Cricket and Quizzing

What do they know of quizzing who only quizzing know?

Fans of both cricket and quizzing might recognise that I am paraphrasing a famous quote by Trinidadian academic CLR James in the great cricket book ‘Beyond a Boundary’ – “What knows he of cricket who only cricket knows?”

[Fans of cricket, quizzing and poetry might recognise that James was himself answering Rudyard Kipling in ‘English Flag’ – “What do they know of England who only England know?”]

It’s a phrase that can be re-applied pretty universally, just as so much of cricketing jargon and folklore has spread throughout English culture – “playing with a straight bat”, “sticky wicket”, “it’s just not cricket”, “stumped”, “going into bat for …” etc.

Which leads me to a couple of cricketing analogies which can be applied to quizzing.

Firstly … let us call this one the Wicketkeeper Rule, or, if you wish, The Slip Rule.

If you are a wicketkeeper, you can guarantee that the one ball you decide will absolutely certainly not come to you – but will go off the middle of the bat, so you take your eye off it for a second – will be the one that takes an edge,  and you drop. Disaster.

So it is that when you hear the start of a quiz question which appears to have nothing to do with you, is on a subject you have no interest in, it will come round to be right in your sphere of knowledge, and you will curse yourself that you didn’t concentrate.

As with wicketkeeping or fielding at slip, you cannot let your concentration waver for a second at a quiz.

Secondly … let us call this the Broadgate rule. So, in the first Ashes test of the summer, England all-rounder (there’s another one!) Stuart Broad edged a ball, which then deflected off the keeper and was caught by first slip. He was given not out, Australia had used up their reviews, and he stood their insouciantly and continued with his innings, making several more crucial runs.

Australians, and various pompous parts of the cricketing world, were outraged. How dare he not walk? “Blatant cheating”, Darren Lehmann, the Aussie coach called it. Darren Lehmann, a man who, as far as anyone knows, has never walked in his life. The only Aussie cricketer in living memory who was a full-time walker was the great Adam Gilchrist (no doubt he learnt it playing for Old Actonians Under-17s in the Middlesex Colts League!) and, by all accounts, this led to great resentment from his more hard-nosed colleagues.

So, why such outrage when Broad didn’t walk? Well, because, retrospectively, it was pretty obvious he’d got a big nick, but more because it was absolutely crucial to the outcome of the game.

So, what’s my point? He should have walked. Sure. That’s what I think. I walk. To be fair, the number of times it’s actually relevant, that you get a thin nick, you know you’re out but the umpire doesn’t spot it, is miniscule. I played a lot of cricket when I was younger and can only think of one time I walked when the umpire didn’t think I was out. And let’s just say that was not at a level with quite as much pressure as the first Ashes test, and I think I already had a few runs to my name. I was happy to stroll off merry and self-righteous.

And I have been outraged when an opponent didn’t walk for a blatant nick, of course. But have I been outraged when a team mate, or when an England player, didn’t walk for a blatant nick, like Michael Atherton versus Allan Donald in 1998, or Stuart Broad on this occasion? No, of course not. It’s all part of the game, we say to ourselves. He should have walked, but I’m glad he didn’t.

So it is with quizzes. If you are mismarked on a round, you complain vociferously if you’ve a mark too few but do you make your way to the front to demand a correction if you’ve been given a point or two too many. Do you?

And though outrage is reasonable enough when you catch an opposing team looking something up on their iPhone, make sure your outrage is accompanied by the knowledge that can you say hand on heart you’ve never seen or suspected a team mate of yours of doing the same. You’d rather they didn’t, of course, it’s not exactly cricket, but I bet everyone else is doing it …

This is no apologia for cheating, far from it. We hate cheating at our quizzes, and we do our level best to prevent it, pretty successfully. Accurate marking is also absolutely vital to us, and if ever any kind of mistake creeps in, we are shamefaced and remedy it at once. Fewer and fewer mistakes happen as we’ve taken more and more steps to make sure all our markers perform the right checks through out the quiz.

And we will very happily hear an enquiry about whether the marking is spot on, whether a question is accurate (it will be!), or what we will do about QuizTeam Aguilera using an iPhone. But we do hope that the enquiry is made politely and reasonably, without outrage or too much blame attached to anyone.

If Michael Clarke gets a massive nick and doesn’t walk at a crucial stage of the first test of the return Ashes this winter, let us hope we are able to shrug and take it on the chin and remember that when the good luck comes our own way, we readily accept it.

What makes a quiz team?

A good quiz team name, of course, helps make a quiz team. But we’ve written about that before. Once the team name is sorted though, anything goes.

