MY INTEREST IN CRICKET goes back to the 1950s listening toTest Cricket broadcasts from shop window radios in the city,the radio at home from England in the 1956 series, and of watching cricket at my home ground, 50 metres down the street, Marrickville Oval. I grew up in Porter Avenue Marrickville. This short, sloping, dead end street, with its brick footpaths, is now regarded as one of Marrickville’s premier streets with its 1920s bungalow-type architecture. The character of Porter Avenue was enhanced by camellias which lined both sides and were tended with loving care by residents who took pride in these beautiful shrubs. Not so the kids, who often picked the buds for bud fights. Fifty years ago bread and milk were still delivered by horse and cart. Porter Avenue was ideal for billycarts which were the skateboard of the day.
At the bottom of Porter Avenue was the main entrance to Marrickville Oval and each Saturday—well, at least when Petersham-Marrickville First Grade was playing—up would go the hessian across the entry gate. Alternatively you could leap the fence and sit on the hill which stretched for half the circumference of the arena and where sheep still grazed until the late 1950s. I recall once staring at a group of players, who were watching the game, among them Clive Johnston, long time captain of the Petersham side and also a State player, Noel Hughes, the club wicket-keeper, whose sons later became prominent Rugby League footballers, and a young Bobby Simpson, already playing for NSW, but not yet for Australia. Like other boys I’d get autographs of visiting teams, which I treasured and later my autograph book contained signatures of many state and national players. Included is the immortal signature of Don Bradman. This was not personally obtained, but acquired by me in an autograph book at Paddington Markets for $5 in the 1980s.
By the 1956 Australian tour of England, when Jim Laker took his famous 19 wickets in the Fourth Test at Old Trafford, I was hooked. For the 1961 tour to England I kept my own record, using this large, crude chart , showing how Australia performed, complete with each player’s batting and bowling figures for the tour. It’s now starting to disintegrate, but 44 years on I still treasure it.
However, my appreciation of cricket was not matched by much playing ability; I never received coaching or properly learnt the basic techniques of the game. Ask me who scored what in the First Test played in Australia or who topped the averages in the 1920-21 Test series, but don’t ask me the technique for producing a leg break or even how the ball is meant to spin once it hits the pitch. My father Jim followed cricket, but never encouraged me to join a team or get coaching, although, like other kids, I played a lot of ‘backyard’, in the street, down the park and in the playground cricket.
I did play two or three games in my mid teens in a Saturday morning minor competition park match, though did nothing of note. Ironically when I once took a catch, it was as a substitute for the opposing team. In fact, it was a reflex action and had I not caught the ball, it might have caused my face severe damage!
Dad knew Brian Hone who played Sheffield Shield cricket for South Australia, went to England as a Rhodes Scholar and captained the Oxford University XI in 1933. Hone wrote Cricket Practice & Tactics in 1937, which ran to several reprints. It was aimed at primary age cricketers. My father had attended high school in Adelaide with Tim Wall who was a prominent state and national cricketer in the 1920s and 1930s. As a medium fast bowler he was the first Sheffield Shield player to take 10 wickets in an innings. He played a lot of cricket against and with Don Bradman. Dad moved from Adelaide to Sydney in 1934 to take up employment as a journalist with The Bulletin. In the same year Don Bradman moved from Sydney to Adelaide. Dad used to say South Australia got the better of the deal.
My uncle Ray Brookes, who lived in Melbourne, played some grade cricket and was a grade umpire for many years. He was an inspiration in my love of cricket—a great statistician and conversant with cricket history and folklore. He also collected hundreds of cricket books. In the 1980s he made the fateful decision to part with his collection, much to the chagrin of one of his cricket-loving sons and myself. Nevertheless the books went to a good home, the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) Trust. He later had a ring from the Secretary of the Trust, former Australian captain Ian Johnson, who said he’d found a $100 note inside one of the books!
A friend recently asked how many books did I have. I said: “I don’t know. Despite accumulating cricket books for around 50 years, I’ve never kept count, but I’d say I’ve probably got about 150.” Wrong! Very wrong. A count revealed around 360. It sounds a lot, but then I’ve read about some fellow who until recently had about 8000 titles, which he’s started to sell off. My collection is not particularly valuable in that there are few really old books or first editions in mint condition.
For this paper I have endeavoured to restrict my selection to a score of books—a score being 20. As this was exceedingly difficult, I’ve ended up with a few extras, which is why I’ve slightly varied the paper’s title. They are not necessarily my favourites, but constitute a good cross-section.
