On Wednesday, the cricketers of Australia and England took to the field at Trent Bridge for the first Ashes test. Many JC readers, including me, were unfeasibly excited about it. In fact, British Jews can count themselves as among the most fanatical of cricket fans.
There are very good reasons for this. Cricket, like Judaism, is a complicated and arcane discipline. Anyone who has attempted to explain the rules of kashrut to a non-Jewish friend will appreciate the difficulties of explaining LBW to a non-cricket fan.
The Talmud is be studied and debated forensically in yeshivot and so is its cricket equivalent — Wisden — which arrives in bookshops annually and boasts every fact and figure of every significant game for fans to pore over in the long dark nights between the last game of the season in September and the first in April.
Even the formats of cricket mirror the denominations of Judaism. There is the hardcore, five-day version for purists — the Orthodox. There is the 50-over format that is considered more accessible — the Masorti or perhaps Reform version. And then there is T20 for the Liberals And can it be coincidence that the headquarters of cricket is surrounded by synagogues? There is the Liberal Jewish Synagogue adjacent to the world’s most famous cricket ground, but, according to the old joke, is not on the Lord’s side. Then there is the headquarters itself, St John’s Wood shul, where the Chief Rabbi sits in our equivalent of the Long Room.
In fact shuls themselves quite resemble cricket grounds. They tend to be sparsely attended on normal “match days” but are packed for the Yomtovim, the Jewish equivalent of the test match. And, as at the cricket, during most of the play the audience will be snoozing or chatting, with rapt attention reserved for the most important moment — the opening of the Ark or the opening of the second innings, respectively.
It is debatable whether there are more Jews at shul on the Shabbat of the Lords test or in the pavilion. Many Jews are MCC members and can it be a coincidence that many Jews, too, live along the Finchley Road, north-west London’s arterial route to Lord’s?
There is only one tiny, insignificant aspect of cricket at which Jews have failed to excel — and that is in playing. There have been a handful of decent South African players but in Ashes tests one name stands out: Julian Wiener.
That is unless that is you include Fred Trueman. The legendary Yorkshire fast bowler found out late in life that his maternal grandmother was Jewish, meaning that in Jewish law, so was he. When I interviewed him 20 years ago, he said he would be happy to be considered Jewish, adding with a chuckle, “Just don’t expect me to stop eating bacon sandwiches”.
He never went to shul, he wouldn’t have known a mezuzah from a mechitzah but as far as I’m concerned, Fred will always be known as the fastest Jewish bowler in history.