A winning team can be one person or it can be ten people (though perhaps it shouldn’t be!). It can be teetotal or fuelled by booze, it can be made up of friends or strangers, it can be studious or boisterous, picky or relaxed.

First of all, let’s talk about quiz teams at pub quizzes. The chances are these will be made up of friends/colleagues/family members etc. People will know each other. Perhaps not everybody all the time, but mainly. I’d say this helps, and this is something we’ll get to.

Then what? Well, one thing I observe is that the old’ division of labour’ idea (“You’re good for TV, I’m good for sport, you’re good for food and drink, old Jim will deal with 60s music” etc) doesn’t necessarily work. As I’ve found to my own chagrin on a few occasions, going into a quiz team as the touted sport expert, you’re on a hiding to nothing. For a well-written quiz, lots of generalists will often work best.

Also, a really bad thing for a quiz team is when even one person switches off for a round, thinking they’ll have nothing to contribute. You want as many brains as possible, and you also don’t want any atmosphere of ignorance and impatience.

It may be the case (and often is) that there is one top brain, the real king/queen of the quiz. That’s not detrimental to a team’s success, but (I’m talking to you now) you need to know how to use your powers. You don’t know everything, and it’s rare that you’ll be able to accrue enough points to win without your team’s help. Don’t alienate them. Let them speak and discuss first rather than leaping on every single answer you know. If you do that, they may not be there to help you when you need them.

And if there’s a fairly unforthcoming team member who suddenly is convinced of an answer which you don’t agree with, don’t dismiss it out of hand. The fact that you’re used to being right does not mean you’re right in this circumstance. Why are they so sure now when they haven’t been on other questions?

Again, I speak from bitter personal experience of being a know-all. I almost blew it on the very first occasion I represented the best team I’ve ever been in, when I was convinced a picture was Macauley Culkin, and someone else was sure it was Corrie star/pop star/young Tory star Adam Rickitt. When it came to handing in the picture round, it went a bit like this:

ME: Look, I’m certain, certain I tell you, it’s Culkin. I’ve even seen that very photo. That is what he looks like these days. If you think I’m any good at quizzes at all, trust me on this. I know it.

My team-mate gracefully relented, and I waited smugly till the Quiz Master read out “and Number 13 is … Adam Rickitt …


ME: Aah. Pint, anyone? Some nuts? Quavers, perhaps? See you next week, chaps? Chaps? Will there be a next week?

Thankfully, I’d displayed sufficient quiz skills to get asked back, but, if you’re good at quizzes, don’t be that person, I beg you.

In general, whether they’re good at quizzes or not, a loudmouth, a know-all, a domineering personality is not great for either the success or enjoyment of a quiz team. The more so if they’re rubbish but don’t realise it, I suppose.

After a while, a good team will know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, will know that if someone is speaking up, you should listen, while if someone is a bit hesitant and lacking confidence, they’re still worth listening to etc.

The blend and sense of team harmony is probably the most important thing, more important even than a range of ages, backgrounds etc. Having said that, it’s rare, both at pubs and corporate quizzes, to see a winning team that is either only men or only women. The chances are that a good quiz will have been put together to appeal to both genders. Whether stereotypically “male” and “female” areas of knowledge exist and whatever they are, the chances are that a good quiz will cover both, deliberately or otherwise.

This is a surprisingly smooth segue onto the brief section on teams at corporate events. Here, it’s much less likely that team members will be friends, or even all know each other particularly well. Quite often, they’ll have been put together deliberately for networking, so that people who don’t know each other at all are sat next to each other. In some ways this can be helpful, as a team might cover a broader base, but a little too much awkwardness and politeness can be damaging. For the sake of team harmony, a strong player might even have to concede an answer when s/he is all but certain they’re in the right.

Hopefully, by the end of the night, all awkwardness will have disappeared, and people who wouldn’t say boo to each other at the start are screaming at each other, in the friendliest possible way, across the table “I told you it was ****ing 1984, you useless **** ***.”.You get the idea…

If we’re advising clients on how to put teams together from scratch for corporate events, the shared agenda is that we want everybody to have fun, we don’t want any teams to do too badly, we want the quiz to be a fair test, we want people to enjoy each other’s company and get to know colleagues better, and we want people to feel clever and relaxed.

So, we’d usually suggest teams between 4 and 8, we’d suggest mixing up departments, a range of ages, a mix of gender. Hopefully it will come together from there.

There is no perfect quiz team. Maybe the best team in the world hates each other, shouts at each other, is all of one gender, is three people. Maybe, but we hope not.

Who is in your perfect quiz team?