Cricket books seem to fall into six categories:
1. Instructional manuals;
2. Biographical or autobiographical, often with a player’s Best Eleven;
3. About particular tours or matches;
4. Histories or A-Z;
5. Humorous, quirky or fictitious; and
Many of these, of course, tend to overlap. My father stimulated my interest in cricket by invariably giving me cricket books as presents, including several ABC Cricket Year Books. These were a guide to the year’s cricket, containing results of the previous season’s games, and information on the current and up-and-coming stars. My uncle Ray gave me the NSW Year Book for 1948-49. It was apparently the first one produced for some years as it records virtually every first class match played between 1946 and 1949, as well as Test series. It’s really for the statistician, though we do learn in the annual report that this was the first season when air travel was used in Sheffield Shield matches, “reducing the amount of time players were required to be away from their employment”.
How times have changed! For proficient, established players, cricket now is their employment.
Dad also gave me a paperback compiled by James Rivers with a foreword by Denis Compton containing scorecards of every England-Australia Test between 1877 and 1948. It has suffered from over-use but has been a wonderful friend. I later acquired Sydney Smith’s History of the Tests, which is much sturdier and more detailed, but ends in 1938. It has a terrific range of facts and figures as well as all the scorecards. Smith was a prominent behind-the-scenes cricket man. This book also has a nice bookplate for BP Purcell. It’s signed NL, who is probably Norman Lindsay, and yes, the mermaid depicted is topless!
Like choosing world best cricket elevens, some books chose themselves. Probably the first cricket book I owned, and simply called Cricket, was written by five of England’s top cricketers in 1903.
That book was given to me by George Porter, who lived next door to my family in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Porter Avenue, where I grew up, was named after his father Robert Porter, who was from one of Marrickville’s pioneering families. His family owned Porter’s Brickpits which became Marrickville Oval, into which Porter Avenue runs. I have already alluded to this hallowed turf. This oval has nurtured many famous cricketers—Bill Brown, the oldest surviving 1948 Invincible, Bobby Simpson, another opener, who captained Australia, and Johnny Martin, a feisty left arm spin bowler who also had a penchant for hitting sixes. Johnny was my childhood cricket hero. He excelled at Sheffield Shield and grade cricket levels, but had limited opportunities in Test cricket, though in Melbourne during the famous tied Test series in 1960-61, he got 3 wickets in 4 balls—Kanhai, Sobers and Worrell—and scored a dashing fifty. Johnny was the postman at Burrell Creek and used to come down by train every weekend to play for Petersham-Marrickville.
Anyway, this old cricket book, published in 1903, is an early cricket manual with chapters by C B Fry, K S Ranjitsinhji, Gilbert Jessop, C L Townsend and George Brann. The first three are considered legendary in the annals of the game. The first chapter by Fry looks at fitness and practice. Among his views are that cricketers should avoid heavy weightlifting, do plenty of walking, cultivate the art of step-dancing—this for balance and quickness of foot—take up boxing and fencing, and practice hitting at a swinging ball tied to a tree.
Of much appeal to me as a kid was The Young Cricketer (1950) with a foreword by the Duke of Edinburgh, then President of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club). On the facing inside page is one of cricket’s most famous images, “Tossing for Innings” by R James. This picture often appears in cricket anthologies and I have two reproductions which are similar, but vary in their composition. The contents page shows 1st Innings and 2nd Innings, ironically each with a score of articles. As a kid I read this from cover to cover as evidenced by its grubby, lolly-stained pages. A world eleven was picked, titled “Elysium”, with W G Grace and Victor Trumper opening the batting. Few of the other nine players would be known today and included William Beldham (“Silver Billy”) whose fame dates back to c 1800. A painting of him in the Long Room at Lord’s is another well known cricket picture (p32).
Only two other Australians made this team, one of whom, A E Trott played most of his cricket in England. That leaves F R Spofforth, nicknamed Demon, who famously took 14 for 90 in the 1882 Test at the Oval, which Australia won by seven runs. The legend of the Ashes was created in the wake of that Test.
A favourite page in that book is “Some Schoolboy Feats”. One or two are worth quoting (p 98).
The highest individual score ever recorded was made by a thirteenyear-old schoolboy, A E J Collins, who scored 628 not out in a school match at Clifton in June 1899. He batted for seven hours and carried his bat right through an innings of 836. The match was spread over several afternoons, and the performance is the more remarkable because Collins had to play himself in afresh on four different days.
