Jason Gillespie and the sound of not-leather on willow…

NOW I liked the story in The Times this morning about Yorkshire’s vegan cricket coach saying his sport should change the balls for good, but sadly Rupert Murdoch will only let me read a bit without handing over some money.

Fortunately, The Times seems to have found the story in the Yorkshire Post, where you can pop online and read the details in full and for free (Yorkshire’s favourite price, they do say).

Jason Gillespie, the coach of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, was in his day an Australian fast bowler who terrified batsmen with his 90mph deliveries, so he dispels any unkind jokes about vegans barely having the energy to tie the laces on their plastic shoes.

Gillespie tells the Post that he hopes the dairy industry will be shut down, calling it “disgusting and wrong on so many levels”. And as a vegan who spurns leather, he’d like to see the balls made of something else.

In a traditional place like Yorkshire, and in a sport where much is sometimes made of the sound of leather on willow, that is quite a statement. And a tad uncomfortable as the club is sponsored by the Wensleydale Creamery, maker of good Yorkshire cheese.

Gillespie talks of speciesism – the notion that humans have greater moral rights than animals – and slams the cruelty of “these slaughterhouses, dairies and piggeries, zoos”, saying that he doesn’t “want to be part of it”.

As for spurning the well-known creamery, he admits there is a clash, saying: “Yes, they are a sponsor. But it doesn’t mean I agree with what they do. It’s out of my control. There’s nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in.”

This is true, but Gillespie is a more principled man than I on this score. Or maybe it’s just what I believe is that cheese in its many wondrous forms is just about the loveliest food around. I am sure there can be no acceptable vegan alternative to cheese on toast, which is the food of the gods; and a favourite too of this man on a ledge, although only once a week, as you have to tread carefully with toasted cheese. It’s a slippery dietary slope, placing cheese and toast under a hot grill.

Now this may be the first time I have ever written about cricket, or hung about at the edge of the field at least. Among many in Yorkshire following cricket is a religion more or less, and I have sometimes felt I am missing out as others around me follow the game with such passion, and sometimes such despair.

As for that non-vegan leather hitting willow, I have always assumed it comes from a poem, and perhaps it does, but not one I can find anywhere. Maybe it’s just a common, vaguely poetic phrase.

An old tradition of cricket, known to fans and unbelievers alike, lies in the commentary. It is almost the law in this country to mention Brian Johnston in this context, and his companion in the commentary box, John Arlott. Both are now long gone to the pavilion in the sky, with tea and Victoria sponge always to hand.

Their occasional gaffes, talk of cake and general playfulness are fondly remembered. Here is one example, gleaned from Eugene Byrne, writing in the BBC History Magazine.

“Ward bowls to Glenn Turner, short, ooh! And it catches him high up on the, er, thigh. That really must have hurt as he’s doubled over in pain.” At this point there was a break in play for a couple of minutes before the game resumed. “Well, he’s bravely going to carry on… but he doesn’t look too good… One ball left.”

So there you have it: you can even manage a game of cricket on this narrow ledge.

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