The Erratics – Unicorns Rampant 1995 – 2019

Published: 2020
Pages: 311
Author: Hailwood, Mark (Editor)
Publisher: The Erratics Cricket Club
Rating: 4 stars

There are a vast number of books, large and small, devoted to the history of the many cricket clubs that represent the grassroots of cricket in the UK, and indeed throughout the cricket playing world. Most of them, inevitably, have limited print runs and even in the internet age and with various editions of the game’s bibliography having been around since the late 1970s it is not easy to be confident about exactly how many are out there.

A problem that cricket clubs tend to have with these studies is that over the years, as the major roles within the clubs administration are passed on, so the archives disappear. It is not so surprising that the discussions of the committee and selection meetings in the back room of the local pub are seldom recorded for posterity, but the real problem for many budding historians is the fact that over the years the old scorebooks, the essence of a club’s past, have often not been kept.

Against that background the majority of club histories are modest affairs, often more in the nature of a souvenir brochure than a book. Some however are rather more substantial, and The Erratics, who at 85 years old are by no means the oldest club around, are already on a third full book dealing with their own history, this one covering the period 1995-2019.

The fact that the full name of the Erratics is The University of Exeter Staff Cricket Club explains, even if the links with the University are not as strong as they once were, why the club’s past is so well chronicled – it would be a rum do indeed if a club for whom at least 16 professional historians have turned out were not adept at maintaining their own records.

The book itself is a collective effort, edited by Mark Hailwood, who is one of those historians. I suppose it might also be he who has some knowledge of publishing, as whilst the book is self-published it certainly isn’t obvious that that is the case. Everything is well designed, the lay out professional, and the photographs well reproduced. In addition the lengthy statistical section is very well presented, and there is an excellent index.

The book proper begins with a introduction from Hailwood, in which he tells the story of the club and its ethos. In some ways the Erratics are a bit of a throwback, in that they do not play league cricket. These days they are also reminiscent of the old fashioned wandering elevens, although in their case that is not what they want and one of the few sad aspects of the story is the explanation for why the club is currently homeless.

As to the way the Erratics approach the game I do have some relevant experience, having played a number of times against the University of Reading Academic Staff XI, a team I note that the Erratics played at least twice in the same era in which I played against them. For a bunch of University lecturers the Reading lot were an eccentric bunch, giving me my one and only exposure to sustained sledging. Their opening bowler, a forty something engineering professor, chuntered away at me throughout my 45 minutes at the crease during which, in my usual style, I managed to accumulate eight or nine. Having a go at me every other delivery might in some circumstances have done the trick, but repeatedly comparing my batting style to that of Geoffrey Boycott I actually found a source of great encouragement.

In the end we fell short that day, but had wickets in hand so, proper club cricket that we were playing, the game was drawn. That professor of engineering was the first to come up to me in the bar afterwards, jug of beer in hand, and greeting me in his best faux Yorkshire accent with; ee’ by gum lad, what a grand tussle we had this afternoon, a story I tell partly because it implies I was a better batsman than I actually was, but mainly because I imagine that the Erratics play their cricket in much the same spirit.

From there the book moves on to a series of contributions from those associated with the Erratics. All of them deal with the various writers’ relationships with the club, and it is to the credit of all of them, and no doubt editor Hailwood, that a section that might have been riddled with repetition contains barely a trace of it. To single one of the writers out for comment is probably unfair, but I will do so anyway. Annie Chave, very occasional player and daughter, wife and mother of more regular team members contributes a delightful piece explaining how she fell under cricket’s spell. It will strike a chord with many.

The Erratics fixture list is, naturally, generally limited to Devonian opponents, but they do travel further afield ‘on tour’ and one of the features of their fixture list is the short tour that they undertake annually, usually it would seem to Gloucestershire but, occasionally, further away to locations such as the Scillies, Ireland and, in 2016, Southern France. There is therefore a chapter about the Erratics touring experience, and that is followed by the longest chapter of the book, 142 pages which comprises a selection of match descriptions and this is where the club are exceptional as not only do they clearly still retain their scorebooks, since the 1970s reports have been prepared on their matches, thus enabling much flesh to be put on the bare bones of those scorecards.

So how do you attribute a rating to a book like The Erratics – Unicorns Rampant 1995 – 2019? The book has many strengths and, for anyone who has a connection with the club, or has had one in the past, it is surely indispensable. If there is anyone reading this review who fits that description who has not already bought the book I can only advise them that they will find reading it an experience that, in addition to filling in any gaps in their knowledge of their club over the last quarter of a century, will no doubt bring back many happy memories as well.

But the appeal must be wider than that. Despite having had no direct dealings with the Erratics in the past I much enjoyed this look at their story and, perhaps as importantly, the way that club cricket was played in the south of England in the days before my children arrived and I still played the game occasionally. The book’s subject matter won’t be of interest to all, but if it does appeal I think it has to be worth four stars to anyone.

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