Runs in the Memory: County Cricket in the 1950s

Published: 1997
Pages: 192
Author: Chalke, Stephen
Publisher: Fairfield Books
Rating: 4 stars

Runs in the Memory: County Cricket in the 1950s

Originally written in 1997, this is a charming and unusual book. Its tone is, throughout, unashamedly nostalgic – there is a real sense of yearning for a never-to-be recaptured time. Quite possibly, it will have limited appeal to younger readers – but then I wasn’t even alive in the ‘fifties, and I enjoyed it very much. For those who were there, who were lucky enough to see Compton, Hutton, Laker et al in the flesh – for this was a time when England players found time to represent their counties – it will be a delight.

The simple premise is this. Chalke has selected twelve matches spanning the decade, and talks about them with players who took part in the games. The action is described in the present tense, as if the mach were being replayed for the reader, while the old player provides little snippets and anecdotes. And this is where the real joy lies. This was a time of amateurs and professionals, of a strict social order, and many of the captains are feared, autocratic figures.

Everywhere there are signs of youngsters being put in their place. A young bowler, trying to effect a run-out by kicking the ball onto the wicket, is chastised – “what the hell d’you think you’re doing? That’s the new ball”. But the senior pros lord it over their ‘betters’ as well. A captain considering an enterprising declaration is soon put right – “Les and I don’t bowl all day for you to throw matches away like that.” And there is also kindness and camaraderie: a young batsman, struggling in one of his early innings, is given encouragement and reassurance from the opposition’s wicket-keeper – something that would be almost impossible to imagine happening now.

Because the book was written ten years ago, many of the old players interviewed have themselves passed on, but thankfully most are still with us, including Yorkshire’s Ken Taylor, whose illustrations introduce each chapter as well as adorning the cover.

And here and there, to remind us that there was another world outside, are little snippets of news stories from the time. The book ends with a resurgent Yorkshire finally ending Surrey’s mighty seven-year reign at the top of the Championship as the decade itself was nearing its end.

This isn’t a difficult book to find – my advice would be to get hold of a copy, and if you don’t like it pass it on to an older friend or relative, because they’re sure to appreciate it.

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