Faced with this formidable total the opponents were dismissed for 61 and 87, Collins’ bowling analyses being 7-33 and 4-30. He later played in good-class army matches and in 1913 made 58 and 36 at Lord’s. He was killed in action in 1914.
Two remarkable feats were performed in South African school matches. On October 11th, 1930, when Dryfe House were dismissed for 6 runs by St George’s Grammar School, S Raddall had the amazing analysis of 5.3 overs, 5 maidens, 0 runs, 9 wickets. The following year Paul Hugo, a left-hand bowler, playing for Smithfield School against Alwal North took all 10 wickets in their score of 3. Nine of his wickets were with successive balls.
Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac is cricket’s most famous annual. A good friend of mine has every Wisden from about 1945 to 2000, since which time he collects only the Australian Wisden. I have a mere five Wisdens, the oldest dating back to 1960, which was the 97th edition. Its price then was English 18 shillings 6 pence. It is 1023 pages long but is well bound. It contains everything you ever wanted to know about cricket for a given year and before.
In 1959, Dad gave me Australian Cricket: A History by Johnny Moyes (cost 50 shillings). I vividly recall Johnny’s edgy voice and his incisive commentary. He was one of those at the microphone during the broadcast of that famous final over by Wesley Hall in 1960 during the Tied Test in Brisbane. He was a veteran cricket journalist and true authority of the game. It’s a classic. This was the definitive work on Australian cricket up to that time. I understand Johnny Moyes’s brother was Bishop Moyes of Armidale, New South Wales.
In 1996 came The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket. With 640 pages it covers everyone of note (male and female) who played cricket plus information on visiting teams, cricket grounds, umpires, and other entities and institutions. I opened at random and found this interesting entry, “The Stuffed Swallow” (p 508), about a swallow which was killed by a cricket ball in a 1969 Sheffield Shield match at Adelaide. The ball was declared a “dead” whilst the deceased swallow, “suitably treated”, was put on display at the ground museum. On the same page is the ‘Super Sopper’ invented by Gordon Withnall in 1974 in his Sydney backyard—an invention which now has international use. This a stupendous book, whose main editor is Professor Richard Cashman, a colleague of mine in the Marrickville Heritage Society, who has written several cricket books. I might mention one final entry of interest for Robert Radford (note Radford, not Redford) (p 436). Born in 1943, Bob was an opening batsman who played for North Sydney and later for Lane Cove in the New South Wales Shires competition. He later became secretary of the NSW Cricket Association and later executive director, holding these posts for almost 20 years before he retired. He died last year. I mention Bob because his brother happens to be our BCSA president Neil Radford.
An historically interesting and significant book is Cricket Walkabout (1967) by D J Mulvaney about the Australian Aboriginal Cricketers on Tour 1867-68. It is extraordinary to think that the first touring side to England consisted entirely of Australian Aborigines. The side performed quite well and contained some accomplished players. The players adopted colourful nicknames—Mosquito, Red Cap, King Cole, Jim Crow, Tarpot, Dick-a- Dick, Twopenny, Billy Officer, Bullocky and Sundown.
I have numerous cricket biographies which vary in interest and quality. Many written during my lifetime I can relate to because they cover an era familiar to me—by the likes of Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud, Bob Simpson, Ian Chappell and Allan Border. Those of bygone eras include W G Grace, George Giffen, Hirst & Rhodes, Victor Trumper, Jack Hobbs, Warwick Armstrong and Alan McGilvray, who we fondly remember as a peerless radio commentator. His autobiography, The Game is Not the Same , reminds us of a catchy song written about him in the eighties.
Still in the 19th century is Cradle Days, an anthology of the writings of Felix, pen-name of Tom Horan. Horan played 15 Tests (including the 1882 Ashes Test) in the 1870s and 1880s, doing reasonably well, scoring a century and taking eleven wickets at average of 13. He later became a respected journalist with The Australasian, writing a column called “Cricket Chatter”. He was actually the most quoted Australian cricket correspondent between 1879 and 1916 when he died. His identity remained unknown to most readers until after his death. This compilation by Brian Crowley and Pat Mullins appeared in 1989.
