Day 14: It’s just not cricket. Or is it?

Duck and rabbit are each absorbed in their screens. Duck is glued to the U.S. Open. Rabbit appears to be reading The Guardian’s sports coverage on her laptop.

RABBIT: (Jubilant) By George, I’ve got it!

DUCK: (Irritated) Shhh! I’m watching Sharapova! This is tense! She just lost the first set!

RABBIT: (Ears quivering with excitement) But this is important. I’ve had a revelation.

DUCK: This isn’t about the flux capacitor again, is it, because I already know that it’s what makes time travel possible.

[Rabbit ignores Duck. Duck strains to look over his shoulder and see what Rabbit is looking at.]

[Incredulously] Are you looking at The Guardian’s sports pages?

RABBIT: I am. But not just the sports pages. No, I was barking up the wrong tree before. Football, I kept thinking. Or Bank Holiday weekend. Or editors all out of the office “working” somewhere on a beach. But it wasn’t any of that. No, it was cricket, and what I’m looking at, my friend, is coverage of the Indian national cricket team. [Triumphantly] And I’m confident that when you hear the facts you’ll agree that there are some pretty interesting coincidences.

DUCK: [Absorbed in his match] Ooh! Nice one Maria!

RABBIT: Do you want to hear the evidence?

DUCK: Do I have any choice?

RABBIT: Ooh, are we playing questions, just like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?

DUCK: Who?

RABBIT: Shall I tell you about them?

DUCK: No. I’m trying to watch the tennis.

RABBIT: One-love!

[Duck puffs out his cheeks with air and then lets the air exhale slowly through his bill.]

DUCK: O.K. Look. Forget the game. Forget both of the games. Why don’t you just go ahead and tell me your evidence. Just go ahead. Go on. I’m listening.

RABBIT: [Speaking hurriedly] O.K. Very good. So, this summer, 2014, India are playing a five-match Test series against England, in England, for the first time since 1959. [Pauses meaningfully]

DUCK: [Seeing that some kind of response is called for] O.K.

RABBIT: I mean, it’s a historic occasion, really: the first five-Test match series played on British soil between a post-Nehru India and a post-Macmillan Britain.

[Duck nods sagely while surreptitiously checking the tennis match score on his phone.]

RABBIT: Fact. August 15th: I send my final, approved typeset manuscript to my contact in Chennai. [Pauses again for effect]

DUCK: Yup, I’m with you so far.

RABBIT: Fact. August 15th: The Guardian sports pages report that India put on a “dreadful batting performance” on Day 1 of the 5th Test.

DUCK: Hang on a second, what does that even mean?

RABBIT: Dreadful means extremely poor.

DUCK: No, I know what dreadful means. What does “test” mean. Test of what?

RABBIT: [Authoritatively] Well, there are a series of tests prior to the actual cricket match. Let’s see [Counts off on his whiskers], there are five tests, with each in turn rigorously testing the team’s mental agility, dexterity, speed, endurance, and Godliness.

DUCK: Godliness?

RABBIT: Yes, well these traditions all obviously emanate from an earlier time.

DUCK: Just doesn’t seem very, I dunno, fair, that there’s a religious component to it.

RABBIT: Obviously, I agree with you. But I didn’t make up the rules, did I?

[Rabbit holds Duck’s gaze for several seconds without flinching. Finally Duck looks away and Rabbit smiles to herself.]

DUCK: All right. So what are the tests then?

RABBIT: Let’s see, the first one is a simple mental arithmetic test, the second is filbert cracking—oh, and here’s an interesting tidbit for you, the name “cricket” actually derives from this test. Originally it was “crackit,” you see, and filbert cracking was integral to the game. The third test is the number of burpees you can complete in one minute, the fourth is tea-drinking capacity, and the fifth, and most challenging and exalted of the tests is laundering.

DUCK: Laundering?

RABBIT: Yes, laundering. Each team has to launder, press, and finally don their cricket whites. Only then do they actually get to start the game of cricket.

DUCK: [Slowly] Where are you getting all this from? I think you might be getting some stuff mixed up here.

RABBIT: [Without a flicker of doubt] No. That’s what it is.

DUCK: But the report you just quoted said that India put in a “dreadful batting performance” on the 5th Test.

RABBIT: And? What of it?

DUCK: Well, surely that implies they were, you know, batting the ball. Not, uh, laundering.

RABBIT: [Not missing a beat) Ah, yes, I see your confusion. No, they were using “batting” in the sense of using a batting-staff, or batting-lag, to bat the linens. It’s an old laundering term. Used frequently in the eighteenth century actually. So the point is that the Indian team did not fare well in the laundry round, due to their batting technique, and so, when the cricket actually starts they’ll be at a disadvantage because their whites will not be in tip-top shape.

