Hitler only faced one ball

By skepticlawyer

As regular readers of this blog may have noticed, I enjoy cricket and collect cricket trivia. I do obscure cricket-y things like remember sundry batting averages and how Don Bradman was dismissed in his last innings (bowled). I’ve also played at a moderately high standard, including for Oxford University, and still get an immense kick out of being able to move the ball away from the right-hander at a brisk medium pace. That skill took some acquisition, which is why I have the greatest respect for people who can do it consistently at the highest level.

However, I have just collected the cricket trivia story to end all cricket trivia stories, so much so that it’s climbed into my all-time cricket trivia top ten.

Adolf Hitler once played cricket. Reports the Times in a mode one associates with its pre-Rupert days:

Adolf Hitler played cricket. He raised his own cricket team to play some British prisoners of war during the First World War, then declared the sport “unmanly” and tried to rewrite the laws of the game.

The Führer’s First XI sounds like a Spike Milligan joke, but this small nugget of history is true. In all the millions of words written about Hitler, his telling brush with cricket seems to have escaped the attention of historians.

The incident is referred to in John Simpson’s new book about 20th- century reporting, citing a piece in the Daily Mirror in 1930. I have the article in front of me. Sandwiched between advice on preventing mildew in chrysanthemums and an advert for Barkers’ evening cloaks, it is quite extraordinary, and extraordinarily revealing: about Hitler, the nature of cricket, and why the world’s worst tyrant and the world’s greatest game were never going to get on.

Intriguingly, the piece in the Mirror was written by Oliver Locker-Lampson, an MP who at that stage in the country’s history was notorious for his pro-fascist sympathies:

Like many upper-class Englishmen (including Lord Rothermere, then the owner of the Mirror) he was besotted by Nazism, and the rest of the article is a dribbling paean of praise to Hitler: “The temperature of the room rises in his presence . . . He makes the humblest fellow feel twice the man.”

As an aside, I’ve always found it entertaining to read newspapers from the 30s, either on microfiche (I did quite a bit of this when researching The Hand that Signed the Paper) or–these days–on google. One finds so much pro-fascist and pro-communist commentary it becomes tempting to make snide remarks about the trahison des clercs. Even more impressive, the idea that the government should run the economy (and pretty much everything else) is everywhere in the ascendant. Classical liberalism seems all but spent, with either of the two great statisms destined to rule humanity. It gives one a sense of what F.A. Hayek was up against when he wrote The Road to Serfdom

Locher-Sampson reports Hitler’s challenge to play ‘a friendly match’ against some British troops with breathless admiration:

[I]n 1923, shortly after the Munich putsch, he met some British officers who had been prisoners of war in southern Germany during the First World War. By coincidence Hitler, then a lance corporal in the German Army, was recovering from his wounds in a nearby hospital.

“He had come to them one day and asked whether he might watch an eleven of cricket at play so as to become initiated into the mysteries of our national game,” writes Locker- Lampson. “They welcomed him, of course, and wrote out the rules for him in the best British sport-loving spirit.”

According to Locker-Lampson, Hitler returned a few days later, having assembled his own team, and challenged the British to a “friendly match”. As Simpson points out, Locker-Lampson infuriatingly failed to inform his readers who won, but we can assume that the British POWs thrashed Hitler’s XI, because he immediately declared the game insufficiently violent for German Fascists.

Hitler’s interest in the game was partly piqued by a desire to figure out the English, as well as to come up with something that would be good for the troops to play in peacetime. Perhaps he had bought the propaganda that the British really won the Great War on the playing fields of Eton.

Hitler decided the game was unmanly, recommending the abolition of pads and the introduction of a heavier ball. One suspects that had he seen footage of Harold Larwood or Learie Constantine bowling to a ‘bodyline’ field, he may have changed his tune:

For anyone who loves cricket, there is something deeply satisfying in the knowledge that Hitler did not understand the game, and something disquieting in the thought that, had he won the war, we would all be playing without pads.

Sadly, the scorebook from Hitler’s first and only cricket match has not survived. We will never know how much his team lost by, where he batted in the order, and what score he made. But we can certainly speculate. His angry contempt for cricket, his attempt to invade the rules and alter them in his own image, and his inability to comprehend the complexities of the sport all point to one, inescapable conclusion: he was out for a golden duck.

Now the Mirror is not noted for accuracy in reporting, and it is entirely possible that Locker-Lampson was gilding the lily somewhat, but even so, the story is like the very best Elvis stories: if it ain’t true, it ought to be.

How was he dismissed, I wonder? Judging by his comments on pads, it wasn’t LBW. Had it been LBW, we’d have had the Führer trying to dick with the LBW law. He wouldn’t have been the first, either.

Elsewhere: Tony the Teacher checks that it isn’t April 1.

Via: Barry Williams, immediate past president of the Australian Skeptics.

10 Comments

  1. Posted March 21, 2010 at 4:38 am | Permalink

    Once read a book of Churchill’s 1930s newspaper commentary. I was struck by how well they read decades later: not merely in the language, but in their perceptiveness.

    One also shouldn’t forget the role of dubious reporting in that statist ascendancy. The fantasy reporting of the Soviet Union, for example.

  2. Posted March 21, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Id iz nat manly. Id iz nat manly ad all. Ve muzt take zee poofy pads off unt make mit ze heavier ballz. Ve zhrow ze ballz unt cruzh ze legz off ze peebles. Kruzh yaw enemiez, zee zem zcatted before you. Unt hear ze lamendationz of ze vimmen.

    Ve are more mach zen ze Englander. Ve are. Zo vot if ze kicked our ass dwice mit der two Verlt Varz unt zen beed uz in ze 1950 Verlt Kop. It’z nat fair. 🙁

  3. Posted March 21, 2010 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I vaguely recall a remark that the French revolution wouldn’t’ve happened if the officers had played cricket with their men. Does anybody remember who said it?

  4. conrad
    Posted March 21, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I love that title — Another thing I think I imagine Hitler never quite understood — English humor, and why they’d sing funny songs about them having various problems with their balls in such a time.

  5. Posted March 21, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    You are wronk. Ve hef ze hooma.

  6. Posted March 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, I tried to rescue your link but seem only to have lost it entirely. Could you pop it in a comment so that I can fix comment #6?

  7. Posted March 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Funny time, the 30s. Ultranationalism was pretty rampant. Who said this? “We are committed to preserving the purity of the white race…” Bugger me if it wasn’t John Curtin.

    Great post, SL. You really got side on, your leading arm was nice and high and with seam upright and the shiny side facing leg, bowled an absolute jaffa straight off the edge to first slip.

  8. Posted March 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Sorry link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gpjk_MaCGM

  9. Posted March 22, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Now, that should work. I’ll go off and watch it now 😉

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