String Fellows - A Cycling Odyssey into Cricket
Author: Colin Bateman
Rating: 3.5 stars
By David Taylor
23 Aug 2010
This is the story, and an often inspiring one it is, of six cyclists, three guest riders, a rubber lizard called Larry and a piece of string. Colin Bateman was the Directeur Sportif, or tour organiser, of the ambitious project to cycle around England, calling at each of the eighteen county grounds. His group, or peloton in Tour de France terminology, also comprised his two sons Tom and Jack, nephew Alan, friend Ian, a veteran of 71, and 'the other' David Lloyd, the former Evening Standard cricket correspondent. Colin Bateman writes on cricket for the Daily Express, which isn't a paper I read very often so I can't say I'm familiar with his work, but having read this book I will seek out his reports in future.
The marathon ride was undertaken in aid of two charities, each with a cricket connection: the Laurie Engel Trust, run by former Wisden editor Matthew Engel in memory of his son Laurie, who died of cancer in 2005, and Heads Up, a charity for head and neck cancer sufferers whose patron is the former Glamorgan and England batsman Hugh Morris. Although the riders did not actively solicit donations from the public during the ride, as that would have been impractical, they had reason to be grateful for support from many of the county clubs as well as donations from places stayed in on their travels.
It's not a book about cricket, it's not even a book about cycling, but there is considerably more cycling than cricket. Indeed many of the grounds they call at, starting at the Oval and following a clockwise route to Lord's, are not even staging a match at the time (Worcester had a pretty good excuse, being under water at the time having recently suffered one of its Severn floods). But at each venue we are told something about the county team in question or one or two of its players. A visit to Bristol, after all, would hardly be complete without mention of the great WG. And along the way Bateman comes up with a number of fascinating facts about the towns and villages passed through, for this is a route which, out of necessity, has to avoid motorways and the busier main roads. It did occur to me, especially after reading of the two-day slog from Old Trafford to Chester-le-Street, that they could have saved all that time by starting at one and finishing at the other - but I suppose it was felt that Lord's would provide the perfect finish - and in any case there would be more satisfaction at completing the circle, as it were.
Naturally along the way (and I should mention the three guest riders here, who each manage one leg of the route - Angus Fraser, Steve James and friend Jasper - Fraser contributes a very amusing foreword and James a chapter) there are hazards - unexpectedly heavy traffic, the odd puncture and a fair degree of bickering. Each of the co-riders is given his own chapter though, by way of 'right of reply.' Some of the accommodation clearly isn't up to much. But what comes across is a real sense of camaraderie, between individuals hell-bent on completing an arduous and heroic endeavour.
I should add finally that the lizard is a mascot, adopted at an early stage by younger son Jack, and the string of the title is that used to estimate the distance to be cycled that day. Its credibility takes a number of knocks in the course of the trek. Not really a cricket book, but one which can be guaranteed to make the sedentary reader feel very, very lazy. Many congratulations to all involved.