Grace the ace!

There are probably more cricketers named in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake than in any other novel. One estimate is there are 168 references to cricket.

Published : Nov 19, 2019 18:18 IST

The legendary W. G. Grace is mentioned most often in the James Joyce novel Finnegans Wake.
The legendary W. G. Grace is mentioned most often in the James Joyce novel Finnegans Wake.

The legendary W. G. Grace is mentioned most often in the James Joyce novel Finnegans Wake.

Here’s a scene from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake :

“At half past quick in the morning. And her lamp was all askew and a trumbly wick-in-her, ringeysingey. She had to spofforth, she had to kicker, too thick of the wick of her pixy’s loomph, wide lickering jessup the smooky shiminey. And her duffed coverpoint of a wickedy batter, whenever she druv behind her stumps for a tyddlesly wink through his tunnilclefft bagslops after the rising bounder’s yorkers, as he studd and stoddard and trutted and trumpered, to see had lordherry’s blackham’s red bobby abbels, it tickled her innings to consort pitch at kicksolock in the morm……The game old merrimynn, square to leg, with his lolleywide towelhat and his hobbsy socks and his wisden’s bosse and his flannelly feelyfooling……”

There are probably more cricketers named in that novel than in any other. According to one estimate, there are 168 references to cricket; W. G. Grace is mentioned most often.

In the bit above, there is Ranjitsinhji (ringeysingey), Fred Spofforth, Victor Trumper, Jack Hobbs whom even the casual cricket fan should recognise. The more serious students should be able to pick out at least 15 references, perhaps more.

My interest in cricketers appearing as themselves in fiction was piqued by the mention of Kuldeep Yadav in John le Carre’s latest novel (which I’ve written about elsewhere). Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara appear as posters in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland , which also makes references to Shoaib Akhtar and Peter Fleming (on television) as well as Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Allan Donald.

Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day has Tiger Pataudi as a fantasy figure and, inevitably, considering the thrust of the story, Eknath Solkar. Shehan Karunatilaka’s Chinaman draws in Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and others while Ian Buruma’s Playing the Game is an imagined life of Ranji and his times.

But the player who has a significant role in a non-cricketing novel is probably Abbas Ali Baig in Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh . When Baig got to a Test fifty in Mumbai against Australia in 1960, a young lady ran out from the stands and planted a kiss on his face. Three decades later, Rushdie created The Kissing of Abbas Ali Baig , a painting, in his novel.

“My mother (Aurora) was inspired,” says a character, “She rushed home and in a single sustained burst completed the painting, in which the ‘real’ shy peck, done for a dare, was transformed into a full-scale western-movie clinch. It was Aurora’s version that everyone remembered…”

Other cricketers appear too: Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, as symbols of the “all rounder.”

Most charming of all is Life, The Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams, which reveals something we have suspected all along: that the entire course of civilisation is an epic game of cosmic cricket. The main characters land at Lord’s during a Test match. The answer to Adams’s ultimate question is of course, 42, India’s second innings total in the Lord’s Test of 1974. Make of that what you will.

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