Cricket in Patrick O'Brian's "The Fortune of War"

In Patrick O’Brian’s novel The Fortune of War the Leopards are playing cricket against another ship’s team. Stephen Maturin, who has “never watched a cricket match before”, but recalls “the hurling of his youth”, is their “only hope”. Here’s O’Brian depiction of the scene:

Like Stephen I have never watched a cricket match before, so the above description is extremely ambiguous to me. Initially I interpreted the scene as Stephen amazing the teams with his unexpected skills – the Leopards are, after all, the underdogs, and apparently on the verge of losing – but after thinking about the build-up (Stephen brags of his mastery of hurley; he has, during the day, fashioned his own bat out of an exotic tree; and in the middle of the game he wanders off somewhat absent-mindedly), and the description itself, I am thinking it’s rather the opposite: Mirroring his naval incompetence, Stephen is making a complete fool of himself by misinterpreting the rules of the game.

Could someone who knows cricket please illuminate?

Bonus points for pointing to a really good page about cricket, for the Stephen Maturins among us, perhaps. Especially as I believe the game reappears later in the series.

OK, first things first: this is a very good explanation of the game, which will tell you more than you need to know.

On to O’Brien’s passage. It is clear from the context that he is referring to the game as it was before round-arm bowling was legalized in the early 19th century. “Lob bowling,” as it was known, was in vogue beforehand; it was somewhat akin to pitching in slow-pitch softball. So, the Admiral begins the action by bowling underhand to Stephen.

Now, Stephen’s bat. Back in the old days, cricket bats were curved like modern field hockey or hurley sticks, and skinny–not like modern bats, which are straight and rather thick. Stephen treats his bat more like a hockey stick, which will be important shortly.

So. The idea in batting in cricket is that you strike the ball, normally on one bounce, with one smooth swing. Stephen, instead, plays the Admiral’s bowl like a field hockey player would, by trapping it, then dribbling with it for awhile. He plays the ball forward and to his right (“cover-point” as O’Brien says). He then picks the ball up in the crook of his stick, tosses it in the air like a hurley player would, and strikes it at his partner Jack’s wicket, down on the other side of the pitch. (Remember that Guiness commercial from a while back with the hurley player scooping up the ball, tossing it in the air, and giving it a good whack? Just like that.) Allegedly Stephen hits the ball at Jack’s wicket (here O’Brien means “set of stumps” when he says “wicket”–that’s a modern imprecation there, BTW) so hard it breaks one of the stumps in half, which I find hard to believe, myself.

So, in a nutshell, your interpretation of Stephen’s behavior is completely correct. In the midst of a cricket match, he breaks out into a hurley game. IMHO Stephen is acting like a right prat, which I believe is the implication that O’Brien intends as well.

And, if somebody tried this in an actual match? After the second time Stephen hit the ball, he would be called out on appeal for “hit the ball twice.” See the ninth way of getting out, on this page.

Stephen wants to hit the ball as far as possible, so that he and Jack can run between the wickets to score runs. Instead, he does something that displays an utter lack of knowledge of the game, and manages to get himself out (and possibly Jack out too, if Jack had been out of his crease). He could hardly have played more badly, and so the Cumberlands’ amazement is reasonable.

Thankee, Duke, for a most detailed, illuminating and erudite explanation. Exactly the kind of answer I was looking for, even if it makes me rather embarrassed for Stephen.

I shall be reading up on the rules of cricket now – see you in a couple of years.

O’Brian narrates a lot of incidents, usually involving physical phenomena and a disproportion between force and effect, that I find rather hard to believe, and this is only one such case that made me frown.

The only other, less typical example I can recall right off the bat (do you smoke it?) is when, in Treason’s Harbour, he has a man dive into the Red Sea:

The scene itself is deliciously horrific, surprising and numbing; but hardly credible. Australian saltwater crocodile, perhaps – but a shark I doubt.

Nothing to do with cricket, though.

O’Brian may have been a bit of a fraud anyway

Right on, although in defense of Stephen (perhaps his only defense), he couldn’t have managed to get both himself and Jack out at the same time. When an appeal is made, and the umpire adjudges that both batsmen can be considered “out,” the umpire can only declare one of them out, usually the batsman who made him/herself out first–in this case Stephen, who hit the ball twice before he could have run out Jack. Now, if the fielding side was thinking sharply, they could have specifically appealed whether Jack was out, by asking the the umpire “How’s that* for run out?” and gesturing towards Jack. That would have been favorable to them, since it would have left Stephen, who obviously didn’t have a clue, still batting.

*Nobody has ever appealed with “How’s that?”, at least not since the Laws were first written in 1744, even though the Laws still retain the phrase. More often you hear “Howzat!?!?”, “'Zat?!?!?”, or, as I’ve sometimes shouted, “ZaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaahhht?!?!?!”

It his defence, it’s an account of a boating trip taken when he was 80. The article makes him sound like a demented old man (and I mean in the medical sense) rather than a liar.

I’ve never watched cricket, never gotten within any reasonable distance of a game being played, and have no idea how it’s done. But the idea of professional game-players shouting “ZaaaAAAAAAaaaaahhhht?!?!?!” strikes me as hilarious. :smiley:

American sports need something like that. I mean, we could shout “GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAL!” every time someone makes a touchdown in real football, but that’s not quite the same, is it?

Carry on.

I don’t think anyone here would argue that cricket isn’t silly.

I agree with Silentgoldfish that the article doesn’t really prove anything about his knowledge of sailing. I mean, I know that one can’t circumnavigate the Mediterranean in 2 weeks. This knowledge doesn’t come from any deep understanding of sailing, but just from common sense. Therefore, for O’Brien to screw this up probably indicates senility or something like that.

Hey, of course it’s silly, that’s why I play :smiley:

Besides, at what other sport is it acceptable to drink gin-and-tonic during the game? Oh, sure, they call it “lunch,” but we all know better…