Monday, 17 October 2011

Death and the Maiden

F Schubert -
 loved fast bowling
Franz Schubert is rarely given the credit he deserves for his prescient knowledge of cricket.  The great composer, who died tragically early at the age of 31, left a legacy of over 600 songs, 9 symphonies and a volume of the highest quality chamber music.  Among the last is a string quartet composed in 1824 which demonstrates Schubert's great love of the game.

The Death and the Maiden quartet is conventionally held to reveal aspects of Schubert's realisation of his own mortality, for he had entered the tertiary stage of syphilis that year and his remaining time was short.  The work is conventionally held to convey both the struggle with death and the prospect of peace and ecstasy on leaving this painful world behind.  The second movement is a set of variations on the tune from a song Death and the Maiden which Schubert composed in 1817 setting a text by Claudius Mathiass.

This view of the work is as fine as far as it goes, but Fantasy Bob thinks it fails to account for Schubert's admiration for fast bowling and the great W Indian Michael Holding in particular.  It not clear how he knew, but in this passionate work, Schubert was certainly presaging events that would take place 160 years hence in March 1981 in Bridgetown Barbados during the 3rd Test betweenW Indies and England. 

Boycott having seen the Devil himself
The second over of England's innings was bowled by Michael Holding - Whispering Death - to Geoff Boycott and is commonly held by musicologists and cricketers alike to be the finest over ever bowled.  The first ball was a loosener but hostile enough for Boycott to glove just short of the slips. Then Holding went through the gears getting quicker with each delivery - he beat him outside off, slammed into his right thigh, forced hurried defensive strokes before taking the off stump out of the ground and depositing it 20 yards back.  In an account of that tour Frank Keating wrote 'Boycott looked round, then as the din assailed his ears, his mouth gaped and he tottered as if he'd seen the Devil himself. Then slowly he walked away, erect and brave and beaten.'  Whispering Death and the Wicket Maiden - the correct title of Schubert's great work.

But real death stalked abroad for English tour manager Ken Barrington was to suffer a heart attack and die that night.   England played on gamely, but fell to defeat.

Nadkarni could bat as well
By some strange quirk, Ken Barrington also features as one of batsmen who faced the longest spell of successive maiden overs.  This was bowled by left armer Bapu Nadkarni at Madras in 1963-64.  Over a career famed for his accuracy, Nadkarni's run per over rate was below 2.0.  His figures for the third day of this match were 29-26-0-3. He was extravagantly expensive the next day to finish the innings with figures of 32-27-5-0.  He bowled 21 consecutive maiden overs and 131 dot balls in a row.   The record for 6 ball overs.  However South African Hugh Tayfield bowled 137 dot balls, 16 8-ball maidens, against England at Durban in 1956-57.  Researchers have not established whether any of Schubert's great works celebrate these great achievements.

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