The man who put stick and ball together

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The Independent Online

I have received many letters of tribute to the late Dr Francis Crick, co-discoverer along with James Watson of the secrets of DNA, and I am only too pleased to publish a small selection of them today.

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, In all the glowing appreciations of the life of Francis Crick, I am amazed nobody has seen fit to mention one of the great loves of his life, namely the game of cricket.

I was posted to Cambridge during the early 1950s as a trainee cricket psychologist, and for a while I played in the cricket XI attached to the famous Cambridge pub, the Eagle. I was the wicketkeeper and Crick was a spin bowler, so I often had long chats with him when he was in the slips.

"Never mind the psychology of cricket, Gubby," he would say. "It's the science of the game that is really important."

"What do you mean?" I said. "Like, what makes a ball swing in the air? And what kind of grass is best for spin?"

"No, no, Gubby," he would sigh. "That's not science. That's just technology. I am thinking of why we play cricket at all. What is the dark, scientific causation that prompts man to behave in this way? What is the obscure motivation that makes human beings spend days in a field attempting to hit a small globe with a stick?

"After all, man knows that, were the stick bigger, the ball would be easier to hit - and yet man never makes the stick bigger! There must be some genetic cause for cricket. And it is hidden there in the balls and the sticks ..."

If you have seen the famous model of the double helix, you will see that he did finally put the balls and sticks together to some purpose.

Yours etc

From Professor James Gantry

Sir, I can vouch for Crick's combined interest in cricket and science. He and I were members for a while of a Cambridge eleven called the Lab Rats, and he evolved a style of bowling that has never been copied. He would run up to the crease with BOTH arms in front of him, turning them both over, and then do a bowling action with both arms, so the batsman never knew which hand the ball would come out of.

He would say: "Keep 'em guessing. Double the helix, double the chances!"

The fact that the batsman still had plenty of time to see the ball, and would usually hit him to the boundary, never seemed to worry him.

Yours etc

From the Rev Percy Swinnerton

Sir, As the obituaries all correctly said, Francis was a lifelong atheist, and I hope at this very moment he is having to change his ideas about the afterlife! But our religious differences never stopped us being friends, and we often met in the 1960s playing for a Cambridge eleven, Saints and Spinners.

I remember once when he was bowling with his peculiar double helix style, with little success, and he said in exasperation before the last ball of one over: "If God really does exist, let me get a wicket this ball !" He bowled, the batsman sent a catch back down the wicket, and Francis caught it.

He said to me afterwards, "For a moment, I had the chance of finally disproving God by dropping the catch, but I couldn't bring myself to do it." What Francis never knew was that the batsman, a devout Catholic, had heard Francis utter his challenge to God, and had decided to sell his wicket for the deity's sake.

Yours etc

From Mr Fred Forsyth (no relation )

Sir, I accompanied Francis to what may well have been his last cricket game, a one-day event in California organised by expats. It was so dull that the audience started throwing tomatoes at the players.

"Strange, Fred," said Francis, "that 50 years ago I helped discover the secret of life. Now, I am remembered as a man who helped produce GM tomatoes." And so saying, he chuckled and lobbed a large beef tomato which neatly caught the square leg umpire in the back of the neck.

Yours etc