My next two titles I partly include because of the church hall setting this paper was given in. During my Sunday School days at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Dulwich Hill, I acquired this tiny A6 gem for eight pence—The Life Story of an Eton, Cambridge and All-England Cricketer: The Life Story of Charles T Studd. Its author Norman Grubb also wrote C T Studd Cricketer & Pioneer, published by the Religious Tract Society in 1933, and a demonstration of its popularity is that my copy is the Seventh Impression of May 1936. Don’t be misled however, because only one of 23 chapters is devoted to C T Studd’s cricketing career. He played just a few tests in the early 1880s, including the famous 1882 Ashes Test, and toured Australia in 1883. C T Studd achieved more fame playing for Eton and Cambridge. He and six brothers (including a half brother) all played for Eton whilst he and two brothers all played for Cambridge. In fact they achieved the unique distinction of each captaining Cambridge for a year in three successive years (1882-84). Studd became a missionary and worked in India, England, America and the Belgian Congo, where he died in 1921.
Dr H V Hordern was an Australian who went to America where he studied dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He played cricket for the Gentlemen of Philadelphia, with whom he toured England, Ireland, Canada, Jamaica and Bermuda. He returned to Australia playing 53 first class matches for NSW and seven Tests between 1910 and 1912, performing well. He has been described as “the first genuine leg spin and googly bowler”. His 1932 autobiography titled Googlies is most entertaining. He narrates as if sitting by a fire and each chapter is a ‘coal’. He writes: “Would you care to draw up that chair over there, light your pipe, and watch the Shadow Show with me?” In his foreword Monty Noble (former Australia captain who has a grandstand named after him at the Sydney Cricket Ground) describes the book as:
a very charming excursion into the realms of cricket fancy, yet there is little of the purely fanciful about it. He was the first of the true Australian googly bowlers to play havoc with his wrong-un among the wickets of many good batsmen, and the delightful part about his bowling was the sustained pleasure he got out of it. That is to say he bowled because he loved to do so, and whether he was being hit to the pickets or gathering in the wickets was a secondary consideration. What counted above everything else were the things for which cricket stands – the good fellowships, the self discipline, the high ideals, the international fraternity, the organised pleasure and the development of everything that stands for the clean sporting spirit.
Well it was written in 1932. It also contains appealing sketches by Tom Glover.
Jack Hobbs was an opener for England and Surrey, for whom he played between 1905 and 1934. He hit a record 197 centuries in first class cricket and scored over 61,000 runs. He was 52 when he retired from first class cricket. He was nicknamed ‘The Master’, and Richie Benaud recently named him as one of the openers in his All Time World XI. In his day he was a national icon. He wrote My Cricket Memories in 1924, so his cricket career still had another ten years to run. He has a no nonsense writing style and conveys heaps of match details as well as the day to day life of a cricketer, but it’s a most enjoyable read.
An item of cricket paraphernalia relates to the Hobbs era. It’s a menu for the Union-Castle Line RMS Armadale Castle dated 1923 (See page 99).
The English cricket team were returning home following a tour of South Africa. In his book Hobbs describes it as “a pleasant trip home, making many friends on board. The usual round of deck games, sports, fancy dress balls, and concerts, in which some of us played our parts, whiled away the voyage” (p 186). Though the signatures on the menu include Percy Fender, Arthur Gilligan, Frank Woolley and other notable English cricketers, that of Hobbs is sadly missing. Perhaps he was exhausted from the day’s recreation.
In 1939 C B Fry (born 1872) wrote Life Worth Living, a truly epic autobiography which I have skimmed but not fully read. He sure could write. He was an extraordinary individual who excelled in several sports. He held the world long jump record for 21 years; he played soccer for England and was regarded as one of the best all round cricketers England ever produced. He was a journalist, politician, diplomat, academic, world traveller and raconteur (p 382). He writes favourably of Australia: “The Australian has rejuvenated the British race in a new world of his own without losing attachment to the root qualities of his parent stock.” Curiously he describes both Perth and Sydney as “perhaps the finest city in the Commonwealth” (only two pages apart), but he marvels at “Sydney’s climate, fresh with a resplendent sun, wide streets (some of them narrow), an atmosphere of energy and a cricket ground” (p 406). In Hollywood he “spent an evening with actors Herbert Marshall, David Niven, Nigel Bruce, plus PG Wodehouse, other writers, fellow cricketer Gubby Allen and half a dozen other names you would know if I could remember them”. He writes: “all were talking at once, all on different subjects, and nobody was listening to anyone else. In fact, I was the only one not talking. Nigel Bruce kept asking questions about cricket, but nobody paid any attention.”
