Portugal, the world’s first superpower

Vasco de Gama, the great explorer

Vasco de Gama, the great explorer

My girlfriend is Portuguese. One of the terrifying parts of relationships is not knowing how you’ll get on with the extended family you are afforded. In my case, it’s great; I like them hugely, they’re warm, interesting and quite similar to me, except for being Portuguese of course. All is well.

Because of that, they give me things I like. C’s father bought me this book above by Martin Page, First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World. For a microsecond I thought this was a brainwashing experiment by him; is he trying to convert me to an Iberian? Because he should know that I’m not easily converted, and that I hold strong views on things you know. Can’t think what, but I do. Oh yes! But despite knowing him for two years and beginning to understand the travails of Portugal in the 21st century, I realised I knew embarrassingly little about the country’s history, so the book has been a total revelation.

And I really mean that. I had no idea their influence on navigation, exploration or shipping; on India; on the influence the Romans have on the entire country (bacalhau, salted cod, was eaten and prepared by Roman soldiers in an identical fashion today; there was no other way of preserving fish back then, or now, apparently…). They brought tempura, guns and “arigatou” (“thank you”) to Japanese culture as well as building Nagasaki. They commanded power from Brazil to Africa to India to Japan, all the while never having more than 1.5m people in the country. At the time (1500s), the United Kingdom boasted many more, and Italy roughly four times that number. Their history is unique, and it maddens me that the rest of the world doesn’t know more about them. Such is the Portuguese’s deference and humility…

It wasn’t all good though. Some Portuguese are quick to claim that they were the first to outlaw slavery, they were also the first to adopt it as part of business, law and society.

I am well aware Britain has had a pretty shocking past – overall, we must be front-runners for the Most Barbaric Country In History award, surely – but it was only after watching 12 Years A Slave (incidentally, the best film I’ve seen in three years) that I realised how little I know about Britain’s slavery past. C, on the other hand, was educated in Portugal and their education system is a bit more open; she’s well aware of all the horrors her ancestors committed, and the book goes into full graphic detail. Hard to imagine a time when a goat’s value on the common market would be compared not to one human being’s life, but three.

Anyway. A great book, but it made me wonder what other countries (all of them!) I know little about, and which books would provide a brief-but-brilliant overview of their history. Recommendations welcome…

Bodyline: 75th anniversary

This winter marks the 75th anniversary of Bodyline and my boss, Martin Williamson, has single handedly documented the entire thing. It is a task which ought to take about a month, or more, but somehow (and at a b**** of a time for him) he has squeezed it into seven days. It’s worthy of your immediate attention and really we ought to run a press release about it, but…there you go.

So, go and delve. There’s a history, a dummy’s guide; a timeline and diary and a whole load of photos.

There’s enough there to keep you occupied for hours. It goes without saying that no site or newspaper has covered the history of Bodyline this deeply or broadly, so it should be instantly bookmarked.

Congratulations Martin.

Notes from the pavilion for October 22nd

Links of note from the past 24 hours:

Norman ‘Mandy’ Mitchell-Innes, 1914-2006

Cricket has such a long history, with deep offshoots at every turn, that it is next to impossible to know it all. Inevitably some people know more than others, and this is especially true at Cricinfo as I’m sure it is with other media organisations. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

Ancient history is not mine, but even my ears pricked up this morning when I heard of the death of Norman Mandy Mitchell-Innes who died on December 28. His is a fascinating story, as those from that era often are. He played his sole Test against South Africa in 1935 while still at Oxford University and it was for his uni that he most excelled in the game. As I found out today:

In all, he played 132 first-class matches, scoring 6944 runs – with 13 centuries – at an average of 31.42. He also took 82 wickets at 34.79 apiece. A precocious talent, he once scored 302 not out in a house match for Sedburgh during a single afternoon, causing The Sedberghian to report: “Such cricketers rarely come this way.”

I knew little of him before 8.30am this morning but, in getting the report up for Cricinfo, I’m now far less ignorant and can now bore my mates beyond rigid. Still not sure why he earned the nickname Mandy though…

The first day of Test cricket in England

Patrick reminds me that today marks the 126th anniversary of the first Test in England, against Australia. What a thing. 126 years! Better still, you can have a look at the scorecard at Cricinfo, a modern-day summary and a brief report from the 1881 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack which, brilliantly, begins as follows:

The compiler much regrets that the limited space allotted to the Australians’ matches in this book precludes the possibility of giving a lengthened account of this famous contest.

What a bloody great game cricket is.

Scrapbook to Wisden to cartoons to Denmark to Toksvig

The very venerable Norm, of normblog fame, is an utter cricket nut – more, perhaps, than me. But not more than some of my colleages at Cricinfo (hello Gnasher!). Please now go and read his post, because it’s really very interesting. Norm has kept scrapbooks of his thoughts on the game stretching back some 50 years (double my age, which is a frightening thought – although it does confirm and reassure me that I’m actually still rather young). In one of them was this (Norm – please shout if you’re not happy with me copying this):

A pleasantly informal ceremony was performed in Bulawayo last night when Percy Mansell, who celebrated his 21st year of representative cricket for Rhodesia by scoring 50 runs against the Australians earlier this month, was presented with a gramophone record recalling the performance. A disc had been cut by the FBS in Salisbury from the broadcast commentary, and in the Bulawayo FBS studios, Mansell is seen receiving the record from studio manager Tom Pile. Looking on are (left) Rhodesia Cricket Union president Barrie Day, and broadcaster Claus Toksvig, one of the commentators on the disc.

