Bowled Over ……. and Out!

Published: 2011
Pages: 128
Author: Chapman, Nigel
Publisher: Charlcombe Books
Rating: 3.5 stars

Bowled Over ....... and Out!

When a book lands on my doormat, it’s not usually too difficult to tell what the publisher’s got in mind for his market. With Bowled Over… and Out! by Nigel Chapman, it is clear that the pressures of market forces are, blissfully, absent, and the book far less of a quest for profit and much more a labour of love.

Whilst a refreshing change from the usual fare, as I start to write from a reviewer’s perspective, I find myself wondering where to begin. I suppose I should explain how such a book found itself in my possession: a story which will also go some way towards introducing the context in which it sits.

Chapman is a retired schoolmaster – teacher, coach and headmaster for many years in the south-east of England: I can visualise many of the places mentioned within the text with no need to read the description, and his son is a long-term friend of more than one of my own work colleagues. I read this book for the first time this summer, following a weekend where my own school side had endured two drawn games. Both times, the opposition were apparently much more interested in preventing defeat than going for the win, and Chapman’s hark back to the ‘Elysian Fields’ of days gone by resonated all the more as I recall these games today.

The first game of my boys’ weekend consisted of watching the opposition bat beyond tea to leave a 20-over run chase (in which the bowling would virtually all be done by top order batsman). The following day, we watched another side shut up shop after the fall of just one wicket – in spite of 30 overs of run chase still to come, and field settings including just two fielders in front of square.

It was with this all in my mind that I watched my school side close out their season against Summer Fields – one of Chapman’s old sides – with a nerve-shredding tie. A top-order collapse left 60 to win with three wickets in hand, which became 10 from the final over with one wicket in hand, before two from the last ball proved one too many. The final result, whilst certainly the goal, was ultimately not the point: the point was to give it your all, and have fun along the way – and this is what Bowled Over… and Out! is all about. Or, as Chapman puts it as he recalls the manner in which his 2nd XI defended 21 all out, ‘quite unforgettable: but in the end, it mattered not who won or lost.’

It is not just the stores that resonate closely with my own life that echo: Chapman’s storytelling is open, straightforward and honest – a legacy, surely, of decades in the classroom – and it is this welcoming style that draws the reader onto Chapman’s side as he tells of his youth. A fine cricketer in his own right, good enough to play for the MCC Schools XI and make a century at Lord’s, he tells of his days on the fringes of the Essex staff; passing summers in the Second XI and coming close to debut as 12th man at Bradford. There are tales of village cricket from Instow in North Devon, and the story of how the Felsted Robins took flight in the fledgling Cricketer Cup.

Anyone connected to the school circuit of England’s south-east, or the idyllic back lanes of West Devon will recognise shadows of themselves in the stories that Chapman retells, and any outsider looking in might well realise that the apparently cloistered world of the English boarding school isn’t as far removed from the their upbringing as they might have imagined.

Christmas is around the corner, and with the other options for filling a cricket lover’s stocking including ghost-written autobiographies of players whose careers aren’t even half over yet, or DVD box sets of one-day series that even those involved struggle to remember, there will be few cricket lovers who will not enjoy this read.

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