George Orwell’s morose shadow looms over war and life © Getty Images
George Orwell’s morose shadow looms over war and life © Getty Images

October 12, 1938. In a scathing letter George Orwell drew firm boundaries between cricket and war. Arunabha Sengupta writes about the fascinating document.

George Orwell had some rather strong opinions about cricket, which were not quite flattering for the noble game.

In fact, in his essay The Sporting Spirit, he did mention that “I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles … Even a leisurely game like cricket, demanding grace rather than strength, can cause much ill-will, as we saw in the controversy over body-line bowling and over the rough tactics of the Australian team that visited England in 1921.”

Well, he was not a fan and was a rather serious thinker. And therefore his thoughts about cricket and war can be very different from the generic drivel that abounds around us.

However, Orwell expressed his serious annoyance about War and hinted at its incompatibility with cricket just as the world was tottering at the brink of the greatest five year disaster. It was October 12, 1938, and the great novelist and essayist, settled in Chez Madame Vellat, Marrakesh, was writing a letter to British socialist and essayist Jack Common.

The talks between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain were on and there were various sentiments regarding the oncoming War. The letter deals with the opinions of Orwell about the various ways that the atrocities could be avoided and discussion of what had transpired in the recent times.

Towards the end of the letter, Orwell explodes while discussing the recent article of British journalist Kingsley Martin, which had just been published in the left-leaning political magazine the New Statesman.

Martin had suggested a series of conditions on which the Labour Party should support the Government in War. And Orwell explodes in the letter, “As though the Government would allow any conditions. The bloody fool seems to think war is a cricket match.”

Well, Orwell had his ideas, and pretty sound ones. War is definitely not a cricket match. And it is definitely not cricket.

However, it did not stop the British War Office from using cricket terminology.

When, towards the end of the War, Benito Mussolini was defeated and subsequently executed, and news about Hitler was awaited, a cable sped across the British intelligence agencies, “McCabe is out, but Bradman is still batting.”

One wonders whether Orwell approved of such missives.