The English GameSwaranjeet Singh |
Author: Gerald Brodribb
Publisher: Hollis and Carter
Rating: 4.5 stars
Anthologies, particularly good anthologies, serve one grand function – they put at your disposal great pieces of writing that you may not have even been aware existed. Even if you were aware of them, it would be a monumental task and, I daresay, a pretty expensive one to get them all. One is, therefore, always on the lookout for really good anthologies. Having said that, it is not often that one would rank an anthology as high as a great book. Thus no collection of essays to me, would have beaten one of Neville Cardus’s classics like the Close of Play, or CLR James’s Beyond A Boundary. However, in Gerald Brodribb’s The English Game, one has to concede, one has finally come across the anthology to beat all anthologies and a majority of the top cricket books as well.
What is it that makes it so special, you ask.
Well, to start with, compiled in 1948, it has an assemblage of writers only old, older and older still. There is a certain style of writing that seems to have gone out which is so effective in invoking, through words, live images of green fields of the English countryside, of the “click of a latch on the ground’s wooden gate” as a mother and daughter duo walks along carrying the tea-urn for the village team, treading carefully as “not being cricketers themselves, they would not dream of putting a foot on the grass“. These maybe Cardus’s words but a whole lot of the older writers were good at invoking similar imagery.
However, that alone does not guarantee it the status of ‘the anthology to beat all anthologies’ that I wish to bestow upon it. It also brings to you some of the least known of cricket’s myriad writers including those who just wrote a solitary page or two of cricket in their entire literary careers. Thus this is not an anthology where I can start ticking off the articles which are from books in my library and find that I have paid for less than half the book in real terms. Invariably there is material that is completely unknown even to those who pride themselves in their knowledge of the game’s written word. This makes the book so priceless.
Do I hear, old writers and writing from sources hitherto undiscovered by yours truly do not a great anthology make. Yes, that’s true. So in Gerald Brodribb we have a compiler who must rank amongst one of the game’s premier historians and writers. Almost every one of his dozen odd cricket books is a masterpiece. If one were to select a writer other than the game’s prolific master writers like Cardus and Thomson, I would rank Gerald Brodribb very high in any shortlist. His selection is peerless.
It’s not just a collection of cricket essays, stories and poetry but also small odds and ends that are so charmingly quaint. There is, for example, the title page of the first ever issue (1864) of Wisden which starts with –
THE CRICKETER’S ALMANACK
for the Year 1864
Bissextile or Leap Year and the 28th of the Reign of Her
Majesty Queen Victoria
and ends by telling us that the book may “be had from all respectable Booksellers in the United Kingdom.”
Then there are the two lines of “Some Good Advice” from “C.A.”, “an old but not unsophisticated bowler” to his captain on the eve of a match against Clarke’s All England Eleven. It is well worth repeating.
So I am to bowl for your people against them Englanders. You wants to win, don’t you now? Then don’t be so stupid as to roll your ground.
It is woven in a thread that makes it worthwhile to read the book from start to finish although, I must hasten to add, you can read it an essay at a time at random as you can with most anthologies. But this one is so beautifully woven together that for a first reading, it would be better to read from beginning to end like a regular book. On top of it, the selections are such, that if you weren’t told, you may not realize that the authors are different, for most of the articles that are preceding or succeeding each other seem to be from the same pen.
Finally, if there is one book that I would recommend every cricket lover to buy and read again and again from here and there, one page now, one another time, and love every minute of it, then this is it. It is not just essential reading, it’s an essential buy. For here is a book that you will love to read and re-read and re-read. It is an essential ‘collector’s item’. I am currently reading it the umpteenth time and having the time of my life. With my dogs at my feet, the Bombay monsoon’s incessant chatter on my windowpane, a chilled beer at my side, The English Summer is almost the perfect book for me to be reading. Yes I said ‘almost’ for there is always a small Cardus classic waiting on the shelf to be picked up.
The rating – four and a half stars, and that too because I don’t think I want to give a five star rating to a book, unless I know there are no more books left for me to read.