Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Trial by Jury

Fallen heroes
So, without too much surprise, the jury has found Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif guilty of conspiracy to cheat and to obtain and accept corrupt payments.  Mohammed Amir had previously plead guilty.  Prison sentences seem likely, joining the summer's rioters in England's bulging jails.  A sad end to a dirty business.  Would it could be the last instance of money sullying the integrity of cricket and cricketers. 

It is a bad business when sport and trial by jury meet each other.  The integrity of sport is central to many of our cultural values.  And trial by jury is a central concept to the judicial systems throughout the British Isles and in many other countries too. 

Gilbert (left) and Sullivan
It may therefore be appropriate that Trial by Jury was the first big hit on the London stage by Gilbert and Sullivan when it was produced in 1875.  FB shares the view that WS Gilbert may have been the greatest lyricist and satirist ever to have taken up cudgels.  He is certainly the greatest comic lyricist.  Whatever view you take of the datedness of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and their conventions, when Gilbert decides to take the mickey, it stays taken.Tilting at the fundamental institution was a good starting point for him.

Trial by Jury contains the first of what was to become a trademark of the 14 shows that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote.  In the patter song Gilbert was able to expose the pretensions or incompetence or imbecility of identifiable establishment figures.  These have never been bettered and are works of art in themselves.

Poster from 1879
In Trial by Jury the patter song, 'When I, good friends, was called to the Bar' celebrates the Judge's rise to his eminent position through the tactic of not being a legal star but by a cynical marriage of convenience.  In other operettas Modern Major Generals,  Dukes of Plazatoro, Lord Chancellors' Nightmares and many others are given the treatment.  Of these, FB's all time favourite is from HMS Pinafore where Sir Joseph Porter KCB tells of how he rose from humble legal clerk to the pre-eminent high office of First Lord of the Admiralty through the simple tactic of doing whatever he was told and doing it very well.  Any familiarity with ships or sailing was strictly unnecessary.  The final verse of song gives the sound advice:

Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee
Test match quality.

We do not know what WS Gilbert would have made of the modern world and cricket's place within it.  Sadly cricket was never referenced in his works, other than in a passing reference in a satirical poem called An English Girl (the joke which is of its time is that the girl he describes is given to many male pursuits).  A pity for WG Grace was in his prime and Gilbert must have been tempted to have a pop at such a celebrity.  But he appears to have desisted.

But we can guess that Butt, Amir and Asif are wishing tonight that they'd stuck close to their desks and never gone to sea.

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