Beyond Bat and Ball: Eleven Intimate Portraits
Author: David Foot
Publisher: Good Books
Rating: 4 stars
By David Taylor
19 Oct 2009
Along with Stephen Chalke and Patrick Murphy, David Foot rates very highly for me as a chronicler of cricket and cricketers of the past. He shares the ability of those two writers to portray players as human beings, flawed like the rest of us despite their talent for the game. This odd but engaging little book is a collection of pen portraits, making up an imaginary team. The reason for the order in which they appear is uncertain; it is neither chronological, nor does it constitute what one would consider a batting order. But perhaps that's not important. So why choose these, and not eleven others?
Foot goes some way to making an explanantion for his choices in his introduction. Most of them had a life outside cricket, and in many cases that life took them away from the game. They were frustrated in their cricket careers by business obligations, by military service or simply by not finding favour with selectors. So there is a common thread of sorts (although one selection, the poet Siegfried Sassoon, was never a first-class cricketer nor even a remotely good club cricketer), but I suspect that these were simply players who appealed to Foot personally and whom he wanted to bring to life on the page. Two or three were known to him personally, while others such as Tom Richardson and Bertie Poore were way before his time.
Five of the chosen eleven were Test cricketers. None of them had a particularly lengthy or distinguished Test career, Jack Fingleton being the most capped with 18 appearances (he's also the only Australian - all the others are English with the exception of proud Welshman Wilf Wooller). There is sadness present in most of the chapters, whether it's Sassoon thinking of some comrade blown to pieces in the Great War, Richardson worn out in his early 30s and reduced to an impecunious living in the pub trade, or the loneliness and depression of Somerset's Bill Andrews in his old age. These sad stories are tenderly told, and I was frequently reminded of David Frith's masterpiece Silence of the Heart, but there is much fun and games too.
This may not be an easy book to track down, but I can recommend it to anyone who happens to see it. These are not all household names by any means, but each deserves to have his story told.