Monday 14 January 2008
Miles Kington: Revealed... the true peak of Sir Edmund Hillary's career
'As an Australian myself, I was taken aback to find he had taught the Sherpas insulting remarks about Aussie sportsmanship in their own language'
I have received many letters in tribute to the late Sir Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Mount Everest, and I think it only fitting I should publish the best.
From Sir George 'Gubby' Trotter
Sir, You will have been as amazed as I to read the plentiful encomia to the memory of the late Sir Edmund Hillary and to realise that not one mentioned what was perhaps his true life's work: his study of the game of cricket when played at high altitude.
I first met Ed, as he always liked to be called, when I was a young chap in the early 1950s. I was lucky enough to be touring New Zealand in a freelance team called "Princess Margaret's Ex-Fiancés". In Auckland we came up against a side called "The All Whites" (so called, I suppose, because it wasn't a rugby team) one of whom was the young Ed Hillary, the only person I ever met who could not decide if he loved cricket or mountaineering more, and whose great ambition was therefore to combine his two loves by staging the highest game of cricket ever played in the world, which duly came to pass in 1953 in what everyone else calls the Conquest of Everest.
From Mr Geoff Cranston
Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing. Back in 1952 I was the chief selling agent for the sporting suppliers Pinker and Junket. We supplied everything from steam yachts to band parts for obscure national anthems.
But even I was surprised to get an order from a Mr Hillary of New Zealand for such items as dozens of black cricket balls, thirty sets of black cricketing flannels, light-than-air cricket stumps and so on. Upon enquiry, he told me that during his climb of Everest he intended to teach his Sherpas to play cricket, and thereafter to experiment with playing the game under conditions of blind whiteness, low air pressure, minimal wind resistance and so on. "And no grass," I could not help adding. But that did not seem to worry him. He reminded me that in parts of India and the Caribbean they played cricket almost entirely on baked mud or coconut matting. Playing on ice and snow would not make a huge difference.
From Six Alexander Junket
Sir, As indeed it turned out! Here in the Head Office of Pinker and Junket (still the world's greatest sporting suppliers) we have a personally-signed letter from Hillary saying how satisfied he was with our equipment at 23,000 feet and over. Normal cricket balls tended to break up on impact with ice blocks; ours bounced off. Our combination cricket/climbing boots, with three-inch spikes, mastered every terrain, while the self-heating, electrically-powered stumper's gloves kept the chilliest Sherpa satisfied. Even when, alas, there were fatal accidents (such as when their No. 5 batsman Kintan Flumbing was lost in an outfield crevasse and never found) the black cricket garb was suitably funereal and there was no need to change into mourning for the service.
As an Australian myself, I was slightly taken aback to find that he had taught the Sherpas many insulting remarks about Aussie sportsmanship in their own language, which he trained them to utter at games, and even transport with them. (Hence, he used to suggest, the term "sledging"!)
From Mr Doug Copeland
Sir, That was not the only possible criticism of altitude cricket. Ed was also highly critical of the tendency of the ball to run off the edge of an ice field. A ball which starts running downhill at 23,000 feet may not encounter an obstacle for miles. I remember once being in Base Camp at about 15,000 feet, and hearing the cry" "Ball ahoy!". We looked up and saw a small dot careering down the virgin slope of Everest. Forewarned by experience, we took cover and watched it pass Base Camp at about 70 mph. I heard it demolished a branch of Nat West being built in Khatmandu further down.
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