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“A level Wicket, as the Ground allow/A driving Bat, a lively Ball, and thou”

October 7, 2019

At this time of international political turmoil, Joe Howard has sent us some welcome light relief in the form of comments on a cricket match with Rubaiyat links that was reported in the magazine Punch in July 1904.  Thank you, Joe, for sharing this unusual find.  The source of the title of our post is given in note 1 below.  The relevant page of Punch is shown at the end of the post.

Sensational Cricket”, published2 by “Punch” (see below) recounts the events of a cricket match held in 1904 on Parkers Piece in Cambridge. Members of the Omar Khayyam Club competed against D. L. A. Jephson’s XI. Four contributors, including both team captains, supplemented the score sheet by providing short reports on the event. The article is detailed and very well written, however, on close inspection, suspicions arise. Though easily skipped over, the date of the event is given as 31 June, a non-existent day! A slightly less obvious indication of problems is the enormous tally of 1226 runs scored during what is purported to be a one-day limited-overs match.

North Carolina State University resources enabled the unnamed authors of the article to be identified as Edward V. Lucas and Charles L. Larcom. Both were Punch staffers widely known as prolific authors and humorists. As expected of Punch, this spoof report is replete with topical references and allusions, making it difficult to fully appreciate from a 2019 perspective.  I’ve researched some references and their contexts and describe them below in the hope that other Rubaiyat enthusiasts derive the enjoyment from the article that I have. I will largely continue the pretense that the game did take place and treat the report as genuine. I have added a little information from later years.

The score sheet shows that the game was a rout. Jephson’s team clocked up a score of 793 in a single inning, without losing a wicket. The OK Club team scored 433 over two innings while losing 20 wickets. That this game was never to be fair would have been obvious to contemporary readers.  Mr. Jephson and his opening batsmen were famous professional cricketers. Digby Loder Armroid Jephson played for Surrey as an all-rounder and is remembered as one of the last lob (i.e. underarm) bowlers. Charles Burgess Fry represented Surrey and England, and later (1912) was England’s captain. His numerous achievements include playing for Southampton in an FA Cup final and equalling the world long-jump record. Pelham Francis Warner, known as “Plum”, played for Middlesex and captained England for tours in 1903/04 and 1905/06. In 1904 Plum was named “Wisden Cricketer of the Year” and in 1937 was knighted for his “services to cricket”.

JH cricketOKpics0919

C. F. Fry                      D. L. A. Jephson                       P. F. Warner                            W. R. Nicholl

Another famous cricketer was third in the batting order. K. S. Ranjitsinhji3, an Indian prince, who played for Sussex and England and later became Maharaja of Nawanagar, did not have the opportunity to demonstrate his famous innovative strokes. His inclusion in the team, however, lends credence to the reported Rubaiyat-related incident (see below).

The OK Club team included the then President, Henry Newbolt, and four past presidents (Austin, Shorter, Birrell and Clodd); Clement K. Shorter was a founding member of the Club.  Given the strength and experience of the opposition, it seems to me that the results achieved by the OK Club representatives would have seemed rather creditable at the time.

Shorter and Warner’s accounts refer to an incident which, unlike the crushing defeat, conveys something of the convivial spirit in which the game was played. C.K. Shorter apparently owned a first Persian edition of a Rubaiyat and engaged K.S. Ranjitsinhji in a discussion concerning the decipherment of the author’s inscription within it. This had vexed him for some time and help had not been forthcoming from his OK Club colleagues. Their discussion ended only when the pair were separated by the umpires and the game restarted, by which time the translation was complete.

In his somewhat whimsical contribution, P. F. Warner states “The bowling analysis of the Omar Khayyamites is too tragic a document to reproduce…”. The subtly introduced “131 extras“, justify his assessment more than does the high runs total. Extras are a sure sign of untidy bowling! Warner chose Augustine Birrell’s total of 201 for special praise and added “…and he will now, no doubt, get his blue.” I do not fully understand the point of this facetious comment, however, blues cannot be awarded in such circumstances. For context, several players (e.g. Jephson, Fry, Ranjitsinhji) were Oxbridge blues. Rather remarkably, the famous Plum Warner himself had not earned one. Birrell had been an MP and would later become a Cabinet Minister and receive a knighthood.

A contribution was attributed to “Claudius Clear”, a nom de plume for the OK Club team captain, William Robert Nicholl. With help from Hodder and Stroughton, Nicholl had founded the “British Weekly”, a nonconformist newspaper to which he contributed a popular regular feature “Correspondence of Claudius Clear”. He was also the editor of the successful “The Expositor” for some 39 years. This explains the comparison, at the start of his account, with “C B Fry’s Magazine” (full title, C. B. Fry’s Magazine of Action and Outdoor Life), which was struggling and finally prove unsuccessful. With no factual basis for commenting adversely on the cricketing performance of the opposition, Nicholl continued with more personal comments, notably one directed at Plum Warner: “In the tea interval he created a sensation by drinking Tatcho and Apollinaris.” Tatcho was a brand of hair restorer and Apollinaris is an upmarket German mineral water. This is a rather more subtle reference to Plum’s hair loss, than that made by Jephson in his contribution- where he described Plum as “…the player with the most polished head.”.

Jephson nicely parodies a quotation from a novella (“The Voice of John Ball”) by William Morris. The correct quotation is “… fellowship is heaven, and lack of fellowship is hell: fellowship is life, and lack of fellowship is death…”. Jephson is self-critical for not being “direct” like “Tom Richardson”. Richardson and Jephson both played for Surrey, with Richardson also participating in 14 test matches. Jephson is likely referring to the fact that Richardson was noted for the full, straight (i.e. “direct”) length he always bowled.

The Punch article portrays a fictional event played and is reported by enthusiasts while maintaining a spirited sense of humour and a harmless “disrespect” for one another. Surely those who were falsely credited with contributions, would have been given the opportunity to approve them. I’m delighted to observe that the current website of the real OK Club of London, strongly reflects the same admirable attitudes and values.

The following may assist in further understanding some details of the Punch article.

Sir Max Pemberton (1863-1950):   Journalist and author (of more than 60 novels). Founder of the London School of Journalism

Benjamin’s portion: largest share. See Genesis 43:32

Quondam whilom: former, onetime

References:

  1. The poems of Francis Thompson, A New Edition. Ed. Brigid M. Boardman, Continuum 2001. p.480
  2. Punch July 6th, 1904, Vol. 127, Issue# 3317 page 8
  3. S. Ranjitsinhji is named in Thompson’s poem, reference 1 above

 

EXTRACT FROM PUNCH, OR THE LONDON CHARIVARI.   July 6, 1904

JH cricketOK0919

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