One of the wittiest cricket book titles is 10 for 66 and All That by the Australian leg break bowler of the 1920s Arthur Mailey. He once took 10/66 in a 1921 match against Gloucestershire. Mailey became a cricket journalist and could sketch quite well. He had a great sense of humour. As a bowler he took a lot of wickets, but also had a lot of runs scored off him. He played for NSW in the famous match in 1926-27 against Victoria when Victoria, batting first, made 1107 runs; Mailey’s bowling figures were an unflattering 4/362. He later quipped that he was just beginning to find his length as the final wicket fell. Such was Mailey’s reverence for cricket legend Victor Trumper that once when he dismissed him in a club match he felt “like a boy who had killed a dove”.
Don Bradman has undoubtedly had more books written about him than any other cricketer. Among them is one by his cricketing colleague Jack Fingleton evocatively titled Quietly Fades the Don. Until 2001 there were 55 Bradman books (excluding reprints) and more have appeared since. They tend to hero worship the Boy from Bowral, but in 2002 Brett Hutchens wrote Don Bradman: Challenging the Myth. He does not dispute Bradman’s place in the pantheon of cricket apropos his achievements, but does challenge the perception of Bradman as THE national hero. “He is but one hero in a rich and varied Australian history and culture and needs to be placed alongside other great Australians.”
Another of Bradman’s contemporaries and often rival was Bill O’Reilly, who admired Bradman though they were never close. O’Reilly wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald for countless years and his column was essential reading for any cricket lover. (Peter Roebuck has been a worthy successor at the Herald.) O’Reilly was a famous leg spin bowler of the thirties and another colourful personality, which comes through in his writing. The only time I’ve written a cricket book review was when Jack McHarg’s biography Bill O’Reilly: A Cricketing Life came out in 1990. A friend who worked for the New South Wales Southern Highland News approached me and my review duly appeared in this Bowral paper. Wow! Such was the impact of my review I’m still awaiting the call from a better known rag.
My most recently published autobiography is by Kerry O’Keefe, who has achieved further fame in recent years as a regular guest on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television program The Fat and as a radio commentator. He has a most extraordinary, though engaging, laugh. Kerry would be the first to admit he was not in the top class as a Test cricketer and his spin bowling performances are certainly not outstanding. However, he was a regular Test player throughout the 1970s, played in the Centenary Test in 1977 and was a member of Packer’s rebel cricketers. His book, called According to Skull: An Entertaining Stroll Through the Life of Kerry O’Keefe, is no literary masterpiece, but reading it is like sitting in a barwith Kerry and having him tell you yarns about his life. He’s a master of understatement and of self deprecation and can be very funny. Often his writing has little to do with cricket and more to do with life. One of his inspirations was Bill O’Reilly, who urged Kerry at age 15 not to take too much notice of coaches who try and change one’s style. We learn he was childhood mates with the former Labor politician Graham Richardson. They both attended the Catholic Marist Brothers school at Kogarah in NSW, and cricket was their favourite pursuit.
We also learn about a word derivation—sledging (p155-6). During a match between NSW and South Australia a barbecue was held at the end of a day’s play. After a NSW player made inappropriate comments to a lady, the fellow was ruled by John Benaud, to be out of order. Benaud added that the transgressor’s outburst was as ‘subtle as a sledgehammer’ and he momentarily became known as ‘Percy Sledgehammer’ (a reference to the artist who belted out the tune ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’). The ‘Percy’ soon disappeared and for the remainder of the season anybody who used over the top language was known as a ‘sledge’. A slang word was born! Now of course, it’s proper English.
Kerry’s book is sheer delight.
Few cricket books are written by women. An understatement. I have two, both written by English women. One is by the wife of cricketer Phil Edmonds, Frances Edmonds, called Cricket XXXX Cricket which is about touring with a cricket side. I’m not sure if the XXXX refers to a Queensland brand of beer much consumed by cricketers or is a euphemism for the ‘F’-word. The book has less to do with cricket than about travelling around Australia in the 1980s.
Margaret Hughes wrote The Long Hop about the English tour of Australia in 1954-55. Hughes had previously written a cricket book called All on a Summer’s Day. She opens The Long Hop with:
Ever since I wrote my first cricket book I have been treated as a freak, rather like the fat lady in the circus. At Lord’s people have been brought round to have a look at me, in the same way they might be taken to see the Albert Memorial, only I hope it has not been with such an overpowering result. “That’s the girl”, they whisper in a hushed voice in case anyone might be listening, “who writes on cricket.” The reaction is always the same. “What on earth can she know about it?” or “How odd! A woman interested in cricket”.
