The Python and the Butterfly Net

Published: 2023
Pages: 48
Author: Musk, Stephen
Publisher: Red Rose Books
Rating: 4 stars

We are all products of our formative years, which is no doubt why I have always delighted in the writing and commentary of John Arlott, for ever unable to decide whether my favourite description was of Clive Lloyd’s batting (like a man knocking a thistle-top off with a walking stick), or Asif Masood’s approach to the wicket (like Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress).

If it has done nothing else however Stephen Musk’s latest monograph, on the subject of Edward Long, has introduced me to an even more appealing comparison, that of an anonymous writer in a 1911 edition of The Barrow Herald and Advertiser that, after another successful spell of bowling, the opposition batsmen’s attempts to pay Long’s lobs were painfully suggestive of an old lady attempting to stop a squirming, wriggling python with a butterfly net.

That Musk was unable to resist the temptation to use that quote as a source for his title surprises me not one jot, and I can see then why the sub-title needed to be rather more prosaic, Edward Long: The Last Lobster.

There are a small and, as time passes probably dwindling, band of cricket lovers for whom the concept of underarm bowling, the art of the lobster, remains a fascinating one. Sadly as the technique is now banished by laws of the game rather than just by fashion we will probably die out altogether in a generation or two, but certainly for all of us that remain this book should be regarded as an essential purchase.

The bulk of the book is about Edward Long, a man who never played a First Class match but who did manage to cut a swathe through batsmen in club cricket in the north west of England in the Edwardian era and the years leading up to the Great War. After that conflict ended he moved to Norfolk and, in 1923 aged 46, appeared five times in the Minor Counties Championship for the county and both bowled and batted with some success.

Musk is an experienced and thorough researcher* and it will come as no surprise to anyone who has read any of his numerous other contributions to the game that he has made an excellent job of reconstructing the life of his subject.

But there is a little more to The Python and the Butterfly Net than a simple biography. Reference is made more than once by Musk to Gerald Brodribb’s excellent history of under arm bowling, The Lost Art. That book lacks just the one thing, as I observed in my review, that being an attempt to establish just what techniques lob bowling involved, and it is the interesting conclusions that Musk comes to in an attempt to analyse that that really marks his latest book out.

The Python and the Butterfly Net is available directly from the publisher for £13 including UK postage, although there is a limited edition hard back of just 15 signed copies available at £36. Copies will be available in Australia from Roger Page.

*We have reviewed six of Musk’s earlier books here, here, here, here, here and here, as well as this one, co-written with the late Roger Mann, and two, here and here, with Mike Davage.

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