Cricket books and masters of the game
Cricket fans living in the United States used to complain about lack of access to the game. Well, we got live telecasts (on satellite and broadband video) and we got the chance to play the game itself. But one thing is still hard (impossible?) to find: a bookstore that carries cricket books.
Thus, one highlight of my recent trip to Australia was a chance to visit stores that actually carried decent selections of cricket books and to rediscover three masters of cricket writing: John Arlott, Ray Robinson and Gideon Haigh. The icing on the cake was that two of the books are genuine classics: Arlott's An Eye for Cricket is a pictorial one, featuring the photography of Patrick Eagar, the greatest cricket photographer of all; Robinson's opus On Top Down Under is yet to be rivalled as an intimate portrait of Australian captains. I do not attach the adjective "classic" to Haigh's Silent Revolutions only because its vintage is too recent; give it a few years and it will be so, the quality of the writing to be found in there will ensure it endures and continues to edify.
I purchased books by this trio from both first-run bookshops (Readings in Melbourne) and second-hand specialists (Goulds and Berkelouw in Sydney). My procurement method included the roundabout technique of looking up titles on www.abebooks.com and then calling in orders.
In buying and reading these books, I rediscovered several pleasures which had started to become distant memories: the idle browse through several decades of cricket history, the serendipitous discovery of a classic, and most importantly, when reading cricket history, the chance to find out just how much has changed and how much remains the same in this game. There were other, more tangible pleasures: the chance to start each day with a stroll down to the coffee shop on the corner, followed by a leisurely immersion in cricket history.
Reading these books was also a humbling experience. I used to pride myself on being well-read about cricket. Well, as one of my students in Brooklyn might say, 'you ain't there, son'. For as cricketing historians, Arlott, Haigh and Robinson stagger with their erudition (and dazzle with their writing flair; Arlott perhaps less so but that's just because he is a trifle more understated).
Haigh has established himself as a modern master par excellence; one is relentlessly exposed to what a library of 3000-plus cricket books can bring about. He is an allrounder too and I wonder how many Cricinfo readers realise he is one of the best business writers out there? If anyone is qualified to analyse the foibles of the IPL from a business perspective, he is. I urge Cricinfo readers to track down his masterly take-down of the cult of the CEO; the word "cricket" shows up nowhere in the book, yet it manages to teach us about modern cricket.
In the case of the sadly departed Ray, I was reminded again of what a deft touch he could bring to his writing and how prominently his affection for the game comes through in his portraits of Australian captains. He reminds me (in his finished product) of no one more than David Halberstam (also now sadly departed) the great American journalist and writer who showed the same skill of being able to combine staggering amounts of information into a seamless narrative that informed and entertained.
In the weeks to come, I hope to review all three of the books mentioned above; in the case of the Arlott and Eagar book, I will be handicapped by not being able to share the photographs with you, but some of the photos are likely to be so well-known that a mere mention of them should be enough to sustain my verbal descriptions.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here