Siegfried Sassoon: Never shied away from playing the game of cricket

by Mayukh Ghosh

He usually positioned himself at mid-on.
When the batsman hit the ball towards him, often he could not find enough time to move.
The ball usually cracked against his unprotected shins.
He would be in pain but would pick up the ball and gently throw it underarm to the bowler.
And he was perhaps the worst catcher of the cricket ball.

According to his close friend Edmund Blunden, at his peak, he had a batting average of just under 17.
Blunden exaggerated.
It was much lower than that.

But Siegfried Sassoon never shied away from playing the game of cricket. In fact, he needed to play it on most days.

His father left him when he was four.
He modelled himself on his artist mother. And became a poet.

He did well in the first year of the Great War. But then he became disillusioned with the war and sent a letter of
defiance to his commanding officer.
He was to be court-martialled.
Poet Robert Graves saved him but he was sent to the hospital for treatment.
There he met Wilfred Owen.
They were together for two and half months.
Sassoon had a great influence on Owen and yet when Owen died a year later, Sassoon was the first to admit that Owen was the greater war-poet.
The only friendship in his lonely life lasted only 80-odd days.

Sassoon the war poet died in 1919. A few homosexual encounters later, he declared that he was gay, a remarkable thing to do in the 1920s.
He lived till 1967. Lonely. Unfulfilled. Yet rhapsodic.

David Foot summed it up well:
" Sassoon needed his loneliness. The loneliness he cherished most of all was in the crowded, silent company of the timeless trees; in the company of the nuns and the monks who could communicate without conversation; and, maybe above all, amid the sublime innocence of a freshly mown outfield."

Siegfried Sassoon was born on this day in 1886.