Eager fans of Downton Abbey will have noted that the most recent episode (at least in the United States) featured a cricket match, and eager fans of Right Off the Bat are no doubt waiting for this site’s expert analysis of the game between the abbey’s denizens (“the House”) and the ordinary folk who live in the village (“the Village”).
In the show, we only see half a game (the House’s turn at bat, and one ball of the Village’s innings), nonetheless we can draw a number of useful conclusions. Clearly, aside from Thomas Barrow the under-butler—who scores a rapid, undefeated century (100 runs or more in the innings) under threat of imprisonment for homosexuality (which just shows you that sometimes you have to put team members under pressure to get the best out of them)—few members of the House side distinguish themselves with the bat. Matthew Crawley, in spite of an elegant cover drive early in his knock, is plumb LBW (leg before wicket) not playing a shot to a straight ball. Molseley, the big-talking cricket aficionado is, as you might expect, a busted flush, being bowled first ball, in spite of a lunging forward-defensive stroke.
The Village side looks to contain a number of very useful bowlers, including a medium-paced left-arm-over-the-wicket bowler. This makes it all the more astonishing that the House should rack up nearly 200 runs by the end of their innings—although given that Mr. Bates, the scorer, takes his eye off the game to tell Anna all about O’Brien’s dirty deeds, then the actual total racked up by the House might be anybody’s guess.
For the House, we only see Mr. Carson, the chief butler, bowl, and his first ball is fortuitously slapped by the village doctor straight into the surprised hands of Irishman Tom Branson. That said, if Carson’s extremely gentle spinbowling is the best the House can come up with, then the Village look well-placed to continue their winning streak against the House. Of course, Tom may turn out to be a fiendish bowler, having picked up the knack of batting in the nets quite quickly earlier in the episode.
It should be noted that Tom gives his Irishness as an excuse as to why he can’t play cricket, which is itself a hint at the class and imperial identity of cricket as an English gentleman’s game. However, cricket was being played in Ireland at the time. In fact, in 1921–22, which is when this episode of Downton Abbey is set, a young Irishman was making quite a name for himself as a cricketer at Portora Royal School, near Enniskillen. His name was Samuel Beckett, and clearly writer Julian Fellowes has used him as inspiration for the bleak tragicomedy that is Downton Abbey.