A lazy Saturday afternoon. “Pick of the Pops” on BBC Radio 2 in the background, playing the charts from this date in 1967 and 1978. The #1s are “All you need is love” and “You’re the one that I want”. I am keeping an eye on the cricket, Day 3 of the First Ashes Test from Edgbaston. England are in a slightly stronger position than Australia, a first innings lead of 90.
Not for the first time I ponder how many of the players’ surnames are also regular words in English, allowable in Scrabble for example. Unlike previous times I make a note of them, first on the puzzles page of today’s paper and then on an A4 Pad. There are fewer than I expected: Burns, Root, Stokes and Broad for England; Warner, Smith, Wade, Head and Cummins for Australia. Each of these surnames is acceptable according to my copy of Official Scrabble Words (Chambers, 4th Edition). I even check whether words like Bairstow, Woakes and Khawaja are allowable and am not surprised to find that they are not. If we allow soundalikes we could have Buttler for the home side and Paine and Lyon for the visitors. This gives us a full XI and even a 12th man. I’d have Buttler as my wicketkeeper and Paine as the 12th man.
It’s a reasonably well-balanced team. It includes the four leading run-scorers so far in the current match (Burns, Root, Stokes, Smith) and the only bowler to take five wickets (Broad). If England had selected Jofra Archer I would include him in this hybrid team as an extra bowler, in place of Head or Wade. Archer might have been a better option than Jimmy Anderson for this game, not just for my bit of trivia regarding surnames, but because of the injury Anderson sustained on the first day. He was only able to bowl four overs in Australia’s first innings and looks unlikely to bowl in their second.
In recent years there have been many other England internationals whose surnames are allowable in Scrabble: Bell, Billings, Cook, Hales, Jordan, Leach, Prior, Stone and Wood. The following all sound like regular words in English, but the repeated consonant makes them invalid in most word games: Finn, Swann, Trott, Ballance. I see that the nicknames of the first two (“Finny” and “Swanny”) are allowable in Scrabble, but “Trotts” is not. I don’t recall what Gary Ballance’s nickname was.
Without reverting either to soundalikes or nicknames I offer the following England XI, all of whom have played some form of international cricket in the last 10 years: Cook (captain), Burns, Bell, Root, Hales, Stokes, Prior (wicketkeeper), Stone, Broad, Wood, Archer. None of these words scores very highly in Scrabble (Archer is top, with 11) but they are all allowable, and at their best this cricketing XI would have a decent chance against any current Test team.
Update: Despite having a first innings lead, England lost the First Test. The theme of cricketers’ surnames is developed further in this piece from September 2019, on the eve of the Fourth Test.