Cricinfo XI November 8, 2007

The pen mightier than the bat

Authors who had more than a passing interest in cricket

This week we look at XI authors who had more than a passing interest in cricket.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at work

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The creator of the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle was a decent and avid cricketer but the first of his ten first-class appearances did not come until he was 41. He was a decent batsman and was said to bowl a puzzling slow ball - it was good enough to take 7 for 61 for MCC against Cambridgeshire at Lord's in 1899. It is believed that Sherlock might have come from an amalgam of Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock of Nottinghamshire. Conan Doyle once took the wicket of WG Grace, commemorating the event with a 19-verse poem in self-celebration. He also wrote one of cricket's classic short stories, "Spedegue's Dropper".

Harold Pinter
One of the best modern screenwriters and playwrights, Pinter is a cricket obsessive - he once said: "I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing God ever created on earth - certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either". His biographer noted that, "Pinter loves cricket and indeed lives for cricket and puts more energy into running a cricket team, The Gaieties, than he does into almost anything else." Many of Pinter's works include references to cricket, but he once observed that his own skills were very limited. "There were only two things I could do well. I possessed quite a gritty defence, and I could hit straight for six, sometimes, oddly enough, off the back foot. But I didn't do either of these things very often. I had little concentration, patience, or the most important thing of all, true relaxation."

Sir Terence Rattigan
Rattigan opened the batting for Eton at Lord's in 1929 - he later described it as the happiest year of his life - and went on to write the scripts for many films and plays, perhaps the most famous being the 1951 award-winning The Browning Version. He also wrote one of the few films that has cricket as its main theme, The Final Test (1953), which starred Len Hutton, Denis Compton and Godfrey Evans.

PG Wodehouse in exile in the USA in the 1970s

PG Wodehouse
Wodehouse was a reasonable player - he spent two years in the XI at Dulwich College - but a fanatical enthusiast. Many of his short stories and poems centre on the game, and his longer books continually return to the theme of cricket. His most famous character, the butler and manservant Jeeves, was named after Percy Jeeves, the Warwickshire bowler who was killed on the western front in 1916. Wodehouse also wrote a poem about a drop by him: "All was peace till I bungled that catch". In 1997 a collection of his best cricket writings, Wodehouse At The Wicket, was published.

John Fowles
The author of the million-selling The French Lieutenant's Woman was in the Bedford School side between 1942 to 1944 as a swing and "cutting" bowler, and even had a trial for Essex. His master at Bedford was Denys Wilcox, the joint captain of the county.

Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon was one of the greatest of the many poets produced from World War I, but his upper class life until the war had been one of a sportsman. After leaving Cambridge he hunted and played cricket for almost a decade, running and captaining a Sassoon Estate XI on many occasions. On the outbreak of the war he wrote: "France was a lady in a short skirt, Russia a bear, and the performances of the county cricket team more important than either of them." His autobiography Memoirs Of A Fox-Hunting Man drew on cricket for inspiration and he also wrote several poems on the game. He continued playing into his seventies.

Samuel Beckett
Beckett remains the only first-class cricketer to win a Nobel Prize (for literature in 1969). He had two first-class games for Dublin University against Northamptonshire in 1925 and 1926, scoring 35 runs in his four innings and conceding 64 runs without taking a wicket. A left-hand opening batsman, possessing what he himself called a gritty defence, and a useful left-arm medium-pace bowler, he never lost his affection for, and interest in, cricket.

AA Milne
The creator of Winnie the Pooh and an assistant editor of Punch, Milne was a passionate cricketer who was once moved to write an ode to his cricket bat: "Revered, beloved, O you whose job, Is but to serve throughout the season, To make, if so be it, a blob."

JM Barrie: ran a showbiz team

JM Barrie
Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, attended Edinburgh University with Conan Doyle, who regularly turned out for Barrie's Allah-Akabarries team - the name was a combination of Barrie's last name and an Arabic phrase meaning "May the Lord help us" - as did Rudyard Kipling, Jerome K Jerome and Wodehouse.

Lord Byron
The prolific poet was an unlikely cricketer because he suffered from a malformation of his right calf and ankle which meant he had to bat with a runner, Byron played in the first Eton v Harrow match at Lord's in 1805. "Byron played very badly," his captain noted. "He should never have been in the XI had my counsel been taken." That account of the match recalls that the night ended in a rowdy confrontation between players in a box at the Haymarket Theatre. Described as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" Byron died aged 36 from a cold exacerbated by an excess of bleeding proscribed by his doctors.

EW Hornung
Dogged by ill health throughout his life, Hornung, who was Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, loved cricket but was rarely able to play because of severe asthma. But he created one of literature's most dashing and long-lasting characters, AF Raffles, a cricketer by day and a burglar by night. George Orwell noted that Hornung made his character a cricketer partially because it allowed him to draw the "sharpest moral contrast" imaginable for the society for which the stories were written.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo