No. 12 March 13, 2010

Neville Cardus' writing

Scyld Berry
The man made matches come alive - so what if at times they read vastly different from what actually happened on the field
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1930s

If you wish to understand the significance of Neville Cardus, take the agency report of any cricket match. "On the first day the home side scored 268 for 5, the highlight being a century by so-and-so with two sixes and nine fours. The stand-out bowler was X, who took 4 for 65" etc.

Cardus put in what agency reports left out. He introduced the crowd, the atmosphere, the ambience of a cricket match, the personalities involved. He made the match come alive.

It could be argued that this kind of finer writing - writing not reportage - would have been introduced to cricket whether Cardus had lived or not. It could have been introduced by Raymond Robertson-Glasgow, who started writing within a decade of the start of Cardus' career in 1920, or by Peter Roebuck. But it is not inevitable: if Cardus had not set the trend, it is possible nobody else would have done it. Look at all the other sports that are reported to us in the barest prose.

There is a drawback, of course. Cardus' writing was based on his own subjective impressions. If he had got out of bed on the wrong side and felt in a gloomy mood, he projected that mood on to one of the players - perhaps one of his favourites, like Harry Makepeace or Emmott Robinson. Cardus called on literary licence and often took it, for modern taste, too far. He had no television to say he was wrong. He could wander round the boundary at Old Trafford, or even not watch the game at all, and write in the evening that the ball had spun viciously all day and Makepeace had batted to perfection, without anyone contradicting him.

The next stage in cricket writing is to capture objectively the players' feelings and thought processes by closely interviewing them - not by projecting the writer's own thoughts and feelings onto them. Cricket is a unique game because of the time it allows for the inner struggle. And capturing this should be the goal of cricket writers of the present and future. Cardus, the inspiration, deserves nothing less.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine