Cricket Speech Presented at Lord’s 14th July 2009

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. It is an honour to stand before so many cricketing heroes from England and from Australia and at this, my favourite time of year. The time when that magical summer sound comes to our ears and gladdens our old hearts, the welcome sound of leather on Graham Swann.

I have been asked to say a few words – well more than a few. “You’ve twenty minutes to fill,” I was firmly told by the organisers. 20 minutes. Not sure how I’ll use all that time up. Perhaps in about ten minutes or so Andrew Strauss would be kind enough to send on a a physio, that should kill a bit of time.

Now, many of you will be wondering by what right I presume to stand and speak in front of this assembly of all that is high and fine and grand and noble and talented in the world of cricket, and to speak too in this very temple of all that is historic, majestic and ever so slightly preposterous and silly in that world? I certainly can’t lay claim to any great cricketing achievements. I can’t bat, I can’t field, I bowl off the wrong foot. That sounds like a euphemism for something else, doesn’t it? “They say he bowls off the wrong foot, know what I mean? He enters stage left. Let me put it this way, he poles from the Cambridge end of the punt.” Actually as a matter of fact, although it is true in every sense that I have always bowled off the wrong foot. I have decided, since Sunday, to go into the heterosexual breeding business. My first three sons will be called Collingwood Fry, Anderson Fry and Monty Fry. That’s if their mother can ever get them out, of course. But back to the original question you so intelligently, if rhetorically, asked. If I can’t play, what can I do? I can umpire, I suppose, after a fashion. A fashion that went out years ago around the time of those two peerless umpires, perhaps some of you are old enough to remember them, Jack Crapp and Arthur Fagg. I remember them. I remember them every morning, as a matter of fact: Crapp and Fagg. Though now, sadly, the law says we can no longer do it in public places. And I believe that may even apply to smoking too. Anyway. We were on the subject of why I’m speaking to you. I don’t play. I’m not even a cricketing commentator, journalist or writer. I suppose the only right I have to be amongst you, the cricketing élite, might derive from my being said to represent, here in the Long Room, all those who have spent their lives loving the game at a safe distance from the square. It is love for the game that brings me here.

In the forty-five years that I have followed cricket, I have seen it threatened from all sides by the horrors of modern life. The game has been an old-fashioned blushing maiden laid siege by coarse and vulgar suitors. A courtship pattern of defence, acceptance, capitulation and finally absorption has followed. When I started watching, A. R. Lewis played for and captained England as an amateur. The game could never recover surely, from being forced, against the will of many of those who ran this place, being forced to become solely a professional sport? I am just old enough to remember too the Basil D’Oliveira affair in all its unsavoury nastiness: the filth of racism and international politics was beginning to stain the pure white of the flannels. The one-day-game appeared, shyly at first. The balance of bat and ball, essential for cricket to make any sense as a sporting spectacle, became threatened, everyone agreed, by the covering of wickets which would privilege batsman, and then that necessary equipoise was threatened the other way by the arrival of extreme pace and the pitiless bouncer. The look and style of cricketers was apparently forever compromised by helmets and elastic waisted trouserings hideous to behold. Cane and canvas pads were replaced by wipe clean nylon fastened by Velcro. Kerry Packer arrived and sowed his own blend of discord. The continuing rise and mutation of one day cricket caused panic from Windermere to Woking as white balls and coloured pyjamas threatened the sanity of Telegraph readers everywhere. Rogue South African tours caused alarm and frenzy. Pitch invasions marked an end of the days when schoolboys could lie on their tummies by the boundary-rope filling in a green scoring book, until they got bored which they inevitably did, all except the speccy swatty ones who were laughed at and are now running the world. The rest of us were too busy asking the man in the Public Announcement tent to put out a message for our lost friends Ivor Harden, Hugh Janus, Seymour Cox and Mike Hunt. One turbulent decade began with John Snow getting barracked and bombarded with tinnies and ended with batsmen getting bounced and sledged. Cameras and microphones got closer and closer to the action to overhear the insults and demystify the bowling actions. The art of spin had disappeared, for ever, some believed. Cricketers wives wrote books about the overseas tours. Reverse swing seemed to arrive out of nowhere : “Not only does he bowl off the wrong foot. They say he swings it the other way.” Ball tampering became a matter of dinner party chat from Keswick to Canterbury . Clever 3-D images were painted on the grass round about the long stop area advertising power generation companies no one had ever heard of. Advertising was not only to be seen on the grass, but on the clothes, Vodafone and Castlemaine were stitched bigger and brighter on the shirts than the three lions and the wallabies and that mysterious silver feather that Kiwis seem so unaccountably fond of.

The county game was rent asunder into leagues and divisions that no one really understands; the politics and governance of cricket, with its contracts and coaches, its bloated fixture lists and auctions of broadcasting rights caused hand-wringing too, though many would rather it were neck-wringing.

Meanwhile, drugs, drinking binges, embarrassing text messages and other scandals continued to erupt like acne on a teenager.

South Africa returned to the fold as other countries entered the club of test playing nations. Kenya, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Two of those speccy boys who used to score at the sidelines got their revenge, their names were Mr Lewis and Mr Duckworth.

To the dictionary of acronyms and initials were added ODI, T-20 and IPL. Power plays and baseball style pinch-hitters were swept in. The old lady of cricket was getting a right duffing up.

Yet, amazingly, none of these changes, professionalism, the covered wickets, helmets, day-night games, confirmed the dire prognostications of those who believed each one might hammer a stump into cricket’s fragile heart. For this same period of my cricket watching life saw some of the greatest matches in the game’s history. The 1981 and 2005 Ashes series, the Tied Test; a new aggression and boldness of stroke play that no one could disapprove of. Scoring rates went up and great batsmen emerged: Lara, Tendulkar and Ponting amongst many others. And miraculously, to keep the game balanced, Warne and Murali showed that far from being dead, spin bowling was supremely alive; even providing a new ball in the form of the doozra. Huge crowds and rising popularity in fresh territories confirmed cricket’s health. Levels of fitness and standards of fielding rocketed. And all the while, the game’s greatest expression, the 5 Day Test Match, led the way, providing the greatest entertainment, the most excitement and the deepest commitment from the players. All those mournful predictions had come to nothing. The greatest of games had triumphed again.

But now, now, in the age of the internet, just as the great, great players of the past ten years have one by one started to play their farewell matches and leave the field for ever, hideous new forces have been at work. The newly emerged South Africa became mired in scandal, intrigue and misery as the new disease of spread-betting lived up to its name and spread, spread like cholera through a slum. Grotesque emails from professional umpires hit the headlines; allegations of systematic cheating and match-fixing have become commonplace, a dismal and lamentably organised Shop Window for international cricket, its 2007 World Cup seemed to lay the game low: an incomprehensible and dreadful tragedy in the death of Bob Woolmer its ghastly and unforgettable legacy. As if that weren’t enough we were more recently treated to the embarrassing spectacle of cricket’s governors cosying up to a Texan fraudster with a helicopter and a bigger mouth than wallet.

A new kind of bitterness has entered some quarters of the game as ex-players become commentators, columnists and journalists and begin to turn on their erstwhile teammates, dispraising the current players, pouring scorn on their technique and deprecating their tactical nous. We have video of course and can see that these pundits know what they were talking about: historical archive reveals that Boycott, Botham, Gower, Atherton, Willis, and Hussein were never out playing a false shot, never shuffled across, never missed a captaincy trick, never dropped a catch, never posted a fielder in the wrong place and never bowled off line or off length in the entire course of their careers.

The benefits and the drawbacks of broadcast technology bewilder us. Hotspots and Hawkeye, referrals and replays, umpires have never been more pressured and exposed and greater more seismically structural questions have never been asked about the meaning and spirit of the game. The rewards are greater, the stakes are higher, the price of failure more public and humiliating.

So a hundred years on from cricket’s Golden Age of C. B. Fry here is another Fry, searching for a way to toast a game that appears to have become … well, toast.

