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Cricket, comedy and current affairs

Univ in the Arts - Cricket - Shomit Dutta, Andy Zaltzman, Chris Birkett

Left to right – Shomit Dutta, Andy Zaltzman and Chris Birkett

On 28 November, Univ in the Arts presented “Cricket, Comedy and Current Affairs” at Marylebone Cricket Club in London. The evening brought together ubiquitous comedian, writer and cricket statistician Andy Zaltzman (1993, Classics) and writer, translator and the captain of Harold Pinter’s cricket team, Shomit Dutta (1989, Classics). Chris Birkett (1979, PPE), a member of the Univ in the Arts Committee, asked the questions.

Danielle Green (1992, PPE) kindly provided the following report:

This was most definitely an evening of cricket – hosted at Lord’s Cricket Ground, with Andy Zaltzman, News Quiz comedian and Test Match Special statistician, and Shomit Dutta, author of Stumped, a play about cricket (and Beckett and Pinter). Yet, despite my own lack of knowledge of cricket, it still turned out to be a very entertaining and enlightening evening.

Univ in the Arts - CricketSo what does cricket really have to do with the arts, with Univ and with Classics (studied by both Shomit and Andy)? Quite a lot. Many comedians and dramatists are devoted fans of cricket; indeed Shomit captained Pinter’s Gaieties Cricket Club. This may be due to the “unique narrative structure” of cricket, influenced by factors ranging from player psychology to the weather and conditions of the pitch. It creates a game of infinite possibilities, where the storyline can shift dramatically with each ball bowled. Cricket obsession appears in much popular culture: Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes plot, two English characters are desperately trying to find out the Test score (spoiler alert: it was rained off).

Shomit and Andy reflected on their lifelong passion for the game and that they have successfully managed to include cricket in their professional as well as personal lives. (Shomit: everything I‘ve done, as my wife often says, is connected either to cricket, Classics, or theatre. Andy: I do tend to see things through the prism of cricket).

Univ in the Arts - Cricket - Shomit Dutta, Andy Zaltzman, Chris Birkett 2Cricket even extended to both of their Univ studies, even if it was that a Classics degree gave three free summers in which to play cricket. Classics has obviously shaped both their writing, including the literary parody, political satire, slapstick and fart jokes of classical comedy. “Aristophanes: A Muse” – we need the t-shirt.

At Univ, cricket was also a social and cultural experience that brought together a wide cross section of students and SCR, creating a community and lifelong friendships. It’s been an ongoing relationship: Shomit has continued to occasionally play on Univ grounds.

By the final wicket of the evening, I hadn’t learnt much more about cricket the game, but I had about the passions, creativity and connections that it inspires. It’s not just cricket it seems.

Published: 14 December 2023

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