Won’t You Dance For Virat Kohli?Martin Chandler |
Author: Harris, Rob
Rating: 3.5 stars
This looks like one of those books about club cricket that, a few years ago, appeared in considerable numbers. A few of them sold well, and were very well received but, as I have said before, they are not generally my favourite genre.
Rob Harris chose his title well however, as that alone persuaded me to open his book after the blurb on the back cover had suggested that my instinct was correct. The chapter heading that bears the book’s title, almost inevitably, only tangentially concerns the Indian captain but it still persuaded me to go back to the beginning of the book. It contains pathos (the loss of Harris’ first wife), joy (his meeting his second wife) and humour (a conversation with a former girlfriend during which he made what we all know is a terrible mistake, attempting to explain the lbw law to a feisty non-believer).
So who is Rob Harris? Although the book is certainly at least in part an autobiography I am still not entirely sure, although he and I clearly have a good deal in common. He hails from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, and whilst he is a few years younger than I am not so many that at our ages that is of any real significance. Cricket clearly drives us both forward in our lives, albeit playing the game is the dominant facet of Harris’s love of cricket rather than my passion for its literature and history.
Harris has never aspired to play the game at a level higher than the club game, and to read most of what he writes a reader would think he was a very poor cricketer indeed. There are one or two stories which demonstrate that he is guilty of underselling himself in that respect, but a lack of any trace of conceit or arrogance seems to be part of his character. In similar vein he gives the impression that in his day job (he is a journalist) he has spent a lifetime clung to a rung near the bottom of that particular career ladder, something that cannot be right if only because on the basis of how well written his book is.
As far as his cricket is concerned I have to concede that I much enjoyed the stories that Harris tells, perhaps because of the bittersweet nature of the tale. Drawn into the game by a father with whom he has not always enjoyed the closest of relationships Harris’s early cricket was played for a village side, Speech House, which numbered many veterans amongst its membership and which sadly no longer exists. Perhaps it is the fact that so many of the musings about Harris’s own cricket come from this older generation that sets his book apart, although the best story of them all, concerning a ‘plan’ to bilk a local curry house, is rather different.
But there is rather more to Won’t You Dance For Virat Kohli? than simply the ramblings of a devoted club cricketer. Like all of his ilk Harris is, of course, also an aficionado of the game at its highest level and his observations on Test cricket and how watching that has fitted into his life are well worth reading as well, whether they concern the 1976 West Indians, Botham’s Ashes in 1981, or more recent highlights such as the 2005 Ashes, the Anderson/Panesar rearguard of 2009 or the heroics of Ben Stokes and Jack Leach at Headingley two years ago.
And what next for Harris the writer? Sadly we know what it won’t be from a chapter entitled Whatever Happened To Winston Davis? The basic story is well known. A fine West Indian pace bowler whose career, sadly for him, coincided with that of too many others for him to ever get a regular Test berth. Now a tetraplegic as a result of a fall from a tree Harris had an idea to write Davis’s book, and the chapter in questions reflects on the afternoon he met Davis at his home in the West Midlands to discuss the possibility. Sadly Davis does not want his story written, so that is the end of that, all the more disappointing because of the demonstration in those few pages Harris has been able to put together as to just how good the book might be.
Despite being well past his fiftieth birthday Harris is still an active cricketer, albeit in recent years he has moved an hour and half’s drive east of the Forest of Dean to Oxfordshire. He closes Won’t You Dance For Virat Kohli? with his reflections on cricket in a time of Covid, and interesting ones they are too, particularly for those of us whose playing days were in a time when having your own equipment rather than using the club bag was frowned upon, and the tea room an essential communal hub in any game.