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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Three of Them II. About Cricket

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About Cricket is the 2nd episode of the series Three of Them written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Strand Magazine on april 1918.



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Three of Them II. About Cricket

Supper was going on down below and all good children should have been long ago in the land of dreams. Yet a curious noise came from above.

"What on earth?" asked Daddy.

"Laddie practising cricket," said the Lady, with the curious clairvoyance of motherhood. "He gets out of bed to bowl. I do wish you would go up and speak seriously to him about it, for it takes quite an hour off his rest."

Daddy departed upon his mission intending to be gruff, and my word, he can be quite gruff when he likes! When he reached the top of the stairs, however, and heard the noise still continue, he walked softly down the landing and peeped in through the half-opened door.

The room was dark save for a night-light. In the dim glimmer he saw a little white-clad figure, slight and supple, taking short steps and swinging its arm in the middle of the room.

"Halloa!" said Daddy.

The white-clad figure turned and ran forward to him.

"Oh, Daddy, how jolly of you to come up!"

Daddy felt that gruffness was not quite so easy as it had seemed.

"Look here! You get into bed!" he said, with the best imitation he could manage.

"Yes, Daddy. But before I go, how is this?" He sprang forward and the arm swung round again in a swift and graceful gesture. Daddy was a moth-eaten cricketer of sorts, and he took it in with a critical eye.

"Good, Laddie. I like a high action. That's the real Spofforth swing."

"Oh, Daddy, come and talk about cricket!" He was pulled on the side of the bed, and the white figure dived between the sheets.

"Yes; tell us about cwicket!" came a cooing voice from the corner. Dimples was sitting up in his cot.

"You naughty boy! I thought one of you was asleep, anyhow. I mustn't stay. I keep you awake."

"Who was Popoff?" cried Laddie, clutching at his father's sleeve. "Was he a very good bowler?"

"Spofforth was the best bowler that ever walked on to a cricket-field. He was the great Australian Bowler and he taught us a great deal."

"Did he ever kill a dog?" from Dimples.

"No, boy. Why?"

"Because Laddie said there was a bowler so fast that his ball went frue a coat and killed a dog."

"Oh, that's an old yarn. I heard that when I was a little boy about some bowler whose name, I think, was Jackson."

"Was it a big dog?"

"No, no, son; it wasn't a dog at all."

"It was a cat," said Dimples.

"No; I tell you it never happened."

"But tell us about Spofforth," cried Laddie. Dimples, with his imaginative mind, usually wandered, while the elder came eagerly back to the point. "Was he very fast?"

"He could be very fast. I have heard cricketers who had played against him say that his yorker that is a ball which is just short of a full pitch was the fastest ball in England. I have myself seen his long arm swing round and the wicket go down before ever the batsman had time to ground his bat."

"Oo!" from both beds.

"He was a tall, thin man, and they called him the Fiend. That means the Devil, you know."

"And was he the Devil?"

"No, Dimples, no. They called him that because he did such wonderful things with the ball."

"Can the Devil do wonderful things with a ball?"

Daddy felt that he was propagating devil-worship and hastened to get to safer ground.

"Spofforth taught us how to bowl and Blackham taught us how to keep wicket. When I was young we always had another fielder, called the long-stop, who stood behind the wicket-keeper. I used to be a thick, solid boy, so they put me as long-stop, and the balls used to bounce off me, I remember, as if I had been a mattress."

Delighted laughter.

"But after Blackham came wicket-keepers had to learn that they were there to stop the ball. Even in good second-class cricket there were no more long- stops. We soon found plenty of good wicket-keeps like Alfred Lyttelton and MacGregor but it was Blackham who showed us how. To see Spofforth, all india- rubber and ginger, at one end bowling, and Blackham, with his black beard over the bails waiting for the ball at the other end, was worth living for, I can tell you."

Silence while the boys pondered over this. But Laddie feared Daddy would go, so he quickly got in a question. If Daddy's memory could only be kept going there was no saying how long they might keep him.

"Was there no good bowler until Spofforth came?"

"Oh, plenty, my boy. But he brought something new with him. Especially change of pace you could never tell by his action up to the last moment whether you were going to get a ball like a flash of lightning, or one that came slow but full of devil and spin. But for mere command of the pitch of a ball I should think Alfred Shaw, of Nottingham, was the greatest bowler I can remember. It was said that he could pitch a ball twice in three times upon a half-crown!"

"Oo!" And then from Dimples:

"Whose half-crown?"

"Well, anybody's half-crown."

"Did he get the half-crown?"

"No, no; why should he?"

"Because he put the ball on it."

"The half-crown was kept there always for people to aim at," explained Laddie.

"No, no, there never was a half-crown."

Murmurs of remonstrance from both boys.

"I only meant that he could pitch the ball on anything a half-crown or anything else."

"Daddy," with the energy of one who has a happy idea. "Could he have pitched it on the batsman's toe?"

"Yes, boy, I think so."

"Well, then, suppose he always pitched it on the batsman's toe!"

Daddy laughed.

"Perhaps that is why dear old W. G. always stood with his left toe cocked up in the air."

"On one leg?"

"No, no, Dimples. With his heel down and his toe up."

"Did you know W.G., Daddy?"

"Oh, yes, I knew him quite well."

"Was he nice?"

"Yes, he was splendid. He was always like a great jolly schoolboy who was hiding behind a huge black beard."

"Whose beard?"

"I meant that he had a great bushy beard. He looked like the pirate chief in your picture-books, but he had as kind a heart as a child. I have been told that it was the terrible things in this war that really killed him. Grand old W.G.!"

"Was he the best bat in the world, Daddy?"

