In Review

In review: Cricketing Lives by Richard H. Thomas

Thomas tells the ‘long and involved’ history of cricket through some of its most colourful characters

Cricket

In this absorbing book, Richard H. Thomas tells the “long and involved” history of cricket through some of its most colourful characters, said Marcus Berkmann in The Spectator. Luckily for him – and for us – the sport has always attracted eccentrics, from oddballs such as W.G. Grace to Geoffrey Boycott, to the many less familiar figures in Thomas’s account.

One such figure is Wilf Wooller, who captained Glamorgan to the championship in 1948 and later became the club’s president. In the latter guise, Thomas portrays him as a “terrifying figure”, prowling the boundary in his sports jackets and brown suede shoes, often commandeering the public address system to denounce the negative tactics of opposing teams.

“Drinkers, adventurers and shaggers abound” in these pages, said Patrick Kidd in The Critic. A century ago, the Hon. Lionel Tennyson (grandson of the poet laureate) found himself summoned to make his Test debut for England the next day while “deep into a night at the Embassy Club on Bond Street”. He struck an extravagant bet with one of his companions that he would score a half-century – and duly made 74.

And it’s not just “Boys’ Own stories”: Thomas doesn’t neglect the “great female legends of cricket”. Eileen Ash, an England player in the 1940s (who is still alive, aged 109), “flew in a Tiger Moth on her 100th birthday and kept one of Don Bradman’s bats by her bed to repel burglars”. Nancy Doyle, the “volcanic” head cook at Lord’s, once responded to Mike Brearley’s request for lighter fare than steak and kidney pudding by telling England’s then captain: “You worry about the f***ing cricket, and I’ll worry about the f***ing food.”

Heavy on research but light in touch, this is a book with something for everyone – “even those who find the game dull”.

Reaktion Books £20; The Week Bookshop £16.99

Cricketing Lives
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