Cricket: Kuf for Kedusha

It was just one of those things. I reported for the lads on a game of night cricket in which I had participated. Granted for those with a modicum of understanding with regards the intricacies of its rules the match was undoubtedly an exciting affair. Furthermore, for those intimately involved in the proceedings it was a downright miracle. For me, it was probably even more earth-shattering. I found myself the author of a Blog on the Times of Israel.

Now, even I have to admit begrudgingly that there is a life after cricket and I intend to take this writing lark far beyond and away into unknown vistas bearing no relation to the aforementioned subject.

However, not so fast. After all, if it wasn’t for the game and its aftermath I wouldn’t be drawing your attention to my musings. And for that, I owe it to the sport by jotting down some notes which I hope will be of some interest both to the aficionados and those totally ignorant of what cricket is all about.

Basically, a proper team consists of 11 players. Nowadays, the format consists of Test cricket whereby each match can be played over a maximum of 5 days. Then there is limited cricket which has wider popular appeal of 60 overs taking place over the course of just one day, or even the shorter version of 20 overs which only lasts a few hours.  There is talk that future Olympics could introduce the sport in its shortest format.

The uninitiated, usually heralding from the States, somehow find it exceedingly difficult to fathom how the game is played and mostly will automatically trigger a mental block when someone attempts to explain what its all about. “Oh, you carry around those paddles.” Or, “I know, it’s croquet.” To elaborate on how to play is no easy task and for those curious enough, I suggest finding a rules book, someone to explain the game, or checking the internet for information.

In order to get the record straight, the first recorded cricket match took place in Kent, England, in 1646, with the written laws inscribed in 1744.  The famous Lords Cricket Ground opened in 1787 and actual internationals commenced in 1877.

Personalities abound. Unanimously, the man recognized as taking the sport to a totally new plain was a medical doctor known as W.G. Grace. (pictured below. Copied from Wikipedia)  He started playing for his home country England in 1865 and continued until 1908.  He was the greatest batsman and bowler of his time and arguably no-one has surpassed his achievements. Personally, I derive great encouragement that he was still competitive for his club whilst in his sixties. A little bit disconcerting, however, was that he died at the age of 67.
File:Ranji 1897 page 171 W. G. Grace playing forward defensively.jpg

Every Australian holds in awe Sir Donald Bradman, who began his career before World War II and continued his record-breaking feats whilst batting into the nineteen fifties.  There have been others over the years, Sir Garfield Sobers, Viv Richards, of the West Indies, Shane Warne, of Australia, Ian Botham, England, and many, many others.  Still playing and amassing the most runs ever in Test and one-day cricket is India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Australia’s Ricky Ponting, just retired from international play, is right up there amongst the best. Closer to home, Jacques Kallis, of South Africa, is regarded by many as the greatest all-rounder ever with a phenomenal run tally, wickets taken as a bowler, and holding onto a breathtaking amount of catches.
Now, down to the nitty gritty.

Life’s memorable competitors – whether they are people, products, or even politics – often pit rivalries in pairs. Springing to mind is Ali and Frazier; Coke and Pepsi; Jew and Arab…and cricket and baseball. Both sports are played with bat and ball and there is a lot of running between wickets or around the bases. Now, I appreciate that all sports contain artistry, flair, and only those who are truly dedicated and possess ambition will reach the top, so long as they have the raw ability and dedication as well.  And baseball is no exception. Millions upon millions of people spanning more than one continent who are avid supporters can’t be wrong. I humbly concede that baseball is far more popular worldwide than cricket. So what? More people probably play checkers (or draughts) than chess – both board games with black and white squares.

The fact is that cricket in Hebrew begins with a “Kuf” which is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet for Kedusha, meaning holiness, whereas baseball begins with a “Bet” which triggers off the saying, Bitul Zman, a concept amongst the Jews implying spending one’s precious time in life wastefully and unproductively. Of course, I am only speaking tongue in cheek and don’t really mean that, but I just want to demonstrate the wide gap between the two. For example, baseball is a type of an instant gratification syndrome. A swish of the bat and you run. Maximum three strikes and four balls and then away. Whereas in cricket the ruthless opposition is primed to remove the batsman at all costs. The whole world is seemingly looking on. Your mission is to remain at your post until victory is achieved or the declaration comes from the captain. And that’s just from a batsman’s perspective.

I will now set about proving as to just what an impact the game has on societies, individuals and even countries.

A dramatic award winning BBC television series, Downton Abbey, spanning two decades of life amongst the aristocracy and their hosts of servants during early twentieth century has recently been sweeping Britain, Europe, and the United States. In post First World War England the old way of financial stability amongst the nobility was  crumbling and a new world was afoot. By a stroke of good fortune, the Earl of Grantham, head of the royal-like family, overseer of the gigantic estate, and landowner of the nearby village, had managed to extricate himself from almost total ruin, but so stuck in his ways, it was clear that he wouldn’t be as fortunate the next time round.

In one climactic scene, he is confronted by his two sons-in-law, one an Irish firebrand, Tom Branson, and the other, Matthew Crawley, an English lawyer by profession. They had been enlisted to take over the running of the vast enterprise and make it financially viable for the future.  The Earl had been demonstrably defiant in his refusal to budge and make the wide sweeping changes.

