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The silver haired Inspector Morse has no time for cricket as he solves crimes in Oxford as a senior CID officer of the Thames Valley Police Force. However, when an Oxford old boy turns up for a cricket match and is found dead in his lodging, the Detective has to wade into the game. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the episode ‘Deceived by Flight’ which is a heady mix of cricketing action and murder mystery.
Silver haired, and often melancholy, Inspector Morse, senior CID officer in Thames Valley Police Force in Oxford, has a passion for opera and Wagner, poetry and art, classics and cryptic crossword puzzles. However, he is not really into cricket.
In fact, at the beginning of the 10th of his mystery episodes, Deceived in Flight, Morse even snaps at Sergeant Lewis when the latter tries to switch the radio from the music channel to catch the commentary of the ongoing Test match at Lord’s.
However, as the events unfold in this episode of Series 3, aired in January 1989, Morse has to get in the thick of the things in the cricket fields.
We know from the canon that in his youth, Morse had been offered a scholarship to St John’s College, Oxford. However, chapter seven of the novel The Riddle of the Third Mile, and also episode 2 of the third season ‘The Last Enemy’ (aired immediately before the episode discussed here), inform us that he had lost the scholarship following poor academic performance — the result of a failed love affair. After that, an embittered Morse had left the university to join the army.
However, Deceived in Flight takes him back to the campus. Morse, played by John Thaw, is met by his old Oxford College roommate Anthony Donn, portrayed by Daniel Massey. Donn is in Oxford to participate in a cricket match between two Old Boy teams, the Clarets and the Hearties. Most of his dialogue with Morse during the meeting is punctuated by vague, cryptic messages.
Soon after that, Morse gets involved in the bombing at a liberal bookstore which has resulted in three deaths. Busy questioning suspects in the hate crime, he is surprised to learn that Donn has been found dead in his college lodging. The Inspector is called to investigate the death of his old friend. Thus begins the tale of detection during which Sergeant Lewis enjoys his moment of glory.
Author Colin Dexter named Lewis after Mrs. B Lewis, the pseudonym under which Dorothy Taylor wrote the The Observer’s Everyman crossword for years. In fact, Morse is also named after a clue writer, the champion setter and another of Dexter’s rivals, Jeremy Morse. In the books, Lewis is Welsh and of working class origins, in sharp contrast to the very English gentleman Morse. Dexter also made Lewis middle-aged in his stories. But in the television series the sergeant is a man in his thirties hailing from Northern England, wonderfully depicted by Kevin Whately.
“A man arrives to take part in a cricket match and is killed.” That leaves 10 suspects from one team and 11 from the other. Morse uses Lewis’s fascination with cricket to draft him into the Clarets team as a replacement for Donn. And the Detective Sergeant takes on the role with gusto, batting at No 5 and bowling medium pace with gusto. He also leaps to take a rather neat one-handed catch at short mid-on.
The action in the episode involves a fair amount of cricket, mostly well shot and realistic. Occasionally a stroke made to the off-side suddenly results in a throw coming in from mid-on, but we can perhaps attribute such aberrations to cinematics during the match and as a result misses the excellent catch held by Lewis. But, he knows enough about the game to say, “Send in the suspects for questioning in the batting order.”
There are some nuggets which are of interest to the followers of the series. It is revealed that Morse was so secretive about his Christian name during his Oxford days that he was called ‘Pagan’. We have to wait till Death is now my Neighbour, aired in 1997, to know that his first name was Endeavour. Colin Dexter himself also appears in one of the scenes, as a nameless bystander.
As a mystery it is good, although not quite extraordinary. However, the cricket is expertly woven into the plot. A second murder takes place during the game, and the weapon, perhaps expectedly, is a cricket bat.
There are some parts of the episode which make it a rewarding watch for the cricket lover.
Firstly, there is the brilliant performance of Whately as Lewis, who, in the midst of his job as Detective Sergeant, unabashedly enjoys his time in the field — and seems more disappointed by a catch dropped at the wicket off his bowling than by the fact that the murderer is still at loose.
The other delight is the voice of Brian Johnston on Test Match Special. When the policemen finally manage to get Morse’s transistor to tune in to the Test match, the celebrated commentary of the legend comes filtering into the episode with all the associated joy and cheer.
(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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