Miles Kington: Greasing palms in the kingdom of cricket

'I am like the lilies of the field, Gubby,' Fahd told me later. 'I toil not, and I bloody well don't spin either'
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The Independent Online

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, I have read all the obituaries of the late King Fahd and am amazed to find no mention anywhere of his devotion to the game of cricket.

I first met Fahd in the 1950s, when he was but a humble prince and only 591st in line to the throne. While I was on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia (I was trying to set up a company which would install Gideon Korans in Arab hotel bedrooms, though nothing came of it) I was asked to play for an expat team against the Riyadh Ramblers, an Arab outfit.

"I didn't know any of the Arabs played cricket," I said to our captain.

"Not many do," he said, "but when they do, they're top hole. They've got a spinner, for instance, called Prince Fahd, who has a secret method for turning them both ways."

The secret method, as it turned out, was to have someone do it for him. When Fahd was put on to bowl, he ordered his man to do the spinning for him. We objected that it was against the laws of cricket. We were told tersely that it was not against the Royal Rules in Saudi Arabia, so we let it rest.

"I am like the lilies of the field, Gubby," Fahd told me later, when I knew him better. "I toil not, and I bloody well don't spin either."

From Robert Brampton-Smith

Sir, I too can vouch for Fahd's love of cricket, though only from the 1960s, when I often played against his private XI known as the Sons of the Desert, the only cricket team in history in which all the members were brothers.

"And we really are all brothers," he told me once. "Not like the Mills Brothers! I have more than 40 brothers to choose from. In the early days of the country I knew very few people who were not my brother. My father must have been a busy man! No wonder he had no time for cricket. I once was short of a wicket-keeper and went outside the family to hire an excellent player called Ahmood Faziz, and do you know what? He turned out to be a brother I did not know about! O, my busy father."

From Jack Reuter

Sir, Saudi justice is often condemned as harsh, but it had its compassionate side. One of the top Saudi leg-spinners was found guilty of theft in the 1980s, and condemned to have his hand cut off. Fahd was appealed to for mercy. He agreed, and said that only the man's non-bowling hand should be removed. This was greeted universally as wise and humane, and the man continued to play, though it did lead to a lot of unnecessary jokes about "behind the stumps", "sending a stump flying", etc, etc.

From Oliver Toogood

Sir, I was out in Saudi in the 1970s and can vouch for Fahd's devotion to the game. Other cricket fields in the kingdom were usually made of sand, but Fahd used some of his private fortune to create an exquisitely watered green field, with the playing area being flown in from Harrods each week.

One unusual feature of the field was a large palm tree in the infield, at about square leg, under which Fahd's forebears had once tethered their flocks. It was sacred and could not be removed. Fielders were always in danger of running into it, so in order to minimise accidents, Fahd ordered that it should be rubbed down with precious oils and anyone colliding with it would thus slide off it unharmed.

"What they say about Saudi Arabia is true, then," Fahd said to me once. "Greasing palms really is the best policy."

It was the only joke I ever heard him make.

From H M Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Sir, you may be interested to know that cricket in Saudi Arabia is still safe after King Fahd's death. The captaincy of the Riyadh Ramblers has been inherited by Fahd's cousin, Prince Wazi Ahmood who, at only 87, surely has many years of cricket ahead of him.