We could choose to believe that and retreat into memories of an apparently innocent and gilded past. We could wash our hands of it all, or we could choose to continue to believe in the game. Not necessarily in its administrators, nor even its players, though most of them in all divisions of the game are proud and gifted. We could choose to have faith in cricket. I for one do truly believe that the game itself, as first played by shepherds in the south of England, the game that spread to every corner of the world, the supreme bat and ball competition, the greatest game ever devised, will continue to provide unimagined pleasures, that true drama will once more come centre stage, booting into the wings the tragedy and farce we have witnessed over the past decade in particular. There will be new scandals of course: that you can depend upon. Undreamt of debacles, imbroglios, furores, brouhahas, crimes, rows, walk-outs and embarrassments are waiting around the corner, quietly slipping the horseshoe into the boxing-glove and preparing to give the goddess Cricketina a sock in the jaw. But new geniuses, new historic last ball climaxes, new unimaginable heights of athletic, tactical and aesthetic pleasure await us too. It is up to the players to believe in the game and the cricketing administrators to believe in the players. But most of all it is up to us to keep the faith and be unashamed, be proud of our love of cricket. Here, in the very place that is so often called cricket’s Mecca, cathedral and temple, is the place for us all to pledge that faith. I do so happily as I raise a glass in toast, on behalf of cricket lovers everywhere to Andrew Strauss in his Benefit Year and his wonderful Team, to Ricky Ponting and his fine tourists and to cricket itself. For, to misappropriate Benjamin Franklin, Cricket is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. So then: raise your glasses, to Strauss, England, Australia and cricket.

© Stephen Fry 2009

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24 comments on “Cricket Speech Presented at Lord’s 14th July 2009”

  1. nonoyesyes says:

    Totally impressive!
    What a fine gift you have!
    A wonderful speech

  2. Castanea1985 says:

    Wonderfully eloquent!
    Not sure about future ‘Frylets’? Collingwood, Anderson and Monty? Oh dear!
    PS. Assume you’ve got the SS live cricket score app?

  3. tom89 says:

    I concur. Great use of words and just genius, comic timing probably spot on too hearing this :) excellent speech. Would spend time to read anything you write.

  4. Fryphile says:

    What a deal! I didn’t even have to pay 3500 pounds for a table!

    I applaud your speechifying. Strangely enough, you’ve got me really excited about American football. Go Chiefs! Speaking of which (and of the immature pranks you played on the man in the Public Announcement tent) we have a player named Mike Cox.

  5. p1tsy says:

    A veritable work of genius sire. You truly are a master of your art. Many congratulations.

  6. judinw8 says:

    As an American who is new to Cricket I found your speech interesting and humorous.
    I was pleased that my budding knowledge of the sport allowed me to understand the humor although the history was all new to me.
    I’ve one day at Lords but most of my education has been at the hands of a group of school boys who have explained the game as they play.

  7. doodlebuguk says:

    What a fantastic speech. Now I understand why James Anderson and Graeme Swann were so full of praise on Twitter afterwards.
    Thanks for sharing that with us.

  8. lindseyberry says:

    Fantastic! Loved this. It made me laugh inappropriately loudly in my very open-plan office – totally worth all the stares.

  9. fourstar says:

    Wonderful. Simply wonderful.

  10. mikeyb01603 says:

    I master stroke, I followed your tweets, it was a last minute job. For a very busy man you always find the time to pull it off at the last minute :-)

    Keep it up Mr Fry…………….

  11. D.J.Ramsey says:

    Marvellous…Mr. Fry you are a master of words…how you continue to manipulate the English language to conjure up these speeches time after time is incredible.

  12. Alex_Hill85 says:

    Thank you for yet another cyber delight. You really have inspired me to read more & to appreciate as well as enjoy language.

  13. inckognito says:

    I am speechless and impressed!

    I was, of course, reading together with Wiki – because I am really ignorant of the cricket game and those noble names you filled the speech in! But – now I got interested and no one could stop me now from discovering more..

    Thank you, Stephen, for such a marvellously written spech!

    P.S. “My first three sons will be called …” – you’ve just broken my loving-you fragile heart by these words ;)

  14. Lucyglos says:

    A wonderful speech, you’ve pinpointed all the issues we’ve felt over the years, but then encapsulated why, after everything, we still absolutely love the game! A pleasure to be able to read it, thank you!

  15. John The Bad says:

    Growing up in Ireland, cricket was always looked upon as the sport of the foreigner — the dreaded Englishman. I am glad to say that things have changed and that Ireland’s cricketers have gained quite the profile. Who will ever forget us beating Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day in 2007? Unfortunately, all that joy turned to sorrow with the awful death of Bob Woolmer.

