The pub, not the winning
Not Dark Yet by Mike Harfield
(My Back Pages Press, 149pp) £7.99
This memoir celebrates 30 years in the life of an endearingly hopeless scratch side where the batting averages are a fraction of the waist measurements. The author and a ragtag group of mates, whose abilities range from the largely incompetent downwards, have played one fixture a year against the Oxfordshire village side of Clifton Hampden.
The slapstick run-outs, the fights over lbw howlers, the litany of talked-up ringers who turned out to be useless, the desperate struggle to raise 11 players on a Sunday morning - anyone who has played pub or village cricket will recognise and enjoy plenty in this book.
Harfield, the team's captain, traces their triumphs and (mainly) disasters since the first game in 1976, tying the story loosely to current affairs and international cricket in the past three decades.
The downside of the book is that the reader will recognise plenty of that material, too: "You guys are history"; Beefy, Lamby, Dickie and the mobile phone; "the bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey". Much the better stuff is the gentle, droll evocation of the pleasures of cricket and friendship that endure despite the passage of time.
Not Dark Yet encapsulates nicely the "it's not the winning, it's the pub after" mentality that keeps thousands of amateurs, and indeed one or two professionals, coming back year after year, convinced against all evidence that this will be the innings where they finally crack that belligerent, buccaneering 50.
The book's title, incidentally, is from the Bob Dylan song, whose opening line: "Shadows are falling and I've been here all day" seems pretty much to sum up the feelings of the no-hoper hidden down at long leg, for whom this book will be as welcome as the thought of that keg waiting in the pavilion and the rest of the coronation chicken left over from tea.
This article was first published in the May 2008 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here