Cricket in Middle Earth
While in Quito, we broke off from the serious business of researching cricket’s history in Ecuador to play a brief game across both hemispheres.
We had no illusions of being the first to do so. After all, the equator also runs through the more established cricketing nations of Brazil, Uganda, Kenya and Indonesia, so even if cricketers there were unaware of it, they may have bowled and batted across both sides of the imaginary line.
We, on the other hand, knew exactly what we were doing, and how silly it was. Not that the plan was completely watertight.
La Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is a 30-metre-high, government-built monument to the equator line, located on the coordinates set by the French Geodisic Mission in 1739. The French were despatched to Quito, then part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, by Louis XV, in an attempt to provide a reliable measurement of the Earth’s roundness, and to settle the argument as to whether its circumference was wider at the poles or the equator. After three years of painstaking research, they claimed to have located the line equidistant to the North and South Poles, at San Antonio de Pichincha, roughly 26km north of Quito and almost 10,000 feet above sea level. For almost 200 years, this point was assumed to represent the middle of the world.
The French line was held as sacrosanct until the arrival in 1984 of the World Geodetic System, an electronic measurement of coordinates used in modern GPS. This technology placed the actual line 240 metres north of the French monument. In our view, that small margin of error only reflected how incredibly accurate the French had been. Inevitably, a second monument, housed in the privately-run Museo de Sitio Intiñan, sprung up, and today attracts a steady stream of tourists keen to pose for pictures by ‘the real line’.
For now at least, most people seemed to trust GPS, so it was in the Intiñan Museum grounds where we’d have to put down our impromptu cricket pitch. We pinpointed an open space just about big and flat enough, with Latitude 0° 00’ 00’ (we assume) running right down the middle.
We used a small stone monument to act as the wickets and a makeshift wicketkeeper. The red line marking the equator acted as the same kind of stump-to-stump guide used by the DRS when deciding on lbw verdicts. The concrete surface favoured batting, although the ball was liable to misbehave at such a high altitude. It had an effect on everyone, with some complaining of headaches, nausea, or being short of breath. The sun, almost directly above in the middle of the day, was pretty oppressive, so the match was appropriately short.
A hastily-drawn wagon-wheel confirmed that James, useless off his pads no matter where in the world, scored most of his runs in his comfort zone of the northern hemisphere (otherwise known as the off side). Timothy, strong through midwicket and down the ground, favoured the south (after all, he has often professed a desire to play in New Zealand during the British winter). Arjun, an Indian student living in London, acted as umpire, while the tour groups of North and South Americans looked on in gentle bemusement.