Now then, Toksvig rang a bell with Mr Norm (as it did with me) and of course we were reminded of Sandi, a witty comedienne whose family originate from Denmark (boring aside: she’s a fairly regular panelist of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue and Just a Minute, two fabtastic radio shows). Lo and behold, Claus Toksvig is her Father!

(Non-cricketing aside, which is related to this post). She actually stated on TV that Denmark’s newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, never published cartoons depicting Mohammed (you’ll remember the storm which brewed earlier this month). Oddly, she backtracked on her comments the following day and wrote a very fine and balanced piece about the whole affair, at The Telegraph, which is well worth a read.

No further comment. The point of Norm’s post, and this one, albeit tenuously, is that cricket connects people in the most bizarre of ways.

What drew you to cricket and why?

What drew you to cricket and why? Was there a particular moment which highlighted the game to you, or which made you see the game in a new light? I was asked this by a friend today, so am replying via the blog…

I first “noticed” it in the 1993 Ashes, watching Paul Reiffel trundle in and bowl deceptively well. Then, the following winter, addiction set in while listening to the West Indies practically kill England in the Caribbean. Seeing brief highlights on the news in the evening; watching Mike Atherton do his utmost to rally his young side; Alec Stewart’s two hundreds; most of all, it was the West Indies and their passion, energy, natural grace and ferver which spoke, to me, more than any other sport. Almost overnight, maidens, point, silly midwicket, overs and everything else made sense.

I’d listened to my Dad curse me and my brother in the car for fighting. Not that he was particularly against us trying to kill eachother, more that it was drowning out TMS’ valiant attempt to relay the score to him, some several hundred miles away in France. And I thought, time and again: “What the hell are you listening to, or trying to listen to?”

Little did I realise that, a few years later, I too would be scaling mountains (ok, raised bits of land, but you try lugging a bloody backpack round Greece in 40c heat) to find reception. It’s these strange things cricket fans do – which include crowding around Dixons or a TV shop in high streets – which almost make me like the game more.

Your turn.

To whom do The Ashes belong?

The urn

I know that, for Australians, the debate over whether they should physically own and have the urn has caused much upset and confusion. So I thought this was an interesting conclusion to the matter (for those not in the know, the urn is the “trophy” awarded to the winner of The Ashes – a sporting contest with few fiercer rivalries between England and Australia. See here for more).

Despite the teams playing for the Ashes, the Ashes urn itself is never physically awarded to Australia, but is kept permanently in the MCC Cricket Museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground. It has been back to Australia only once, in 1988 for a museum tour as part of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations. In the 1990s, given Australia’s long dominance of the series the idea was mooted of the victorious team being awarded the trophy. Instead the MCC commissioned a Waterford crystal replica, which is now awarded to the winning team.

In 2002, Bligh’s great-great-grandson (the heir-apparent Earl of Darnley) argued that the Ashes should not be returned to Australia as they were essentially the property of his family and only given to the MCC for safe-keeping.

After England had lost “The Ashes” (its very name was yet to be called as such, which I’ll come to), Ivo Bligh sought to regain them in the much publicised tour in 1883/4:

After the third game of the 1883/4 tour, when the English team were guests of Sir William Clarke over Christmas, a group of Victorian ladies headed by Lady Clarke burned what has variously been called a ball, bail or veil, and presented them to Bligh in an urn together with a velvet bag, which was made by Mrs Ann Fletcher, the daughter of Joseph Hines Clarke and Marion Wright, both of Dublin. She said, “What better way than to actually present the English captain with the very ‘object’ – albeit mythical – he had come to Australia to retrieve?”

So, the urn was actually presented to Bligh and it is the property of his family (not any more, as he bequeathed it to MCC). So that’s an interesting summary of the whole debate about the urn not being allowed to leave these shores, despite Australia’s winning The Ashes for the past [x] years

More info here – which, even if you’ve just stumbled here looking for something completely unrelated to cricket, is well worth a read. It’s one of the very oldest sporting contests, and everyone should KNOW its history!

Photo of W.G. Grace’s bat



Photos of The Ashes

Photo taken by mailliw @ Flickr.com.


This is W.G. Grace’s bat, in the Lord’s museum. If you look carefully, you can see his writing on it. It was great to be so close to something so special

Broadhalfpenny Down – home of cricket?

Broadhalfpenny Down Cricket Pavillion

Thanks to Flickr, I found a great photo of a pavillion in Broadhalfpenny Down (shown on the right) which has thrown up some fascinating info on the history of the game, which I didn’t know about.

While cricket was almost certainly born of various medieval games, it is believed by many to have been nurtured into the art it is today by the good people of Hambledon village in Hampshire.

Hambledon Cricket Club was founded in 1750 and played its games on the Broadhalfpenny Down pitch that can still be seen in use today. The Hambledon team, emerging from the Bat and Ball Inn, were a match for any side in the country including the All-England team they destroyed by a whole innings in June 1777.

More on the village and the ground here