Tuesday, November 20, 2007

esther williams

CRICKET is rich with unintentional comedy. One aspect of the game that may amuse the newcomer in particular is the fielding positions, the names of which range from the quaint (first slip), to the bewildering (deep third man), to the vaguely medical (deep backward square leg).

Some are pretty straightforward: the key, specialist fielding position is of course the wicketkeeper, who stands further back for the fast bowlers and close to the stumps for the spinners. His role is self-explanatory.

Next to him are the slips. These are important catching and sledging positions that involve a lot of gum chewing, joke cracking and the occasional clapping of hands to rouse any nearby fielders who may have nodded off in the sunshine.

The slips are there for when a batsman is caught off-guard by a good ball and unwittingly nicks it in their direction. Watching the replay of the catch in slow-mo (and goodness knows you will be given ample opportunities for that), you will sometimes see the batsman's eyes follow the ball in horror - that split second of "N " when he realises he's about to get out, caught by one of the bastards who's been teasing him all morning.

Though the slips can, of course, mess up. They stand further apart than they appear to on the screen, which means there is always a chance they will mistime a dive, or assume the man next to them is going for it, and the ball will hit the ground. Sometimes two of them will dive towards each other to attempt the catch - one to his left, the other to his right - in an Esther Williams-style tragicomedy that ends with one of them sitting on the ground with an anguished look on his face, while the other leaps up and chases the ball to the boundary.

Recent Australian teams have had superb slips fielders: Mark "Tubby" Taylor was an excellent first slipper and gum-chewer; Mark "Junior" Waugh was brilliant, probably the best in the world at the time, and Shane "Warney" Warne was another safe pair of hands (unless, of course, he had a mobile phone in them, but that's a whole other story).

Probably the most naturally amusing fielding positions, though, are the sillies - silly mid-off and on, silly point, etc. They are called silly because they are so close to the bat, which was even sillier in the days before cricketers, including close-in fielders, wore helmets. You can just imagine a long-bearded cricketing chap of yesteryear telling a man to stand closer to bat and stop the ball with whatever he could: "Bloody silly, of course, but there you are. Good man."

One position with a particularly baffling name is third man - he's the guy patrolling the boundary behind the slips, usually at around 45 degrees to the bat, there to save runs. But why the third man? After my own fruitless searching, I asked Melbourne Cricket Club librarian David Studham, a man armed with several cricket dictionaries and a willingness to help. Studham eventually found a reference to third man - once called "third man up" - in Michael Rundell's The Dictionary of Cricket.

This fielder was called third man because he was positioned to supplement point and short slip - i.e. he was the third man fielding in that part of the ground. Originally (in the days before 1864, when cricketers bowled underarm) he was much closer to the bat, but when a second slip began to be used more frequently he was pushed back, making his way, over time, to today's outfielding position. So there you go. Not particularly funny, of course, but interesting just the same.

The Rundell book also explains that the fielder known as cover originally was there to "cover" the fielders at point. This fact Rundell in turn took from Boxall's book from 1800, punchily called The Rules and Instructions for Playing at the Game of Cricket as Practised by the most Eminent Players to which is Subjoined the Laws and Regulations.

If that's just the title of a book, little wonder the game ended up taking five days.

Fielding, like the rest of the game, has evolved over time and some positions are now rarely used, such as long stop (directly behind the batsman, on the boundary), fly slip (a position midway between the slips cordon and third man) and the hilariously named cow corner (on side, at the boundary, at about 45 degrees).

So perhaps now is a good time for fielding positions to be further updated for the modern game. Some of the new fieldsmen I'd like to see include: sign on and sign off (for the men who field on the boundary and autograph things for the kiddies between balls); square peg (for the team eccentric); backward slip (nothing more embarrassing); short story (for when play is slow); and a deep, fine man (enough said).

Vice Chancellor Dr Esther Williams will represent the University of the South Pacific at the University of Polynesian 20th anniversary in Papeete, Tahiti, this month.

She will be accompanied by the Director of the USP Oceania Centre Dr Epeli Hau'ofa, USP-based artist Mason Lee and journalism student Nanise Nawalowalo.

She said the French Embassy in Suva was sponsoring the trip.

Ms Nawalowalo said she was honoured to be chosen to accompany the vice chancellor and her group.

"The week-long celebration in Papeete will involve cultural shows, lectures and tour of the university complex, meeting with academics and public figures," Ms Nawalowalo said.

She said invitations on the celebrations had been extended across the Pacific region.

Dr Williams is expected to speak on how best to fully use facilities and resources available at USP and UP.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to visit Tahiti during the celebrations


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