Of additional interest is the fact that she was asked to cover the tour and write the book by the head of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Frank Packer, father of media magnate Kerry, who was later to be instrumental in establishing World Series Cricket. Obviously she had enormous gratitude and admiration for Frank Packer and writes:
There is something terrifying, yet extremely likeable about this burly, enthusiastic, slightly gauche newspaper tycoon, and I shall never cease to be grateful to him for giving me the freedom of his daily column.
I also have Vol 1 No 1 March 1938 of a magazine called Australian Women’s Cricket. It then cost 3 pence. I paid $2 in 2003. It’s well compiled and full of interest.
Another tour review book is also partly autobiographical and concerns one of cricket’s most famous series. It is called Body-line? by fast bowler Harold Larwood. It is interesting because Larwood was a central figure in the Bodyline series. The book was published in June 1933 only a few months after the Bodyline series finished. Larwood was the spearhead of the English bodyline attack and took 33 wickets in a series convincingly won by England. The foreword was written by the English captain Douglas Jardine. When I say written, you can take that literally, as it appears in handwriting with the date 8 May 1933. The players had hardly disembarked from the ship. Jardine was full of praise and admiration for his main strike bowler. The title is of interest not just because it is hyphenated, but because of the question mark after the title. Larwood always maintained he did not bowl at the body and called the bowling Fast-Leg Theory. Of his 33 wickets, 18 were bowled or leg before. He predicts that England would win the next series. Wrong. Bradman did not lose another series to England, which did not win the Ashes again until 1953, and even then, the first four tests were drawn! Larwood was to later migrate to Australia with his family and was very well received in this country.
An item of related interest is a 78-rpm speed record called Leg Theory:Part 1 – as viewed by Frank R Foster, an all round English cricketer; on the reverse side is Leg Theory: Part 2 – a reply by Harold Larwood. I’ve yet to even hear it, as 78-rpm record players are now so scarce.
Possibly the greatest of cricket writers was Neville Cardus, a cricket journalist and classical music critic of the highest order. Among his books were English Cricket (1945) and Autobiography (1947) whilst A Cardus for All Seasons (1985) contains excerpts from his work. The blurb on the cover of this describes his writing: “he was to create a cricket intelligentsia, lifting the writing on this sport to a height never equalled before or since.
That he also distinguished himself as a great music critic is a sincere measure of his unique talents.” I do have a copy of Cardus’s Ten Composers, but itdoesn’t belong amongst the present score.
Not only could Cardus write so passionately on the game, his creation of panoramic word pictures is wonderful. The following is from Cardus for All Seasons (p96), describing the end of the 1938 season in England:
At last the cloud of the Oval Test match has passed away, and we can watch the season go to its end in comforting sentimental sunshine. In another week or two all the cricket fields will be vacant; there will be nothing to read in the papers except news about Hitler and football.
In his Autobiography is an evocative passage signalling the end of cricket before World War II (p 166-7):
On the Friday when Hitler invaded Poland, I chanced to be in this same Long Room at Lord’s watching through windows for the last time for years. Though no spectators were present, a match was being continued; there was no legal way of stopping it. Balloon barrages hung over Lord’s. As I watched the ghostly movements of the players outside, a beautifully preserved member of Lord’s, spats and rolled umbrella, stood near me inspecting the game. We did not speak of course; we had not been introduced. Suddenly two workmen entered the Long Room in green aprons and carrying a bag. They took down the bust of W G Grace, put it into a bag, and departed with it. The noble lord at my side watched their every movement; then he turned to me. “Did you see, sir?” he asked. I told him I had seen. “That means war,” he said.
Humorous cricket books have subcategories. There are those full of yarns and anecdotes thrown together by ex cricketers such as Max Walker and Doug Walters; there are satirical and cartoon books; and there are fictional works. One avid writer on cricket was P G Wodehouse who was a village cricketer and played six times at Lord’s. He was one of England’s foremost humorists and creator of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Blandings Castle and Psmith. Wodehouse at the Wicket came out in 1997 and the biographical introduction by Murray Hedgcock takes up about a quarter of the book’s length. One interesting snippet is that Wodehouse got the name Jeeves from a professional cricketer for Warwickshire called Percy Jeeves, who was killed in France in 1916. Percy was renowned for his immaculate turnout and behaviour, impeccable grooming, spotless flannels and smartly ironed shirts. He was a highly regarded allrounder in his day. The rest of this book contains articles, poems and excerpts from Wodehouse stories—clearly though, from another era.
