Sports Books

Sports Books

Post by Vicky B. Vigneswar » Thu, 28 Apr 1994 00:43:56

SPORTS BOOKS Compiled by Sarah Edworthy

An English view of a romantic rather than realistic game

Graeme Wright reviews a nostalgic and established winning formula
of cricket matches and cricketing men

BY Greame Wright

The Spirit  of  Cricket:  a  Personal  Anthology  by  Christopher

George Lyttelton, in one of those erudite,  entertaining  letters
he  wrote  to  Rupert Hart-Davis, told of how at an MCC dinner he
had recounted Gibbon on the  Emperor  Gordian.  "Twenty-two  ack-
nowledged concubines and a library of 62,000 volumes attested the
variety of his inclinations, and from the  productions  which  he
left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter
were designed for use rather than for ostentation." This came  to
mind  not  only  because  Lyttelton's  Uncle  Alfred  (Cambridge,
Middlesex and  England)  gets  several  mentions  in  Christopher
Martin-Jenkins's  hefty, 530-page anthology, but also because the
flyleaf refers to CMJ's "personal collection" of well over  1,000
cricket  books.  He  has  certainly put them to profitable use in
compiling this selection, which incorporates  the  essays,  poems
and  journalism  of  95 writers. Sadly there is no hint of concu-
bines, acknowledged or  unacknowledged,  though  in  the  cricket
world  of  CMJ they would doubtless be in the pavilion, buttering
bread, *** cream and filling pots from steaming urns.  There
is  a  section entitled "They Also Serve", but no mention is made
of those who serve the tea. As the  collection  is  subtitled  "A
Personal  Anthology", one can assume that the contents depict the
spirit of cricket according to CMJ. The evidence points  to  this
being  English,  male  and  middle-class;  prep school and public
school. There are no  accounts  of  cricket  played  between  the
back-to-backs  of  mill  and mining towns or in the Sydney slums.
Even the chapter on "A World Game" contains writings only by  En-
glishmen (in a cricketing context). Not that this will worry most
readers, for Neville Cardus sets out CMJ's stall as early as page
four.  "Cricket is a game which must always be less than its true
self if it is taken out of England and out of the weather of  our
English summer." And with writers of such calibre as John Arlott,
Scyld Berry, John Cleese, Bill Deedes, Stephen Fry,  Frank  Keat-
ing, Ian Peebles, Robertson-Glasgow, Ray Robinson, Siegfried Sas-
soon, E W Swanton and John Woodcock among the 95, the established
formula of history and literature, cricket matches and cricketing
men, is sure to find favour among cricket  lovers.  However,  the
theme indicated by the title warrants consideration. CMJ makes no
apology for preferring "the romantic to the  hard  reality",  and
many  Englishmen  who turn these pages will be grateful for that.
This is a book to intensify nostalgia and occasionally a  suspect
rationalism. But it also illustrates a weakness in English crick-
et today. In closing his brief introduction  to  "The  Spirit  of
Cricket"  chapter,  CMJ  quotes  from Browning's poem, Andrea del
Sarto, a monologue addressed by the painter to his wife, a  flib-
bertigibbet  who  preferred  scoring to making sandwiches. Vasari
says  of  Andrea  del  Sarto,  a  contemporary  of  Raphael   and
Michelangelo, that had he been "bolder and more vigorous in spir-
it . . . he would doubtless have been unequalled; but  a  certain
timidity, reserve and restraint would never allow in him that vi-
tal glow and vigour which, with his other qualities,  would  have
made him a truly divine painter."

Christopher Martin-Jenkins, the flyleaf  tells  us,  has  written
about  cricket  professionally  for 25 years. In that time, if we
start at 1968, England have played 255 Tests, won 68 and lost 81.
Only  against India, New Zealand and Sri Lanka have they won more
Tests than they've lost. Maybe I'm mistaken, but  with  England's
fortunes  at  such  a  low  point,  it  seems  to me that English
cricket's great need now is also to be "bolder and more  vigorous
in  spirit",  Raphael's  approach rather than Andrea del Sarto's.
This, sad to say, means addressing the hard realities rather than

Books, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DT. Or call the
Bookline on 071 537 2207 for Access/Visa/Amex orders.

Thanks  ::  The Daily Telegraph


UMass, Apr 26, 1994
(This is not an "ad")