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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Bowled over

In the early days of our romance, my now-husband, a Brit with a deep fondness for the sports of his island home, tried valiantly to interest me in the game of cricket. He did not succeed. (I mean, really: Some of the matches last so long that the players actually break for tea!)

Perhaps he’d have had better luck if he’d had access to this story, published recently on the website of Wisden Almanack, the bible of cricket. That’s because the piece reveals a heretofore unsuspected connection between his hobby and mine--a genuine Jane Austen angle on the game of cricket.

Austen’s familiarity with cricket isn’t news to any reader of Northanger Abbey, whose first chapter describes heroine Catherine Morland as “prefer[ring] cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books--or at least books of information.”

But Wisden writer Emma John has uncovered an even stronger link between the game and Jane Austen, or at least between the game and the extended Austen family: It turns out that Edward and George Knight, the oldest sons of Austen’s brother Edward, were serious cricketers, with George playing an important role in the evolution of the modern game.

Apparently, in the pre-George days, cricket bowlers—the people whom those of us who are more familiar with base ball would call “pitchers”—were required to deliver the ball underhand. George, known in cricket circles as “the Gallant Knight,” helped pave the way for the adoption of roundarm bowling--a sort of sideways delivery--which eventually gave way to overarm bowling, which is what you’ll see today if you, unlike me, watch the sport.

John’s piece is quite delightful, save for one unaccountable reference to Catherine Morland as “the most autobiographical of Austen’s characters” (says who? Based on what?). But I fear it comes too late to spark my interest in cricket. (Sorry, honey!) If you’re a fan of the sport, however, think of Jane Austen’s gallant Knight nephew next time you watch a bowler wind up for an overarm delivery.


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