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Paul Dean

Seriously, It's Strictly Cricket

September 19, 1987|Paul Dean

The boys of British, Australian, Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani and West Indian summers are preparing to throw out the last balls of California's 1987 cricket season.

Sunday, at high noon, at low-lying Woodley Park, teams of such gentlemanly nomina as International and University, Corinthian and Century, will play for division titles of the Southern California Cricket Assn.

It will be serious cricket of professional hardness.

On an upper field, expatriate Australians will play transplanted Englishmen (including this one) in local reproduction of a commonwealth classic that for 110 years has done more to separate these nations than a common language.

Australia vs. England will be village-green cricket, all fun and cucumber sandwiches and Nigel tripping over his bat.

At either level, it's been a good season. There now are more teams (30), more regular players (900) and more cricket fields (20) in California than at any time since the late C. Aubrey Smith (who played cricket as well as he played butlers) founded the Hollywood Cricket Club in 1931.

The association's pampered grass at Woodley makes up the nation's largest cricket complex.

And despite a world of distance between Los Angeles and better stores in London and Delhi, supplies of willow bats and leather balls, white pants and chunky sweaters, batting pads and gloves have been flowing freely.

Some clubs have set up mail-order systems with British manufacturers. Corners for cricket gear have appeared at stores in Camarillo and Philadelphia. The heaviest traffic, however, is among players traveling overseas on family visits and returning with cricket stuff for self and friends.

I bought some batting pads while visiting family hearth and bosom in London this year.

The pads were gorgeous. Great chubby leg shields of white canvas. They represented a blessed release from seasons of waddling to the wicket in borrowed pads. Also, the compleat indulgence: I bought them at Harrods.

Can you ship to Los Angeles? Our pleasure, sir. And may I open a Harrods charge account while I'm here? Of course, sir. You see, I might want to order more equipment when I get back to California. Naturally, sir.

The pads arrived unstained by transatlantic travel. Couldn't wait to try them on. Even over pajamas. Couldn't resist a sensual gratification. I held pads to face for their bouquet of crisp canvas, fresh kapok and new leather.

But wait a minute. These things fitted like splints. I leaned into position for a right-handed batsman. Legs felt as if they were on backwards with kneecaps twisted anticlockwise. I looked down and frowned and . . . .

By the beard of W. G. Grace, I must have reached into the wrong drawer at Harrods and chosen pads for a left-handed batsman.

There was no time to work an exchange between then and Sunday's game. There was only one chance. My dandy in plastic, that virgin and impressive Harrods charge card that makes me a partner-in-payment with Margaret Thatcher, the Duke of Westminster and Oscar Wilde.

Omnia, omnibus, ubique. Harrods' motto. Everyone, everything, everywhere.

I telephoned London.

Good morning, I'd like to talk to someone about cricket equipment.

"That would be sporting goods, sir."

Hello, I'm calling from the United States and would like to order a set of cricket pads. For a right-handed player.

"Awfully sorry, sir. We're out of cricket pads at the moment."

You are what?

"We're out of pads.

Omnia, omnibus, ubique. Harrods without cricket pads is like Big 5 being out of catchers' mitts.

"I beg your pardon?"

Never mind.

Just look for me at Sunday's match.

I'll be the one waddling in borrowed pads.

Cricket at Woodley Park, Sepulveda Dam Recreation Area, Van Nuys. Sunday, from noon.

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