One murder with a cricket bat, another in the scoring shed. Dead Man   s Eleven is a classic detective mystery with a delicious backdrop of cricket. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
One murder with a cricket bat, another in the scoring shed. Dead Man s Eleven is a classic detective mystery with a delicious backdrop of cricket. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Midsomer Murders is one of the most successful detective series on television ever. The current season of this British production is the 19th and the episode count stands at 114 at the time of writing. Arunabha Sengupta takes a look at the third episode of the second season where Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby and his sidekick Sergeant Gavin Troy solve a series of cricket-linked murders.

As an addict of detective fiction and television series I can be a trifle biased. Yet, I don t think I am overstating facts when I claim that Midsomer Murders is one of the most successful detective series ever aired on television.

It is now in its 19th season and at the time of writing the number of episodes total 114.

Along the way, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (played by John Nettles) has made way for John Barnaby, of the same designation, now featuring Neil Dudgeon in the lead role.

His partner has changed from Detective Sergeant, and later Inspector, Gavin Troy (played by the boyish and endearing Daniel Casey) to Dan Scott (John Hopkins), to Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) to Charlie Nelson (Gwilym Lee).

The novels of Caroline Graham were exhausted pretty early. Cully (Laura Howard), the charming daughter of DCI Barnaby, got older and finally married.

But, the show, as they say, goes on, heralded by the almost iconic, haunting theme music the moderate-tempo waltz, performed primarily on the theremin.

The setting is quaintly British, with the archetypal villages named Badger s Drift, Bishopwood, Fletcher s Cross, Little Upton and so on in the fictional county of Midsomer. The filming takes place in the picturesque green villages around Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

There are village greens, old churches, the local pubs with names like Queen s Arms and The Fox and the Goose. There is greenery, horses, stationary shops doubling up as Post Offices, village fairs, gardeners, greengrocers, the local gossip and others.

The DCI still uses his head more than forensic technicalities and shiny electronic gadgets. The plots are complicated, intelligent, plausible and marvellously woven together.

In short it has all the ingredients of classic golden age detective fiction as portrayed on television, even though the series is set between the last days of the twentieth century to the current time.

Additionally, it circles around many typical countryside routines and recreations. There are church funds, local craft centres, shooting, hunting and fox hounds, landed gentry

And inevitably, we soon come across cricket.

Death Before Wicket

We don t have to wait too long. It is season 2, episode 3 that the prelude in a quarry fades into the soothing sight of a match in progress on the village green, with two villages of the county battling each other in pristine whites, with the full array of deckchairs, sandwiches, a soaring six breaking a window, and the picturesque pavilion.

The sound of the willow striking the leather is heard in the background when the Barnaby family visit the home of the Coopers. In fact, Christine Cooper (played by Imelda Staunton of Dolores Umbridge fame) welcomes the DCI and his wife and daughter with the words, It s a lovely sound, the bat against the ball. It s very English. Summer afternoons spent in peace and harmony. I think that if Jesus had played a sport, it would have been cricket.

Enough to hook any cricket aficionado.

In fact, the Harry Potter connection, yet another endearingly British feature of the episode, is not limited to Staunton. The boorish local moneyed landlord, owner of the quarry and the captain of the Fletcher s Cross cricket team is Robert Cavendish; and is played by Robert Hardy. Among Hardy s many accomplishments during a long and successful career on screen is his portrayal of Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter movies.

And Cavendish is not only an insufferable, arrogant sod with buckets of money. He is also mean enough to drop his star batsman, the same one who broke the window, when the latter refuses to respond to his call, sends him back and the rich bloke is run out in the process.

But, cricket is not only the peaceful game of the summer afternoons. Lady Tara Cavendish (played by Felicity Dean) is the much younger wife of Hardy. She is killed with a cricket bat, a True Play with a black handle and a red top that belongs to Stephen Cavendish (played by Anthony Calf), Hardy s son and Dean s stepson.

As the investigations commence, Sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey) discloses that he has taken to cricket as his strategy in the battle against the bulge, and has thereby got selected in the Midsomer Worthy side. The match between Fletcher s Cross and Midsomer Worthy is to take place soon. Barnaby encourages Troy to take part in the match in order to be in a privileged position to carry on the investigation.

One may recall that that Inspector Morse used a similar tactic of engaging the cricketing services of Sergeant Lewis in Deceived by Flight (1989).

There are the usual complications in the plot which makes the series such a riveting watch. But, it is when the cricket match takes place that the lover of the game can sit back and just enjoy the show to the fullest.

There are some issues with the action. Troy s bowling run-up is not the smoothest, but it is village cricket after all. The first stroke of the match is played in front of cover and the throw somehow comes to the keeper from fine third man. But, apart from these minor problems, the picturisation of cricket and the thread of the game woven into the plot is a treat.

Unlike Morse, Barnaby does not go to sleep during the game as he sits in his deckchair. He applauds his sergeant for his feats on the field. When Troy prepares to play, Barnaby tells him, Don t end up the way I am about this case Stumped.

Troy is superb in portraying the infectious enthusiasm with which he approaches the game. When a batsman, who is also a suspect, is trapped leg-before to his bowling, Troy pokes his tongue at the departing fellow. It is a delight.

But, then a second murder takes place. (Or is it the third?) This time it happens in the scoring shed. A bit of the scoring provides a clue as well.

The script by Anthony Horowitz is as crisp as a finely timed cover drive. The performances are strong and dazzling as ever.

Finally, the key clue is made evident to the audience in a crafty manner, way before Barnaby manages to make sense of it. That is always special in a mystery.

A highly recommended watch for both cricket and mystery lovers, and a delicious delight for the few who combine these two interests.