It’s been called the most character-revealing of sports, but is it easy to write about, wonders Matt Thacker, as he takes us through the best and worst cricket fiction in issue 12 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Cricket has regularly appeared in literary fiction. Think of LP Hartley’s class-war game in The Go-Between; Dingley Dell v All Muggleton in Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers (and on the old £10 note); or George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series in which our hero utters the immortal line: ‘Stealing the Koh-i-Noor is like winning the toss and bowling first. You might think about it but you’d never do it!’ But this is about works where cricket plays a major role. Which is much trickier. Sebastian Faulks chucked away an entire novel about cricket – two teams, umpires, girlfriends, wives. Just too many bloody characters…
Adult Book (2005) – Malcolm Knox
Journalist (cricket correspondent and literary editor) Malcolm Knox takes a look at Australian culture through cricket, which shares top billing with pornographic obsession as the main hook. Aussie skipper Chris Brand is compiling a mammoth score while his domestic world is falling apart, his porn-addicted father dying on the eve of the Test while the return of the black sheep of the family, porn baron Hammet, forces the family to confront its secrets and lies. Knox is brilliant both at describing Brand’s innings and the press pack.
Gilbert: The Last Days of WG Grace (2015) – Charlie Connolly
Drawing on contemporary documents and accounts, this novella is an affectionate and revealing book about Grace after his 50th birthday until his death at 67 that gives us more of an insight into the man who bent the game to his will than any biography ever could. Playing curling and golf, shaking his fist at Zeppelins as war approaches, burying his children and siblings… Connelly fills in the gaps for us and does so with, well, grace and style.
“He regularly collected testimonials and overall probably took something like £1 million in today’s currency out of the game.”
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) July 18, 2020
Chinaman (2012) – Shehan Karunatilaka
A stunning first novel, in which the author has an alcoholic, dying cricket journalist, WG Karunasena, attempt to earn self-respect by making a documentary about a brilliant left-arm spinner, the half-Sinhalese, half-Tamil Pradeep Mathew, who has disappeared from historical record and may even be dead. As the tale unfolds we also learn the story of late 20th century Sri Lanka – of corruption, old boy networks and terrorism. Gloriously, there is still a Cricinfo page for Mathew. Sad, wise and funny.
Netherland (2009) – Joseph O’Neill
A novel that has Dutch equities analyst Hans exploring the subculture of New York cricket while his marriage disintegrates after the 9/11 attacks. The main character of the book is Trinidad-born hustler Chuck Ramkissoon, who believes “the US is not complete, the US has not fulfilled its destiny, it’s not fully civilised, until it has embraced the game of cricket” and is convinced he is the man to make this happen. Brilliantly evocative, with one of the most beautiful descriptions of fielding ever, “a repetition of pulmonary rhythm”.
Testkill (1976) – Ted Dexter & Clifford Makins
Yep, it’s a murder mystery that lifts the lid on cricket in the 1970s. An Aussie quick falls dead at the feet of the umpire just after tea and narrator Jack Stanton, former England captain now journalist (ring any bells?), is there to investigate (poisoned if you must know), beatings with cricket bats, booze, lesbian sex and all. Dexter and Makins hadn’t had enough though, going on to write Deadly Putter three years later
Deep Cover (1996) – Ian Botham & Dennis Coath
This is a bit unfair. I’ve not actually read all of it. But sometimes other things just need doing. Delousing the kids’ hair, checking the pressure on the tyres. The back cover says it’s a hilarious story following the fortunes of a group of England players (including all-rounder Kevin Sowerbutts, “a practical joker with a taste for the booze and an eye for the birds”) on a rollercoaster ride of tabloid headlines, dodgy decisions, thrilling scrapes and bitter competition. Who am I to argue?
Kaboom Kid: Hit for Six (2015) – David Warner
Books 5 & 6 The Kaboom Kid is here. I will be giving two away. Post your best Kaboom Kid celebration… https://t.co/BCDVYkkdYJ
— David Warner (@davidwarner31) October 2, 2015
That loveable Aussie scamp has penned a whole series of books featuring little Davey Warner, who else? I’ve picked No.4 in the series because, well, you just couldn’t make it up. There’s a bully (not Davey, but Mo. Yes, Mo) involved, Davey forgets to hand in his homework and gets banned from playing cricket! And they say truth is stranger than fiction.
First published in issue 12 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly