|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Games||Mobile|
Simon Lister reviews Penguins Stopped Play by Harry Thompson
In April last year Thompson felt unwell and was told by his doctor that - despite having never smoked a cigarette - he had inoperable lung cancer. By November Thompson had died. He was 45.
The enduring love of Harry Thompson's life was cricket. He adored the game to such an extent that, although he was useless at it, he and his university pals set up a club so they could be useless at it together. They named the side the Captain Scott Invitation XI after the explorer who died in the Antarctic in 1912, the personification of British heroic failure. What happened to the Scotties over the next 20-odd years is the story of Penguins Stopped Play.
This book is first a romp through the pretty villages of southern England, an expertly told yarn of the Scott XI being belted to all parts by merciless locals. Alongside accounts of humiliating defeats and the odd lucky draw Thompson drops in a few choice anecdotes: the editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop, fetching a ball only to vault a fence straight into a deep pool of liquid manure. The author also remembers Hislop's last game, after he had already become a celebrity. He batted with a black cab running its meter on the boundary "ready to take him somewhere more important".
The writing is crisper than a Gower cover drive and as witty as any of the Tales from a Long Room. But then something happens. The Scott XI suffers an almighty schism and splits in two - one side led by Thompson, the other captained by Marcus Berkmann, one of his oldest friends and, as many readers will know, the author of the brilliant Rain Men (and the original owner of the Hislop/manure anecdote).
According to Thompson it was not a pleasant parting and in the latter half of his book there is a whiff of old scores being settled. This is both a shame and a weakness.
Thompson's XI go travelling, determined to play a game on every continent. Their trip takes up more than 100 pages and proves that writing about any cricket tour is hard enough but, when the matches are of little consequence to anyone except the author and his team, the task gets trickier, even for a natural like Thompson.
All we really learn is that the Scotties are the same group of good eggs, rotten eggs, piss artists and idiots that make up practically every cricket club in the country. And by the end of the tour the sparkling shambolic amateurism of the early years, so engagingly described, has evaporated. What remains is something grimier and not half as interesting.
© The Wisden Cricketer
Bowl at Boycs: Geoff Boycott on spot-fixing, Adil Rashid's future, and yorkers in Test matches
Harsha Bhogle: The spot-fixing controversy teaches us about the pitfalls of insecurity and of the desire to keep up with the Joneses
Numbers Game: Stuart Broad is destructive at his best, but at other times his bowling average is unusually high
Aakash Chopra: Apart from luck, you need to pick your team wisely, get to bat at the top, and have your captain's support
Matt Cleary: Why Channel Nine should be applauded for not broadcasting domestic cricket in Australia
Plays of the day from the IPL qualifier between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians in Delhi
Safe & simple online money transfer. Apply Now!
Available now at Cricshop