Meanwhile, mercifully, there’s a Test match taking place in Birmingham. The contrast between this England and that other England in the headlines these past few days is total, complete and reassuring. Which brings me to this lovely piece by Peter White on how a blind man may adore – and imagine – cricket:
[…] I love cricket’s sounds, its scores, its slowness. I delight in its long periods of apparent apathy, suddenly punctuated by a moment of frenzied excitement (I understand that non-cricket lovers claim to be unable to distinguish between the two). I, of course, attempt to explain I’m also there for the atmosphere: the sound of bat on ball in a live arena is completely different from having it filtered through the speakers of the most sophisticated stereo. I occasionally try to enliven the (to me) repetitive conversation by claiming that I can easily distinguish, merely by the sound of bat on ball, between a delicate late cut and a full-blooded on-drive; and here, accidentally perhaps, I’m beginning to approach the question people ought to be asking, which is, what exactly do I think I’m experiencing, and just how close to reality is it?
I’ve gradually come to realise that my picture of the game, almost exclusively drawn from the words of others, may bear little relationship to the one sighted people are playing or watching. This isn’t because I haven’t played: as you may be aware, there’s a version of cricket blind people play against each other. It adheres to the same format – innings, runs, wickets – so its numerology is identical, but some of the mechanics are fundamentally different. For instance, we play with a bigger, softer ball, which for obvious reasons is made to rattle. If you’re bowling to a totally blind player, the ball must bounce at least twice to help them locate it, and we are also allowed to take catches off one bounce.
In these soft days, I gather blind batsmen don’t run: scores are based on how far the ball has been hit. At the special blind school where I and my friends regularly played, two totally blind batsmen would cheerfully hare off from opposite ends for quick singles, frequently colliding in the middle with earth-moving consequences (one of them my now slightly crooked nose).
The value of mimicry in blind cricket must not be underestimated. Mischievous fieldsmen would often imitate your batting partner in calling you for an impossible run. Compared with the gamesmanship employed by blind players, the likes of "bodyline" Jardine, Tony Greig and Paul Collingwood are mere babes in arms.
But the key difference, I now realise, is what we did with the bat…
Do read it all. The piece, as a commenter notes, also brings to mind Alan Ross’s poem Test Match at Lord’s during which there is the splendid image of SF Barnes guiding an old and blind Wilfred Rhodes through the action:
"Bailey bowling, MacLean cuts him late for one.
I walk from the Long Room into slanting sun.
Two ancients halt as Statham starts his run.
Then, elbows linked, but straight as sailors
On a tilting deck, they move. One, square-shouldered as a tailor’s
Model, leans over, whispering in the other’s ear:
‘Go easy. Steps here. This end bowling.’
Turning, I watch Barnes guide Rhodes into fresher air,
As if to continue an innings, though Rhodes may only
Play by ear."