Marxism and Cricket

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My most important ritual of the year comes at the start of April, when I burrow in cupboards and old boxes for my cricket kit. It is a harrowing process: this year my cricket bat has vanished, and it turns out that I have put on so much weight that I can no longer fit into my cricket trousers. This is an even bigger disaster than it seems because manufacturers appear to have given up making proper cream cricket whites. Sports shops like Lillywhites only offer repulsive stretch-nylon garments that feel as horrid against the skin as they are revolting to the eye.

Furthermore, this April was exceptionally cold and wet, so the cricket matches I had hoped to play were cancelled. I was forced to read about the game instead, but that too was a disappointment. It is frequently asserted that cricket has produced a great literature, but in truth no great writer has ever been inspired by the sport, in the way that Hemingway could be moved by bull-fighting or Tolstoy by hunting. Even P. G. Wodehouse only dealt seriously with cricket in his early school stories. Once he discovered his great comic gift he abandoned the game instantly, never to return. Cricket’s most characteristic literary productions have been delightful but minor works: Hugh de Selincourt’s The Cricket Match or the famous village contest in A. G. MacDonnell’s England, Their England.

Only one masterpiece has ever been written about the game: Beyond a Boundary, by the intellectual and political agitator C. L. R. James. It is a book that transcends all other books on the subject in the same way that Sir Donald Bradman existed in a solitary eminence above all other batsmen. I don’t think that an English writer could ever have written a book of such calibre, because our literary culture has wrongly regarded sport as trivial. By contrast James treated cricket with deep moral seriousness, for in the West Indies, where he was born and bred, the game formed a central part of the culture of the islands. The most important theme of his book is how cricket created a new national consciousness which enabled the West Indies to shake off their colonial oppressors. The development of this argument confers a wonderful amplitude on Beyond a Boundary.

James had originally set out to be a Marxist intellectual. In the first thirty years of his career he wrote a treatise about West Indian self-government, a novel, a widely praised historical study of slave revolt

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About the contributor

Peter Oborne is Political Editor of the Spectator, and a fanatical amateur cricketer. His book Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy was William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2004. His latest book, The Rise of Political Lying, is published by the Free Press.

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