The origin of cricket

'We toured the South Seas (won three, lost five, pitch washed out to sea at Fiji, match drawn), and Thor felt that he had proved a point'
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I have received many letters of tribute to the late Thor Heyerdahl, and in his honour would like to print a few of them today.

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, In all the many obituaries and tributes to the late Thor "Kon-Tiki" Heyerdahl and his voyages of exploration, I have seen no mention of his deep and abiding love of cricket. Yet, as one of the finest slow leg spinners of his generation in Norway, he should, I think, be given his full posthumous due.

I first encountered Thor in the 1950s, when I was touring Scandinavia as a member of the Nordic Nonces, a travelling eleven who were trying to spread the gospel of cricket in northern parts. (Never forget that Norway has a natural advantage for cricket – in summer the sun hardly sets and bad light never stops play!) After he had helped to skittle us out for 63 in a match against the Oslo Rambers, I got to know Thor quite well, and he asked me if I wanted to join him in an expedition aiming to prove that the ancient Polynesians could have toured the South Seas in their primitive craft in a series of five-day Tests against island tribes. I declined the invitation on health grounds (I fear drowning), but I hear that he did in fact attempt the perilous voyage.

yours etc

From Mr Olaf Knudsen

Sir, I can vouch for the foregoing letter, as I am proud to have served as a member of that expedition, as navigator and wicket-keeper. Thor made his boat out of a balsa structure, with a top surface of coconut matting suitable for cricket, arguing that the wandering Polynesian all-rounders would have had to practise at sea to keep in shape. (Did not mid-20th century Test teams from Britain, after all, take long sea voyages to the Antipodes to play cricket, and did they not practise in nets on board?)

We toured the South Seas quite successfully (won three, lost five, pitch washed out to sea at Fiji, match drawn), and Thor felt that he had proved a point. What the point was, nobody ever agreed. That was always Thor's trouble. But by then he was on to his next project, which I think was to prove that cricket had Stone Age origins.

yours etc

From Professor Sir Daniel Lugg

Sir, Yes, Thor did become obsessed with the notion that cricket was a rare Stone Age survival. When people asked him how you could possibly hit a stone ball, he always twinkled and replied: "With a stone bat, of course!"

I first encountered him when I was working on the excavations on Easter Island, and I well remember his excited speculation that the famous figures on Easter Island were in fact the stone effigies of a sample section of spectators struggling to keep awake on the fourth day of a drawn Test Match. Privately, I thought he was mad. Now, after years of working on the Island, I am not so sure.

yours etc

From Mrs Ruth Prendergast

Sir, About the South Seas I don't know, but I do know that Mr Heyerdahl was for a long time convinced that the Vikings had brought cricket to Britain. Most of their sorties across the North Sea, he said, could have been to play one-day matches at spots along the east coast. When it was put to him that cricket matches do not generally involve rape and pillage, sacking and burning, he would say: "Ah, but that wasn't the cricket – that was caused by the rowdy supporters the Vikings brought with them!" To this end, he organised a replica Viking boat crossing to the Whitby area, which started with a peaceful 40-over match against a local eleven and ended with a full-scale riot. I should know. I was in charge of the laundry and costumes for the trip, and I can testify that mead stains are very hard to get out of cricket whites. Not as bad as blood, mark you.

yours etc

From M Pierre Quidel

Messieurs, You may care to know, in view of the foregoing, that in his latest years M Heyerdahl finally became convinced that cricket had a Middle Eastern origin. No other game is played in white garments from head to toe. This, he argued, proved that cricket had a priestly origin, probably from people who wore white robes in their services, and that the first cricketers may have been a Hebrew cult – perhaps even the lost tribe of Israel. Was it only chance, he would ask, that cricket has a mystic missing 12th man?

He proposed sailing a replica Phoenician craft round the Mediterranean to test his theory, and asked me to come along as umpire. I told him I had no interest in either history or cricket. "Excellent," he said. "You will be totally impartial!"

I still declined.

yours etc