The long innings of Deng the cricket-lover

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The Independent Online
From M Jean-Pierre Lachaise. Sir, Many of the tributes to the late Deng Xiaoping have concentrated on his political career to the exclusion of his personal qualities, but as one of the few people left alive who remembers Deng Xiaoping from his student days in France, I can testify to his perhaps unexpected love of cricket.

"Chean-Bierre," he would say to me - he had some difficulty with French consonants to begin with - "Chean-Bierre, as you know, I shall devote my life to a world revolution. The people will take over. The masses will take power. But there are some things in the old order I shall regret having to abolish, and one of them is cricket."

Where he had seen cricket being played I have no idea, but he always stuck to the old adage of "Know thine enemy", and he considered cricket to be the most quintessentially aristocratic and elitist of all sports.

"You know," he once said to me, "cricket is a paradoxical game. Everyone looks equal. Everyone seems to get a fair whack. Everyone is dressed the same. Yet behind the empty rituals you will find power concentrated ruthlessly in the hands of one man, the captain. Cricket is autocracy dressed up as democracy. From this point of view it is indistinguishable from Marxism- Leninism."

Incidentally, he pronounced his name not Deng but Dom, as in Dom Perignon.

From Dr Albert Anstruther GP retd

Sir, I am probably one of the few English people who took part in the Long March, the famous Chinese Communist trek to achieve liberation, and Deng Xiaoping soon learnt that I was English and sought me out to talk about cricket. Many was the time we would seek out some flat piece of grass and bowl to each other with improvised bat and ball.

"Mao does not approve of my taste in sports," said Deng. "He thinks cricket is decadent and bourgeois."

"Hmm," I said. "Tricky. What do you say to that?"

"I say to him that we have much to learn from cricket. I tell him that without the wicket-keeper the ball would fly to the boundary, that if four men stand in a circle one will surely catch the ball, that 11 men can cry "How is that?" but only one can decide on the truth. And he always nods and then writes all these things down in the little red book he is compiling."

Great days! Incidentally, he always pronounced his name not Deng but Don, as in Don Bradman.

From Mr Herbert Sangster

Sir, During the Forties I found myself in China as an agricultural adviser to Chiang Kai-Shek, but was captured by the Communists in the civil war. Things might have gone ill had Deng Xiaoping not discovered that I was a keen cricketer, and reinstated me as a Communist agricultural adviser.

It was always a great source of sadness to him that there were not enough Chinamen interested in cricket to form a team in the whole of China, so he depended upon foreigners for his playing companions, and was ready to capture them in battle if necessary. Nobody was more surprised than me when a Chinese army officer came round the prisoners of war shouting, "Anyone here play clicket?"

Deng always had a sense of humour, and forbade us to refer to the ball called a Chinaman as a Chinaman. He used to toss me the ball and say, "Try to get this man out with an Occidental!"

His name, as far as I could make out, was pronounced "Dung". I once asked him which was the proper way to say it, but all he replied was, "Ah ha! As I suspected - you cannot read the Chinaman!" How we laughed.

From Sir Norbert Winter

Sir, One of my last acts as a diplomat before I retired was to accompany a trade delegation to Beijing, and there I was surprised to be interrogated fiercely by Deng about the state of modern cricket. Why was five-day Test cricket being degraded by one-day internationals? Why were cricketers dressing up in pyjamas? And what was all this about crash helmets?

I told him that, as I understood the situation, it was all to satisfy the requirements of Australian television. "Then by the shade of CB Fly it shall not happen here!" he shouted.

It may be a coincidence, but I have noticed that Rupert Murdoch has found it much harder to penetrate China than anywhere else.

The last time I spoke to Deng Xiaoping, I dared to bring up the subject of Tiananmen Square and challenged him to justify it. He sighed and said, "One thing I will not stand is crowd invasion of pitch," then changed the subject.

Incidentally, I got the impression that he pronounced his name more like Dong. When I confessed to having trouble with the pronunciation, he whispered, "Just think of luminous nose."