Golden cricketing moments with Dame Iris Murdoch

Albert Camus cut lazily at a rising ball outside the off and she equally lazily let it through
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IN THE wake of the death of the late lamented Iris Murdoch, I have received many letters of tribute to her and think it only right to print a selection of them today.

From Mr George "Gubby" Trotter OBE

Sir, In all the many and fitting tributes to the late Iris Murdoch I have seen no mention of her abiding love of the old English game of cricket, and I would like to draw attention now to the part she played in its evolving history.

I knew her quite well when she was resident in Paris after the war, drawn there to study the works of the French philosophers; as you probably know, she dedicated her first novel Under The Net to M Raymond Queneau, who was presumably some kind of Froggy writer or thinker. Not my sort of thing - I was sent over to Paris by the Historic Monuments Commission to help remove German graffiti from the Eiffel Tower - but I did come across her when playing for an expatriate cricket XI formed from Englishmen exiled in Paris, and she was often a member of the team.

She was not a great bat, it has to be admitted. Nor bowler. Nor even fielder. No, her great forte was arguing with the umpire.

Trained as a philosopher, she had of course a complete grasp of abstruse logic, and when she bore down on an umpire with the apparently guileless words "What do you mean by Not? And what do you mean by Out? Perhaps we could define a few terms here...", then it was a brave umpire who stood his ground. Most of them would give a man out to avoid arguing with her gimlet eye.

Yours etc

From Mrs Hermione Raven

Sir, I can vouch for everything in the foregoing letter. Iris's love of cricket was a shining example to us all.

I happened to be fielding next to her when playing for the scratch British Philosophers against Jean-Paul Sartre's XI at an Existentialist Summer Camp in 1949 or 1950, or perhaps both, and as Albert Camus cut lazily at a rising ball outside the off and she equally lazily let it through the slip field, she turned to me and said: "Hermione, in what sense can a woman ever be said to be third man?"

"In the same sense," I said, "that a highly intelligent and intellectual person can be said to be silly mid-off."

"Mm, that's quite clever, Hermione," she said. "I might get one of my characters to say that one day."

Yours etc

From Mrs Dorothy Golightly

Sir, May I add my small memory of the great lady? I was once playing beside her for the Lady Novelists of the Southern Counties XI (I am not a novelist myself but had read widely) when she said to me suddenly out of the blue: "I often think that the expression `appealing to the umpire' is a curious phrase. I am no great thing of beauty, but I find myself appealing to umpires all the time. Does cricket have sexual overtones we wot little of? What do you think, honey-bunch?"

Then over was called, we went our separate ways and she never spoke to me again, but I often think of her wise words, if that is what they were.

Yours etc

From Professor Sir Archie Dunstable

Sir, Further to Mrs Hermione Raven's letter, I can vouch for the fact that even on the cricket field the late Iris Murdoch's mind was hard at work on the craft of fiction.

I was lucky enough to be selected for the British Council authors' cricket team that toured India and Pakistan in the early 1950s, and whenever Irish Murdoch let a ball through the outfield, which she did often enough, you could be sure she was working out the plot of a new novel.

"Jack," she said to me one day, "has it ever occurred to you that the placing of the fielding side in cricket is very like elaborating the plot of a novel? The delicate relationship of slip to point to cover to mid- off and so on, is like the cat's cradle of human relationships - all in love with each other."

"And are the two bowlers a married couple?" I said teasingly.

She glanced at me, then at the two moustached men who happened to be sharing the bowling at the time.

"It all depends what you mean by married," she said. "The thing is -"

At that moment a ball whistled past us and I trotted off to get it from the boundary and when I got back she had changed and gone back to her hotel, so I never found out what the thing was.

Dear old Iris!

Yours etc