Miles Kington: A cricketing XI drilled with military precision

'Chile is the longest, thinnest country in the world. Cricket is played on a long, thin strip. No wonder we feel at home on it'
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The Independent Online

I have received many letters from people in honour of the late Captain-General Augusto Pinochet, and I think it only fair to print a small selection of them today...

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, In all the obituaries of the late Augusto Pinochet, I am amazed to see no mention at all of his great abiding love of our English game of cricket.

I first met "Gus", as he was always known in cricketing circles, in the 1950s, when I was playing in South America with a touring XI called the Conquistadors. We had won all our matches in Brazil, Argentina, and Peru, so when we got to Chile we expected a walkover. Not a bit of it. Drilled with military precision by the young Pinochet, then an Army Major, I believe, the Chilean Army XI played very correctly and accurately, and never gave a chance.

"I sometimes think that cricket is better suited to Chile than anywhere else in the world," he told me. "Chile is the longest, thinnest country you will find anywhere. Cricket is played, basically, on a long thin strip, 22 yards long and a couple of yards wide. No wonder we feel at home on it."

I cold not help noticing during the three-day game we played against the Army XI that many players who had started off in the team disappeared and were replaced by others. We were too polite to draw attention to this illicit use of substitutes, but I have often wondered what he was up to.

Yours...

From Julio Garcia Gimenez

Sir, I can vouch for the fore-going. "El cruel", as Pinochet was known in Chilean cricket circles, believed that correct selection was the key to cricketing victory, and if it did not work out during a game, he would replace players at will. What happened to the disappeared players, nobody ever proved, but as an ex-army doctor I can testify that behind the Chilean Army cricket ground was a large cemetery which often had freshly dug graves in it.

I once asked him what was the attraction of cricket for him. He said: "I am a Chilean army officer. Chilean army officers never fight in a war. Cricket is a substitute war. Why do you ask? Are you some kind of Commie or something?"

I assured him I was not, but many years later I was later taken away and tortured anyway.

Yours...

From Lord Bellerophon

Sir, As a private envoy from Lady Thatcher in the late 1970s, it was my job to sweeten up various world leaders she wanted to keep in with, so when passing through Chile, I often took presents from her to General Pinochet.

"Pinners", as I gather he was known in cricketing circles, always wanted to have several complete sets of stumps and bats taken out to him. I once asked him how he got through so many, and he said you would be surprised how often they broke.

"In cricket?" I said. "Not in my experience."

"Not in cricket," he said. "In the questioning of suspects and breaking down of opposition morale."

Yours...

From Mr Ray Starling

Sir, At the time of Mr Pinochet's imprisonment in Virginia Water, when Jack Straw couldn't make up his mind whether he should be extradited or not, I was a TV repairman working out of Ascot, and got the job of installing Sky TV for the old rascal. He loved to watch cricket, and used to chat to me a lot, because he didn't get many visitors, except for Mrs Thatcher, though he never much looked forward to seeing her.

"Batty as a fruit cake, Ray, mi amigo," he would say. (He spoke Spanish very well.) "Can't get any sense out of her no more."

"Think you'll ever get back to Chile, General?" I used to ask him. "Think you can fool Jack Straw into not extraditing you?"

"My friend," he would say, "when I have got as many favourable appeals out of a cricket umpire as I have, with loud appeals and anguished expression, I will have no trouble with that stupid young man."

And so it proved.

Yours etc...

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