“You can’t have a show without Punch”, my Dad used to say. With the Conservatives in tatters, defending the indefensible, tortuous apologism trotted out daily to try and minimise the scale of moral corruption at the heart of their government, it would have been surprising had JRM not popped up with another patronising homily to remind us to know our place and stop carping.
Sure enough, a couple of days ago, when put on the spot by a Newsnight reporter, he trotted out an analogy from cricket, likening the PM’s defence (that he never realised he was breaking the rules he’d been reminding us about on a daily basis), to Test cricket and DRS (the decision review system).
Jacob Rees-Mogg fails to understand cricket
Aside from the usual moral considerations, this once again shows up Rees-Mogg’s main weakness: he doesn’t realise how stupid he is. This trait, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, is well-documented and this is a good example.
It’s clear, from the analogy Rees-Mogg uses, that he’s never played nor watched much cricket. At any level, it’s rare a batsman doesn’t have a pretty good idea he might be out. For catches behind, a 5oz cricket ball at speeds between 50mph (spin) and up to 90mph for seam, will make a sound if it even flicks the edge of the bat and, as batter, you know if you’ve edged it.
Whether or not you leave it to the umpire is up to you. Every batter gets away with a few. At lower levels, if you stand your ground after you’ve edged it, you win some and you lose some. It all evens out. If you’re a complete plonker, you can grumble all the way back to the pavilion, but the local paper will still say you’re out.
For LBW (leg before wicket), it’s less clear cut, but you’re supposed to know where the wickets are as well as your feet and if one hits you plumb in front, you’ve a pretty good idea it may be given out. If you don’t know either of these things, you probably shouldn’t be out there with a bat in your hand. Someone’s going to get hurt.
All that matters is the truth
At test level, DRS is possibly the best use of sporting technology: each side has three reviews per innings. So, it’s in their interest only to review if they think it’s justified. If the review is unsuccessful, it’s lost. If successful, you keep it. At this level, all that matters is the truth. You can probably see where this is going.
The most famous example of this principle was at Headingley in 2019, when Australia reviewed a speculative LBW with England’s last pair at the wicket and only eight runs needed. Six balls later, the ball stuck the pad in front, the umpire gave it not out, and they’d burned their last review. Four balls after that, Ben Stokes became immortal and the Australians will never get over it, (except for thrashing us ever since).
In the case of the PM’s birthday party, he’d been on TV that day reminding us of the rules. The ad campaign that week showed someone on oxygen in an ICU and said “Look her in the eyes and tell us you’re not bending the rules”, Also that week, for good measure, it turns out he wrote a personal letter congratulating a seven-year-old child who’d cancelled her own birthday party.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
The notion that anyone, in that context, might HAVE NO IDEA that sharing a birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday with people outside of your own wife and kids, might be the equivalent of being struck in front of middle stump on the back pad, would be unthinkable to anyone who’s ever played or watched cricket.
Whatever young Rees-Mogg or the PM did during PE lessons, it didn’t involve willow and leather. At least, not that way.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect is appropriate here in understanding Rees-Mogg’s behaviour: in the imagination of his heart, he would see this as something quintessentially English, an act he’s been attempting to live out all his adult life. He’d also think it was rather clever and insightful. Most of all, a lifetime of being told he was a born leader would have convinced him that this (imaginary) skill set involved being able to communicate complexity to the common man.
In reality, his intellectual abilities have been shown to be somewhat lacking: His book about the Victorians sold poorly (mainly to journalists, it would appear), was derided by reviewers as dull and contained more than a few inaccuracies.
Henry Newbolt’s poem, Vitai Lampada, would have surely been familiar to an old Etonian such as Rees-Mogg, (though Newbolt attended Clifton College). Rees-Mogg seems to like using Latin, possibly for the same reasons as he mentions cricket.
“Play up, play up and play the game,” Newbolt exhorts. The poem implies that the character-building benefits of team sport would inspire soldiers in the field when they were up against it. Integrity. Self-sacrifice. Sticking to the rules. That sort of thing.
Of course, in cricket, there is a common scenario, when the fielding side appeals and the batter knows he’s edged one or been caught plumb in front.