    In Ireland, we have two very impressive indigenous sports — Hurling and Gaelic Football; superb sports with a huge following. I am sorry Stephen; hurling is the greatest game on Earth. It possesses the perfect mix of speed, agility, skill, strength and excitement. These two sports, hurling and football, are still amateur. Yet the hand of professionalism knocks on the door. I don’t know what is best for the sport (it’s hard to deny the players their right to make a buck at what they do best) but I think we can learn a lot if we look across to England and see how Cricket has managed to keep evolving and still capture the hearts of men and women the world over.

    Sorry for the extra-long comment. Nice speech, Stephen. And I hope to see the talk you gave at the iTunes festival on here soon.

    PS I believe that Galway has a cricket club; I may sign up.

  16. plym1969 says:

    Well said Stephen. Cricket is the greatest game. Why? Because it not only pits the physicality of man v man but allows us, the spectator, to look inside someones real personality as it disected and put on show for us all to see. If you really want to know whether a person is brave, arrogant, nervous, stubborn etc then put a bat in their hands and bowl a hard object at them at 90 mph from 22 yards. If you’re having a bad time in a football or rugby match you can just try harder, run about more but cricket does not allow for such simple ways of improving performance or for being able to hide from the battle. As I write this Mitchell Johnson is trying to bowl in a test match at Lord’s in front of 30000 spectators and millions more on TV and he is finding it almost impossible to hit the cut strip let alone the stumps. What should he do? Try harder? I can promise you he is trying his heart out! But he knows the game cannot continue until he runs up and lets go of the ball. He also knows that by doing so he has a very high chance of being shown to be inadequate, to being made to look a fool. His mind must be full of demons as the little voice in his head is telling him he is about to fail, yet he must still face up to the challenge. And yet it could all change in an instant, so he has to tell himself that the next ball might change everything and he will once again revert to being the best fast bowler in the world.
    What a game!

  17. LadyGirlPerson says:

    As usual, reading what you had to say – cheered me and made me smile. Unsure if you read these comments but if you do, know that every word is reinforcement to why I respect you.

    Not friended on your twitter so I can’t compliment you there, but I’m pleased that I at the very least get to add to the applause somewhere.

    Hope you sleep well Stephen. Goodnight you.

  18. Vicus Scurra says:

    Excellent sentiments, old apricot.
    Alas, the viewing of the current series of test matches on the electric television have been somewhat spoiled for me by the repeated advertisements, the most annoying of which features two dreadful old wassocks banging on about insurance in a camp and gonadachingly irritating manner. Any idea who they are?

  19. Mike Rimmington says:

    Loved it. Being someone who only ever achieved a CSE grade 3 in woodwork, I’m in awe of your eloquence. (big word for me, I had to spell check it!)

  20. RandomBoo says:

    Hello Mr Fry, I love your twittering blog, wonderfully wrote and presented masterfully. I would be honoured if you could find the time to read my blog.
    All the best, Steven Mullaney

  21. lorecovi says:

    Dear Stephen Fry,
    I’m so glad you have a website!I want to write you a real fan letter, and I’m old enough to think they somehow mean more when they come on actual paper, but for now, just let me say that you are marvellous (and high and fine and moist and pink and sticky, of course.)Do you know how few people can be truly funny? You and maybe three others.

    I’ve watched maybe everything you’ve done on tape: your documentary on manic depression will help so many people, and when you’re not only being brilliant, you are also making me laugh so hard I fall off the couch. I will always remember you as the wild Scotsman in Blackaddar and the way you swung your leg up on that box (table? whatever, but that’s just an iota of your funniness and true genius–for words and action, too. Do you know yet how special you are? How about now? Now?

    If I could do anything in life, I would work for you, just so I could listen to you talk.

    With beaming pride,great affection, crisp-on-the-outside, chewy under the crust, chocolate-coated respect–

    Lori Covington

  22. HIGHLANDER says:

    Hi Stephen, I just wondered where you stand on global warming, planet X and 2012? Are you invited to the deep underground military bases for safety or are they throwing you to the wolves like the rest of us? They you understand being the Government!!! Sorry for trying to change the thread but 2012 is not far away!!!

  23. Sophoife says:

    I would love to have heard the speech – although reading it, I *can* hear your voice :)

    Many thanks

  24. J. Fluin says:

    Is anyone able to tell me the name of the computer guy to whom Steven was speaking in the last episode of Steven Fry in America.


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