“Why, this is very midsummer madness.” The startled spectator Lady Olivia may not have had cricket in mind in Twelfth Night, but many unacquainted with the game would echo her. With 2014 marking 450 years since William Shakespeare’s debut, and Wisden’s own 150th birthday, it is clearly the moment to marry the two in a Shakespearean XI.
Setting aside the question of the opposition (Kit Marlowe CC?), let’s get to grips with the batting order. Since the survival of aggressive new-ball spells is a priority for any opener, we pick Macbeth, who trusts both his back-foot game (“I pull in resolution”) and his luck (“I bear a charmed life”). One hopes neither is misplaced. He’s joined by Brutus, “an honourable man” who can presumably be relied on to uphold the spirit of cricket. But Macbeth should beware his running between the wickets: in Julius Caesar’s last appearance, Brutus sold him down the river: “A two, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!”
Prince Hamlet’s indecisiveness when facing “slings and arrows” may suggest he lacks the clarity of mind needed against the fastest bowling. However, his warning that “I may sweep to my revenge” hints at a proficiency against spin. He is joined in the middle order by the classy strokemaker Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, whose pledge to “drive thee back” savours of a penchant for straight-bat shots. With the Flintoff-like physique implied by his name, the all-rounder Fortinbras slots in at No. 5.
There can be little quarrel when it comes to wicketkeeper and captain. The boisterous Petruchio, just the man to rally his fielders from behind the stumps, is known as the ‘‘keeper’’ of “shrewd” skipper Katharina, despite their tendency to argue about the light.
To spearhead the bowling attack, we select Sebastian: his body blows drove Sir Andrew Aguecheek to retire hurt, calling for the physio: “for the love of God, a surgeon!… He has broke my head across.” With his “lean and hungry look”, Cassius, who “thinks too much”, is the perfect new-ball partner: wily and ceding little, he’s conspired to topple many an opponent. For slow variation, Launce’s lover stands out as a professional among amateurs: “she can spin for her living”. The curate Sir Nathaniel completes the attack. He is, after all, “a very good bowler”.
Let’s not forget the officials. There’s Lady Macbeth, who proclaimed “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”, demonstrating her familiarity with thermal-imaging technology. And Portia, esteemed in some quarters as a “wise and upright judge!”, though not all her decisions prove uncontroversial. As scorer, we have the Bard himself: “nor need I tallies… to score”.
The trouble, of course, is the weather. Will this motley crew ever make it on to the field? For as Feste, lead singer of the Barmy Army (composed of the rather-less-foolish-than-their-name-implies Fools) warns, “the rain it raineth every day”.
This article appeared in the 151st edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014. You can buy it here.