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Malcolm Guite: Poet’s Corner

30 August 2019

Walking his greyhounds, Malcolm Guite happens upon a village cricket match

I WAS taking my greyhounds George and Zara out for their Saturday afternoon walk when we happened upon a cricket match on Linton village green; so, naturally, we paused to enjoy watching a few overs. Well I enjoyed it. George and Zara were a little puzzled by the delay in their perambulations, but I pause often enough on their behalf; so I felt that they could return the favour.

There is something very satisfying about village cricket; for there you see a great sport returning to its humble origins. To witness a game in which there are more players than spectators is to be reminded of what play itself is: a thing done delightfully for its own sake, with no thought of pleasing crowds, selling tickets, or, heaven forbid, promoting products.

Both teams were in whites (more or less) and moving gracefully against the rich green of the ground. The fine run and beautifully executed action of the bowler, the occasional flurry of running between the wickets, or the swift darting of fielders after the ball, all were framed and punctuated by the slower ritual of changed places for the whole fielding team at the end of each over.

I watched the bowler hastening to her work, probing the batsman’s defences, varying pace and pitch; and the batsman, treating the best balls with a respectful forward defensive, and driving the loose ones to the boundary with a satisfying thwack, noted by the scorers, as a small boy ran excitedly to change the worn old number boards and give the running total. Reflecting on my pleasure in the whole scene, I realised that it was not simply the pleasure of an isolated moment, but something richer and more cumulative: an amalgam of memory and attention.

My pleasure in the game and my appreciation of each player reaches down into the layers of memory as well as out to the game at hand: memories of my own time at the crease and as a bowler, in clergy cricket games for the diocese, and earlier still into my school days, idling in the outfield and wondering whether the ball would ever come my way, and my (very brief) moments of concentration and nerves at the crease (if it ever came down to needing the number ten batsman), my brief spells at bowling, trying to remember what my father had taught me, as a much younger boy, about the mysteries of spin. All these layers of memory and affection are somehow brought into play even in the spectacle of other people at play.

C. S. Lewis says somewhere that all our present experiences are enriched or “thickened” by memory. He gives the example of the pleasure of breakfast. When enjoying bacon and eggs, he says, he may be eating only one rasher of bacon, but the experience and anticipation he brings to it is “more than fifty rashers thick”.

That’s a good way to put it, and, as I wandered on beyond the green and towards the church, I reflected that the same is true of our experience there, where, as with cricket, we enjoy a series of familiar, repeated, ritual movements and gestures, whose significance builds and thickens through many layers over time. And yet we are also vividly present and alert to the moment at hand.

Perhaps, I thought, as we idled past the church, we ought to see the opening and closing of each service as a series of “overs” in a long and beautiful game, at whose end the hospitality of our host’s pavilion awaits us.

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