricket, is “An inferior bowler, one who bowls like a clown throwing a pie. Not to be confused with the likes of Merv Hughes and Mike Gatting, who were, of course, famed pie-eaters.”


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