A delicious thunk. An exhilarating clunk. Scritch-scratch … gudd-unk. It’s hard to put into words the noise made by James Anderson’s scudding detonation of Dean Elgar’s off-stump on the morning of the third day at Old Trafford. Believe me I’ve tried. Thud clop whomp whump tunk bonk clonk … qunckk. This was very nearly a 900-word onomatopoeic paean to that singular sound. There’s something about the harmonics of a ball cannoning into a stump that gets me in the pit of my stomach and sets my senses alight. I’m not sure what it is and probably shouldn’t delve too deeply but the particular combination of a five and a half-ounce leather ball thwonking, yes thwonking, into 28 inches of tubular English ash does something to me.
I’m clearly not alone. No sooner had Elgar’s ejected stump been retrieved and reunited with bail and ground the dismissal had been “clipped up” and posted online to much cooing. Individual fans and official accounts giddily shared the five-second clip and urged others to watch, more importantly listen.
“Turn the sound up on this!” one such poster of the wicket implored. “A classic of the genre” purred another. Still it went on – “Love that stump noise!” and “Get your cochleas around this!” Only one of these is embellished. One well-meaning commenter chimed in with a deliciously direct statement – “The Sound of Elgar’s Stump Flying Can Become Your Text Notification Noise” which while sounding like the title of a new Arctic Monkeys song was also food for thought. Another person was moved enough after viewing/listening to simply write: “Ear Porn.” No chance I’m Googling that one.
Passages of play such as the Anderson v Elgar wicket have a certain musicality to them, they tap into something within us and stir the soul. The duff-duff pounding of feet and screetch of the bowler’s delivery stride is picked up by the stump mic at the non-striker’s end, providing a few notes of crescendo before the payoff. It’s the cricketing equivalent of the opening to Beethoven’s symphony No 5 or, if you’d rather, the theme tune to Jaws. Have a listen. It’s tempting to call it Anderson’s ball on a G-string but maybe that’s a step too far. Let’s settle for Elgar’s lament.
Cricket is a treat for the senses. Sight and touch dominate but as anyone who has got properly stuck into a homemade cricket tea, twisted the cap off a bottle of linseed oil or unzipped a kitbag after a long winter will tell you, the game also has its own tastes and smells. Aurally, cricket creates its own soundscape.
There’s the classic bat hitting ball – the sound of leather on willow is the stuff of cricketing folklore. Whether it be the gently soothing plock-thwock of a friendly village match all the way up to the bull-whip crrrrrack of a professional’s buttery soft five-star pressed blade scything the ball into the packed crowd of a stadium. Maybe it’s a favourite player that does it for you. The brutal snap of a Robin Smith cut shot or dismissive crunch of a Rohit Sharma swivel-pull?
On the field sound is integral to the outcome of a game. Did the bowler, fielders or crucially umpire hear a staccato nick of bat meeting ball? A woody tkkkkkk leading to an excited appeal – Owizeaaaaaa?! Or was it actually a dull pudduff of bat hitting pad? An umpire has mere seconds to process what they have seen and to make a decision. What they have heard more often than not plays a critical role in what they decide.
This aural tapestry extends beyond the boundary. The polite ripple of applause, the ooohs and ahhs of a crowd that can soon morph into leery chants, guttural roars or even, on occasion, pantomime boos. Much is said of the well-mannered buzz around Lord’s on the morning of a Test match, a certain type of posh prattle and hum. They say it is a frequency unique to the Home of Cricket but I’m not so sure. Every ground has an excitable thrum on the morning of a game. Perhaps what sets Lord’s apart is that the good vibrations there are likely to be interspersed with the popping of champagne corks, the screech of film being pulled back on a punnet of nocellara olives or, unfortunately, the braying refrain from the plum chino and sockless loafer brigade “carving up” the Nursery ground. Proof that even the most beguiling and beautiful orchestra is capable of the odd bum note.
Back on the field and a refrain. Anderson’s dismissal of Elgar instantly conjured another dismissal on the same ground on a sunny August afternoon 17 years ago. The sonic similarity of Anderson’s stump scud to Simon Jones’s reverse-swinging poleaxing of Pup (Australian batsman Michael Clarke) during the 2005 Ashes wasn’t lost on the England and Wales Cricket Board’s social media bods nor Jones himself.
“It’s weird that both happened at Old Trafford,” says the former fast bowler. “I think any time a stump ‘disappears’ it is great to see … and hear!” I put it to him that his wicket of Clarke has a slightly more satisfying clonk than Anderson’s but he is admirably diplomatic. “Actually my other favourite was to [Virender] Sehwag on debut [at Lord’s in 2002] – that was a cracker and nice to beat him all ends up, hell of a player.”
I look it up while we speak and get that feeling again. Jones’s dismissal of Sehwag is a thing of beauty. Stump dramatically shunted like a shopping trolley placed in front of a bullet train and an accompanying smack so pleasing as to make you blush. Surely the Sehwag and Clarke dismissals are the sounds he replays occasionally when his head hits the pillow. “Well yes, but the best sound you can hear as a cricketer is the roar of the crowd, it is the best feeling ever. Just thinking about it makes my hairs stand on end. Such a huge buzz … and impossible to replicate – you certainly don’t get it in an office!”
Cricket is increasingly surrounded by noise, an endless cacophony of comment reverberating constantly around its proposed purpose, its existence, its future and its past – from shrill proclamations of doom to low grumblings of dissatisfaction. It feels like a tonic, a thrill even to revel in the simple elements of the game itself. To tune out, zone in and press replay. Gudd-unk!
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