Of Battenberg, Bombay and Blag

Published: 2022
Pages: 334
Author: Mills, Vic
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 3.5 stars

I learnt soon after opening this one that author Vic Mills and I have two things in common. The first, a love of cricket is, I suppose, a given. The second is that more than forty years ago we both spent three years studying law and emerged with a degree.

But there the similarities stop. First of all whilst never being a First Class cricketer Mills was clearly a much better player than ever I was. As far as the law is concerned I allowed expectation to drive me into the legal profession where, for better or worse, I have managed to stay ever since. Mills had the same pressures to contend with, but he resisted, and then when they became too pressing he buggered off to Australia have a look at what World Series Cricket meant for the game and, to use a well worn cliche, he never looked back. This is in some ways a shame as a man who has the brass neck to use a Builder’s Federation Union card to gain entry to press boxes around the Australian Test grounds would certainly have made a decent litigator.

Undoubtedly however a legal career would have cost Mills a great deal of stress and have proved infinitely more tedious than what he chose to do instead. Deserting the law forever he took to travelling around the world, primarily India and Australia. In time he became a more legitimate if not entirely bona fide journalist courtesy of a letter of introduction from the Times of India and he contributed to that and a number of other newspapers and periodicals before changing tack at the end of the noughties and becoming an integral part of Project Front Foot, a charity dedicated to providing cricket equipment, facilities and coaching for those the game would not otherwise see. Mills began that one in Mumbai and is currently in Germany, helping to fashion young Afghan refugees into top class cricketers.

The book itself is in large part an autobiography, but also a showcase for some of Mills’ previously published work. It is an entertaining and eclectic oeuvre as well. I particularly enjoyed a Rakheem Cornwall inspired piece on the demise in the professional game of the cricketer built for comfort rather than speed and, another one with a Caribbean flavour, an analysis of the merits of West Indian quick bowlers based on a look at their christian names.

And then there is, as well as an incidental account of his life, much on Mills own playing career, one conducted in many places, but in the main at a decent club level in Australia and England. There have been so many such books over the years, all with merit, that I wonder sometimes whether there is actually any limit on the number of comical situations that can crop up in club cricket. But Mills’ tales are not all humorous, and there is some sharp observation. As a man good enough to play at a level which off duty county pros were happy to step in to I enjoyed reading about the story of his bowling being carted around by Nottinghamshire’s Paul Todd in a club match one year, only for him to spread-eagle the burly opener’s stumps the following year before he could get off the mark.

Naturally there are also a few reflections on the not inconsiderable amount of Test cricket that Mills has seen, but that is not a major part of the book. Mills’ work with Project Front Foot is however, and is doubtless his favourite part of the story, and one which will attract further support for the excellent work that the charity does.

Of Battenberg, Bombay and Blag is an entertaining read and is a credit to its author and also to Pitch without whom, like so many more of their fine catalogue, it is difficult to imagine how it would have found its way into print, and that would have been a great pity.

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