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Samuel Beckett: Cricket's sole Nobel Prize winner

by Barry Nicholls

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If you are in search of a question to stump your cricket-mad friends, try this one for size.

"Who is the only first class cricketer to win a Nobel prize?"

Cricket's connection with literature stretches back as far as 1706 when the first full description of a cricket match appeared in Cambridge in a Latin poem. Nowadays it is a game which arguably has had more books written about it than any other. Well known authors who have played cricket , include A.A. Milne, J. M. Barrie, modern day author Jeffrey Archer and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes , who played first class cricket and whose only first class wicket was that of W.G. Grace).

So who is the only person to play first class cricket to have won a Nobel Prize?

The answer to this little known cricket fact is Irish -born playwright, Samuel Beckett, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin, Ireland on the thirteenth of April 1906 .As a cricketer he was an opening left hand batsman and left arm medium pace bowler whose first class experience was limited to two games both against Northhamptonshire, (one as an opening batsman and bowler). His appearances for Dublin University (which played first class fixtures from 1895 to 1926), occurred in the 1925 and 1926 seasons where he scored 35 runs in total with a highest score of 18 averaging 8.75. As a bowler he went wicketless for 64 runs. While not creating any great cricket records during his first class career he presented Northamptonshire's Sidney Adams with a wicket with the latter's first ball in first class cricket in 1926; ( Adams also took a wicket the next ball).

Beckett , who was educated at Portora Royal School in Ireland was to become one of the most and powerful writers during the Twentieth century. He attended Trinity College in Dublin before leaving for Paris aged 22 where he became a life long friend of Irish author James Joyce (both enjoying a fondness for alcohol). Joyce was for a time to act as a surrogate father figure to Beckett, both of whom were acutely aware of and embraced their shared sense of exile from Ireland. Beckett and Joyce had much in common as it was observed that both men were 'addicted to silences', engaging in converations which consisted often of silences directed towards each other.

Beckett was to enter into a friendship with Joyce's daughter , Lucia who was a particularly fragile and vulnerable individual when the two first met.They would cause immense emotional turbulence for each other and eventually Beckett was told that his frequent visits to the Joyce household ( for a time) were to cease .

Although described by some as a withdrawn , sullen and elusive personality , Beckett it appears courted several women before meeting his wife to be Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumensil, (who was to rush to his hospital bed after he was stabbed by a crazy man on the street on January 6th 1937). Beckett and Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumensil would eventually marry in 1961 and were together until his death in 1989.

Beckett wrote in both English and French throughout his life, although most of his major works were written in French between 1946 and 1950. Many of Beckett's writings have been presented in novels, short stories, poetry and scripts for radio television and film. Much of Beckett's drama is associated with the 'Theatre of the Absurd', exploring tragedy and comedy in an illustration of the human condition and the absurdity of existence. Beckett, the director was considered to be demanding and even at times tyrannical.

Beckett's most famous work ' Waiting for Godot' is about two tramps waiting on a what appears to be a desolate road for a man who never appears. 'Godot' opened in a tiny theatre in Paris in 1953 and went on to become one of the most important dramatic works of the century.

Beckett's works varied in length and nature. They ranged from the lengthy productions (Waiting for Godot, Endgame) to the very brief (Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe) and to the despairing monologues (Rockaby, A Piece of Monologue).

When told that he had won the Nobel Prize, he recoiled in horror and later gave the prize money away anonymously.

Beckett died in his adopted home of Paris, France on the twenty second of December 1989.

This author has used the following publications for information about the life of Samuel Beckett.

  • P.Bailey, P.Thorn,and P.Wynne- Thomas ,1993, Who's Who of Cricketers- a complete record of all cricketers who have played first class cricket in the British Isles Reed Consumer Books Limited, London , Great Britain.
  • P. Brooke and Peter Matthews, 1988, Guinness Cricket Firsts , Guinness Books, London, Great Britain.
  • M. Dawson , 1993 The Bumper Book of Cricket Extras Kangaroo Press, New South Wales , Australia.
  • M. Dawson , 1994 Cricket Extras Two, Kangaroo Press, New South Wales, Australia.
  • C. Martin- Jenkins 1996 World Cricketers- A Biographical Dictionary Oxford University Press , New York , United States of America.
  • Internet - article about Samuel Beckett found at
  • Edited by Petra Rees, 'The Weekend Australian' , December 7-8 , 1996, Review 'In Bed with Beckett'.

Have your say on Samuel Beckett

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your replies!

Fri Mar  6 07:34:47 GMT 1998
Message from (Colin Hubert)

It makes a certain kind of sense to discover that Samuel Beckett was an avid cricketer. 

The sense of time and eventlessness which he evokes in some of his best drama is analogous to that peculiar, timeless bliss which can be experienced watching a slow test match.

I once was in charge of the lighting operation in a two week run of "Waiting For Godot".  With this new knowledge of Beckett's cricketing past, I can now understand the set designer's intuitive aptness in this production.

The action took place on a strip almost exactly the length of a cricket pitch, painted a lighter grey than the surrounding floor to the same sort of width as a cricket pitch, with Hamm and Clov in dustbins roughly where the stumps would be.

I have often noted the absurdity that a game which, at its highest level, recquires five days of continuous sunshine, and still often ends in a draw, should have developed in England.  I think it says much about the English desire for frustration.

Now I can wonder if this Irish dramatist had something like this in mind, or if his success in England has anything to do with this analogy.

Thu Dec 18 12:38:44 GMT 1997
Message from (Thorsten Zoerner)

For an excellent biography on Samuel Beckett have a look at James Knowlson's "Damned to fame: the life of Samuel Beckett", New York, NY, 1996. Cricket gets mentioned a couple of times alongside a photo of the (very) young cricketer.

Fri Jun 27 23:35:53 BST 1997
Message from (Gerard Siggins)

I am President of Dublin University CC and am delighted to see there is some interest in our most famous former member's cricketing prowess. There was a booklet printed called "An Alternative Wisden on Samuel Beckett" by a man whose name I forget but who is a book dealer in Middlesex. I can provide more details of Beckett's career if requested.

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 22:25:43
Message from (Peter Karlsson)
In 1995, Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden's biggest daily papers, and Kanguru, magazine of the Arts Students Association of the University of Stockholm, published short articles on Beckett's cricketing career. The one in Kanguru was part of an article that focused on W.G. Grace and late 19th century shamateurism, in addition to being an introduction to cricket for young viking descendants. By the way, according to a review in Cricket Statistician 1996 (forgot which number) there's also a book on Joyce and cricket. Apparently in a part of his novel Finnegan's Wake (maybe 3 pages) one third of the words are connected to cricket. The author of that book (sorry, don't remember his name) wrote about Beckett as well a few years ago.

Date-stamped : 05 May1998 - 18:22

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