Coming to the party
About halfway through Lawrence Booth's exasperating yet enjoyable book the author quotes from an Australian review of his earlier works: "Anyway Armball to Zooter is a nice colour and just the right size to stick in the S-bend of the sink, which makes it rather perfect for the smallest room in the house." As luvvies say to each other on opening nights when they are not sure how to heap sufficient praise on their fellow thespian's efforts, "Lawrence, darling, you've done it again."
Booth has great talent and anything he writes is going to be worth reading. But I cannot quite see the reason for this book. It is less "an addict's guide" than a wide-eyed innocent's guide: the overall impression he conveys is of a newcomer to a big party that has been going on for hours - "Hey, there's still some free drink left AND Freddie Flintoff to talk to. This is going to be fun."
On other occasions Booth implies he is writing the book for the money, but anybody (except Dickie Bird) will tell you that writing cricket books for the money is a mug's game. As a leading light of cricket's younger generation of writers, and a Guardian journalist to boot, he ought to have a better reason for writing this book.
Is he having a go at us old codgers? Booth seems to compare OBO (over-by-over) online reporting favourably with Test Match Special, which is the equivalent of preferring to watch the Premier League on Ceefax rather than listening to Alan Green's live commentary... oh, maybe he has a point. But the rest of the book, though sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and always well-written, merely confirms some established views: sledging and fanatical support are as old as the game itself, journalists are a misunderstood lot and there is corruption in Zimbabwe. His final chapter deals mainly with the increasing influence of Indian money and power politics within cricket, which we already know about.
Booth is certainly well-read: he quotes, among others, CLR James, Len Hutton, JB Priestley, Hunter S Thompson, Trollope (Anthony not Joanna), Bishop Welldon of Calcutta, Libby Purves, and the 1948 Wisden. There are a few elementary errors which such erudition ought to have avoided - the "we flippin' murdered 'em" Test at Bulawayo in 1996-97 ended as a draw, not a tie - but they do not detract from a highly readable book by a talented writer. All he needs now is a proper subject to get his teeth into.
Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict's Guide to the World's Most Exasperating
by Lawrence Booth
Yellow Jersey Press £11.99
Jonathan Rice is the author of The Pavilion Book of Pavilions, One Hundred Lord's Tests, and Fight for the Ashes 2001 among other books. This review was first published in the October 2008 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here