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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Wisden Dictionary of Cricket






Third edition
Michael Rundell
A & C Black ț London

Foreword
Can any sport have a richer vocabulary than cricket? Equestrianism must be a contender (there are more than 50 different types of bit you can stick in a horse's mouth) and maybe motor racing - but surely no other ball game?

Even baseball has only three or four ways of actually hitting the ball, whereas cricket has a couple of dozen at least, and new ones keep being invented. For the definition of ramp and flamingo, look within. And the differences between many of these strokes is a matter of arguable nuance. I remember once spending an afternoon at a rather dull county match discussing how to describe the precise difference between a pull and a hook.

In addition to all its other arbiters, cricket obviously needs a kind of fifth umpire: a professional lexicographer. And in Michael Rundell it has found the man. Twenty-one years ago, when his Dictionary of Cricket first appeared, he took us on a journey of extraordinary erudition from ACB to yorker.

This new edition, published under the Wisden umbrella, still starts from ACB, although these days the initials have only historical significance, but our new destination is zooter, a word that only came into common parlance with the advent of Shane Warne.

There are a great many points of interest for anyone who enjoys cricket to stop off en route and linger a while. Rundell's dictionary works both for the tyro follower of the game (perhaps a bit confused by commentators' terminology) and the supposed expert. There can be hardly anyone alive
who has not read Rundell and is aware that middle-wicket is not remotely the same as mid-wicket. The explanation is here: the book is peppered with potted histories of the game's terms that will fascinate anyone who relishes cricket in all its richness.

When I was asked to write this foreword, I became very enthusiastic - as a fan of the first edition - and anxious to make a few contributions from my years in the press-box. For instance:

dot-job n (usually effing dot-job) A cricket match so close that even the journalists present have to start making a note of every delivery, including the dot balls.

He got very sniffy, did Rundell, and told me there was a big difference between language and in-group jargon. Most new cricketing terms seem to emanate from professional cricketers themselves, then spread from the dressing room via the media to the stands and the village green. Dot-job has not made this journey.

I was also keen to add my tuppence-worth to cricketing etymology. The J section of this edition has been expanded to include both jaffa and jag back which did not make the earlier version. Rundell's first sighting of jaffa is from 1994. Yet I am sure I used the word in its present cricketing meaning in The Guardian a good ten years earlier, in connection with a fast bowler of the time, now a famous commentator and a good friend.

Infuriatingly, I can't find the reference in my own files. And The Guardian has not yet digitised its archives for the early 1980s, which would make it possible to do a word-check of this nature in seconds.

There is a further complication. Though jaffa is a compliment to a bowler, the context on that occasion was less favourable. I think I said something about finding the odd jaffa in a bowl of rotting golden delicious. Human nature being what it is, you can be certain that the bloke concerned would remember the (quite unjust) insult in every detail.

I am too much of a coward to ask him. But some day fully computerised news archives will add even greater scientific exactitude to the next edition of this already awesome book. Do read, and enjoy.

Matthew Engel Herefordshire, September 2006

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