We Don't Play It For Fun: A Story of Yorkshire Cricket by Don Mosey (Methuen £10.95). Cricket Walkabout by John Mulvaney and Rex Harcourt (Macmillan £10.95). Peter Pan and Cricket by David Rayvern Allen (Constable £12.95).
THE world of cricket is sometimes reminiscent of Tolkein's Middle Earth. Similar to but in some way different to ordinary life. Not quite fairyland, yet not quite the workaday world we know. Peopled by phantasmagoric figures. Subject to outlandish events and curious laws and customs. Preoccupied with preserving essential decencies from corruption. Stubbornly attached to the old ways and suspicious of novelties, yet rich in eccentrities. And so forth.
All these three books illustrate the point in their different ways. Don Mosey, well known as a superior writer and broadcaster on cricket, brings to life a gallery of figures who have made their mark in and on Yorkshire cricket. That is a world within a world, developing a species of cricket that dominated the county game for decades and even now has a flourishing export industry in talented players, out of its own superabundance.
At any time a team of expatriate Yorkshiremen playing for other counties could give the official team a run for its money. From within the county its heroes are the Ents of cricket, enormous, knotty, whiskery and wise; to outsiders they look more like Ores, dark, ruthless, cunning, stealing out of the underworld — which indeed the miners among them literally did.
Mr Mosey takes a selfconfessed sentimental view though he deals honestly with the recent civil war between the forces of darkness, represented by that dull genius Geoffrey Boycott, and the forces. of light, represented by the amiable Brian Close and the passionately loyal Fred Trueman. With equal honesty the book is called "a story", not "the story" for it is less a formal chronicle than a gallimaufry of personalities from Lord Hawke, through Sutcliffe, Hutton and Wardle to the present day's Bairstow, Metcalfe and Love, and of lively fly-on-the-wall anecdotes.
Born only half a mile from the great county and with a brief schoolboy experience of South Durham and North Yorkshire cricket, I have a sneaking sympathy with Mr Mosey's passion. But it will cause weeping and gnashing of teeth among those whose loyalties lie elsewhere.
The second book tells an even curiouser tale. It is rarely remembered that the first Australian tour was the visit of a team of Aborigines 120 years ago — a visit being repeated during the current season. With wonderful names like King Cole, Dick-a-Dick and Mosquito they enthralled the Victorian public, giving displays of boomerang and spear-throwing in the intervals of cricket, and, off-duty, hob-nobbing with the gentry.
One died on tour and the rest might well have done, from broken hearts, so shabby was their treatment in the century following this brief flash of
glory. Cricket Walkabout is a
reissue of a widely praised account of that historic tour by the Melbourne Press in 1968, as an accompaniment to this season's expedition. It is the work of two scholars and all the better for that, for they have a fine eye for incidental human detail as well as the authority of facts. A final polish is added by a wealth of rare photographs and illustrations of the period. No cricket addict will fail to enjoy it.
Perhaps as little known is the lifelong love of cricket that beat in the breast of J M Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. An intriguing figure on other scores, Barrie was a Scotsman who rather improbably took to cricket from his earliest years and down to his dying day was a haunter of Lords and an active practitioner on lowlier fields through much of his long life.
Though a complete duffer as a player he got as much pleasure from scoring a single as many do from a century. His chief achievement was to found a dufferish but distinguished team, the Allahakbarries, of literary figures of the pre-Great War period such as Augustine Birrell, Owen Seaman and A E W Mason. They played a series of matches at Broadway, against a team led by Lady Mary de Navarro, whose husband was a Papal Chamberlain, which were written up in a vein of rather arch humour and tongue-in
cheek gravity, accompanied by illustrations done by Punch artists including Herman Herkomer and Bernard Partridge.
The side's champion was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who presumably had not lost the skills acquired at Stonyhurst. These accounts are faithfully
reproduced in a book full of
oddities and again remarkable for a wealth of rare photographs, among them one of Barrie bowling to Field Marshal Earl Haig (in uniform).
It also includes many of Barnes journalistic pieces on cricket, the one subject, it is said, which could rouse him from his normal melancholic silence.
An odd man and an odd book, but carefully researched, rich in gentle pleasures, and just the thing to have by you when rain stops play. Middle Earth shows no signs of losing its fecundity, thank heaven.
John F X Harriott