Rather Mad About Cricket

Published: 2023
Pages: 150
Author: Packham, Roger and Goulstone, John
Publisher: JW McKenzie
Rating: 3.5 stars

On its own the title of this one could cover any number of people, myself and anyone reading this review being amongst them, those who play the game every week being others, and many in between. But the sub title rather ties this one down; Jane Austen and her Cricket Connections.

I have to confess that I don’t ever recall reading any of the six classics of English literature that Austen penned more than two centuries ago, but I have certainly watched and enjoyed dramatisations of them. My immediate thought however was that, unlike in the case of Charles Dickens, I had no recollection of anything cricket related being involved in her work.

It was therefore something of a relief to realise that my memory was not letting me down. In her entire oeuvre there are only two passing references to the game, in Northanger Abbey, and one mention, with no great significance, in her surviving correspondence.

Austen never married, and so had no offspring when she died in 1817 at the age of 41.But she had  seven siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews, so her extended family was considerable and a number of them played the game to a good standard. It is those individuals who are the connections that two of cricket’s most diligent researchers, John Goulstone and Roger Packham, have concentrated on in this new book.

The era the authors are concentrating on is cricketing pre-history, a time when bowling was underarm, wickets were poor and bats were single pieces of willow without spliced or sprung handles. It was a time of change however and Austen’s nephew, George Knight, was involved in the campaign to legalise round arm bowling. George appeared in 23 matches now reckoned First Class, and three of his brothers also played at First Class level. Four of his nephews and a similar number of great nephews also earn a page on Cricketarchive.

But amongst the extended Austen family it was not just the Knights who made a mark in the game, and families with surnames as varied as Leigh, Deedes, Knatchbull, Cage, Rice and Moore all feature in the book.

In terms of what the book does it achieves a good deal. Life in the early years of the 19th century was obviously totally different to anything anyone alive today has experienced. It was the time of the industrial revolution, although the lives of those featured in the book were a world away from the dark satanic mills. It is an interesting glimpse into a distant past, both for the game of cricket and English society.

Is Rather Mad About Cricket a book worth investing in? The answer to that one rather depends on your perspective. If your interest in cricket is limited to the great names of the sport and their mighty deeds then probably not. On the other hand if a look at a distant era that has not been fully examined before appeals then the book is an excellent read. It is very well illustrated and copies are available from the publisher, signed by both authors for £20 plus postage.

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