Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Penguins Stopped Play!

How's that for a clickbaity title for a blog post? :-)  Actually, it's the title of a wonderful book I discovered and read recently.  It's written by Harry Thompson, and the subtitle hints at what it's all about --- "eleven village cricketers take on the world".

Thompson was a writer and radio/TV producer in Britain, but more to the point, he was the 'founder' and captain of a village cricket team called the Captain Scott XI.  The team was named ironically, after Captain Robert Scott who made it to the South Pole in 1912, only to discover that he'd been beaten to it by Roald Amundsen by a mere four weeks!  So Scott came second, but tried his best, and that inspired these village cricketers of no particular ability, to name themselves the Captain Scott Invitational XI -- anyone could 'invite' themselves to play, as long as they tried hard!

Starting small at Oxford University, taking on local teams on the weekends, etc. the Captain Scott XI then started touring as well.  They made cricketing trips to India, South Africa and Malaysia for example, playing mostly against club sides, while also taking in the local tourist attractions.  The book sketches the village cricketers' characters and their variegated cricketing settings in lovely prose, peppered with characteristic British humour.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that these aren't fictional characters, but real people he's talking about!

Then one day, Harry Thompson got it into his head to plan a "world tour", where the Capt. Scott XI would play at least one game of cricket on each of the continents (except Antarctica).  The rest of the book is basically a hilarious travelogue covering this three-week tour and the preparations and planning that went into it.  The team played in Barbados (technically, sort of covering North America), then Buenos Aires (Argentina, South America), Sydney (Australia), Singapore (Asia), Cape Town (Africa) and then back in London ((Europe).  Many of the matches resulted in abject defeat for the Capt. Scott XI, but that was never in doubt to start with!  The sporting spirit of the team was amazing, as you can imagine.  The team also visited many interesting places during their tour, drank like fishes, even tried some dope, all of which incidents are described beautifully by Thompson.  The travails of air travel (covering nearly 40,000 miles) -- the incompetence of airline staff, missing tickets, problems with Customs, visas, etc. are inevitable and frequent, but the way Thompson narrates them make you laugh out loud much of the time.

What about the title of the book though?  It wasn't part of the "world tour", but separately Thompson did end up going to Antarctica and arranged for a game of cricket there, along with other Brits, Aussies and New Zealanders!  And during that game, apparently a large flock of penguins did indeed invade the pitch (such as it was), curious to know what these strange visitors were doing.  The game had to be abandoned, probably the only time in history that "Penguins Stopped Play"!

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