Cricket Lives | Cricket canvas
Martin Chandler |
Author: Thomas, Richard H
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Rating: 4 stars
There was a time when books meant to tell the history of cricket appeared with some regularity. There hasn’t been one for some time, however, no doubt in large part because this story is now so long, and has grown at such a rate in recent years that it would no longer be possible to tell the story. story inside the covers of a single book. As early as 1962, the editors of the classic Altham / Swanton volume felt the need to divide the subject into two volumes – surely it would now take four or five to do the job properly?
But I’m assuming a conventional approach, focusing on standard historical text. As with most things, there are other ways to approach a task and Richard Thomas has found an extremely entertaining way to present the enduring story of how our wonderful game got to where it is today. . He even manages, and fair play for that, to end on an optimistic note. I hope he is right and that the merchants of doom among us are overthinking the issues cricket faces today.
The opening pages of Thomas’ book make it clear that he is targeting a market that will include those with limited knowledge of the game. It begins with a long glossary, which defines cricket terms, and some pretty basic terms too, but at least he does it with humor. At the end of the book, to reinforce the message, is another summary, this time of the laws of the game.
It’s hard to imagine that someone with the slightest interest in cricket doesn’t profit Cricket Lives as Thomas takes his reader through the men who made this story. There is little traditional history here, and indeed, from the second chapter, Thomas looks at the beginning of the “golden age”. So the game’s alumni only have a few pages to claim their rights, but the more racy stories of Alfred Mynn, Lumpy Stevens, and “Silver” Billy Beldham have all popped up.
Part of the key to Thomas’ success lies in his ability to tell a story well, something that needs to be given by a man who is described as Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Swansea. But this ability is greatly enhanced by the depth of his knowledge. The chapter on Bodyline, for example, demonstrates a deep understanding of this lingering controversy. It’s not a hard episode to write but, due to the weight of the words that have been written in the past, it is very difficult to do it so well and, writing as a man who has read just about everything. what to read from the 1932/33 series, I really appreciated Thomas’ point of view.
One of the problems with conventional stories is that the best individual moments in the game rarely appear. Harold Gimblett deserves no mention in Altham’s seminal work, but the story of his remarkable debut in 1935 is one of the finest. One of the perks of Thomas’ approach is that he can reference this remarkable day in this story and his narrative is excellent, distilling the best of the tale of the innings that Ralph Barker has pitched in. Ten big sleeves, with a reminder of the demons faced by Gimblett that were told so movingly in the stunning David Foot biography.
Another important source of interesting people in cricket is among the scribes who write about it and, unconstrained by any particular framework, Thomas has given himself free rein to devote a chapter to the contrasting styles of Neville Cardus, EW ‘Jim’ Swanton and John Arlott. In a previous chapter, he discusses, among other things, the importance of Wisden in cricket.
As I read through Cricket Lives I remembered some of the comments I made recently about Mayukh Ghosh’s book, In a league of its own. In many ways the books are entirely dissimilar, the greater part of the Cricket Lives being the obvious difference. But both books have much to recommend to those whose journey into cricket literature has only just begun and, in this regard, to those who have read and enjoyed In a league of its own would be well advised to move on to Cricket Lives and, from there? Wherever they want to take them – by the time they reach the end of Richard Thomas’ well-presented book, they’re sure to know the eras in gaming history that interest them most.