Book extract November 10, 2013

History told as it should be

Everything you wanted to know about sport but couldn't find on Wikipedia

This remarkable new work of scholarship traces the origins of sport from the time of the Big Bang, through the discovery of the first prehistoric Yorkshire cricketer, right up until the present day. At last a book has arrived that gives cricket and other sports the thorough, in-depth probing they deserve.

Original Pirate Material
Nautical chart, traces of Banana Daiquiri
St Lucia, 1801

THIS CHART SHOWS the suspected position of one of British seafaring's most spectacular wrecks. The HMS Fredalo, commanded by a Captain Andrew, sunk in the Caribbean Sea at the end of the 18th century and immediately became a source of horrified fascination for the naval establishment.

It was believed that Captain Andrew had taken on board a cargo of some 6,000 cases of Bacardi, which he then took on board his person in a heroic display of carousing. Contemporary accounts suggest that he was well onto his 14,000th bottle when he handed control of the vessel to his First Mate, Worharmy. Unfortunately, the trusted lieutenant panicked and steered the ship miles off course, running her aground on the Second Slips and consigning her to a watery grave.

Captain Andrew and some of his crew made it to shore, but the wreck caused a major environmental disaster in the region, with local marine life severely inebriated for generations to come. The disgraced Captain Andrew became a prize fighter and vaudeville act, while First Mate Worharmy retired to the North East to spend more time with his beard.

Pop Art Prints
Limited-edition serigraphs
New York, 1965

The first Duckworth-Lewis table only sold 10,000 copies but everyone who bought it became a first-class umpire.

THIS QUOTE, variously attributed to Brian Eno and Dickie Bird, sums up the colossal cricketing impact of the 1965 meeting of two remarkable men: Duckworth and Lewis.

Duckworth had already achieved legendary status in the New York mathematics scene, and the 'Mathappenings' at his 47th Street Prime Number Factory were a magnet for models, rock stars, socialites and cricket scorers. Strolling through Greenwich Village one evening, Duckworth spotted a bespectacled young man deeply engrossed in a Sudoku puzzle, and approached him. It was, of course, Lewis: young, troubled, relentlessly ambitious and brilliant at sums. The connection was instantaneous and era-defining.

Duckworth and Lewis began work on a project that would combine their major obsessions: the relationship between consumerism and the creative process; the notion of fame as a work of art; and mitigating the unfortunate effect of rain on limited-overs cricket matches. Work at Duckworth's Exploding the Precipitation Inevitable studio eventually resulted in the seminal the Duckworth-Lewis and Nico Method's Table of Runs Required Versus Overs Left.

Sadly, argument about how the Method might behave under 20-over conditions caused an irreparable rift. The partnership was abruptly severed, but the influence on cricketing statisticians would be immeasurable. As Duckworth famously said: 'In the future everyone will be famous for 15 overs (DL method)'.

Musical Theatre Poster
Lithographic inks on paper
North Norfolk, 2006

THE CONSOLING HANDSHAKE given by Andrew Flintoff to Brett Lee in the 2005 Ashes Test at Edgbaston was not just a shining example of sportsmanship but the catalyst for what might have been one of musical theatre's greatest triumphs. Sadly, it proved to be the genesis of one of its most notorious commercial disasters. Inspired by the Lee-Flintoff moment of bonding, Norfolk composer and keen cricket fan Keith Lloyd Webber (no relation to the more famous Andrew) wrote a musical in which Lee and Flintoff were imagined as two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of a bitter feud. Lloyd Webber (no relation) fought a protracted legal battle with the copyright holders of the West Side Story musical and eventually had to concede that his production would only be allowed to go ahead if the two male leads had their voices drowned out by white noise at every performance. This was considered somewhat draconian, but a legal ruling that the actors playing the parts of Flintoff and Lee had to wear gags so that audiences could not even watch them mime surely bordered on the vindictive.

The show opened in Hunstanton's famous North End in November 2006, to mixed reviews. The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye, disorientated by the cacophony of high-decibel industrial noises that dominated act one and, apparently confused as to which musical he was watching, wrote in his review 'It's Buddy painful'. Sadly, this was the most charitable assessment from a member of the press and as such had to form a major part of the publicity campaign.

All this notwithstanding, however, there was still some muted public interest, but this soon evaporated once Steve Harmison got to work in Brisbane. The show closed after just one day of the first Test, and Lloyd Webber (no relation) took a break from show business altogether. He is rumoured to be working on a musical about the golden age of Australian swing called Five Guys Named Merv and is currently seeking investors and legal representation.

Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: the History of Sport in 100-ish Objects by Alan Tyers and Beach is published by Bloomsbury, out now. More about it here