I’ve been reading Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland over the past few days. It’s an extraordinary work set largely in New York, and the growing community of cricketers in this city plays a major part in it. O’Neill’s beautifully observed writing on that sport–evocative set pieces about the ritual of play–will resonate with any baseball fan. I was struck by a passage early in the book, when one of the characters, offended by a violent interruption in play, delivers a prolonged soliloquy on the nature and importance of civility. “We have an expression in the English language,” he begins, “The expression is ”not cricket.’ When we disapprove of something we say ”it’s not cricket.” But of course “disapproval” is the very least of it.
The terrible events in Mumbai brought this passage to mind. A few years ago my wife and I visited that city. We stayed at the Taj, saw a Bollywood picture at the Metro, bustled through the Gothic Revival pile that is Victoria Station. Out on the central maidan (park), and in virtually every street, lane, and road, boys played cricket during the day. I imagine New York was like this when my grandfather was a child in the 1920s—stickball games on every corner. The horrors of indiscriminate violence are nothing new in Mumbai, a gritty, poverty stricken place. But there is also something majestic about the city, something grand and beautiful, and even peaceful. Looking at pictures of the glorious Taj in ruin, I can’t help but think, “Not cricket.”