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A Dickensian XI – a team linked to the characters of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens © Getty Images
The legendary British novelist Charles Dickens penned a story on a cricket match too © Getty Images

 

Charles Dickens, arguably the greatest British novelist, did write about a cricket match in ‘Pickwick Papers’. However, even with the galaxy of characters he created in his many wonderful books, creating a cricketing eleven from the set is quite a handful — especially given the imaginative names the author bestowed them with.  Arunabha Sengupta makes an attempt to stitch together a team of eleven cricketers who share their names with famous Dickensian characters.

 

Cricket in the Pickwick Papers

Alfred Jingle claimed to have played the game in West Indies.

And when Mr Pickwick asked him about playing cricket in heat, he rattled off, “’Warm!—red hot—scorching—glowing. Played a match once—single wicket—friend the colonel—Sir Thomas Blazo—who should get the greatest number of runs.—Won the toss—first innings—seven o’clock A.m.—six natives to look out—went in; kept in—heat intense—natives all fainted—taken away—fresh half-dozen ordered—fainted also—Blazo bowling—supported by two natives—couldn’t bowl me out—fainted too—cleared away the colonel—wouldn’t give in—faithful attendant—Quanko Samba—last man left—sun so hot, bat in blisters, ball scorched brown—five hundred and seventy runs—rather exhausted—Quanko mustered up last remaining strength—bowled me out—had a bath, and went out to dinner.”

The conversation took place beside of a ground on which a match was being played between All-Muggletons and Dingley Dellers. Through the game Mr Jingle provided a running commentary, proving himself a “most excellent and undeniable judge of the whole art and mystery of the noble game of cricket.”

This match was supposed to have been based on a real fixture between the clubs Cobham and Town Malling, played sometime between 1830 and 1835.

After Pickwick Papers, Dickens did not quite delve into the intricacies of the game. Cricket popped up in his works only once in a while, finding mentions in Barnaby Rudge, Great Expectations and Martin Chuzzelwit. In The Old Curiosity Shop, we read about the death of a child with a bat leaning against his bed. James Steerforth, the charismatic friend of David Copperfield, later the seducer of Emily, is described as “the best cricketer you ever saw.”

Even though cricket appeared rather sporadically in his fiction, the name ‘Pickwick’ has been adopted by cricket clubs from Birmingham to Barbados. Even a Twenty20 championship played in distant cricket-agnostic Switzerland is called the PickwickT20.

The connection of Dickens with cricket does not end there. As a journalist under the penname Boz, Dickens covered the social life of London and often turned vocal about the lot of the poor. He criticised the high gate fees charged at Lord’s saying, “The London masses do not care much for cricket, probably because they have little chance of exercising any taste they may have for the noble game; but if they did, the half-crown gate-money would effectively keep them out.”

The first tour of an English team to Australia was also indirectly owed to Dickens. Felix William Spiers and Christopher Pond were the partners of ‘Spiers and Pond’ — a company that ran Café de Paris in Melbourne. The entrepreneurs tried to interest the author to visit Australia and conduct a few lectures. They say travel is invaluable to writers, but the great English novelist was not interested in the long journey. He was already hugely successful and was riding on the crest of fame at that time, having recently turned the French Revolution into the backdrop of a novel with A Tale of Two Cities.

Hence, as a replacement feature, a team of English cricketers captained by HH Stephenson of Surrey sailed from Liverpool on The Great Britain and docked in Melbourne on October 20, 1861. Thus first England team to Australia arrived and was greeted by a crowd described by the Melbourne Herald as not seen since “the Athenians arrived in Corinth.”

However, the problem with Dickens lies in names such as Pickwick and Jingle and Chuzzlewit. They were more or less unique to his works, often bestowed on the characters to signify certain key characteristics. Seth Pecksniff of Martin Chuzzlewit and Josiah Bounderby of Hard Times underline the issue. Such names are littered throughout Dickens or volumes written on English literature, but are extremely hard to come by in Wisden.

Choosing an eleven out of Dickensian names is no easy task. However, here is an attempt to list a team with last names of characters of the novels and stories by the great writer. While carrying out the exercise, we also managed to find a few substitutes and a coach.

Here are they in batting order.

Dickensian XI

Reggie Duff — A big name in the team. The third Australian batsman to score a hundred on debut and one of the best of his era. He scored the maiden Test century from No 10.

The Dickens character associated with him is Duff, the Bow Street Runner who investigates the attempted robbery of the Maylie home in Oliver Twist. By the way, the bowling would have been much stronger if only Maylie had been spelt differently.

