In April 1876, Charles Bravo died in Balham. There was no doubt that he was murdered. Poisoned, in fact, by a massive dose of tartar emetic. So much was agreed at the coroner's inquest. The chances are that his wife Florence did it. (In a mere four months of marriage, she'd suffered two miscarriages and been subjected to some fairly humiliating bouts of buggery - and on the night he was poisoned he'd just told Florence that she was fit enough, a week after her latest miscarriage, to take him back into her bed. 'Conjugal duty, don't you know'.) The oddest thing, though, was that, during the 55 hours it took him to die, he never claimed that he'd been poisoned by anyone other than himself. That, to borrow a metaphor from cricket, is why Florence Bravo was given not out: the benefit of the doubt. "There is not sufficient proof", decided the jury, "to fix the guilt on any person".
Looking back on the Falmouth match, I am in sympathy with the Bravo jury. Picture this. After a circuitous drive, prolonged by a traffic diversion whose deviousness was expressive of the chortling malice of the Cornish constabulary, we had arrived at the Falmouth ground in the sort of condition that used to be called 'parlous' when there was still a fair bit of vocabulary in day-to-day conversation. (Charles Bravo was in a parlous condition on the fateful evening of 18 April 1876, because his horse had done a four-mile bolt under him that very afternoon - a wilful diversion of equine traffic about as perverse as the vehicular one we'd just experienced.) It was hot, and the Falmouth pitch is sunk into the ground like a swimming pool: umpiring at the shallow end, I had a mirage view of Windy and Ernie swimming out to open the innings, kicking their white legs behind them in a synchronised breast-stroke. Windy having drowned on the first ball of the eighth over, Chris Healey joined Ernie, and it was shortly afterwards that I had my Bravo experience. The full narrative goes something like this.
Tickner, having replaced Stevens at the shallow end (where, you will recall, I was umpiring), gave his leg-breaks quite a tweak - and Ernie, as anyone who saw him at Falkland will attest, is suspicious of the ball that turns that way. But it has to be said that, tweak as Tickner might, the ball didn't deviate much off the tranquil surface of the Falmouth pool. Not much, that is, until (crash, bang, alakazam, out of an orange-coloured sky), Ernie lunged at one, striking the surface in his effort to parry it - and the ball lodged safely in the hands of first slip. The only obvious explanation for this was that it had caught the edge of Ernie's bat on its way through. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd tucked said bat under his arm and swum off through the heat-haze. In fact, though, he just trod water. Clearly, some kind of judgement was required of me. So, in my role as presider over the inquest, I said to Ernie, "I'm assuming you'd walk if you hit it" ("If you killed him, Mrs Bravo, I assume you'd tell me"). Ernie's response - "I didn't think I hit it" - put the onus back on me, and I was confronted with what I consider a classic umpire's dilemma. Various things were clear:
1. No earlier ball had turned that much.
2. Ernie was being absolutely honest (he'd felt the bat hit the pitch, not the ball).
3. The sound I'd heard was that of the bat striking the pitch.
4. I had not seen the ball touch the edge of the bat.
Now, as I take it, the laws of evidence require that, in order to give a batsman out caught, an umpire has to see the ball hit the bat (though I'm aware that some umpires are satisfied if they hear a snick - but that didn't apply in this case anyway). The laws of logic are another kettle of fish altogether. I knew logically that Ernie was out (I mean, come on Florence Bravo, be logical!), but if logic were to determine the finer points of cricket, all decisions would have to be left to people with degrees in philosophy and Derek Matravers would be the Mystics' only acceptable umpire. "Then", I announced portentously, "I'll have to say not out" (there is not sufficient proof to fix the guilt on any person). This was possibly the worst decision that has been made at Falmouth since they chose the architect for the Methodist church there: and the last person you need to have standing beside you when you have defied common sense in the name of the law is Chris Healey! (Jane Cox knew Florence Bravo had done it, but she, unlike Chris, kept quiet about it.) I gleaned some retrospective comfort from Ernie's later decision to allow Tickner to bowl him for 20, and I can't remember who ran Chris Healey out, but I hope it was me. The substance of our innings was a 90-run partnership between Duncan Chave and Chris Cook, and there was a nice moment when Chris Squire was bowled by a 12-year-old spinner who was so small that only one of his legs reached the ground. After that, they took me off umpiring, and I spent the Falmouth innings in the properly diminished role of scorer.
The scorebook reminds me that A. Varker (I like to believe that his animal-loving parents christened him Aard) ran himself out with the score on 5, and that Jim Myton got a couple of useful wickets to reduce Falmouth to 43 for 4. But the issue I wish to dwell on here is a matter of symmetry. In the long run, Falmouth held out for a draw largely owing to a gallant defensive innings by a young teenager called M. Matthews (83 balls in 91 minutes for 23). I am reliably informed that, round about ball 40 of his marathon effort, he was caught behind off Windy - and given not out. There's already some symmetry in that - but the thing that rounds it off is that the man who took the catch was Ernie Sharland. That's the kind of irony on which Thomas Hardy built a literary reputation.
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