Cricket, the royal game

Jousting can be a hazardous exercise

The parallels between cricket and the Royal Family are not only numerous but profound. They are both integral elements of our national iconography. Just like our monarchy, we exported cricket across the empire as an emblem of our cultural ethos which underscored the British sense of how society should function. From the signature buildings of state (Buckingham Palace/Lord’s), to the ceremonial dress (whites/ermine) to the slightly sycophantic celebrity fans (Stephen Fry/Stephen Fry), the common threads interweave the fabrics of both game and institution.

From an English cricket follower’s point of view, the supreme aspect of our monarch is that she is also the head of state and Queen of Australia. Every Pom-hating Aussie, whose corks of republicanism swing from his prejudiced hat, must defer with every ounce of his subservience to Elizabeth Windsor as his lord and sovereign. And is there a refrain which could ever swell our hearts more joyously than the Barmy Army’s ‘God Save Your Queen’?

It is of course tradition for the Queen to be introduced to both teams at the Lord’s Ashes test, and on the most recent occasion this entailed perhaps the sweetest sight in all of cricket: Ricky Ponting forced to replace his embittered snarl with an obsequious grin as he led his monarch along the line of players, bowing and scraping like a medieval serf.

With all this mind, and to (rather belatedly) celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, here’s The Full Toss guide to more of the amazing links between cricket and royalty.

1. Mike Gatting’s resemblance to King Henry VIII extends far beyond his chin-beard and rotund figure. The former Middlesex and England captain is also an adept harpsichord player, a keen jouster, regularly dines on roast swan, and recently attempted to invade Calais.

2. The Duchess of Kent has Ravi Bopara’s face tattooed on the inside of her left thigh.

3. As children, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret occasionally played an improvised form of indoor cricket during rainy days at Windsor Castle. The future Queen and her sister used the royal Mace as a makeshift bat, and the Orb as the ball. A spate of broken windows eventually brought an end to their activities, but not before Margaret developed a doosra alongside her conventional off-break.

4. Alec Stewart famously scored a century in his hundredth test, on the same day as the late Queen Mother’s hundredth birthday. Not to be outdone, Kemar Roach of the West Indies recently tried to bowl sixty no balls during a single session of last month’s Trent Bridge test match, to mark the Diamond Jubilee – and very nearly succeeded.

5. Prince Andrew and former Middlesex wicketkeeper Paul Downton both worked as session musicians for Labi Siffre in the early 1970s. On bass and rhythm guitar, they performed the hook from the track I Got The which was later sampled by Eminem for My Name Is.

6. There is an apocryphal story that when parliament revised the laws on homosexuality during the mid-nineteenth century, Queen Victoria withheld her consent from the legislation extending to women, because she could not see how such acts were possible. It is less well known that she played a similarly influential role in the evolution of cricket’s LBW law. “I don’t see how one could possibly be out if the ball pitches outside leg stump”, she is thought to have ordered her private secretary to instruct the MCC. “Surely there’s far too much doubt that the ball would go on to hit the stumps”, she added, before continuing to be fat, German and having a grandson who started World War One.

7. The present Queen surprised members of the 1984 West Indies touring squad at a Buckingham Palace reception when she entered into the calypso spirit and energetically high-fived each member of the squad in turn, including the six foot eleven inch tall Joel Garner. Meanwhile, after Shane Warne was introduced to Her Majesty during the royal visit to the 1997 Lord’s test, he bombarded her with a string of 87 sexually explicit text messages over the next twelve days. One message read: “u r the sexiest qween ever, youre crown would look gr8t on my bedside table”.

8. Queen Mary II, who reigned from 1689 to 1694, owned the world’s first bowling machine. The leading naval engineers of the day were commissioned to build the ornate but mechanically primitive device, which weighed more than seven hundred tons and was constructed from solid gold, embedded with 250 rubies, 132 emeralds and 418 diamonds. Nearly a thousand men were required to operate the machine, which worked on a similar principle to that of a siege engine; it was installed in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, where Mary undertook a daily two-hour net session while her husband, King William III, was out hunting.

9. Although Will Carling and Dodi Fayed ranked among her higher-profile lovers, Princess Diana also had a brief relationship with David Shepherd, the late international cricket umpire. During dates, the pair discussed the finer points of cricket’s laws and their application, and she developed a close interest in officiating which would last for the rest of her life. It’s often said that Diana’s untimely death left a hole in the lives of millions, and the tragedy retains to this day a piquant poignancy for the club cricket community: on the very day of her fatal car crash, 31st August 1997, Diana was due to umpire Borehamwood 2nd XI v Radlett 3rds in a Hertfordshire league division two fixture.

10. William the Conqueror was also known as William the Bastard, partly because he was illegitimate, but also due to his poor manners and sportsmanship during cricket matches. The Norman warrior became notorious for refusing to walk, running out non-strikers (without warning) as they were backing up, and always forgetting his subs, with the excuse that “the cashpoint at the station wasn’t working”. William also attracted opprobrium for his slack attitudes towards tea during home fixtures, continually failing to contribute either cakes or proper sandwiches, and instead unashamedly bringing a sole egg and cress sandwich purchased from a petrol station on the way.

Maxie Allen

1 comment

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