AN Hornby: The Boss

Published: 2013
Pages: 122
Author: Brodkin, Stuart
Publisher: ACS
Rating: 3 stars

A N Hornby The Boss
AN Hornby: The Boss

I’m not sure when the Association of Cricket Statisticians published the first in their ‘Lives in Cricket’ series but this is number 29, a biography of the Lancashire and England captain AN ‘Monkey’ Hornby. I wasn’t aware that he went by the nickname ‘The Boss’ – I always associate that more with Bruce Springsteen – and it’s not clear how widespread its use was, and for how long.

No doubt they were happy to call him that in Lancashire, as he captained the county team for much of the 1870s and 1880s, although sometimes in a stand-in capacity. His county career stretched from 1867 to 1899, and at 52 he is the oldest man to play for the county in the Championship.

If Hornby’s name rings any bells to cricket lovers these days it’s likely to be because they recall him from the famous poem by Francis Thompson, “At Lord’s”:

For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host,
As the run stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro,
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!

The poem is reproduced here in its entirety, and Stuart Brodkin reveals that it was written many years after the poet had watched Hornby and his opening partner Dick Barlow, that the match he saw was at Old Trafford, and that when he was invited to Lord’s he stayed at home and wrote the poem instead!

The first chapter is entitled ‘The Birth of the Ashes’ for Hornby was England’s captain in that 1882 Test which England lost by seven runs after being set just 85 to win. It was the second of just three Tests that he played in total, and he made just 21 runs in his six innings. The first had been in Australia in 1878-79 where Hornby was involved in an on-field altercation with members of the crowd during a match against New South Wales.

Clearly books like this are not produced for the mass market, and in truth I have no idea how many aficionados will be prepared to hand over eleven pounds for this slim volume; however, with the facts packed densely onto every page (and, as you would expect, a comprehensive statistical section) it represents a very worthwhile read. It certainly took me longer to get through than I was expecting! Given that this is number 29 of a series I’m not familiar with, it has also encouraged me to investigate further.

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