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7 September 2022

Sporting Notes: At the crease with Harold Pinter

Playing cricket with him for the theatrical team Gaieties CC, I witnessed the great playwright’s passion up close.

By Shomit Dutta

Harold Pinter joined Gaieties CC, a wandering cricket team with theatrical origins, in the 1960s. When I joined, around the turn of the millennium, he was still a regular presence on the boundary – intensely focused, occasionally irascible.

At my first match, Harold umpired. At the second, he wore a trench coat and growled when I said he resembled Davies in The Caretaker. Still, as club chair he later made me captain, with team selection often conducted over boozy lunches at his regular Italian restaurant, or at his home in Holland Park. Once, he told me that I was sitting on the chair Samuel Beckett sat in whenever he and his wife, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, came for dinner. I had known of their friendship and shared love of cricket – Beckett was the better player, Pinter the more assiduous follower of the game – but hadn’t visualised them in such close proximity. It planted a seed that became my play Stumped, which imagines the pair playing in a match in the Cotswolds.

The last Gaieties match Harold attended, in 2008, was against Tim Rice’s team, Heartaches CC, and featured a diving catch that Harold said reminded him of his best ever catch (so good he published a piece about it, titled “The Catch”). But the summer I remember most vividly was 2006. It was a successful season, and after the last game of the year – a win against Hampstead CC – Harold was in high spirits, and read to us his favourite lines about cricket, from Francis Thompson’s poem “At Lord’s”, with added relish: “For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,/ And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,/ And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host/As the run stealers flicker to and fro…”

As the Gaieties’ 2022 season comes to a close, Harold’s run stealers will recite those lines again.

Shomit Dutta’s play “Stumped” will be livestreamed from Lord’s on 10 September 2022 and is available on demand from 27 September 2022

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This article appears in the 07 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Liz Truss Unchained