A tiny book published in 1950, is a reproduction of a book originally printed privately in 1899. J M Barrie is best known as the creator of Peter Pan. He was a prolific playwright and author, and was recently subject of a movie about him called Finding Neverland. He also loved cricket and his book is called J M Barrie’s Allahakbarries CC. The foreword is by Don Bradman, who writes: “to offer any criticism of the work of such a writer would be impertinence; to offer praise would be superfluous”. The name refers to ducks near where Barrie lived. Barrie was passionate about cricket and enjoyed playing it, despite having no cricket talent. Barrie regarded himself as a ‘cricketeer’. This book is really a send-up, though a cricket team which he organised, did exist, and included artists and fellow writers.
On one page is the following:
Lest the forecast should be wrong in some of its details this page has been left blank, so that the fortunate possessor of this work may appeal the scores actually made.
A curious book, is Carr’s Illustrated Dictionary of Extra-ordinary Cricketers (1983), full of strange and esoteric cricket trivia. Open any page at random:
Albert Knight, Leicestershire, c1903, customarily knelt and prayed at the crease before receiving a first delivery; Arthur Fagg, Kent, d. 1977, performed the unique feat of making 244 and 202 not out in the first and second innings against Essex in 1938 at Colchester; Lord Harris, President of the Kent County Cricket Club, b. 1851, was the man who actually saw the Australian Ernest Jones’s ball pass through W G Grace’s beard; and F Buckle, Middlesex V Surrey, 1899; score read ‘1st inns—not sent for in time—0; 2nd inns—absent unwell—0’.
Anthologies are wonderful things—not to be read from cover to cover, but intended for flipping through and picking out whatever the mood dictates. Needless to say, I have a number of these. John Arlott produced My Favourite Cricket Stories containing 12 pieces by writers including Nancy Mitford, Arthur Mailey, Neville Cardus, Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), E W Hornung (creator of Raffles) and R C Robertson-Glasgow, regarded by Arlott as ‘the most perceptively witty of cricketerwriters’. Such was Arlott’s reputation as a broadcaster and writer that he has had biographies written about him including David Allen’s, which is a classic. Another entertaining English broadcaster, Brian Johnston, wrote several entertaining anecdotal cricket books as well as works of autobiography. A Johnston creation—“the champagne moment”—is an award still given by BBC/ABC broadcasters for the adjudged moment of distinction in a Test Match.
Another anthology Cricket Addicts’ Archive, edited by Benny Green and published in 1977, was given to me by my dad. Among the contributors are Wodehouse, Barrie, Alec Waugh, H G Wells, Compton Mackenzie, Arthur Gribble, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, J B Priestley, E V Lucas, Edmund Blunden, Hugh de Selincourt, plus many famous cricket writers and cricketers. This reveals both the extent to which cricket is written about and the writing calibre of its chroniclers.
At the end of the book is a cricket short story called “That’s Cricket”, which is about a Saturday afternoon match in the Australian countryside between two teams called the Glenmore Gladiators and the Limpinghome Leatherhunters. Among their players are Chukka Greenslope, Ponto Prigg, Blockwanter, Spiff Shoestring and Lastman. Naturally, three 9 gallon kegs play a major role in the proceedings. We learn early on that the Leatherhunters have played upwards of 70 seasons “during which, it is claimed, they have never fielded the same side twice … it is a striking testimony to their love of the sport that the club is still flourishing after several decades of reverses, for it is an undeniable fact that their victories have been almost as rare as the occasions on which they have returned home without emptying the last keg.” Predictably, against all odds, the Leatherhunters win by one run.
This story was written by my father, J B (Jim) Blair who had photocopied the story and pasted it into the back of my book before presenting it to me. Dad’s story originally appeared in The Bulletin in the 1940s and was one of many short stories which appeared there during his 27 years on the staff. This village green style of cricket as alluded to here and earlier—in JM Barrie’s XI—has been the subject of many books and articles. Eminent English poet and essayist Edmund Blunden in his classic Cricket Country (1944) (pp158-159):
I have known many cricketers who, as far as my observation went, practically never scored a run, nor were called on to bowl, nor took much part in the rest of the proceedings; and yet they were always present, always eager.
