Quick single: avoiding prodigious turn
Earlier in the summer, watching the 1st Test between West Indies and Australia, I was excited to see Devendra Bishoo tease the Australian middle-order. I wrote about how he turned the ball sharply to get Steven Smith stumped and to bowl Brad Haddin. At first, I typed the words ‘prodigious turn’ to describe the delivery that had defeated Haddin. The phrase emerged easily onto the screen, but snagged my eye as I re-read the finished sentence. With a little thought, a bit more effort, I altered the description to something that didn’t cause discomfort when re-reading it.
I had avoided ‘prodigious turn’ and had identified a foe, a representative of a class of expression that I wanted to sidestep. With the ‘quick singles and short pitches’ initiative, I committed to writing more regularly. The faster pace of composition would mean less opportunity to reflect on my writing and the greater temptation to lean on familiar formulations in the rush to press the ‘publish’ button.
The particular class of expression I have wanted to evade is not the sport’s slang (e.g. ‘good areas’), nor is it cliche (e.g. ‘catches win matches’) because I would expect to steer clear of both. It’s a budding cliche; something that when it was first coined was probably fresh and distinctive. It involves the use of adjectives or verbs that are unusual and might give the writer a sense of erudition. But the sense is false, because the words are a formula.
I can think of two situations in which these expressions are used. The first is when a cricketer is spending her first days in the commentary box and there isn’t time to measure every word. The familiar but more sophisticated sounding formulations give more weight to utterances, so it seems. The second situation is in recreational cricket where the terms are used archly as players act out a pretence of playing the same game, requiring the same level of description, as their international heroes.
You may have started to identify phrases that fit these criteria. I think of the following as being on a par with ‘prodigious turn’:
‘inserting the opposition’ and its synonym, ‘electing to field’
‘extracting movement from the pitch’
‘bisecting the field’
None of these is poor English. Originality cannot and probably should not always be sought by those writing about the game. These expressions, though, have become familiar and in their regular usage, some of their meaning is being lost. Language, of course, is not stable and I am also very aware that there is also personal taste at work. At the moment, I am reading a collection of John Arlott’s articles on cricket. In a piece written in 1983 about Derek Randall, he wrote this:
One would have expected one of his bubbling enthusiasm to bowl furiously fast; or very slow with prodigious spin.
Quick single: Dr Seamus Hogan
Yesterday, I had intended to write up a piece about Steve Smith, Derek Randall and John Arlott. I was going to point out the similarities of Smith and Randall: fidgeting, stepping across the crease, playing shots without establishing the orthodox ‘solid base’; I would revisit Arlott’s famous article about the Nottinghamshire batsman and why his often replayed summation was unfortunate hyperbole. I was going to conclude that Smith didn’t remind me of my inevitable demise.
But yesterday morning I read the sad news of Seamus Hogan’s death. I knew Hogan in a very modern way: twitter exchanges, emails and comments on each others’ blog posts. Different hemispheres, shared interests, instant, brief communication.
Despite the limitations of that sort of acquaintance, he came across as very likeable, generous and clever. In fact, Hogan was a leading economist and academic in New Zealand. From time to time, he applied his academic rigour to cricket questions, generating counter-intuitive, but statistically solid insights.
Across the cricket world, he is probably best known for his work behind WASP, the result and score predictor used by, amongst other outlets, SkySports. Like any forecasting system, WASP was only really interesting for most viewers when it was wrong. On a couple of occasions, I followed Hogan as he patiently and politely responded to gloating and ill-informed criticism on twitter of the system he co-founded. Too patient and too polite, I thought. Those who really knew him may know if that was his general disposition – I suspect it was.
Hogan’s blogs – about cricket and other matters – can be found on the Offsetting Behaviour website, which he shared with a colleague, Peter Frampton, who wrote this touching, dignified notification of his death.
For all John Arlott’s erudition and eloquence, he was dreadfully wrong about Derek Randall and, indeed, any other batsman “who overplays his hand and falls into disaster”. That’s not what reminds you of your own mortality.
My thoughts are with Seamus Hogan’s colleagues, his students, his friends and, above all, his family.