English language or literature connoisseurs know him for many of his immortal works. "Waiting for Godot", perhaps his greatest and most famous work in English literature, established his stature as one of the pioneers of the 'Theatre of the Absurd'. Samuel Beckett was a man of many talents. More than three dozen dramas, TV productions and a short film are proof of his versatile excellence in literature.
But, very few people know that Beckett was an accomplished cricketer in his time. He even played two first-class matches for his university. Somewhat a natural athlete, Beckett excelled at cricket as a left-handed batsman and a left-arm seam bowler. His love for sports grew at a very early age.
Born in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1906, Beckett showed keenness to physical activities like running and outdoor sports from his tender days.
At the age of 14, Beckett joined Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. He studied there for three years and started mastering sports like cricket, rugby, boxing and swimming. He also had interests in cycling, golf and tennis. He was a member of the school rugby and cricket teams. Beckett won multiple medals in boxing as a student of the school.
Beckett later studied in the Trinity College of Dublin. Here he had the opportunity to play cricket for the Dublin University Cricket Club (DUCC). At the age of 18, Beckett got an opportunity to play first-class cricket for DUCC.
The team toured England in July 1926 and faced the county side Northamptonshire. Beckett played both the matches for DUCC and unknowingly became a part of the cricketing history.
However, DUCC lost both the matches against Northamptonshire. Beckett, in his own words, had "a gritty defence and was useful with the ball", failed to make an impact on the matches as he accumulated a total of 35 runs in the four innings. His highest was 18; also he did not register any wickets in the 23 overs he bowled. On both occasions, the match lasted only two days.
Nevertheless, by playing those two matches Samuel Beckett became the only Nobel-Prize winner to have played first-class cricket. Though he never got another opportunity to play first-class cricket again, Beckett kept playing for his university.
He left cricket in 1937 when he went to live in France, but till his death, he was a fervent follower of the sport. Beckett regularly followed the sports pages of English dailies and was a subscriber of the French sport daily L'Équipe.
He made several visits to The Lord's in England, just to watch the Ashes. He mentioned cricket several times in his personal journals and letters. In 1961, he wrote to a friend about an incident when he saw English cricketing greats Frank Woolley and Wilfred Rhodes in a bar at the Lord's cricket ground. Woolley was escorting the legendary 84-year-old Wilfred Rhodes. By that time, wrote Beckett, Rhodes was totally blind. Beckett admired Woolley from his boyhood, and this was his predominant memory of that day.
His love for cricket remained intact even at his later days. At 75, he followed the famous 1981 Ashes, which was later dubbed "Botham's Ashes" for the English all-rounder's heroics, and talked about Botham to his friends and colleagues for hours.
To honour Beckett's passion for the sport in general, the authorities of Enniskillen, arranged a cricket match in 2015. As part of the Annual International Beckett Festival, on July 7, 2015, the organisers kept an exhibition cricket match between the Beckett XI representing Ireland, against the Pinter XI representing England at Kesh Cricket Club.
Liam Browne, deputy artistic director of the festival, said at that time, "The cricket match is to reflect Beckett's own interest in the sport and the place it had in his life. We wanted to connect it with Pinter (Harold Pinter, a British playwright, screenwriter and director) as they both shared this great love and were good friends."