Jim Young described as “a broken-down park cricketer of modest achievement” in 2001 starts his Any Old Eleven (p 1):
On summer Saturdays, in public parks and school grounds all over Australia’s cities, flags are arranged in a circle, coir mats are stretched over concrete pitches, and cricket matches of no importance whatsoever to anyone not actually taking part are conducted with a degree of endeavour, and frequently of venom, deserving of far more serious enterprises.
Young has a whimsical style and the cricket he describes relates more to the norm in society and to human nature in general than the writing covered in most of the books in my collection.
I have this book of fiction published in 1946, Pro: An English Tragedy by Bruce Hamilton, about the rise and fall of a cricketer who finally gasses himself. It was actually quite a good read about a once promising player who became a journeyman cricketer. It wouldn’t surprise me if the story was based on some real life figure.
Wisden’s Book of Obituaries is just as epic as Wisden’s Annual, but is reserved solely for dead cricketers. In 1990 well known cricket writer David Frith produced a fascinating book on cricketers who have committed suicide titled By His Own Hand. Frith wrote a revised edition titled Silence of the Heart: Cricket Suicides (2000). The cover flap states that cricket has an alarming suicide rate. Among international players for England and several other countries it is far above the national average for all sports; and there have been numerous instances of suicide at other levels of the game.
Frith writes of over 100 cricketers who have taken their own lives with an explanation of the factors that led to their premature deaths.
Included are three prominent post World War II Australian cricketers— Jack Iverson, Sid Barnes and Jim Burke. Jack Iverson was a Victorian who remarkably only took up cricket at 31 and played for Australia less than four years later, played a handful of Tests in 1950-51 against England and topped the bowling averages. Though he performed well in a short time, like a meteor he faded from the scene as quickly as he had appeared; and yet Gideon Haigh wrote a 360 page book about him.
As a kid Sid Barnes played street cricket in Sydney’s Stanmore and went on to become a star batsman during an era of star batsmen. In 1946 he partnered Bradman in a stand of 405 for the 5th wicket. They both scored 234. Though he didn’t play a lot of Tests, his Test average against England was 70.50 and in all first class cricket was 54, which is high by any standards. His cricket career was abbreviated by WWII and by his own often bizarre behaviour and brushes with authority which brought a premature end to his playing career at a high level. He was obviously a colourful personality, a bit of a showman and a bit of a rebel. Once when he was 12th man he came onto the Adelaide Oval during the drinks break dressed as a valet in a lounge suit with a radio, clothes brush, deodorant spray and razors, imitating Jeeves. It was apparently hilarious for a time but he outstayed his welcome to the eventual jeers of the crowd who had come to watch cricket. He became a successful sports journalist and wrote his autobiography, It Isn’t Cricket, which is a wonderful read with his personality shining through. He took his own life in 1989.
I remember Jim Burke well as a dour, but useful opening bat for NSW and Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He later became a commentator and did reasonably well in business until things soured for him. His second marriage failed, his health was not the best and some investments seemed doomed. He shot himself near St Patrick’s College in Manly.
Obviously I could go on and on with books from my collection. I realise I’ve already far exceeded my score, so apologies for my liberal interpretation of a ‘score’. Choosing a representative bunch of books was not easy and it would be understandable to wonder why I didn’t choose certain others.
Rather than end on the sombre note of the last few items, I will conclude this coverage on a book that was not published, nor for that matter, actually written. I bought it at a garage sale for $2. It is a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings compiled by some anonymous cricket enthusiast. It has a handwritten Contents in the front and was probably part of a series of such books as the pages are numbered. It covers the latter part of the 1920s and is of enormous interest. Although intact, it is rather fragile. What I find sad about this scrapbook is that the passion the compiler had for the game was not shared by his descendants, or it would not have ended up in a garage sale. I might add that, sadly, the cricket cards pasted in the book of the 1928-29 test teams were torn out before I acquired it.
The day will no doubt come when my own modest piece of cardboard, recording the 1961 Australian tour of England, will end up in a garage sale, or be recycled unless it disintegrates or decays beforehand. Such is life.
Cricket is a universal game with a long history. Though many people have little or no appreciation of cricket and are critical because they perceive it to be too slow, too long, too boring, too incomprehensible or all of the above; many others find it a great game to play, to watch, to reflect upon and to read about. It must say something about the game that more books seem to have been written about cricket than most other sports combined.
Just as well we have cricket books galore to stand as a testament to cricket days of yore. And just as well we have collectors!