A Game EmergingMartin Chandler |
Author: Lonsdale, Jeremy
Rating: 4 stars
There have been many books on the history of cricket in Yorkshire, as befits a county that, with 33 County Championship titles, is still way ahead of the rest of the country despite triumphing only three times in the last fifty years. Jeremy Lonsdale has been responsible for three of those books. His first, A Game Taken Seriously, covered the period between the 1820s and the 1890s. That was followed by A Game Sustained, which looked at a mere six years, between 1914 and 1920. Following on from that, and carrying the story on to the end of the 1920s, was A Game Divided.
With this fourth book, A Game Emerging, like its predecessors published by the ACS, Jeremy interrupts his hitherto forward progress to go back, to cricketing pre-history and the years from around 1750 through to the 1840s, so in effect we have a prequel to A Game Taken Seriously.
Books that deal with the game as it was played two centuries and more in the past are unusual, although certainly not rare. That said those books that are published invariably deal primarily with the game in what is generally referred to in terms such as ‘the cradle of cricket’, and accordingly concentrate largely on the development of the game in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire rather than further north, where the Industrial Revolution began. Unsurprisingly whilst the game itself might be essentially the same the story of its growth amongst the backdrop of the dark satanic mills of the north is somewhat different to that of its growth on the green and verdant pastures of the south.
At the end of the book is a useful feature that neatly illustrates the comparative paucity of writing on this subject, that being 14 brief pen portraits of what are described as Prominent Yorkshire Cricketers of the Period. There is a contemporary book that contains 37 such studies, The Sketches of the Players by William Denison, first published in 1846. There is just one man who is featured in the 14 and in the 37 and his name, Thomas Barker, is not a well known one.
The main source for the book has been the myriad of local newspapers that were around over the relevant period, all now readily available to researchers thanks to internet archives. Making full use of those, and not merely their cricketing content, Jeremy has constructed a wide ranging and detailed survey.
The way A Game Emerging is written might have taken a purely chronological direction, examining each year in turn. It might also have been geographical, treating each of the diverse urban and rural areas that give the vast county of the Broad Acres its unique character as a separate compartment. As it is both approaches combine, with a number of digressions, to provide a comprehensive narrative. The digressions look at subjects like the move from underarm to round arm bowling and, interestingly, the impact of the first real classic of cricket literature, John Nyren’s famous book, The Young Cricketer’s Tutor, first published in 1833.
To go off, for a moment, on a frolic of my own I would make the observation that those reading A Game Emerging might feel the need to refer to the first of Wisden’s 159 editions. Few who collect the so called ‘Cricketer’s Bible’ own an original copy of that first edition, published back in 1864. Many more of us however have a copy from one of the several facsimile productions that have appeared over the years. Despite its status, akin to that of the Holy Grail, the 1864 is not exactly a riveting read, having next to no narrative content and including a number of decidedly eccentric passages, not least of those being the rules of a game call knurr and spell. It is therefore rewarding to have at long last found a use for my 1864, as for the first time in any other context that I have read that obscure game is referenced several times in A Game Emerging.
All in all A Game Emerging is a credit to author and publisher and should be a must read for all of that not inconsiderable number of people who enjoy reading about the history of the game, particularly in England’s largest county. It is a subject I have little doubt that Jeremy Lonsdale will be returning too in the future (although not straight away as his next project is, I am aware, a very different one), but if he ever does get stuck for something to do with his valuable time perhaps, unless someone else wants to put their hand up to do the job, he could do something similar to A Game Emerging for t’other side o’Pennines?