Cricket book choice
There’s bound to be a few folk who, receiving or giving a gift this Christmas, are surprised to discover that Lionel Shriver’s “We should talk about Kevin” has nothing to do with the ECB and KP. It’s a few years since I read the book, but it made a very strong impression on me and so I am sure there isn’t a single mention of cricket.
That’s not the case with another American novelist’s most recent publication: Donna Tartt and The Goldfinch. Cricket, the sport, not the insect, gets mentioned twice during the long section set in the Las Vegas suburbs. Theo’s Dad, a shiftless sports gambler, watches it on ESPN (p255). Boris, as evidence of his precocious worldliness, has played the game (p273). Impressed? Not by Ms Tartt’s cultural jackdawism, I mean – but by my ability to drill unerringly into an 800 page tome and extract two isolated mentions of cricket. You see, I’m using it to claim authority in the matter of spotting cricket in books. Pickwick Papers, Netherland, we all know about. But did you know about these?
The Long Tail
Chris Anderson, digital marketing guru and distant relative of the Burnley Lara, has written one of the most distinctive books about English Test cricket in the 1990s. You’ll read elsewhere about the struggles between captains and coaches, the years without a major series win. Anderson’s focus is on the selection and repercussions of fielding an 8, 9, 10, jack comprising solely rabbits. Tufnell, Malcolm, Fraser, Mullally, Ilott, Such are the hapless heroes. Layers of protective clothing, hours in the nets but Walsh, Ambrose, McDermott, McGrath, Cairns, Waqar and Wasim made made short order of England’s long tail.
One of the surprises of recent literary history has been the popular success of Peter Carey’s mixture of Australian villains and anti-heroes. In this less well-known piece, Carey turns on the captain who led England to a first Ashes victory downunder in 16 years, while also conceding a miserly 1.9 runs per over: Raymond Illingworth. It’s a revenge novel, whose heroes are the batsmen who did manage to give Illingworth a bit of long handle. It proceeds episodically, with scenes tending to be short, or very short, as Illy tended to take himself off whenever he took a bit of a whacking. One for fans of 1970s John Player Sunday League cricket.
25 June 1983, close to midnight in India, Mohinder Amanath traps Michael Holding LBW at Lord’s and India win their first World Cup. Rushdie uses this seminal moment in Indian modern history to weave a tale based upon the lives of children born at the precise moment of India’s victory. 25 years later, now adults, the fate of these special Indians draws them to Mumbai. Their paths cross at an event that is seen as the inevitable culmination of the national and cultural forces set loose by that evening in London. The cheerleader, the India Cements junior executive, the illegal bookie and the wristy middle-order batsman vie for prominence and the right to be the icon of 21st Century India at the first IPL final.
Bradbury’s fictionalised account of the Ashes series of 1934 is told from the perspective of scorer, Guy Montag. On the first day of the fifth Test, the dizzying speed of Bradman’s scoring and the heat of the day begin to effect Montag. He starts to hallucinate about a dystopian future for cricket: reduced to digital pulses and three hour matches. Montag works himself into such a frenzy that when Bradman is finally dismissed after adding 451 in just five hours with Ponsford, the scorebook erupts in flames.
For some critics, a clumsy device, for others an original narrative structure – David Nicholls tells the story of one day international cricket, year-by-year focusing on a single date: 5 January. On that date the first ever ODI took place in 1971 at the MCG. The book examines the shifting relationship of the brash youngster with its more mature counterpart – sometimes antagonists, other times partners – almost always involving India and Sri Lanka. It’s hard to conclude other than that it offers an exciting beginning and end, but falls flat in the middle.
Readers might want to identify other books where cricket has, unanticipated, made an appearance.