Jews playing cricket? Now you’re really creasing me up

Jokes aside, the sport, by its very nature, has plenty of appeal for Jews, as an exhibition at Lord's shows


Jewish Community and cricket drinks event

July 06, 2023 11:53

Bowled along the other week — bowled, get it? — to the opening of an exhibition about the Jewish contribution to cricket at the MCC Museum at Lord’s.

The obvious joke is that I would have been in and out pretty quickly, then. Jews and Cricket? Pull the other one. In and out — get it? Pull — get it?

I make no apology for the wordplay. It’s de rigueur for any cricketer speaking first at a public event to say he’s not accustomed to opening the batting, and for any cricketers speaking last to say he’s praying for bad light. And so it was at the Lord’s reception the other week.

Behind me, Jews were talking about their daughters’ bat mitzvahs. Even the Chief Rabbi noted the religious nature of the gathering, the location being Lord’s. We laughed and clapped him back to the pavilion.

Jews and Cricket was the comedian Mike Yarwood’s sarcastic title for the shortest book ever written. I have an idea for a shorter volume still. Jewish Academics Who Aren’t Ashamed of Being Jewish. Though that, I acknowledge, wouldn’t be as funny.

In fact, Mike Yarwood was wrong for other reasons.

Countless exhibits in the museum attested to the close relations Jews enjoy with cricket, including the tzitzit worn by the South African Jewish cricketer Mandy Yachad in a one-dayer against India, and a photograph showing Ephraim Mirvis, not yet chief rabbi, at the crease in Dublin, about to square cut for four.

If anything, as the Chief Rabbi observed in his address, the dual nature of cricket, at once individualistic and collaborative, mirrored a dualism in Jews themselves.

Just by the by, the wicket keeper when Rabbi Mirvis was batting was Louis Jacobson, who once scored 101 not out for Ireland against Scotland.

I’d like to have claimed Louis Jacobson as a relation, but his son Denis, who I ran into at the reception, wouldn’t let me. We went through a thousand names and places but couldn’t connect our families, his tribe of Jacobsons coming out of Lithuania via Ukraine, mine coming out of Ukraine via Lithuania.

“You don’t think there could have been a mix-up on the border?” I asked. Denis Jacobson is a lawyer and shook his head more firmly than I saw any need for. Did he think I was after a share of his inheritance? I claim an emotional consanguinity anyway.

Though I only ever batted once — I opened for the King David High School staff against the boys in 1967 and was, by quite freakish mischance, bowled out, run out and caught in the slips first ball — I am a batsman of no small merit in my head.

I once tried that idea on Harold Pinter, who dismissed it with the brusque insistence that you could only be a batsman at the crease.

Which, by all accounts, he signally was. A cover of the MCC magazine on show at Lord’s shows a devilishly handsome Pinter glowering at the ball as he shapes to zetz it to cow corner.

Having been glowered at by Pinter myself, I know how the ball must have felt — that’s assuming there really was a ball and the photograph wasn’t posed. He had, remember, been an actor before he became a playwright.

But there’s no doubt that cricket whites set off his dark complexion manfully, and that as a batsman he looked the part.

Whether any Jewish writer — indeed whether any Jew at all — has ever looked the part of centre forward or left back I doubt.

Whatever Jews themselves tell you about their footballing years, they’re lying. Football is unlike cricket in two senses that matter to a Jew — it does not have intellection and wit at its heart, and it is all team and no individual.

All right, there’s the goalkeeper, but the Yiddish word shpilkes explains why goalkeeping could never appeal to a Jew. It’s in the nature of a goalkeeper to be forever on shpilkes — diving, leaping, stretching, shouting — and Jews are on shpilkes enough already.

Penalty-taking is something else — penalty-taking is broiges in action — and there is a good argument for every team to have at least one Jew in reserve to take penalties.

Otherwise, I don’t buy the collocation of Jews and football. In particular, I don’t buy the concept of a Jewish football fan.

Because many Jews I have known since schooldays went on religiously watching their team for years, not scrupling to miss their own daughters’ bat mitzvahs when there was a clash of dates, wearing football scarves and even numbers on their back, and thinking their wives would appreciate a season ticket as an anniversary present, you would suppose I have no choice but to allow that a Jewish football fan is a reality.

But it’s bad psychology to accept people’s explanation of their own actions, particularly when those actions are demonstrably tsedrait.

There will be many reasons why a Jew defies God’s commandments against idolatry, to say nothing of the dictates of fashion, menschlichkeit and responsible parenting, but a love of football won’t be one of them.

Had Jews loved football in the years I was growing up in Manchester they would have supported Manchester United.

Instead, they supported Manchester City. Rather than watch the game played with adroitness, imagination and success, they watched it played by dullards and sluggards who never won a match and would have conceded a goal to me had I been playing for the opposition, though to beat Manchester City in those days, no team even needed me.

How to explain such perversity? Easy. What the blue and white Jews wanted above all else was to lose. Not win, not even draw — lose.

“So how did the game go today, dear?” their grieving wives would ask when their menfolk returned oching-and-vaying from the match. As though they didn’t know.

Without a husbandly kiss or greeting, the men collapsed plotzing into their chairs, klopping their heads, rending their scarves, shmeissing anything they could reach (the dogs and children knew to hide).

“Those farshtinkener mamzerim! Those schvantzes! Those pishers! Promise me, Esther, if I ever go to watch this team of nishtikeits again, you’ll take the kids and leave!”

Across the street, Manchester United fans were quietly sitting down to the tedious supper of the victorious.

“How did the match go, dear?” “We won again. What’s to eat?”

Only from a Manchester City house came the sorrowing curses, thousands of years old, of a people keeping alive the language of eternal loss.

After two hours of which, drunk on tonic water and defeat, they would fall into the sweet sleep of those for whom there was nothing more in life to dread.

So how does a masochistic Jewish Manchester City fan get his kicks now? By switching allegiance to Manchester United? No, that would be an apostasy too far. So I have a suggestion. Cricket.

On one occasion last year, Elvaston Cricket Club’s Fourth Eleven was bowled out for nine runs. I’ve no idea how many Jews were in the team. Not many, is my guess. But for Jewish fans of the old Manchester City missing the exquisite misery of certain weekly defeat, supporting Elvaston Fourth Eleven could be just the fillip they need.

July 06, 2023 11:53

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