On recommendation from an American friend working in Pakistan who recently traveled to Australia, I bought Bill Bryson's "Down Under" (2000). I don't know if you've read Bill Bryson before. My house in Gilgit contained a copy of his book "The Lost Continent", about the American Midwest. I read a few pages and thought his satire was over the top. I put it down.
But "Down Under" is well crafted, easy, informative and devastatingly funny. Much of his humour is self-deprecating to the extreme. For example, he goes on for a page describing his unsavoury demeanor when sleeping in a car. And I nearly died laughing. Of course, in a book about Australia, by an American, there must be a section on cricket. And, to be sure, Bryson shows no mercy. With cricket it's just too easy. I will simply quote Bryson here. Let me know if you think its funny. I nearly wet myself.
Bryson is driving West from Canberra to Adelaide on the Sturt Highway. As he gets further and further away from "civilization" he begins,
"As if to emphasize the isolation, all the area radio stations began to abandon me...Eventually the radio dial presented only an interrupted cat's hiss of static, but for one clear spot near the end of the dial. At first I thought that's all it was - just an empty clear spot-but then I realized I could hear the faint shiftings and stirrings of seated people, and after a quiet pause a voice, calm and reflective said:
'Plichard begins his long run in from short stump. He bowls and . . . oh, he's out! Yes, he's got him. Longwilley is caught leg-before in middle slops by Grattan. Well, now what do you make of that, Neville?'
'That's definitely one for the books, Bruce. I don't think I've seen offside medium slow fast pace bowling to match it since Baden-Powell took Rangachangabanga for a maiden ovary at Bangalore in 1948.'
I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio" (pp.144-145).
Okay, let me interject just for a second before going on. If you happen to know nothing about cricket in the first place this won't be quite as funny. Part of what makes it so funny is that all Bryson had to do was to tweek the real terms and names ever so slightly to turn the commentary he heard into this absolutely nonsensical rant. On we go...
"Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to centre field; and that there, after a minute's pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt towards the pitchers mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes and a mattress strapped to each leg"(pg.145).
"Listening to cricket on the radio is like listening to two men sitting in a rowing boat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren't biting"(pg.146)
"'So here comes Stovepipe to bowl on this glorious summer's afternoon at the MCG,' one of the commentators was saying now. 'I wonder if he'll chance an offside drop scone here or go for the quick legover. Stovepipe has an unusual delivery in that he actually leaves the grounds and starts his run just outside the Carlton & United Brewery at Kooyong.'
'That's right, Clive. I haven't known anyone start his delivery that far back since Stopcock caught his sleeve on the reversing mirror of number 11 bus during the third test at Brisbane in 1957 and ended up at Goondiwindi four days later owing to some frightful confusion over a changed timetable at Toowoomba Junction.'
After a very long silence while they absorbed this thought, and possibly stepped out to transact some small errands, they resumed with a leisurely discussion of the English fielding. Neasden, it appeared, was turning a solid performance at square bowel, while Packet has been stalwart in the dribbles, when set beside the outstanding play of young Hugh Twain-Buttocks at middle nipple. The commentators were in calm agreement that they had not seen anyone caught behind with such panache since Tandoori took Rogan Josh for a stiffy at Vindaloo in '61. At last Stovepipe, having found his way over the railway line at Flinders street - the footbridge was evidently closed for painting-returned to the stadium and bowled to Hasty, who deftly turned the ball away for a corner...
'So as we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain.'
I may not have all the terminology exactly right, but I believe I have caught the flavour of it."(pp146-147).
"...the mystery of cricket is...that [Australians] play [cricket] at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians much prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other's noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using the bats to hit each other.
And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it" (pg.148).
This is the book I have selected for my primer on Australia as I prepare to land in Sydney exactly 1 week from today. I think it's great fun. I already have gleaned ideas for a walking tour of Sydney which should be sunny and hot according to BBC's 5-day forecast.