There: The Village Cricket Match

This blog has established a number of things over the last two years. Some are semi-intellectual bookish things, some are mere entertaining observations of a reading life, and some are just random tidbits about your blogger, which perhaps you’d rather not know. Here are three reasonably well-established facts about me:

1) I like books;

2) I’m moving from Australia to England very, very soon;

3) I like cricket.

How do we manage to shoehorn these three established facts into a book review? Well, stay with me…

The great thing about working in a place full of book-people for as long as I have, is that every now and then a colleague will pop around to your cubicle with some fantabulous book and say ‘Here. You’d like this.’ It’s always a book you’d have missed if it hadn’t been placed in your hands; something new and quirky, or old and hidden; something you would have passed over if you were making a decision in a bookshop but which you’re more than happy to try because someone made the effort to tell you how much they think you and said book are perfect for each other (why is it that book selection always ends up sounding like dating?). And this very thing happened to me recently when our company chairman walked into a colleague’s office to show off a newly-repaired book.

The chairman of my company has decided to semi-retire. Officially we’re all still working out what that means, but in practice it seems to involve playing golf more often and almost exclusively publishing books about cricket. See, you might think book-folk and sport-folk are different kinds of people but the fact is there are quite a few cricket tragics among our number. (I think both realms might attract those who like tradition and detail—and a drink or two in the outfield). So in walks Chairman with this little book, printed in the 1950s, about the size of a square post-it note and having recently received some tender loving care in the form of new binding. On the cover of this darling item is the title, author and a foil illustration of a cricketer.  Chairman had wandered over to thank the original cricket tragic who had found the book in a clean up at home and decided to give it to Chairman, knowing how much he’d like it. He then looked at me, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Here. You’d love this.’ And that’s how I came to read a post-it-note-sized book called The Village Cricket Match by AG Macdonell.

‘The Village Cricket Match’ is one of the most-famous sections of AG Macdonell’s most-famous novel England, Their England. ETE is a satiric novel published in the 1930s that examines the changes occurring in England in the period between the two world wars. ETE is particularly loved for its descriptions of cricket, and thus, I’m supposing, some genius decided to publish the cricket match episode in mini-book form. Good on them. I’d bet my grandmother on the certainty of a person going on to buy a copy of ETE after having read The Village Cricket Match. I know I did.

Here’s a quick plot summary: A motley bunch of Englishmen, a Scotsman and an American, travel from London to the English countryside to play a village team on their local field. They play cricket and drink a lot of beer and everyone has a jolly time.

The story is not as simple as that. Okay, it is as simple as that but around and within that simplicity are memorable characters, cutting observations, amusing descriptions, vivid detail, social satire, oh, and cricket commentary. All these things are bundled together in what is one of the most engaging stories I’ve read. Truly. I didn’t want to give it back to the chairman. If he hadn’t just agreed to me taking 14 months off work, I probably wouldn’t have.

I am moving to England in a week’s time. But it is a big bustling city I’m moving to—a land of royal weddings and Olympic preparations. It is not a land of cricket fields covered in wildflowers and with such a rise in the middle that one can’t see the boundary; of bearded farmers leaning on their scythes while taking in the game before them; of gentleman city cricketers disappearing to the pub in the middle of an innings; of blacksmith fast bowlers hurtling towards a pitch with steam coming out of their ears. At least, I don’t think it is. Perhaps there are some places like this out in the countryside, perhaps I will try to find some.

I don’t think you need like cricket to read this story, but if you do have one then it will make you love The Village Cricket Match. But you should also like it  if you have a liking for particular English things; for an England of jolly good sports, Oxford graduates, knitted jumpers and warm ales. Macdonell’s writing seems to swim with affection for his subjects, or at least an affection for telling their story. It is funny, delightful prose, and he (or his narrator, really) imparts his observations on the England around him—an England that was experiencing much change at the time—with a succinct flair, which somehow manages to be sharp without being mean.

If you don’t love cricket, you may not love The Village Cricket Match. After all, I’m not sure I could read a book almost solely based around a golfing tournament, no matter how engaging the writing (I’m happy to be proved wrong, though). But as we established earlier that magnificent game is something that I do love, and I did love this book.

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