Any Old Eleven

Published: 2001
Pages: 229
Author: Young, Jim
Publisher: Cape Weed Press
Rating: 4.5 stars

Any Old Eleven

In recent years there have been numerous publications of books detailing the successes and, far more commonly, the extreme failures of lower grade cricket teams. Rain Men and its sequel Zimmer Men by Marcus Berkmann, Gideon Haigh’s The Vincibles, Harry Thompson’s When Penguins Stopped Play, and Fatty Batter by Michael Simkins are all examples of this trend towards humorous recounting of appalling cricket by its less skilled practitioners. However, for me personally the best of all these type of books was a less well known one called Any Old Eleven by Jim Young.

Jim Young played for a team called Naughten’s Old Boys in the 1970s and 80s. The team?s name was derived, as is commonplace in Australia, from the pub that the majority of players frequented. The Naughten’s Old Boys, or Nobs, played in the Northern Combined Churches cricket competition in Melbourne. As Young points out, the grade they officially participated in D-1, as the players considered it too humiliating to admit it was actually E grade. The fact that they were a pub team competing in a Churches competition sets the scene well for the escapades and events that follow. There is little relationship between good Christian ethics, the antics of the team and their perpetual struggle to get a full contingent of players onto the ground. However, their opposing Church teams don?t seem to provide a much better example either.

Young covers a large variety of the staple elements of less serious cricket; self-umpiring, struggling to get numbers, the volunteers who somehow manage to organise everything at the last minute, the ring-ins who play under assumed names and so on. He is a fine writer, and manages to draw the reader into the story exceptionally well. Young was an English teacher, and his writing style is both refined and easygoing. I have friends that have no interest in cricket whatsoever, but they still read this book with great enjoyment. It is a genuinely funny book in many parts. Thankfully, unlike some similar efforts, this book does not fall into the trap of forcing the humour too much. Young manages to let it happen naturally, but also succeeds in reminding many of us of the fun we had in the lower grades.

It is interesting that the forward to this book is provided by one of the best current cricket writers, Gideon Haigh. Sadly, Any Old Eleven has not been a massive best-seller, in spite of the fact that it is exceptionally well written and very entertaining. It was not published by any of the major book companies, which no doubt contributed to its relatively poor sales and is a real shame. Perhaps my biggest compliment to Young is that I rate Any Old Eleven higher than Haigh?s own effort in this genre, The Vincibles. This is not to denigrate The Vincibles at all, but merely to highlight what an excellent book Any Old Eleven is. Any Old Eleven is essential reading for all fans of cricket, and comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a well written and humorous book.

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