A little over a decade ago, Murray Hedgcock lovingly put together a collection of PG Wodehouse's writings on cricket in Wodehouse at the Wicket. The Master didn't write enough on the game, and virtually nothing once he settled in America. As his biographer Benny Green wrote: "In changing from an English readership and scene to meet his American public, in kissing cricket goodbye, Wodehouse did so only in fiction, not in life; passionately though he loved the game, he knew it must be expelled from his work." And we are the poorer for it.
When George Orwell met Wodehouse for the first time, in 1944, they talked cricket. Orwell thought Mike was Wodehouse's "very best book" (Alec Waugh agreed with that years later). Mike is the outstanding cricket character Mike Jackson, maker of a century at Lord's and hero of the pre-Jeeves canon. When Billy Griffith, friend of Wodehouse, a Sussex and England player, and a secretary of the MCC, had a son, he named him Mike in tribute. Some of Wodehouse's commentaries on cricket are to be found in the letters he wrote to Griffith.
Wodehouse was a medium-fast bowler for Dulwich College and once wrote he dreamed of an ideal residence near Lord's. "I've always thought that's where I should like to live, with a garden gate opening on the ground." Wodehouse played at Lord's six times, once opening the batting with Arthur Conan Doyle.
Jeeves - as every Wodehouse acolyte knows - was a name he took from Percy Jeeves, the Warwickshire bowler "on the quick side of medium pace" as Wisden called him, who was killed in the First World War. Wodehouse, affectionately called "Plum", was to say of his own name, "I rather liked it, particularly after I learned during my boyhood that a famous Middlesex cricketer, Pelham Warner, was called Plum."
America, however, ruined Wodehouse to such an extent that in a 1975 BBC interview he was to say, "My game now is baseball. Oh, I am crazy about it. I'd much rather watch a baseball game than a cricket match. I think what's wrong with cricket if you are keen on one team - I was very keen on Surrey - well, I'd go to see Surrey play say Lancashire, and I'd find Lancashire has won the toss, and they'd bat all day, whereas with baseball the other side only bats about ten minutes at the most." Well, well.
From the book
"His adult cricket career was on the one-match one-ball principle. Whether it was that Reginald hit too soon at them or did not hit soon enough, whether it was that his bat deviated from the dotted line which joined the two points A and B in the illustrated plate of the man making the forward stroke in the Hints on Cricket book, or whether it was that each ball swerved both ways at once and broke a yard and a quarter, I do not know. Reginald rather favoured the last theory." - (from Reginald's Record Knock)
Wodehouse at the Wicket
Murray Hedgcock ed
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore