Miles Kington: Cricket: a thrilling game of sudden death...

'For me, the most beautiful thing about cricket is the crack of bat on ball, which sounds like a rifle shot. Crack! Bang! You are dead!'
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The Independent Online

I have received many letters of tribute to the late Saddam Hussein, and would like to print some of them today...

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, In all the somewhat negative obituaries of the late Saddam Hussein, I have seen no mention of one of his more unusual qualities: his abiding love for the English game of cricket.

I first encountered Saddam in the early Sixties, when I was captaining a touring XI, known as the Crusaders, in the Middle East. One of our first matches was against an Iraqi team amusingly called The Infidels, and I can remember that Saddam Hussein was the second spinner, adept and wily.

I asked him what attracted an Arab like him to such an English game as cricket, and I remember his reply to this day. "The element of sudden death, Gubby," he said. "That is what excites me. When a batsman is out, he is out. One moment he is king of the crease, the next moment he is gone for ever, blown away. There is no other game in the world which has this simulacrum of death."

Yours etc

From Sir Geoffrey Galloway (no relation)

Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing. In my tour of duty in Baghdad in the 1960s, I sometimes encountered the rising Saddam Hussein on the cricket pitch. I, too, once asked him what appealed to him about cricket, which seem so redolent of damp, northern climes, and I well remember his answer.

"Well, Sir Geoffrey, I love that time of evening when the light slants low across the sward, and the shadows of the flitting batsmen are 20-, 30-feet, long, and the lights are already lit in the pavilion, and one knows that in a quarter of an hour one will be sipping a welcome cup of tea..."

My mouth must have dropped open, for he laughed and said: "Just kidding, Sir Geoffrey! For me, the most beautiful thing about cricket is the crack of bat on ball, which sounds just like a rifle shot. Crack! Bang! You are dead! There is no other game that gives that thrill."

Yours etc

From Alwar al Hizaq

Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing. In the 1980s, I was in charge of Saddam Hussein's programme to pretend that we in Iraq were developing weapons of mass destruction.

Of course we were not! But by pretending to, we frightened everyone. Saddam Hussein said to me once that it was like the spinner who everyone thinks is spinning the ball, and then gets everyone out with the one that stays straight. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I agreed with him. Well, it was death not to.

Yours etc

From Mahmoud Zahari

Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing. As one of Saddam Hussein's advisers, I was aware of the Iraqi leader's, I mean, the brutal dictator's love of cricket, and I once asked him how it was that he was so attracted to such a languorous game from the far north.

"You are so wrong," he said to me. "Read Wisden, the Koran of cricket, and you will see that it is a game of sudden death. People appear for one game, they score a few runs, they are never heard of again. There are many examples of people who are good enough to play for England just the once, and are never picked again! They disappear. They are eliminated. And nobody ever asks questions. This I find very instructive, very exciting. I am disappointed that you should ask this question, my friend Zahari. Very disappointed indeed."

That night I fled from Iraq. A death squad came to get me the next morning, but I had already gone. Therefore I owe my life to cricket. Of course, if they had got me, I would have owed my death to cricket also. An intriguing game.

Incidentally, I have some shadowy video footage in my possession of Saddam Hussein at the crease, showing the last moments of an innings. Let me know if anyone is interested.

Yours etc.

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