In an inspiring plea, Tom, calls out for reason, and cites the amazing strengths that the three of them possess, and if this can be harnessed, they will succeed. “If we each do what we can do then Downton has a chance,” he urges.

The Earl, at his desk, dinner placed before him, sits uneasily, while the two men hovering almost menacingly on the other side of the table, professes that the outpouring was actually most eloquent and that he would think about it.

Was this a breakthrough?  A flicker of a silence ensues. Then, the Earl ever so slowly sips his tea.

“On one condition,” he says softly. “You play cricket for the House.”

The annual match between the Village and the House had been a powerful tradition. This particular year only ten players comprising the family and staff had made themselves available. Tom, the Irish commoner, had steadfastly refused to be part of the team.

Momentarily, you could hear a pin drop. The dour and proper butler, Carson, all of a sudden perks up from his standing position at the door.  Matthew manages a wry smile.

“You said yourself we all have to do what we can do,” the Earl, sensing victory, serenely continues. Tom’s capitulation comes quickly.  “For G-D’s sake, if it means that much to you!!”

Carson thereupon looks on triumphantly. Not saying another word, the Earl picks up his knife and fork and with relish sets about his meal.

Cricket changing society.

Many years ago shortly after I was married I lived in Zichron Yaacov and attended halachic lectures delivered by a dyed-in-the wool chareidi rabbi.  He struck an imposing figure with his long black coat and almost as long grey beard. A most articulate gentleman hailing from England with an appealing tendency to occasionally divert the lesson into a wide array of topics of which he seemed to possess great expertise. One afternoon in the midst of a complicated treatise on that most serious of subjects, “Family Purity,” one of my fellow students, a baal tshuva (newly religious) from America, suddenly blurted out:

“Tell me, Rabbi, what do you think of educational television for children?”

The Rabbi stopped in mid-sentence. Was he angry at the interruption? Or perhaps just puzzled? The class looked at him intently. He stroked his beard, began to shuffle back and forth in his seat, and at last, he replied thoughtfully.

“I’m very sorry,  I cannot answer that question, as I have never watched television.”

Just when we thought that was the end of it, his eyes lit up an rolled heavenward. “Wait a minute!  I take that back. Cricket! Yes! I have watched cricket!!” Incredulous stares filled the room. I, though, understood. 

Cricket affecting the individual.

And, finally, South Africa. Growing up in my homeland for all intents and purposes the Apartheid system seemed just as impregnable as the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall. Living in our prosperous White enclaves far removed from the teeming world of millions of Blacks, so close but so far, we observed as the governments from 1948 held a tight rein on those deprived second and third class citizens. Eventually, the world intervened and boycotts inch by inch helped to cut away at the prevailing domination.

Voicing purely my own opinion, I think that the sports boycott beginning in the sixties and then gaining momentum until the final transition, had the most influence on a sports mad society. Where did it hurt the most?

Well, South Africa was always in the forefront of great rugby nations.  We also had fine athletes at the time, such as Paul Nash, and there were others that could be added to the list. But it was in cricket, in the seventies, by some quirk of fate that South Africa possessed the very best that the sport had to offer. In two Test series of Five games which were held in spite of apartheid, they had beaten Bobby Simpson’s Australians 4-1 and then a year or two later, whitewashed Bill Lawry’s team from Down Under 4-0. It was then that the noose tightened and international cricket for the Republic became taboo. The likes of Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor, and so many more great players, were left to see out their careers away from the spotlight of pitting their talents with the best of the rest. It was just too much for the average bloke.

A country had to change course.

Meanwhile, back down to earth, quite amazing really how after so many years of being submerged in the wilderness my yen for cricket has been rekindled in such a dramatic manner. Practically, this can be attributed to discovering the night league and thankfully still having the physical ability to participate. I have to mention that this partially has to do with playing a regular game of tennis pretty much once a week  Definitely has kept me somewhat in shape. Also, with the unprecedented rapid technological advancements I am able to watch the big boys live on the internet.  Who would have thought? A far cry from the little transistor radio I used to carry around with me many years ago whilst traipsing around the vineyards tending to the grapes, or catching a quick break between yeshiva studies. In those days, straining my ears, I was grateful for a smattering of news from the crackling radio waves of a short BBC sports roundup.

Hold on!! Sssh! What is that I’m hearing from a blaring radio right now?
Israel’s coalition building after elections is in full swing. North Korea pulls off yet another nuclear test. More casualties in Syria. Obama will soon be winging his way to our neck of the woods.

Switch off. What else in my periphery?  My cat of nineteen and a half years has died. My daughter studying in Beer Sheva is undertaking a huge psychometric exam this week. (boy, does she have stories to tell) The building of the moshav swimming pool is nearing completion – conceived 25 years ago. Finally saw “The Hobbit” on the big screen with my wife.

Yes, without a shadow of doubt. A lot going on.

The last word? A call has gone out that after suffering an ignominious defeat in our last game, a practice session is urgently needed on Thursday night. You can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be there. So will my son, Nachum, now one of the up and coming players, who I convinced to join me when I started to play. Father and son batting together. Great for bonding.

About the Author
Joe Neppe, a former journalist at some of South Africa's leading newspapers, today specializes in writing people's life stories. He lives on Moshav Matityahu in the Modiin region.