DUCK: Huh. [Pause] I dunno. I mean, I don’t really know anything about cricket but it just seems strange that I’ve never heard about any of these pre-match tests before.

RABBIT: [Whiskers and voice stiffening] What are you saying?

DUCK: [Hastily] Oh, nothing, nothing …. Just that we all know … [Mutters something unintelligible under his breath]

RABBIT: [Extremely agitated] What did you just say?

DUCK: [Loudly] I just said that we all know that sometimes you can be a bit of a fantasist.

RABBIT: A fantasist? A fantasist? Look, I’ve done the research, O.K.? Have you done any research? No. No you haven’t. Cricket is a venerable game dating back to the sixteenth century.

DUCK: [Sarcastically] And they did burpees in the sixteenth century.

RABBIT: [Outraged] Yes, what, you don’t think people back then were smart enough to invent the burpee? That is just so typical, you’re such a, such a [Searches desperately for the vilest term of abuse she can muster], such a presentist.

DUCK: [Unruffled] Hey, I just always assumed burpees were the invention, if we’re going to credit them as such, of some sadistic twentieth-century calisthenics enthusiast, that’s all … there’s no need to get in a strop about it, I didn’t mean to upset you, carry on.

RABBIT: [Pouting] No, now you’ve thrown me off. And now that you’ve accused me of being a fantasist, obviously I now have to prove that burpees were around in the sixteenth century—

DUCK: [Interrupting] No, really you don’t. I totally believe you. The burpee. Invented in the sixteenth century. Obviously. I can’t think why I doubted you.

RABBIT: I see what you’re doing and it won’t work. If you’re going to accuse me of being a fantasist now you’re going to have to shut up and listen to some cold, hard, facts. [Inhales and then exhales deeply] O.K. Obviously, you know (or perhaps you don’t), but, in the sixteenth century most English subjects subsisted on little more than turnips, just pure, unadulterated turnips, with maybe a parsnip for pudding if you were exceptionally well off. Well, on that diet, when people had gas, it could be quite noxious. And so a custom developed that if you burped in the presence of a lady or one of your social betters, in order to make amends to the person you’d burped upon—to the burpee, that is—you would immediately bow very low before them and then, literally prostrate yourself on your stomach before the burpee. And the name burpee in time passed to from describing the person who had been burped upon to the motions performed by the burper. Given the levels of turnip ingestion, one might find yourself having to perform this feat several times in the course of one meal, so it was quite a test of physical strength as well as of honour. Why are you looking at me like that? What, you don’t believe me?

DUCK: No [Slowly, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s saying], no, it actually sounds almost plausible, actually. But where does cricket come in?

RABBIT: [Warming to her subject] Well, I’m glad you asked. It was simply that performing the burpee came to be regarded as a kind of test of one’s masculinity and one’s honour, and cricket was very much bound up with ideals of masculinity and so it was quite natural that it became integrated. (Pause) O.K. Can I FINALLY move on to what I actually wanted to tell you?

DUCK: Yes. I’m sorry I doubted you. I really do believe you now. Carry on.

RABBIT: [Relieved] O.K., well, we’ve already established that cricket is all about ideals of masculinity and that the highest test of this is the laundry test. Now listen to what The Guardian reporter said about the Indian team’s performance in this round. He said that they, and I quote, “displayed a lack of tenacity, determination and, yes, cojones.”

DUCK: Ouch!

RABBIT: Right! So, can you see where I’m going?

DUCK: Not quite but …

RABBIT: Well, obviously, this Test match is tapping into all of these long-simmering post-colonial issues. And the editor in Chennai doesn’t see our Indian ancestry. She doesn’t see that if we were to watch cricket, which, needless to say, we don’t, we would fail the Tebbit test. All she sees is someone who’s been emailing her all summer on Greenwich Mean Time, doesn’t she? And so, naturally, she wants to make a point.

DUCK: And the point is …?

RABBIT: And the point is, I’m not going to kow-tow to your imperialist demands to confirm receipt of your manuscript while your nation’s media disparages the cojones of my nation’s cricket team. Are you with me?

DUCK: Sort of.

RABBIT. O.K. So this would all be very discouraging except that things are now looking up for India. Listen to this headline from today: August 27, “England were annihilated by India.” So…

DUCK: So….

RABBIT: So I think she’ll get in touch now! She won’t be moping around anymore!

DUCK: I’m not saying that your theory doesn’t make sense ….

RABBIT: Good. Glad to hear that that’s not what you’re saying …

DUCK: …but has it ever occurred to you that perhaps it’s just that it’s the dog days of August, and she’ll probably be in touch next week?

RABBIT: [Wrinkles her nose, giving this question serious consideration. Then, slowly]: No …… no, I’m pretty sure it’s the cricket.

DUCK: Right then.

Rabbit resumes refreshing The Guardian’s cricket blog while Duck resumes watching the US Open.


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