Tuesday 30 August 2005
Miles Kington: The overwhelming drama of Test cricket
Viewers e-mailed Richie Benaud to say the tension was so unbearable that they had to leave the room
When they discussed it on Radio 4's Saturday Review the same day, they wondered if it were still possible to get the same sort of shock effect from it now that it delivered in the 1950s, and I am here to say that you still can, and that my son was bowled over by it too, especially in the stunning version offered us by Peter Hall.
Nor was that the last crucial theatrical experience we had that weekend, as he and I also watched a lot of the Fourth Test against Australia together. Someone on Saturday Review - the anthropologist Kit Davies, I think - had commented that the suffering of the character Lucky in Godot, as played by Richard Dormer, was so appallingly convincing that at times she had had to turn her head away and not watch.
Richie Benaud said exactly the same thing on Channel 4, though in another context, namely to the effect that many apparently mature viewers had e-mailed him to say that the tension in the Third Test had been so unbearable towards the end that they had had to leave the room or go behind the sofa and peep over occasionally.
It happened all over again in the Fourth Test on Sunday, when even my tough teenage son could not bear to watch the sight of England pretending to throw away victory against Australia, and I myself could watch it only in dribs and drabs. Why do people watch cricket? Because it is pure theatre, that's why. Watching Hoggard and Giles stumble towards the mirage of victory was not so very different from watching Vladimir and Estragon trying to make sense of life at the Theatre Royal - two tailenders finding the responsibility of the world falling on their threadbare shoulders ...
It is not such a far-fetched comparison as all that. I had forgotten till now that one of the unexpected things about Samuel Beckett is that he was very keen on cricket. There is something tickling at the back of my mind which tells me that Beckett occasionally crops up in pub quizzes as being the only man who a) got a Nobel Prize for literature, and b) also had a first-class cricket entry in Wisden.
To save you the bother of checking this, I have been going through the dusty archives and - ah! Here we are! An obituary for Samuel Beckett in Wisden in 1989 tells us that in his student days he was a very good left-hand opening batsman, and an equally good seam bowler, and that he played in two first class fixtures for Dublin University against Northamptonshire, in 1925 and 1926.
(In more muted tones, the obituary admits that in his four innings he only scored 35 runs, and that although he bowled 23 overs and conceded 64 runs, he did not take any wickets.)
Is it possible, then, that Waiting for Godot is a thinly disguised description of the tedium of a five-day cricket match? Mr Harold Pinter might know. As one of Beckett's most notable disciples, he also is very keen on cricket, to the extent that I seem to remember that all the characters in one of Pinter's plays are named after famous cricketers of yesteryear. I think that if any student of sport and literature is looking for a good subject for a thesis, he could do a lot worse than go straight to Samuel Beckett and cricket.
Interestingly, after our harrowing weekend my son has shown no unusual signs of wanting to go out and play cricket. He has, however, several times sworn that his big new ambition is to learn Lucky's speech in the hope that one day he can play the part in a production of Waiting for Godot. Hmmmm ...
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