The Echoing GreenMartin Chandler |
Author: Arlott, John
Rating: 4 stars
The first cricket book I ever bought, as opposed to those (almost exclusively Wisdens) that my father purchased, but which I then immediately regarded as mine, was a 1984 collection of John Arlott’s writing entitled, unimaginatively, Arlott on Cricket. The book’s editor, David Rayvern Allen, who I sometimes suspect knows more about Arlott than ever the man himself did, also edited two other substantial collections of the great man’s work, as well as eventually writing his biography.
Such collections, almost by definition, turn out to be something of a curate’s egg, and an editor who does little more than string together enough examples of his subject’s work to fulfill his brief, is likely to end up with more that is bad than good. The quality of the original writing has a bearing on this of course, thus some of the more illogically laid out collections of the work of Sir Neville Cardus are saved from too much criticism by the beauty of the prose they contain. In the case of Rayvern Allen however his editing is as good as any I have seen, and his collections have a pattern, and a rhyme and reason, and are all the more pleasureable to read as a consequence.
The Echoing Green is a collection of Arlott’s writings chosen by the man himself back in 1952. It is a shame in some ways that Rayvern Allen was not around to edit it then, as Arlott certainly gives the impression of having given limited thought to the cohesiveness of the pieces of writing that he chooses. That said in this case the editing matters little because The Echoing Green contains one essay that is as good as any ever written on the game of cricket, and one more that is not too far behind.
The runner-up, if I can put it like that, is entitled “Cricket Holiday” and is a relatively lengthy autobiographical piece in which, aided by Wisden, Arlott looks back at the cricket he watched during his school holidays from 1926 onwards. It originally appeared in something called Happy Days and Holidays, although whether that was a book or a periodical is not entirely clear – either way I cannot imagine that very many copies survive, and it would have been a sad outcome for the game’s literature had the essay not been able to survive for posterity in this collection.
The standout selection of The Echoing Green is the first item in a section described as “Sketches of the Players” in which Arlott provides some beautiful pen portraits of twenty one cricketers, only three of whom, Keith Miller, Alec Bedser and Len Hutton, would be generally accepted to figure amongst the giants of the game. Outstanding though some of these pieces are “Athol Rowan : A Memoir” dwarfs them all. Rowan played fifteen Tests for South Africa between 1947 and 1951, all of them against England. He had suffered an injury to his left knee in the war which left it prone to collapsing on him and meant that, on occasion, he could play only with the help of a leg iron. Despite this debilitating, and at times crippling, condition his skill as an off spinner was such that in those fifteen Tests he dismissed the great Hutton as many as eleven times. In his long career Arlott was never better than when telling the story of this fine bowler, good batsman and fielder, and thoroughly decent and honourable man.
Back in 1952 a few (I believe ten, although it may have been twenty) copies of the Rowan essay in isolation were run off separately and appeared as a special limited edition. I do know a dealer who has a copy available at, if I recall correctly, and I apologise to him if I do not, a mere GBP1,200. If any reader requires an introduction please email us at the usual address. It is an eye-watering figure but thankfully The Echoing Green, no doubt because it sold well at the time, is no rarity and the same dealer will charge you just GBP15.00 for a copy of that, and the cheapest copy I can find in cyberspace is a mere GBP4.00. At that sort of price this really should be an essential purchase.