Wisden writing competition winner, 2013

The play's the thing

Liam Cromar

"Why, this is very midsummer madness." The startled spectator Lady Olivia may not have had cricket in mind in Twelfth Night, but many unacquainted with the game would echo her. With 2014 marking 450 years since William Shakespeare's debut, and Wisden's own 150th birthday, it is clearly the moment to marry the two in a Shakespearean XI.

Setting aside the question of the opposition (Kit Marlowe CC?), let's get to grips with the batting order. Since the survival of aggressive new-ball spells is a priority for any opener, we pick Macbeth, who trusts both his back-foot game ("I pull in resolution") and his luck ("I bear a charmed life"). One hopes neither is misplaced. He's joined by Brutus, "an honourable man" who can presumably be relied on to uphold the spirit of cricket. But Macbeth should beware his running between the wickets: in Julius Caesar's last appearance, Brutus sold him down the river: "A two, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"

Prince Hamlet's indecisiveness when facing "slings and arrows" may suggest he lacks the clarity of mind needed against the fastest bowling. However, his warning that "I may sweep to my revenge" hints at a proficiency against spin. He is joined in the middle order by the classy strokemaker Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, whose pledge to "drive thee back" savours of a penchant for straight-bat shots. With the Flintoff-like physique implied by his name, the all-rounder Fortinbras slots in at No. 5.

There can be little quarrel when it comes to wicketkeeper and captain. The boisterous Petruchio, just the man to rally his fielders from behind the stumps, is known as the ''keeper'' of "shrewd" skipper Katharina, despite their tendency to argue about the light.

To spearhead the bowling attack, we select Sebastian: his body blows drove Sir Andrew Aguecheek to retire hurt, calling for the physio: "for the love of God, a surgeon!… He has broke my head across." With his "lean and hungry look", Cassius, who "thinks too much", is the perfect new-ball partner: wily and ceding little, he's conspired to topple many an opponent. For slow variation, Launce's lover stands out as a professional among amateurs: "she can spin for her living". The curate Sir Nathaniel completes the attack. He is, after all, "a very good bowler".

Let's not forget the officials. There's Lady Macbeth, who proclaimed "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!", demonstrating her familiarity with thermal-imaging technology. And Portia, esteemed in some quarters as a "wise and upright judge!", though not all her decisions prove uncontroversial. As scorer, we have the Bard himself: "nor need I tallies… to score".

The trouble, of course, is the weather. Will this motley crew ever make it on to the field? For as Feste, lead singer of the Barmy Army (composed of the rather-less-foolish-than-their-name-implies Fools) warns, "the rain it raineth every day".

The Shakespeare XI
1. Macbeth, King of Scotland (Macbeth)
2. M. Brutus (Julius Caesar)
3. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hamlet)
4. Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (Henry IV, Pt II; Henry V; Henry VI, Pts I and II)
5. Fortinbras, Prince of Norway (Hamlet)
6. *Katharina (The Taming of the Shrew)
7. †Petruchio (The Taming of the Shrew)
8. Sebastian (Twelfth Night)
9. C. Cassius (Julius Caesar)
10. Launce's lover (Two Gentlemen of Verona)
11. Sir Nathaniel (Love's Labour's Lost)

Umpires: Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) and Portia (The Merchant of Venice).
Scorer: W. Shakespeare (passim).

Wisden received 108 entries for its second writing competition, up a fraction on 2012. As before, they arrived from all corners of the globe, all ages, and both genders. The standard continued to be exceptionally high, and the business of judging became no easier. In the end, though, the editorial team plumped for this inventive team selection. Liam Cromar is the second winner (after Brian Carpenter) of what is an annual award. The prize is publication, adulation, and an invitation to the launch dinner, held in April.

The rules are unchanged from 2013. Anyone who has never been commissioned for Wisden can take part. Entries, which should not have been submitted before (and are restricted to a maximum of two per person), must be:
1. the entrant's own work;
2. unpublished in any medium;
3. received by the end of November 30, 2014;
4. between 480 and 520 words (excluding the title);
5. neither libellous nor offensive;
6. related to cricket, but not a match report.

Articles should be emailed to almanack@wisden.com, with "Writing Competition 2014" as the subject line. Alternatively, they can be posted to: Writing Competition 2014, John Wisden & Co, 13 Old Aylesfield, Golden Pot, Alton, Hampshire GU34 4BY. Please provide your name, address and telephone number. Bloomsbury staff and those who, in the editor's opinion, have a working relationship with Wisden are ineligible. The editor's decision is final. Once again, we look forward to receiving your contributions.

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