Happy birthday, Hitchhiker

Updated: 21 March 2013 14:26 IST

A little later, however, is the bit that resonated the most personally. With Dent finding himself at Lord's and in possession of a cricket ball, he feels the irresistible urge to bowl one ball in the centre. The decision taken, Dent stands at the top of his run-up and, as Adams writes, "He was going to do this properly." The ball is polished against his hip, spat on, tossed lightly from one hand to the next, and the ground pawed before he runs in.

Happy birthday, Hitchhiker
©

In some ways, it was ironically appropriate that the latest headline-grabbing cricket incident should have occurred on what would have been Douglas Noel Adams's 61st birthday. As anyone who has read Adams's delightfully absurd and insightful humour will concur, four cricketers axed from a Test match for failing, in effect, to hand in a homework assignment that could have been sent via sms seemed a readymade sub-plot for one of his novels.

The axing of Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson and Usman Khawaja initially drew plenty of titters, but as over-reaction piled on over-reaction (take Watson's 'considering his future in Test cricket' comment), the jokes and one-liners noticeably died down, only to be replaced by rhetoric, some angry, some bitter, some well-reasoned.

Had Adams written the script, the chronicle would be punctuated with wit, the ending would have you in splits and the writing would have struck a chord with cricket fans. That was the beauty of Adams's prose.

In the middle of a narrative that only a man with an imagination in hyper-drive could conceive, he would still slip in the connects that made readers nod along, as if to a personal reminiscence - all the while, maintaining the side-splittingly funny prose.

Take his most famous creation, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, popularly called just The Guide. Those who have read it need no introduction to Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect. For those who haven't, they are two of the principal characters and, at one point in the story, they find themselves transported to Lord's on the final day of the last Ashes Test in the 1980s, with England needing only 28 runs to win.

The two men's sudden 'materialisation' on the ground causes no small amount of hysteria and confusion but the radio commentators, who address each other as Brian and Peter and are likely references to the Test Match Special's Brian Johnston and Peter Cranmer, remain unruffled and just get on with the job, one that now also includes describing non-cricketing events on the field. Sample this: "Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian. I don't think there have been any mysterious materialisations on the pitch since, oh, since, well, I don't think there have been any, have there?"

A little later, however, is the bit that resonated the most personally. With Dent finding himself at Lord's and in possession of a cricket ball, he feels the irresistible urge to bowl one ball in the centre. The decision taken, Dent stands at the top of his run-up and, as Adams writes, "He was going to do this properly." The ball is polished against his hip, spat on, tossed lightly from one hand to the next, and the ground pawed before he runs in.

For most cricket fans, bowling a ball or raising a bat at a storied cricket ground has to be among the earliest fantasies. The amusing detour in the plot of The Guide, that leads to Dent doing exactly that, will bring a smile just for that act. And if I could stretch the truth a little, I could say I almost came close to doing it myself.

In 2010, I was part of a group of tourists being shown around Lord's, and the entire experience had a bit of the surreal about it. It was on the eve of the World Twenty20 final taking place in the West Indies, which England would go on to win. With no international cricket at the ground, the visiting dressing rooms, the long room, and the stands were all open to us. The only thing that prevented me and, I suspect, many others from vaulting over the fence in the stands to mark a run-up and bowl a phantom ball followed by raising a phantom bat was the prominently-displayed signs that warned of an arrest by the police for "unauthorised" personnel entering the playing field.

Douglas Adams and The Guide came irresistibly to mind then too, as I experienced my first in-the-flesh sighting of the 'spaceship' press box, the wry thought that Adams had spoken of a spaceship at Lord's decades earlier.

In The Guide, Adams also writes of the mind-bending creation known as 'The Total Perspective Vortex', a device that shows a human being just how infinitesimally small he is in comparison with the known universe. The device, as with everything in the book, has an absurdly fantastically humorous origin, created by someone who was nagged by his wife for not having a sense of proportion "just to show her". When the unfortunate lady loses her mind after she is plugged into the device, the creator's grief is tempered by the fact that "in an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion".

That brief nugget about proportion may just be what cricket needs from time to time.

Adams died far too young, aged 49, in 2001. He left at once an irreplaceable void and a classic collection of words that could, in their own way, fill that void. That many of the words provided fresh perspectives on life is to the reader's eternal gain, and that some of them centred on cricket adds just that bit more for cricket fans.

It helps us remember that, after all, it's a game and, sometimes, it's liberating to get swept off by the flow of the moment or fantasise idly about playing at Lord's. And above all, to keep in mind what The Guide says on its cover: Don't Panic.

Topics : Cricket India Australia Shane Watson Michael Clarke James Pattinson David Warner Usman Khawaja Mitchell Johnson Mickey Arthur Australia in India 2013
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