Play Up, Then Cheat

Monday, 25 May 2015

So I’m working away, listening to the cricket, when my friend Henry Iddon mentions on twitter that he’s reading Frank Nugent’s entertaining history of early Irish mountaineers, of whom our joint favourite is Lizzie Le Blond, whose climbing activities became a society scandal. Anyway, Lizzie’s first husband was the adventurer and army officer Fred Burnaby, who admitted with refreshing honesty that Lizzie was both more adventurous and much, much more intelligent, shortly before he met his death at the Battle of Abu Klea, where a column in Sudan on its way to rescue General Gordon from the Mahdi army, was set upon by around 5,000 troops.

This was the action that inspired the poet Sir Henry Newbolt to compare the exciting climax of a cricket match with courage under fire on the fringes of the empire, with the refrain, ‘Play up, play up and play the game.’ It opens: ‘There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night – / Ten to make and the match to win – / A bumping pitch and a blinding light, / An hour to play and the last man in.’ The second stanza aims to recreate the horror and courage of Fred’s demise: ‘The sand of the desert is sodden red / Red with the wreck of a square that broke; / The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead, / And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.’

But just a moment. A Gatling gun? So we were using machine guns against these slaves? Fred Burnaby died from a spear to the throat, not from an automatic weapon. I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s cheating. (By the way, it was in reality a Gardner gun that jammed. Made in America and not good with sand.) What’s also not acknowledged is that while the British lost a few dozen soldiers, more than a thousand Sudanese died.

So, to recap, if you’re up against it, then invest in weaponry to which your enemy has no access and then ignore his casualties. A case of ‘Play up, play up, then cheat and lie.’

Hardly cricket.

Posted by Ed Douglas at 1.54 PM