Cricket

On Cricket by Mike Brearley

by
May 2019, no. 411

The first words I ever read by Mike Brearley were in my first Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the 1976 edition: they were a tribute to his long-time teammate at Middlesex, wicketkeeper John Murray. The tone was warm, generous, and largely conventional, with a single shaft of ...

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A modern cricket photographer using digital single-lens reflex cameras and high-speed motor drives can take 5,000 photos in a day’s play. With such a surfeit of images, the quality of seeing is diminished. For most of his career from the 1970s to the 2010s, English photographer Patrick Eagar would shoot four or five rolls of film ...

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For more than half a century, Richie Benaud (1930–2015) graced the game of cricket around the world. A dashing batsman and fierce leg-spinner, Benaud was the first ...

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Second ball, day three of the 2014 Boxing Day Test match and Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin dives full length in front of first slip Shane Watson to catch Indian number three batsman Cheteshwar Pujara off Ryan Harris single-handed in the webbing of his glove. Virat Kohli replaces Pujara, and in the last over of the day he is still there, with 169 runs. He flas ...

Enterprise and energy are integral to this story. Without the enterprise of James Lillywhite and John Conway there would have been no Australian tour to England in 1878. Nottingham professional Lillywhite, who captained England in the first-ever Test matches at Melbourne in March-April 1877, arranged the English fixture list and former Victorian all-rounder Conway c ...

Emeritus Professor Bob Reece has published widely on Aboriginal history and on New Norcia history in particular. In a brief preface he notes that his paternal grandfather and father were fine cricketers and that he (a poor player) has followed the game from the time of Don Bradman’s Invincibles in the late 1940s. When he learned of the Benedictine Mission’s Aboriginal cricketers who played between 1879 and 1906, the story demanded to be told. Without doubt Reece is the best person to tell it.

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At last, new Bradman territory to be conquered: the Don 1939–45 or, if we discount the ‘phoney war’ (‘Business as Usual’, as Robert Menzies said of that first phase in World War II), perhaps 1941–45. I imagined a slim volume. Not so! Instead, there is a catch to the subtitle of Bradman’s War: How the 1948 Invincibles Turned the Cricket Pitch into a Battlefield, which indicates that we will be on more familiar terrain.‘More familiar’ because this book is an attempt at revisionist history. Questioning the Bradman idolatry and the invincibility of the Invincibles is a suitable aim. However, the main task for the revisionist historian is to provide either fresh new evidence or a powerful reinterpretation of existing evidence as part of formulating a balanced argument: Malcolm Knox does neither.

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Test cricket and the novel are two pinnacles of modern cultural achievement, long-haul enterprises of intricacy and complexity. Why, then, have the two rarely intersected? It is especially strange given that cricket has arguably had more books devoted to it than has any other sport. Literary-minded cricket lovers will rhapsodise over the prose style of C.L.R. James or the nostalgic elegance of Neville Cardus, but few books about cricket have been fiction, and even fewer of them have been much good. While Joseph O’Neill’s recent Netherland (2008) was a fine offbeat novel that featured cricket, there have been no great works of cricket fiction. Until now.

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A favourite quiz question for cricket history buffs has been ‘Who is the only Nobel Prize winner to play first-class cricket?’ Answer: Samuel Beckett. A question for cricket bibliophiles now might well be ‘Which Nobel Prize winner contributed an essay to an Australian cricket book?’ Answer: J.M. Coetzee.

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A book’s title should indicate its subject and, even better, its approach to its subject. Basic dictionaries define a companion as one who ‘accompanies another’, is an ‘associate in’, or a ‘sharer of’. A secondary definition is a ‘handbook or reference book’; a thing that ‘matches another’. I anticipate that a book called a ‘Companion’ will be company, will allow me to associate, to share, refer, and be matched as though with a real-life companion; a partner. Given that the book is published by a major university press, it is expected that the companion may be more of a mentor than a guide, but still present information in a lively, accessible style.

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