Advice is strange stuff. We all like to think we possess wisdom, the raw material from which it is manufactured, in abundance, and that our advice is invariably the soundest and the best. And then there’s the question of to whom, when, and how, advice should be imparted. One thing is certain – if you are unfortunate enough to be flattened by a perforated bowel, and hospitalized for weeks on end following life-saving abdominal surgery, and the surgeon comes and sees you afterwards and says “you are lucky to be alive” it certainly changes your perspective on how urgent it is that you pass on the lamp of learning, before it’s too late.
This was the position Steve Rudd found himself in during the summer of 2010. Already unable to play cricket any more, owing to the progressive effects of a muscle-wasting disease, over the years he had given his gear away to various younger family members and resigned himself merely to watching in a wheelchair from the boundary. What would have happened to all his knowledge, and memories of cricket matches he had played in, or watched, in person or on TV, had the Peritonitis claimed him? While Steve is in no way claiming to be a cricket expert, each person’s recollections, memories, and interpretation are nonetheless unique. It would be a shame if it were to be lost for ever.
Then, one day, in the midst of many long, tedious days of recuperation during that frustrating, wasted summer, last year, Steve’s seven-year-old nephew asked him to “explain cricket”. So he picked up a pen and wrote, potentially adding writer’s cramp to his physiotherapy/rehab requirements. “Explaining cricket” proved to be more difficult than it seemed. You can’t explain the present without context, and context implies history. And history itself has a way of veering off piste, into explanations about why Uncle is now sitting in a wheelchair and struggling to rise, when once he climbed mountains. Which involves ideas of change, and the Tao, the watercourse way of Zen. Suddenly, we’re a long way from the forward defensive stroke … or are we?
Steve says "I've read quite a lot on Zen and one of the things that comes through again and again is that, paradoxically, if you can explain it, then it's not Zen. That's why other writers such as Herrigel with "Zen in the Art of Archery" and Robert M Pirsig with "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" use these subjects as pointers to describe what Zen is, via the medium of an older, more experienced person instructing a newbie. All I am doing is following in their well-trodden footsteps."
Taking his cue from Geoffrey Chaucer's "A Treatise on the Astrolabe" (1391) Steve tries to tell "Little Lowis" how to bat, bowl, and field, how to be a captain, and how to umpire, first covering the basics, then delving more deeply into the philosophy behind cricket, how cricket is a mixture of the active and the contemplative, and also trying to set some of the issues which have bedevilled the development of the game, such as racism, cheating, and jingoism, in their historical context. Interspersed throughout are practical tips on things such as the correct grips for bowling various types of ball, and how to knock in a new cricket bat. Most importantly, the author tells of the great importance when batting of being able to "nurdle", to score runs merely by deflecting the ball and using the bowler's pace and energy to carry it for a boundary, and what this can tell us about life in general. The book ends with a potted history of cricket.
The result is, of course, inevitably, as far over Little Lowis's head as a test match bouncer. But this book is intended to be a "keeper". One day, says Rudd, he hopes the young lad for whom it was written, will be old enough to read it, to be inspired, and to play for England. "I'll probably be long gone by then," he adds "but I'll be cheering him on from the members' bar upstairs!"
Steve Rudd was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, in 1955, completely naked, unable to walk, talk, or fend for himself. His chief poetic claim to fame is that he once served Philip Larkin in a bookshop. Unfortunately for both parties at the time, he mistook the great man for Eric Morecambe. He lives in West Yorkshire with a wife, a cat, and a variable number of dogs, but not necessarily in that order. His hobbies include annoying people, lying under the table with an empty can of Special Brew (which is, in itself, a form of prayer) thinking about Abraham Lincoln’s hat, and having staring contests with the linoleum. He is the author of several other books including a trilogy of travel diaries about the Isle of Arran.
Zen and the Art of Nurdling: Life Lessons from a Straight Bat is published by The King’s England Press, 111 Meltham Road, Lockwood, Huddersfield, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, tel 07941 887141 or 01484 6637907.