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The smack of willow on leather

Published: April 21, 2011 at 9:10 am
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This week's Friday funny, brought to you as ever by author and journalist Eugene Byrne, focuses on the 'gentleman's game' of cricket, including its most memorable commentators and the history of the many "ball" gaffes associated with the sport


The joke

Sometime many years ago, during one of those long English summers that went on for ever, Brian Johnston and John Arlott were on the BBC Radio commentating on a cricket match.


On the fifth ball of the over, the bowler bowled, the batsman missed and caught the ball full in the groin, collapsing to the ground in agony.

The commentators covered the hiatus in the game with cricket chit-chat until the batsman had gamely got up, determined to play on.

With the game about to resume, Johnston said, "One ball left."

The story

For many an Englishman (and more Englishwomen than you might think) of a certain age, the sound of cricket commentary on the BBC will always be the true sound of the English summer. The soft Hampshire burr of Arlott (1914-91) and the playful, plummy tones of Johnston (1912-1994), talking about cricket, or complimenting whichever lady had sent in the cake they were eating that day endeared them even to those with no interest in cricket.

Inevitably, with huge amounts of airtime to fill with talk, there was the occasional gaffe. Johnston's own memoir, It's Been a Lot of Fun (1974) deals with some of them including this: "Ward bowls to Glenn Turner, short, ooh! And it catches him high up on the, er, thigh. That really must have hurt as he's doubled over in pain." He then spoke for a couple of minutes before the game resumed. "Well, he's bravely going to carry on ... but he doesn't look too good ... One ball left."

Of course there are several other "ball" gaffes in the long and distinguished history of Test Match Special. Another Johnners classic was "Welcome to Worcester where you've just missed seeing Barry Richards hitting one of Basil D'Oliveira's balls clean out of the ground."


Sadly, it's thought that he never uttered the phrase concerning West Indian Michael Holding and English player Peter Willey: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey."


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