Cricket clash is pure theatre as match honours fans of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter

The two literary heavyweights shared a love for the sport

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As hostilities intensify between England and Australia for control of the Ashes, an altogether different cricketing clash is set to take place over the Irish Sea.

Pitting two of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights against each other, an international Beckett festival is to stage the first ever honorary cricket match between teams representing Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.

The two literary heavy-weights became close friends, sharing a mutual love of the sport. Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Godot and Happy Days, is the only Nobel literature laureate to have made it into cricketing almanack  Wisden – regarded as the sport’s bible – for playing in a first class match.

England celebrate winning the First Ashes Test

Pinter, whose acclaimed work includes The Birthday Party, Old Times and The Homecoming, talked of cricket being the “greatest thing that God created on earth”, adding that it was “certainly greater than sex”. In November, curators at the British Library were only able to date an archive of his letters with copies of  Wisden, because the references he had made to cricket matches were so detailed.

The Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival starts next week and includes performances of the playwright’s work and talks about his life and collaborators. One of this year’s showpiece events is the cricket match between the Beckett XI, representing Ireland, against the Pinter XI representing England at Kesh Cricket Club. The festival is in its fourth year, and the organisers hope that the match could become an annual fixture.

Liam Browne, deputy artistic director of the festival, said: “This cricket match is to reflect Beckett’s own interest in the sport and the place it had in his life. We wanted to connect it with Pinter as they both shared this great love and were good friends.”

Playwrights from Tom Stoppard and Terence Rattigan to Alan Ayckbourn and David Hare have been drawn to the summer game but Beckett and Pinter were perhaps the greatest writers known for their love for leather on willow. Lawrence Booth, editor of Wisden, said: “Playwrights are probably drawn to cricket as there is a lot of time to think about things.  The sheer length of it allows subplots to develop.” 

Representing Pinter in the forthcoming match is the Gaieties Cricket Club. The playwright made his debut for the club in the 1960s, and went on to be captain and then chairman until his death in 2008.

Other literary fans

Tom Stoppard Cricket is central to his play The Real Thing including the famous “cricket bat” speech.

Alan Ayckbourn Intimate Exchanges is a series of stories, including A Cricket Match, where someone gets a bloody nose over an LBW decision.

Terence Rattigan The Winslow Boy playwright was a keen follower and played in Harrow’s first XI.

Richard Bean The author of One Man Two Guvnors played cricket for three decades and wrote The English Game in 2008 about an amateur London cricket team.