Robin Knight on the literature of cricket

Batting under the Walls of Troy

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The sound of bat on ball. The smell of newly cut grass. The sight of players in whites crouching, waiting, hoping. Summer must be here. Yet for many cricket lovers there really is no close season. Come autumn, stumps may be drawn but a different type of pleasure replaces the ebb and flow of the physical contest. For the true enthusiast, those shelves stacked with old and (occasionally) new books on the game serve as the perfect antidote to winter.

No other sport can boast such a rich literature. Opinions vary as to whether cricket is an art form or not. But without doubt its leading practitioners deserve to be read widely, regardless of affection for the game. ‘Flight was his secret, flight and the curving line, now higher, now lower; tempting; inimical; every ball like every other ball, yet somehow unlike; each over in collusion with the others, part of a plot.’ So Neville Cardus wrote of the great Yorkshire slow bowler Wilfred Rhodes in Autobiography (1947). ‘Every ball a decoy, sent out to get the lie of the land; some balls simple, some complex, some easy, some difficult; and one of them – ah, which? – the master ball.’ Magic!

My modest library is full of books on cricket – at least 500 of them – yet I can date the start of this collection with precision to the 1953 edition of the cricketer’s bible Wisden. It was my tenth birthday that June and I was already hooked on the game, so my parents responded by giving me this amazing window on to the adult world. Pencilled schoolboy comments litter its 1,015 pages. The spine is faded and the gold lettering on the brown cover is hard to decipher now. But what riches are to be found inside – a fine celebratory essay on the fast bowler Alec Bedser, an evocative advertisement for Brylcreem featuring the incomparable Denis Compton, a profile of fiery Fred Trueman, batting and bowling averages galore.

English cricket, and life, in 1952 (the year under review) was sharply

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About the contributor

Robin Knight was a foreign correspondent for nearly 30 years. His memoir A Road Less Travelled was published in 2011. Sales have been good but he is hoping for more. Further details appear on www.knightwrite.co.uk.

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