Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Eleven against Thebes

Fantasy Bob notes with less than his customary enthusiasm that the London Olympiad of 2012 is rapidly approaching.  Tickets are shortly to go on sale.

To understate things, FB is not a great fan of such events and, if he is honest, thinks that the money could be better spent developing sport at the grassroots level rather than  pandering to the bureaucrats of the IOC and building large stadia which regularly become financial liabilities.  However we are where we are.  But it is unforgivable is that cricket is not part of this sportsfest.  If synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and even golf (for goodness sake) are, how does the greatest of all sports miss out?

Cricket has appeared only once at the Olympics.   In 1900 Devon County Wanderers, masquerading as Angleterre (no TeamGB then) beat the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques, presumably France, by 158 runs in a 2 day game at the Vélodrome de Vincennes, a cycling track in Paris. Montague Toller took 7 for 10 in France's second innings of 26. The French team included such typically French names as Anderson, Attrill, Browning, Robinson and Henry Terry.  There does not appear to have been a candidate for the bronze medal.
Zeno of Elea
- contemporary photograph
FB accepts that this is not a very strong basis for a strong Olympic tradition, but he suspects that the continuing overlooking of cricket has more to do with the fact that cricket missed out in the original Olympiad in 776BC.  Historical sources are unclear on the extent to which cricket developed in the ancient Greek world.  But the fount of so much that is positive in our culture - democracy, philosophy, drama, science - can hardly have been blind to cricket's supreme virtues.  FB is therefore sure that the Greeks were working on the basis that cricket would be included in that first Olympiad.  FB's researches have revealed that, unfortunately, a member of the games development committee was Zeno of Elea.  Now Zeno had lots of good qualities, being a passable middle order hitter, but when he confused his philosophical work with his cricket development work, disaster struck. 

Zeno is most celebrated for his series of paradoxes, 2 of which are particularly important here.   The first is the so-called dichotomy paradox:

As Zeno would put it, suppose Hercules (an star batsman in the KP mould) wants to take a quick single. Before he can get to the other end, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a fourth, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.  To make a run, therefore, he has to complete an infinite number of tasks, which Zeno maintains is an impossibility.  This sequence also presents a second problem in that it contains no first distance to run, for any possible first distance could be divided in half, and hence would not be first after all. Hence, the run cannot even begin. The paradoxical conclusion then would be that travel over any finite distance can neither be completed nor begun, and so all motion must be an illusion.  So according to Zeno it wasn’t even possible to score a run.  This rather set the committee back a bit. 
That which is in locomotion must arrive at the half-way stage before it arrives at the goal.

Things got worse when Zeno then expounded his cricket ball paradox (more usually referred to as the arrow paradox).  
If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying cricket ball is therefore motionless.
In other words, for motion to occur, an object must change the position which it occupies. In any one instant of time for the ball to be moving, it must either move to where it is, or it must move to where it is not. However, it cannot move to where it is not, because this is a single instant, and it cannot move to where it is because it is already there. In other words, in any instant of time there is no motion occurring, because an instant is a snapshot. Therefore, if it cannot move in a single instant it cannot move in any instant, making any motion impossible.
Frieze showing net practice at Thebes
It was when the experimental game was in progress in front of the committee that Zeno used this argument to suggest to Spartan batters waiting their innings that the fast bowling wasn’t that much of a problem since the ball could not be in motion and so it could not actually hurt them.  Some of the Spartans, being Spartans, took this at face value and were surprised when the Athenian bowler’s short pitched off cutter got up a bit and hit them in the Peloponnese.  The committee searched vainly for protective clothing but unfortunately the technology of the time could not fashion an effective box and the committee rather lost interest.  Their games development programme was ordered alphabetically and next was discus throwing, on which the committee had more success. 

Zeno’s services were dispensed with and cricket never took its rightful place in the original Olympiad.  Indeed it lay undeveloped until some clever clogs in post enlightenment Europe disproved Zeno's conjectures to everyone's satisfaction using among other things the theory of convergent infinite series.  (Please don't ask FB to explain).  So, unless Zeno (or Boycott) is at the other end, runs can be scored - a clear call helps; and fast bowling might hurt.

And cricket at the Olympics remains one of the great might-have-beens.

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