Nick Whittock: Watching the Grass Grow

3 April 2003

When it is cricket that is the matter, all forces return to the ball at the limits of the universe. The grass is still growing. It is photosynthesising, there is a flow of moisture involved here among other things (sunlight, carbon dioxide…). All of this, operating within a cricket match, can only be of concern in terms of the way it breaks up the flow of the ball and contributes to the continued production of this flow …

the ball: the speed and the monotony

Don Bradman describes the coupling of the ball and the pitch: “every ball has made a distinct mark where it has landed and the pitch is dotted with minute indentations. It appears that the weight of the ball in contact with the earth is sufficient to crush some of the tender green grass shoots. This contact with grass or earth sometimes produces a trace of moisture to aid the pace of the ball and, according to the direction or angle of the seam of the ball when it lands, so may the direction of its flight be very slightly changed …”

… At another time, Jason Gillespie bowls a ball just short of a good length, it rises sharply and cuts back in toward Mark Butcher's throat, who is already letting the ball go and is surprised by the bounce and cut. It passes over the top of the off stump and is taken by Gilchrist in front of his face. A whole season. Two deliveries later the same thing happens, the season returns. Gillespie's vampire of a delivery gains a momentum, ball after ball starts to leap from off a length.

It is possible that Glenn McGrath, bowling from the other end, starts to bowl a similar delivery, getting caught up in the beat. A hostile spell of bowling, a formidable pace attack. It is often insisted that Gillespie and McGrath are separate entities, each with their own form, yet the rhythm of the ball, here, is sweeping them up in its own time. Gillespie is not a vampire, nor is McGrath really a pigeon. And Butcher, Gilchrist and perhaps Trescothick. Among others, they are only the animal matter that the rhythmic line of the ball traverses… a Dizzy Gillespie to butcher. The cow is sliced up, cuts of flesh cleaved from an immense thigh of a pig.

lara and mcgrath: the great affection

It is true, Glenn, you may be my mother, but I, I am only a blade of grass. Brian Lara, the Prince of Port-of-Spain, is only a mobile point on the line of the ball. He is a line of formation in no way expressive of royal form but only of the rhythmic process of formation. I am no prince, only a count …

Glenn McGrath is the udder from which the mother's milk issues. The ball, steer-hide, is milk. The ball is thrown to McGrath at the start of his over… Lara does not recall ever having played a shot like it, even when he has been playing the same shot ball after ball. He is just letting himself flow. Leaping across the crease with the movement of the ball.

In Nietzsche there are cows that leap about and retain nothing in their memory, they are already only the formation of milk, not far removed from grass. They are silent. The human, identifying a happiness within the cow that pains him with jealousy asks: “'Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?' The animal would like to answer, and say: 'The reason is I always forget what I was going to say'- but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent”.

The cow, like McGrath before him, and now Lara, does not speak; but something is already being expressed. The cow expresses a quality of happiness. McGrath and Lara express a similar joy, an expression that is purely rhythmic. The quality of the play, of the game itself, expressed through the prodigious McGrath-Lara form/quality/movement/ quality of movement.

The game is contracted into a rhythmic line that displays all the potentials of its various qualities in terms of the way they affect or are affected by one another. Brian Massumi, in his book on Deleuze and Guattari, speaks of qualities as signs. He says: “They envelop a potential- the capacity to be affected or to submit to a force (…) and the capacity to affect or release a force (…) The presence of the sign is a contraction of time. It is simultaneously an indicator of a future potential and a symptom of a past.”

commentary: narrative, prophecy and the consideration of form

A happy cow. A herd of happy, grazing cattle. All these repetitions develop into a predictable system. All the variations ensure that everything remains absolutely unpredictable, even if it is stated in advance. Cricket is a funny game, it is never over until the fat lady sings. Everything is by no means predetermined, but is somewhat determinable. Prophecy is enabled.

In the days leading up to the second test against the West Indies (2000/2001), McGrath, on 298 test wickets, stated that he would take Sherwin Campbell's wicket for his 299th and then Lara for his 300th. He did not recognise, though, that this would be in successive deliveries, and that with his very next ball he would dismiss Jimmy Adams, completing a hat-trick with his 301st test wicket. Predictable at the same time as eluding prediction absolutely. Perfection being surpassed.

It is possible to answer the question, 'how was it that Glenn McGrath was able to predict his 300th test wicket with such (understated) accuracy?'

trigger finger: rumination and the umpire's ethical decision

Cricket's umpires are athletes in the machine exerting forces of their own, caught up in the whirlwind of forces of the game of cricket. (And this is also why Gillespie is Dizzy). They make decisions springing from this. Trigger finger. Lighting flash …

In making a decision on an appeal, the umpire, raising his finger, simply brings a new segment of the game into being, a new batsman to the crease, a new form or moment of form into formation. The secret, Deleuze says, is “to bring into existence and not to judge.”

The umpire is not above the game. Though his decision is made according to the laws of cricket at one level (he too has predetermined functions to fulfil), there is another level at which the decision is based only on the way the forces of the game have infected him. Though well considered his decision is impulsive. He clearly sees the way the grass grows, with his teeth, no longer able to resist it, he rips up a mouthful of blades, making a space for new growth.

(It is only when the third umpire is arrived at that we start to reach the realm of judgment. While an umpire can suffer poor form, the only bad decisions are ever made by the third umpire)


The cricketer lives like a cloud, with the breeze, with an immanent concern for his total environment. Out in the weather, even when in the dressing rooms. Cricket does not stop when it rains, for the pitch is sweating under its covers, everything is still going on. “A season… a summer, an hour”.

Deleuze and Guattari refer to Michel Tournier's description of meteorology: “where meteors live at our pace: 'a cloud forms in the sky like an image in my brain, the wind blows like the breeze, a rainbow spans the horizon for as long as my heart needs to reconcile itself to life, the summer vacation drifts by.”

The cricket season slowly passes, a Brian Lara form shoots by like a meteor. A fluttering of the wings that spreads its force over the world. “May cricket continue to flourish and spread its wings. The world can only be richer for it.” A golden kookaburra takes to the air. 156 grams. Lowing sonorously.

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About Nick Whittock

Nick Whittock’s 2nd book hows its (inken publisch) will be ready for the summer. In 2012 he had a chapbook published in the Vagabond Rare Objects series. It has a picture of a cricket bat on the front cover. His first book's cover was a reproduction of a photograph of cricketers lying on the ground.

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