Cricket's North South Divide
Author: Jim Carnegie
Publisher: Troubador Publishing Limited
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
02 Nov 2009
Recent years have seen the publication of a number of books about club cricket which are intended to be a humourous look at the sort of cricket we have all played. Any cricketer who has played to any level and with any degree of regularity has his or her own collection of stories which, when exchanged in the bar after a game, are hugely entertaining and it is doubtless the memories of those happy times that inspire club cricketers to embark on these projects.
The biggest barrier to success with these books is the fact that what might come over as hilarious when mixed with alcohol and the company of like minded souls often falls flat when set out in print and, to this reviewer at least, such offerings are generally disappointing for that reason.
I suspect that when he sat down to begin work on this project that Jim Carnegie, for once, had anticipated that problem and there are aspects of his book which make it stand out from the competition. Firstly, and probably most importantly he was, despite constantly maligning his own ability throughout the book, clearly a fine cricketer himself given that no one plays in the first XI's of clubs in the Bradford League, the Central Lancashire League and the Lancashire and Cheshire League as a batsman for as long as he did without being very capable indeed. The effect of this is that unlike some authors (and indeed reviewers) he knows the game itself inside out and that knowledge underpins a number of the stories he tells.
As the title suggests the book also sets out to draw a comparison between club cricket as played in the south of England and in the north of the country. Times have changed and the differences are no longer as stark as a generation ago but having played in both regions myself (albeit at a much lower level than Carnegie) the contrasts are cleverly and, at times, very amusingly highlighted.
A final crucial feature here is that Carnegie, in his time, played with and against many professionals thus stories about the likes of Joel Garner, Franklyn Stephenson and others mix seamlessly in with the tales of lesser mortals and, because the reader is familiar with these "name" players, a whole new dimension is added to the stories involved.
There is no doubt that this is an entertaining read. Inevitably a number of the stories do fail to amuse as a result of the problem I highlighted at the start of the review but there are plenty that do work, and Carnegie wisely keeps his tales short thus avoiding the pitfall of readers wanting to close the book that usually arises after a long build up is followed by a punchline that doesn't work. I am not going to single out any particular passages but for me, and perhaps this is because the cricket content is so low, the funniest chapter by some distance is that regarding the tea room. I also give an honourable mention to the most interesting part of the book, that being the chapter that looks at the role of the professionals.
I hadn't heard of the writer before, but he is a pretty good player, or at any rate was once - good enough to feature on Cricket Archive, for one. Decades of playing league cricket of varying standards (but at its best only just below first-class level, it would appear) have left with with a wealth of anecdotes, which are assembled here. Carnegie must be very much in the veteran stage now, so hopefully he's no longer facing up to the likes of Colin Croft and Joel Garner. With a long playing career (almost) behind him he takes a look at amateur cricket in the north and south of the country, in view of his experiences as a Londoner who moved to the north.
The chapters are loosely based on different aspects of the game, so we have one on officials, one on catering facilities and so on. For me the most interesting dealt with the accounts of the numerous profesionals, many of them established Test bowlers, who plied their trade in the Leagues when Carnegie was better placed - as an opening batsman - to contend with them. Quite why any team of weekend cricketers should have been expected to cope with the pace of Curtley Ambrose, Geoff Lawson or Malcolm Marshall, for instance, or the above mentioned Croft and Garner, is a mystery - perhaps the clue lies in another chapter, entitled 'Winning at all costs.' One would hope that these fearsome individuals reduced their pace a little for the apprehensive amateurs and reserved their best efforts for the opposing 'pro' but I suspect that didn't always happen.
While Carnegie does make occasional references to the differences between northern and southern cricket, it's often easy to forget that this is supposed to be the central theme of the book. What we have here is a succession of stories of matches long past, of officious umpires and disgruntled players, dodgy wickets and farcical dismissals, sumptuous teas and, more often, acres of salad. I do wonder though how many people are really interested in reading about these games, which, after all, were of little consequence except to those who took part in them. What we have in effect is a succession of anecdotes abounding with nicknames and clever putdowns. The style is relentlessly jokey, awash with feeble puns and laboured metaphors - and a few sentences I had to read more than once to try and work out the gag. No doubt this works well for after dinner speaking, but it does become hard work after a while. It's a pity, because there are some good stories here.
Where this book disappoints, in comparison with say, 'Fatty Batter' is that we don't get much of a picture of the writer, except as an amused observer. You get the feeling that there weren't many matches of 'Howzat' on rained-out caravan holidays for our Jim - he's been concerned with the serious business of making runs since his early teens. His own family and even his wife rarely get a mention either, although she at least gets the dedication - he assures her that he will retire one day.