Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Empire Strikes Back

A reader has remonstrated with Fantasy Bob.  'All this cricket stuff is all right for a while, but we need to return to more important issues.  Come on FB, we need more incisive discussion about biscuits.'

Fantasy Bob accepts that his reader has a point.  Biscuits have been absent from his postings for too long.  He therefore wishes to introduce to readers this Scottish beauty,  the undisputed greatest biscuit in the world.  The Gary Sobers of the pasteleria, aka the Empire Biscuit. 

Readers outside Scotland may not be familiar with its delights - poor souls.  It was originally known as the Linzer biscuit (as in Linzer Torte), and later the German biscuit, but with the outbreak of the First World War it was patriotically renamed the Empire biscuit, just in case eating it would succour the enemy.  Nevertheless in treasonous parts of the east coast of Scotland it is still known as the German biscuit.  It has a layer of jam  between two soft shortbread biscuits, covered with white water icing and topped with a decorative glace cherry or (as in the photo) jelly-tot.  There is nothing better with a cup of tea in the whole world.  And quite the best Empire biscuit is to be had from Storrie's Home Bakery in Leith Walk, Edinburgh.

Thoughts of Empire, as well as biscuits, stirred in FB's brain today at the start of the Cricket World Cup. Like other major sports invented in these islands, cricket's spread around the world was facilitated by the British imperial expansion of the 19th Century.  However unlike other sports, it never took hold outside the Empire.  The Netherlands is the only country to have competed in any Cricket World Cup which was never part of the British Empire.   Compare even rugby, where France and Italy are powers and did not bend the knee to Queen Victoria.

Is there an historical explanation?  Why did France accept rugby, and get so good at it, but spurn cricket?You might have thought that the country of existentialist philosophy would have found much to appeal in the batter's lonely struggle for authenticity in the face of short pitched bowling.  You might equally have thought that Monet and Degas would have seen cricket's aesthetic of white against green as what impressionist painting was made for.  But no.  FB does not know what got into the French on this one.  Or the Germans for that matter.

Philadelphia - touring England in 1884
Things are not much better across the Atlantic.  Historians have suppressed how the Boston Tea Party-goers threw a consignment of Duke cricket balls over the side with the tea chanting 'No taxation without neutral umpires.'  Remarkably, despite the American revolutionary fervour and hostility to things British, cricket had some popularity in the USA in the 19th Century. Indeed, the very first international sporting fixture was a cricket match between the USA and Canada.  It took place in New York in 1844, 25 years before the Ashes. In 1888, the USA toured the West Indies and even defeated the all-West Indies side by 9 wickets in Guyana, possibly the high-water mark of US cricket.   At that time the Philadelphia team may well have been the strongest side in the world and the American bowler John Barton King was hugely influential in the development of the techniques of swing bowling.  But cricket remained an exclusive gentleman's game in the US - there was no whistling down mine shafts for demon fast bowlers.  As baseball grew in significance and professionalised, cricket's exclusive image became entrenched, no doubt aided by the congenital inability of the American to understand the rules.  But the powers that be in cricket rather shot themselves in the foot by constituting the international governing body as the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909.  No self-respecting American could have anything to do with that.  Besides, baseball bats were easy to make being just a stick where a hand crafted bat was a thing of beauty. 

America became an associate member of the ICC in 1965 with which it has continued to have an interesting relationship having been suspended a couple of times.  They played in Division 3 of the World Cricket League which took place in January but were unfortunately relegated to Division 4.

The Netherlands developed cricket as a result of their close trade links across the North Sea.  Even though they have appeared in the last 3 World Cups, cricket is only the 25th most popular sport there with 6,000 or so players.  FB is struggling to list the other 24 sports.

Cricket in Corfu
There were cricket clubs around the world where there were British traders or where British sailors spent some time, indeed FB has seen the cricket pitch in Corfu.  But outside the colonies it never developed roots as a mass participation sport.  More's the pity.

But the Empire is striking back.  For it is the emigrant Asian population across the world that is developing cricket in many countries where is was previously unknown.  More power to their elbow.

The Empire biscuit's only competition
But a reader is saying to him or herself 'For Goodness sake FB you promised us biscuits and you're off rabbiting about history again'.  FB begs forgiveness.  For those readers who had hoped that FB was returning to the important subject of biscuits, here is the Scottish delight which rivals the Empire Biscuit - the Pineapple Cake - a sweet Pastry Cup filled with chunky Pineapple Jam, a light synthetic cream and topped with Pineapple Fondant.

Food of the gods - Test Match Quality.

No comments:

Post a Comment