19 JUNE 1953, Page 15

Sporting Aspects

Antigone and Cricket

By J. P. W. MALLALIEU IN 1921 I was taken to see the Antigone in Bradfield's Greek Theatre. I knew the play because we had been doing it in the Sixth Form at Lynam's, so the Bradfield visit had more in it for my thirteen-year-old heart' than just the unex- pected breakaway from school routine. But I had not imagined the eternity of experience that was to seep into me. It rained that day. If, for a moment, the clouds contained themselves, a slight wind shook drops from the surrounding trees. I wore a mackintosh; but, immediately in front of me, unprotected by any coat, sat an elderly man in a blue suit with thin white stripes. The rain ran off his hat, down his silvery hair and down the white stripes; but the only notice he took was to guard more carefully the Greek text which was open upon his knees. The elderly man in front of me was Asquith, lately Britain's Prime Minister. He sat and absorbed the rain because he was absorbed by the play. Before the afternoon ended I, too, was absorbed. Just as Antigone finished her final speech and walked to her doom the clouds loosed on us a cascade which would have washed away any ordinary crowd. But we were not ordinary. The schoolboy, the Prime Minister, the elements themselves were for a moment at one with the Universe.

Since that day I have done many things and seldom thought consciously either of the Antigone or of the experience which became a part of me at Bradfield. But, last Saturday, I stood once again under the overhanging trees, saw the moss seeping over the amphitheatre and smelled the damp ivy; and, without conscious effort, the opening lines of Antigone came from the recesses of my mind and that experience of long ago surged through me. It surged through me though the afternoon was warm and sunlit, though I was at Bradfield to watch cricket— to watch the centenary match with Radley. Though ? I mean Because.

The Bradfield cricket field is the most beautiful I have seen. The Pavilion, with its red tiled roof and its timbered sides is settled at the bottom of a steep bank under tall trees. As a batsman comes from it to the wicket he can see to his right, in the distance across a plateau of other playing fields, the school buildings and the village church, the sharpness of their red brick or grey flint long ago mellowed by sun and soft rain. To his left across the hedge on good days he will see cows simmering with flies or standing vacantly in an oak tree's shade; and ahead of him, beyond the pitch, beyond the shallow, winding Pang, he sees southern English countryside easing itself into the horizon. • In such a setting cricket is as natural as are green fields—and as enduring. If I had been at Bradfield I should remember the great oak in the middle of the playing fields, remember the Pang, remember the, sound of the Church bell and the sight of unspoiled green; and equally I should remember the sight of gowned boys standing on the plateau, the harsh sound of their clapping for a boundary, and the leisurely movement of white flannels between the °vers. I might not want to remember this particular match in years to come, for Radley, who since the war have had more success in games than almost any other school, beat Bradfield by an innings and rather a lot of runs. Perhaps I would forget this match except to say that I saw the great Dexter make 147, Dexter the Radley skipper, one of those natural athletes who play brilliant racquets, and brilliant rugger, who play four years in the Eleven and score, so far this season, 640 runs, who yet manage to reach the Sixth Form before they reach their sixteenth year. Maybe I would in years to come take the same pride for having seen this Dexter century, as I would today in having seen, say, C. B. Fry hit a century at Repton. Maybe, however, Dexter will play no more cricket when he leaves and so fade from crieketing memory. Even so I would carry with me as long as I lived the memory of matches against Radley and of all cricketing on these lovely fields.

I should need these memories to sustain me. The privilege of growing in such a setting brings with it obligations. Of the twenty-two boys who played together for their schools in 1853, twelve were to live their lives away from the graciousness of southern England. One was killed at Cawnpore only four years later. Another was killed in the American Civil War. Others went to India, to China, to Africa, to the West Indies, to Australia. Only one, so far as I know, had the luck to have it. both ways. He was Blackall Simonds who went in last in that match. His father died while Simonds was still at school and the Founder begged Mrs. Simonds to keep the boy on, paying only what she could afford. Because, through his love of the boys in his care, he did such things so often, the Founder eventually went bankrupt. But the Simonds boy, kept at the school out of Christian charity, joined the brewery which still bears his name. and at his death had given back in charity some £30,000 to his old school. What luck—to be served so well and to be able to serve so well and so happily in return.

Saturday's match came to its inevitable end in mid-afternoon and though there were still the Colts on the plateau and the excitement of Trent. Bridge in the air, I was more content to watch a rabbit feeding by the pavilion, to hear the splash of trout in the stream, to absorb rather than watch the distant game and to feel once again my long forgotten experience in the Greek Theatre.

There seemed nothing incongruous about a Greek Theatre set in the heart of Berkshire, nothing incongruous about reviving Antigone in my mind amid the murmurings of a summer's afternoon and the sounds of cricket. In the almost unchanging Berkshire countryside as in Greek tragedy, there is enduring experience and enduring beauty. You cannot compartmentalise either. At Bradfield they \flow visibly in one stream.

Bradfield was founded as a school for " happy Christian boys." Whether all the boys there have been always happy and always Christian I do not know. But I am sure that no boy could stay there a term without feeling the touch of Grace and that, however far:he travelled in later years, the touch would be renewed when he came again home.

(In next week's Spectator Bernard Darwin writes on the solid game versus the brilliant game in. golf)