David Lister: It is cricket's turn to take centre stage

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The Independent Online

The last time I met Sam Mendes he didn't talk about Oscars, movies, plays, or even Kate Winslet. He talked about cricket. Like many in the arts, he is a cricket nut, though probably not as much as the late Harold Pinter. Pinter, who played for most of his life, was once on a TV chat show, with the Yorkshire and England fast bowler Freddie Trueman as his fellow guest. When a predictable question was put to Pinter about pauses and silences in his work, he looked at the interviewer incredulously and said something to the effect of: "We've got Fred Trueman here. For goodness sake, let's talk about cricket."

With Mendes too, his passion is coming centre stage, and he has seized the chance to turn the recent, acclaimed cricket novel Netherland into a movie. Joseph O'Neill's book about cricket-playing ex-pats living in New York has an obvious appeal for Mendes, a cricket-loving ex-pat living in New York. Netherland is not dissimilar to a cricket match; intricate, absorbing, compelling, and with the occasional longueur that sends you to the beer tent.

Mendes's fellow cricket-lover, Christopher Hampton, will write the screenplay for the film and even he, with an astonishing track record as screen writer and playwright, confesses there are difficulties in making an American audience love cricket. "I don't think it is possible to make cricket clear to people who don't understand the game," he says. "But, luckily, there isn't much ball-by-ball stuff in this novel, and it is actually more popular in the US than we imagine."

Mendes's decision does make one wonder why there have been so few films about cricket? In fact, I'm scratching my head to think of any. Football has had its share, from The Arsenal Stadium Mystery long ago through various World Cup films to the recent films about referees and the French player Zinedine Zidane. Did the drama of the notorious Bodyline tour of Australia not warrant a movie? Were umpire Dickie Bird and his cohorts not as intriguing as any football referee? If the multiplexes can cope with Zidane, could they not cope with Botham or Boycott or Warne?

I'm less sure that the Ashes series that has just finished, thrilling as it was, has sufficient texture to be the basis of a film. But that shouldn't stop us casting it anyway, and I see Paul Bettany as a good fit for the cherubic, blond all rounder Stuart Broad. As for Flintoff, well, if we have an eye on Hollywood and Matt Damon is available... ok, maybe not.

Besides, would the film world be interested? There has been a play about cricket, Outside Edge by Richard Harris, which was turned into a much underrated sitcom, with Timothy Spall sporting a girth that would not endear him to present-day fitness coaches. But the film industry, bar a couple of very minor British comedies, has fought shy of the sport. Perhaps that is because it has not taken on board O'Neill's own thoughts about his novel chronicling the attempts different communities have to make to understand one another. He says: "Well, if they can't understand cricket, how on earth are they going to understand the rest of the world?"

That's not a bad pitch, though it might not quite work with the more hardened studio execs. I'd say: "You've got 22 men, a sporting war, tension, insults, sporadic violence, beautiful wives and girlfriends, hard drinking, sledging (no, never mind), and there's a barmy army who dress up as bananas for the comic side-plot. Tarantino directs. I see Brad batting at No 4, Angelina leading the Wags, Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller in banana suits." Can't fail.

What to do when you just don't get it?

Hilarious. Glorious. Original. Well, just about every superlative under the sun has been used to describe The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. And when they appeared at the Proms last week, the house was full and there were queues around the block. Hundreds in the audience, including Proms director Roger Wright, even brought along their own ukuleles to join in. I was, therefore, in a state of some excitement when I attended the Prom, having never seen them before. The lights went down. On they came. And I found them – mildly amusing.

I smiled when they did "The Ride of the Valkyries", I half smiled when they did Beethoven's "Ode to Joy", and after that the novelty began to wear off. The audience loved the joke item entitled "plagiarism" when they played David Bowie's "Life on Mars" alongside Frank Sinatra's "My Way". How I longed to yell at the classical music specialists that this wasn't the greatest joke, as Bowie has said for over 30 years that he wrote "Life on Mars" as a response to "My Way".

It's puzzling. What do you do when you see an act that everyone seems to adore, and you find it merely a mildly pleasing diversion? At the Proms I kept my puzzlement to myself and laughed along with the rest of them. Peer group pressure can make cowards of us all.

Hedgehog one-liner leaves me lost for words

On the Edinburgh Fringe a panel of comedy critics sifted through 7,200 jokes to produce a shortlist for viewers of the comedy TV channel Dave. Viewers of Dave then selected, as the best joke on the Fringe this year, the following by 36-year-old comic Dan Antopolski: "Hedgehogs. Why can't they just share the hedge?"

Mr Antopolski, who was rewarded with a prize of £1,000, said after the result was announced: "Although I have won things before at the Fringe, this definitely means the most to me, and that it should unite my love of hedgehogs, comedy and Dave makes this prize very special."

So there it is; that hedgehog one-liner is worth a Grand.

Unlike Mr Antopolski, I'm lost for words. I don't know whether to ask first if there were really 7,199 jokes that were more downright average than this one; whether comedy critics and the viewers of Dave are made for each other; whether it is wise for comedians to make serious little speeches about a joke, particularly an average one; whether the nip in the air in Edinburgh does something to the collective sense of humour.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe all over the country there are people whispering to each other, "Share the hedge", and wetting themselves.

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