Woody Allen has made many films. But, only one of them has found a mention of cricket © Getty Images
Woody Allen has made many films. But,  cricket has found a mention in only one of his movies — ‘What’s New Pussycat’  © Getty Images

Woody Allen, born December 1, 1935, is one of the most prolific and brilliant writer-actor-directors of modern era. However, of all his films, only ‘What’s New Pussycat’ mentions the game with some amount of significance when Peter O’Toole visits his psychiatrist Peter Sellers, and is asked by the latter: “Cricket, is there any sex in it?” On his birthday, Arunabha Sengupta tries to simulate parts of two screenplays that might have resulted had the master made films about the game.

Take One Movie: Manhattan Chart

Opening scene: As the voice over plays in the background there are appropriate long shots to match the monologue — of cricket grounds, the action in the middle, the crowds, the reporters, commentators, players in their whites, colours, street and party clothes, the team bus, the airports and the flights, the food stalls and hotel bars, the red light flashed by the third umpire, lovely ladies in the VIP sections, after match late night parties, bookies, policemen, cheer leaders.

Woody Allen’s voice is heard:

“Chapter one.

“He adored cricket. He idolised it all out of proportion.

“Uh, no. Make that :He romanticised it all out of proportion.

“To him, no matter what the season was, this was still the game… that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great pull shots of Don Bradman.

“Uh… no. Let me start this over.

“Chapter one. He was too romantic about cricket, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle, bustle of the crowds and the drive down the ground. To him, cricket meant elegant batsmen and hostile bowlers, beautiful women in the VIP stands and street-smart bookies who seemed to know all the tricks of the trade.

“Ah, corny. Too corny for a man of my taste. Let me… try and make it more profound.

“Chapter one. He adored the game of cricket.To him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of integrity to cause so many people to take the easy way out…. was rapidly turning the game of his dreams into a pit of bash ball and match fixing…

“No, it’s gonna be too preachy. I mean, face it. I wanna sell some tickets here.

“Chapter one. He adored the game of cricket, although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to watch the game in a stadium full of fans desensitised by money, cheerleaders, television, match-fixing, reverse sweeps, and slogs to the cow-corner…

“Too angry. I don’t wanna be angry.

“Chapter one. He was as tough and romantic as the game he loved. Behind the steel grills of his blue-peaked helmet was the coiled sexual power of a Keith Miller of the 1950s.”

I love this.

“Cricket was his game and it always would be.”

(Based on Manhattan)

Take Two Movie: Runs and Ruins

Woody Allen sits in the pavilion in his pads, oiling his bat, with a three colour MCC cap on his head and a 19th century cricket belt around his waist. Diane Keaton comes in with a couple of stumps — souvenirs of the just finished game.

Diane Keaton (DK): Woody, look at this stump. Isn’t it perfect? And this one? Look. Oh, yeah. I definitely think that this is the best of all possible worlds.

WA (Woody Allen): (looking at the wiring of the microphone still hanging from the stump) It’s certainly the most expensive.

DK: Isn’t cricket incredible?

WA: To me, cricket is… I dunno, Australia beating Bangladesh and, big teams routing minnows. And other teams fighting it out with one another. It’s like a gigantic wrestling ring.

DK: Yes, but if there is a spirit of the game, it has to be beautiful, even if is not always very clear at some moments.

WA: Diane, what if there is nothing called spirit of cricket?

DK: Woody, are you joking?

WA:What if we’re just a bunch of absurd people who are running around the outfield with no rhyme or reason but to earn money for our boards?

DK: But if there is no spirit of the game, then cricket has no meaning. Why go on playing? Why not just retire?

WA:Well, let’s not get hysterical. I could be wrong.  I’d hate to give the media a scoop and then see they found something called the spirit.

DK: Woody. Let me show you how absurd your position is. Let’s say there is no spirit, and each cricketer is free to do exactly as he chooses. What prevents you from bowling a beamer at somebody?

WA: A beamer is unsporting.

DK: Sportsmanship is subjective.

WA:Yes, but subjectivity is objective. Take Michael Clarke and Jimmy Anderson. Even Ian Chappell…

DK: No, not objective. Not in a rational scheme of perception.

WA: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence. Like believing in absurdities like Tendulkar hundreds mean defeats for India.

DK: But judgment of any system or a priori relationship or phenomenon exists in any rational, metaphysical, epistemological or cricketing contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be or remaining not out at the crease, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.

WA: Er… um…Yeah, I’ve said that many times.

DK: Woody, we must believe in the spirit.

WA: If only I could just see a miracle, just one miracle.If I could see WG Grace walking, or Lillee and Marsh celebrating a win by drinking soy-milk or Virat Kohli reaching a hundred and just raising his bat, or Bradman throwing away his wicket by getting bored against a poor opposition, or Indian fans understanding that match-winning in cricket is not a one-man job… or BCCI saying Yes to DRS …

DK: We should go back downstairs. It is time for the presentation. By now the dapples of sunshine that had soaked the thousands on the stands have grown weaker. It is as if the summer star had thus far been fed by the brightness of strokes witnessed during the game, and can no longer stay high as the stars of the day no longer supportits glory on the field.The shadows grow longer with passing moments, pointing at that homeward tread that lies ahead, a mix of rejoicing, revelry and reminiscences.

WA: Hey, you’ve been reading Cardus.

(Based on Love and Death)

(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)