My A-Z Of CricketMartin Chandler |
Author: Blofeld, Henry
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Rating: 3.5 stars
The Mac likes Blowers, and clearly rated the two books he has reviewed here, Squeezing the Orange and Over and Out. He has also let slip in conversation that those two are not the only books Blowers has written that he has enjoyed.
For myself I have always been rather less enthusiastic. Many years ago now I read Cricket in Three Moods and The Packer Affair, published in 1970 and 1978 respectively. I didn’t get very far with either and later I was almost as unsuccessful in firing myself with enthusiasm for One Test After Another in 1985, after which I have to admit I gave up on Blowers.
Last Christmas a well meaning relative gave me a copy of Over and Out, but at least in circumstances where I didn’t have to sit and feign enjoyment. Come Boxing Day and it was safely secreted on the shelf with no expectation that I would be getting it down again.
A few weeks later I was trying to find something on England’s poorly chronicled tour of India in 1963/64. Recalling that this was the trip when due to illness amongst the tourists Blofeld almost got a call up from the press corps to play in one of the Tests I thought I would see if Over and Out assisted me. Insofar as the 1963/64 tour is concerned it didn’t, but I enjoyed reading what little there was on the trip and read on. The narrative was a far cry from what I recalled from my earlier reading of Blofeld’s work and, if there were ever any doubt,underlined the fact that on matters of cricketing literature The Mac’s judgment is to be trusted.
In addition to his writing Blofeld is also, of course, noted as a broadcaster, his long tenure with the BBC Test Match Special team having cemented his place in the affections of the cricketing public. As a commentator I felt that, at his best, he was very good indeed. Witty, observant, knowledgeable and with the additional authority of a man who, if injury thwarted most of his ambitions, was still a good enough cricketer to have played the game to First Class standard. The only slight drawback with ‘Blowers’ was a tendency to play the clown, something which can be entertaining but which I felt, especially latterly, Blofeld tended to overdo.
With Blofeld the writer however you only get the good bits. There is none of that occasional silliness and the engaging manner in which he writes makes Over and Out, and now My A-Z Cricket, an easy and relaxing read in the way that, for example, Cricket in Three Moods most certainly was not.
The title My A to Z of Cricket might lead a reader to believe they are going to get 26 essays. In fact there are more than 80 and none of them are therefore very long. The letters of the alphabet are covered but, obviously, most feature more than once. As far as the subjects are concerned Blofeld writes about subjects that appeal to him. All are cricket related, but a wide range of topics are covered.
There are thirty or so chapters devoted to individual players. These are not entirely straightforward to describe. ‘Pen portrait’ suggests something more rounded and, dare I say it, ‘monograph’ and ‘memoir’ indicate something rather more serious. Not entirely happily I will therefore use the word ‘appreciation’ to describe these essays all of which are whimsical and which convey very clearly the great pleasure that those concerned gave Blofeld.
One of the best of the appreciations is the very first, on the subject of Jimmy Anderson. One of the features of Blofeld’s writing, and indeed his commentary, has always been his enthusiasm for current players. There is none of the ‘it was better in my day’ about Blofeld and in addition to Anderson there are appreciations of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Johnny Bairstow as well as a number of other ‘moderns’.
Blofield also, of course, includes a number of his contemporaries, His choices are perhaps not surprising. There is Tom Graveney, the personification of style, Compton and Edrich from the endless summer of ’47 and the great Australian all-rounder Keith Miller. In addition Blofeld’s fellow Old Etonian Colin Ingleby-McKenzie, not in the same class as the others as a cricketer but giving ground to no one in terms of personality, features as well.
There is not much on the ancients of the game in Blofeld’s A-Z, but there are three, two of whom, Ranjitsinjhi and WG Grace (Under W and not G) are predictable. The third is perhaps more surprising, and one of the shortest pieces in the book is on the subject of the great Philadelphian swing bowling pioneer, Bart King.
There is a great deal more to Blofeld’s book than these glimpses at the lives of cricketers. A selection of the other chapter titles are Appealing, Bump Ball, Cheating, Gully, Lunch and Tea, Mankading, The Pressbox, Reverse Sweep, Sledging and many more. All are written in the trademark Blofield style, full of enthusiasm and gusto. There is also a chapter on the IPL, and a positive one it is too.
Anyone who is looking for a book that will keep a cricket loving friend or relative entertained over the Christmas period need look no further than My A-Z of Cricket. It can be dipped into for a few minutes at a time and not therefore render the loved one hors de combat for the festive period, and who knows? It might even entertain any non-cricketer who picks it up and opens it, just to see what all the fuss is about.