Vital to any understanding of the British Empire


Dear Jay,

I know that you didn't ask, but I feel that one cannot understand the British colonial tradition without understanding cricket.

To begin with, you must understand that cricket is a way of life. A test [played between two countries] will last five days. We do play 'one-day' games, which are played in a series [often five] while tests are often three in number during a tour. Local games will vary from one-day to five day.

An innings lasts [in a test] for as long as it takes for the side that is in [ie batting] to be bowled out. In a limited overs match [a one-day or other type of game] then the innings will last a certain number of overs. Each side has eleven players, and they list them in the order that they will bat, so the last-named are usually good bowlers and bad batsmen.

An over is now six balls [it has varied from time to time and place to place], bowled by the same bowler from the same side of the pitch.

The field is oval shaped, and large [usually about 450 feet wide and 500 feet long]. The pitch is in the centre, running along the line bisecting the largest part of the field. The pitch is one chain in length [22 feet] and has a wicket at either end. A wicket is nine inches in width, and consists of three stumps, each to project 28 inches out of the ground, and of equal and sufficient size to prevent the ball from passing through; the tops of the stumps are joined by two loose pegs, called bails, which will fall off when the wicket is hit. [On windy days they may be removed].

The ball is in circumference nine to nine and a half inches, and weighs between five and a half and five and three quarter ounces. The bat is not wider than four and a half inches, and not longer than thirty-eight inches.

[Incidentally, I am amazed to realise how many imperial measurements I do know].

In a line with the wicket, and extending three feet on either side of it is the bowling-crease, beyond which no part of the bowlers body may touch while he [or she] still has the ball in hand. Four feet in front is the popping-crease, which defines the batsman's territory. So long as he [or she] is in the crease, or any part of the body [including the bat] is in the crease, then they are in their territory.

The captain who wins the toss of a coin will decide which side bats first; that side sends in two members and the other side's eleven players disperse around the field, one at the wicket to which the ball will be bowled, hoping to catch the ball [the wicket keeper] and one at the other wicket to bowl the ball. The ball is bowled overhand with a straight hand, not so easy to do...

When the ball is played, the batsman strikes at it; if he hits it, and it flies off a distance, he and his opposite number will run between each crease, and will score a run for each movement of the two. The fielders will try to catch the ball and pass it to either the wicket-keeper or the bowler, who will seek to strike the stumps before the player running to that wicket has got behind the popping crease. If they succeed in thus striking the stumps, the player is 'run out' and a new player will come out.

If the batsman misses the ball, and the ball then hits his stumps, he is 'bowled out'. If he hits the ball, and it is caught by a member of the opposing side before it touches the ground, then he is 'caught out'. If the batsman is out of his crease and the bowler or wicket-keeper knocks their stumps, then they are 'stumped' and are out. A batsman may also go out if his leg is in front of the wicket and is hit by the ball, [out leg before wicket], if he obstructs someone trying to get to the ball [out obstructing the field], if he hits the ball twice [except when defending his wicket] or if he handles the ball except at the other side's request.

The bowler who delivers a ball improperly [by throwing, or by crossing the bowler's crease before delivery, or some other unfairness] will be called 'no-ball' by the umpire, and the ball does not count, except that a run is scored. A 'wide ball' is also a run; it is when the ball was bowled too far from the batsman for him to be able to hit, and it likewise doesn't count as a ball.

Runs are scored by running between the wickets, but if the batsman strikes the ball so hard that it reaches the edge of the field without being stopped by a fielder, then a four is scored, and if it passes over the crease without having touched the ground, a six is scored.

When an over is completed the direction of bowling will change, with the man who was bowling taking up a fielding position, and another bowler bowling from the opposite end. The switch between bowling styles can be quite a problem for a batsman.

One of the great reasons for the popularity of the game is its uncertainty; chance is also a factor. Conditions of the ground and weather will effect the game. A moment's inattention in the field and the game may change; a missed catch can spell defeat.

When one is bowling to a player who has a tendency to hook to the left, and one knows it, and he knows that you know it, and you place your fielders to catch the ball that he will send high if he plays a shot on his offside, and he tries hard to avoid playing those shots, and you manage to send a tempting one along that he swings at, hits and is caught- then you know the sheer joy of the cerebral that is cricket at its best. It is a game requiring some physical dexterity, and much patience.

It was regarded as good training for a young boy as to the nature of war- requiring of a fielder long and careful attention, even during the most boring of times, and sudden leaps to action; of a bowler much exertion for frequently no reward, and of a batsman the courage to face a ball hurtling towards oneself, and not to flinch but to do what is required.

Anyway, the high tide (of the empire!) was reached in the 1932/1933 during the English cricket tour to Australia. The tour has become known as the 'bodyline' tour, as the English captain instructed his bowlers to bowl at the players, not the stumps. As Woodfull [the Aussie Captain] said, "there are two teams out on the oval- one is playing cricket, the other not". Larwood andVoce bowled bodyline [the third bowler, Allen, refused; and as an amateur [ie a 'gentleman'], not a professional [ie 'player'] he wasn't subject to the same discipline. Richardson took up bat a full foot from the stumps, leaving them open to attack- and was still subject to Voce and Larwood's bodyline bowling!

Emotionally, here in South Africa, and from what I understand, over in Australia, this was seen as a betrayal of the unity of the Empire. In the famous phrase of the then Aussie PM- "this is not cricket". Bodyline became an acceptable standard of play, but the Empire was no longer an entity that subsumed all interests to the colonial power; white settlers began to think of themseves as South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders- and that meant that the Empire was dead.

I would say that Bodyline did not bring down the Empire, but certainly it underlined that by that time people no longer regarded themselves as colonialists but as citizens of new countries. It was perhaps the emotional manifestation of the constitutional consequences of the 1926 Imperial Conference, with Balfour's elegantly imprecise phrasing of the relationship between the dominions as 'equal in status'.

In reconsidering the matter [and rereading the newspapers of the time] I see much mention of the way in which the British generals had used colonial troops as [for want of a better term] "sponges" to absorb the worst of the First World War. Whether this is true I do not know- but certainly our local evening paper felt that this was the case. I see a claim that whites who served had died in a ratio of one out of every six, but I haven't confirmed this [it seems very high]. This would also have served to loosen the ties of loyalty to Empire- and if I remember in the Second World War the Aussies were especially insistent over controlling their casualties.

So perhaps I should restate my thesis to be that it was clear by the time of Bodyline that the Empire was over, and the Commonwealth was being born...

Grant McKenna - Durban, South Africa

[who as wicket-keeper has a career best of two wickets and four wickets in a four-day (Natal University versus Potchefstroom University, 1984)].


This was sent to me by , it is the traditional reply to a question as to how cricket is played, and serves only to amuse those who already know the answer. Put it on your website as well...

You have two sides,
one out in the field and one in.
Each man that's in the side that's in goes out
and when he's out he comes in
and the next man goes in until he's out.
When they are all out,
the side that's out comes in
and the side that's been in goes out
and tries to get those coming in out.

Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When both sides have been in and out twice,
including the not outs ...

...that's the end of the game.


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