Wayne Larkins — The gutsy English batsman of the 1980s, he played 13 Tests with moderate success. In Dickens, Miss Larkins was a lady, tall, dark, black-eyed, fine figure of a woman, who was fancied by the young David Copperfield. Later she married an officer in the Army.

Arthur Edward ‘Artie’ Dick — New Zealand batsman of the 1960s who played 17 Tests with a rather ordinary average of 14. However, he is paired with the immortal Mr Dick of David Copperfield. Perhaps he could not make too many runs because the head of King Charles kept appearing in the field of play.

Michael BevanThe other Australian big name in the team, unfortunately associated with not too major a character. Mr Bevan, the Boston doctor, is one of the few characters painted in positive light among the ones met by Martin Chuzzlewit and Mark Tapley in America. It is Bevan who loans the friends money to return to England in Martin Chuzzlewit.

Billy Bates — The Yorkshire and England cricketer of the late nineteenth century is one of the stars of the team. He played 299 First-Class matches including 15 Tests, and toured Australia five times and North America once. An off-spinning all-rounder, he was nicknamed ‘Duke’ for his smart attire, and scored five half-centuries in Tests and picked up exactly 50 wickets.

He finds his way to the team because of Charlie Bates, the young ‘Master Bates’, one of the pickpockets in Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist.

*Gubby Allen — The skipper. The former England fast bowling all-rounder and captain, the only quick bowler in the Bodyline series who refused to bowl bouncers – banking on his privileges as an amateur. Perhaps the biggest draw in the side.

In Pickwick Papers brother Benjamin Allen is a student who becomes a doctor while his sister Arabella Allen weds Mr Winkle

+ F Twist — This largely unknown cricketer is the vital cog without whom the team could not have been formed. The sole wicket-keeper to have a name in common with the Dickens characters. He played one match for Northamptonshire in 1898. Twist is obviously associated with the eternal child-protagonist Oliver Twist

George Langdale — Derbyshire left arm batsman and right arm off break bowler who played 25 First Class matches ending with a not too flattering batting average of 18 and bowling average of 40. He later captained Berkshire in the Minor Counties Championship. In Dickens, Mr Langdale is a benevolent vintner and distiller in Barnaby Rudge, a character based on a true historical figure. He provides shelter to Geoffrey Haredale during the riots.

Johnny Wardle — The maverick and often brilliant left arm spinner of England. He comes in due to the presence of the Wardle family in Pickwick Papers. Mr Yeoman Wardle is the owner of the Manor Farm at Dingley Dell. One of his daughters, Isabella, marries Trundle and the other, Emily, weds Augustus Snodgrass. His sister Rachael, 50 if a day, tries to elope with Jingle.

Ashley Giles The second England left-arm spinner to get into the team. The Dickensian connection is Mr Giles – the butler at Mrs Maylie’s house in Oliver Twist

David SnodgrasA fast bowler who played five First-Class games for Scotland, opening the bowling and batting in the lower order. He makes it into the team to partner Allen with the new ball.

Associated Dickens Character — Augustus Snodgras, Mr Pickwick’s travelling companion and member of the Pickwick Club. He is of poetic nature and marries Emily Wardle in Pickwick Papers

Reserves:

Frank Chester — The legendary umpire was also a slow left arm orthodox bowler and a right handed batsman with a beautiful straight bat. He played 55 First Class matches, mainly for Worcestershire, scoring 1763 runs and capturing 81 wickets before losing his right arm in the First World War. He would have got into the first team had it not been for Wardle and Giles already crowding the place for the orthodox left-arm spinner.

In Barnaby Rudge, John Chester is the Member of Parliament who gets killed in a duel. His son Edward Chester marries Emma Haredale and settles in West Indies.

Henry Badger — Fast bowler for Oxford University who was good enough to be selected for a match for Yorkshire.

Associated Dickens character – Bayham Badger, the doctor whom Richard Carstone joins as an apprentice in Bleak House, with the usual promise to work himself to the bone.

Owen Alun Dawkins — Welsh batsman and occasional leg-break bowler who turned out for Hertfordshire.

Associated Dickens character – Jack Dawkins or the ‘Artful Dodger’, the star of Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist

William Cuttle — The Yorkshire batsman of the 19th century who played 15 matches for the county side between 1862 and 1871. In Dombey and Son Captain Cuttle is “a gentleman in a wide suit of blue, with a hook instead of a hand attached to his right wrist; very bushy black eyebrows; and a thick stick in his left hand, covered all over (like his nose) with knobs.”.

Coach

David LloydWell, a bit of poetic license here. After all, he is ‘Bumbles’ and the parish beadle who appears in the first chapter of Oliver Twist is Mr Bumble.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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