"Of course he was," said Daddy, beginning to enthuse, to the delight of the clever little plotter in the bed. "There never was such a bat never in the world and I don't believe there ever could be again. He didn't play on smooth wickets, as they do now. He played where the wickets were all patchy, and you had to watch the ball right on to the bat. You couldn't look at it before it hit the ground and think, 'That's all right. I know where that one will be!' My word, that was cricket. What you got you earned."

"Did you ever see W. G. make a hundred, Daddy?"

"See him! I've fielded out for him and melted on a hot August day while he made a hundred and fifty. There's a pound or two of your Daddy somewhere on that field yet. But I loved to see it, and I was always sorry when he got out for nothing, even if I were playing against him."

"Did he ever get out for nothing?"

"Yes, dear; the first time I ever played in his company he was given out leg-before-wicket before he made a run. And all the way to the pavilion that's where people go when they are out he was walking forward, but his big black beard was backward over his shoulder as he told the umpire what he thought."

"And what did he think?"

"More than I can tell you, Dimples. But I dare say he was right to be annoyed, for it was a left-handed bowler, bowling round the wicket, and it is very hard to get leg-before to that. However, that's all Greek to you."

"What's Gweek?"

"Well, I mean you can't understand that. Now I am going."

"No, no, Daddy; wait a moment! Tell us about Bonner and the big catch."

"Oh, you know about that!"

Two little coaxing voices came out of the darkness.

"Oh, please! Please!"

"I don't know what your mother will say I What was it you asked?"

"Bonner!"

"Ah, Bonner!" Daddy looked out in the gloom and saw green fields and golden sunlight, and great sportsmen long gone to their rest. "Bonner was a wonderful man. He was a giant in size."

"As big as you, Daddy?"

Daddy seized his elder boy and shook him playfully. "I heard what you said to Miss Cregan the other day. When she asked you what an acre was you said 'Abqut the size of Daddy.'"

Both boys gurgled.

"But Bonner was five inches taller than I. He was a giant, I tell you."

"Did nobody kill him?"

"No, no, Dimples. Not a story-book giant. But a great, strong man. He had a splendid figure and blue eyes and a golden beard, and altogether he was the finest man I have ever seen except perhaps one."

"Who was the one, Daddy?"

"Well, it was the Emperor Frederick of Germany."

"A Jarman!" cried Dimples, in horror.

"Yes, a German. Mind you, boys, a man may be a very noble man and be a German though what has become of the noble ones these last three years is more than I can guess. But Frederick was noble and good, as you could see on his face. How he ever came to be the father of such a blasphemous braggart!" Daddy sank into reverie.

"Bonner, Daddy!" said Laddie, and Daddy came back from politics with a start.

"Oh, yes, Bonner. Bonner in white flannels on the green sward with an English June sun upon him. That was a picture of a man! But you asked me about the catch. It was in a test match at the Oval England against Australia. Bonner said before he went in that he would hit Alfred Shaw into the next county, and he set out to do it. Shaw, as I have told you, could keep a very good length, so for some time Bonner could not get the ball he wanted, but at last he saw his chance, and he jumped out and hit that ball the most awful ker-wallop that ever was seen in a cricket-field."

"Oo!" from both boys, and then: "Did it go into the next county, Daddy?" from Dimples.

"Well, I'm telling you!" said Daddy, who was always testy when one of his stories was interrupted. "Bonner thought he had made the ball a half-volley that is the best ball to hit but Shaw had deceived him and the ball was really on the short side. So when Bonner hit it, up and up it went, until it looked as if it were going out of sight into the sky."

"Oo!"

"At first everybody thought it was going far outside the ground. But soon they saw that all the giant's strength had been wasted in hitting the ball so high, and that there was a chance that it would fall within the ropes. The batsmen had run three runs and it was still in the air. Then it was seen that an English fielder was standing on the very edge of the field with his back on the ropes, a white figure against the black line of the people. He stood watching the mighty curve of the ball, and twice he raised his hands together above his head as he did so. Then a third time he raised his hands above his head, and the ball was in them and Bonner was out."

"Why did he raise his hands twice?"

"I don't know. He did so."

"And who was the fielder, Daddy?"

"The fielder was G. F. Grace, the younger brother of W. G. Only a few months afterwards he was a dead man. But he had one grand moment in his life, with twenty thousand people all just mad with excitement. Poor G.F.! He died too soon."

"Did you ever catch a catch like that, Daddy?"

"No, boy. I was never a particularly good fielder."

"Did you never catch a good catch?"

"Well, I won't say that. You see, the best catches are very often flukes, and I remember one awful fluke of that sort."

"Do tell us, Daddy?"

"Well, dear, I was fielding at slip. That is very near the wicket, you know. Woodcock was bowling, and he had the name of being the fastest bowler of England at that time. It was just the beginning of the match and the ball was quite red. Suddenly I saw something like a red flash and there was the ball stuck in my left hand. I had not time to move it. It simply came and stuck."

"Oo!"

"I saw another catch like that. It was done by Ulyett, a fine Yorkshire player such a big, upstanding fellow. He was bowling, and the batsman— it was an Australian in a test match—hit as hard as ever he could. Ulyett could not have seen it, but he just stuck out his hand and there was the ball."

"Suppose it had hit his body?"

"Well, it would have hurt him."

"Would he have cried?" from Dimples.

"No, boy. That is what games are for, to teach you to take a knock and never show it. Supposing that—

A step was heard coming along the passage.

"Good gracious, boys, here's Mumty. Shut your eyes this moment. It's all right, dear. I spoke to them very severely and I think they are nearly asleep."

"What have you been talking about?" asked the Lady.

"Cwicket!" cried Dimples.

"It's natural enough," said Daddy; "of course when two boys—

"Three," said the Lady, as she tucked up the little beds.






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