Reviews ReviewsRSS FeedFeeds

A Last English Summer

An elegy for cricket as she was

This romantic tour through the 2009 English season is a must-read for those who love the game, and those who control it

Alan Lee

September 18, 2010

Text size: A | A

Book cover: A Last English Summer by Duncan Hamilton
Enlarge
Related Links
Teams: England

Anyone who has watched cricket from the prim old Ladies' Pavilion at Worcester, gazing through the green-and-white canvas to the cathedral and river beyond, will appreciate that such moments are made for profound thoughts on the best-loved game.

Duncan Hamilton, whiling away a dreamy afternoon and doubtless awaiting the homemade cakes, found himself musing on what it is that sets Anglo-Australian rivalries so distinctly apart. "Beneath the thick crust of cynicism England and Australia are like the two old men in Somerset Maugham's short story "The Sanatorium", who squabble and feud, complain about and provoke one another - mostly over trivialities. The fractious relationship gives meaning and purpose and identity and definition to both their lives."

It was a summary to linger in the consciousness, encapsulating the work of a book that achieves more than its ambitions. Hamilton, already the recipient of five prestigious book awards, can confidently expect more to follow for this lyrical, evocative but absolutely timely volume, a kind of travelogue of the English cricketing summer of 2009.

His inspirations were threefold: first his grandfather, who had introduced him to cricket and whose memory lives with him still; secondly JB Priestley's English Journey, a ramble round a changing land in 1933; finally Hamilton's deep fears that the rhythms and romance of the game were about to be lost forever, bulldozed by rampant commercialism.

Because cricket has, indeed, become avaricious and celebrity-led, Hamilton's thoughts are not fashionable; these days the banal soundbites of Freddie or Jimmy or KP are so much easier to market. If sales of this book suffer for that, however, it will be the greatest shame. Everyone who loves the game, and especially those who administer it, should read this and prepare to weep.

Hamilton admits he is something of a modern misfit. "To describe oneself as a 'cricket purist' these days risks derision. You're dismissed as ultra-conservative, unprogressive and as fogeyish as a pocket watch and chain. I am that cricket purist." He calls himself a "raving sentimentalist" and adds: "I am always measuring today against yesterday. I know there are times when it makes me sound one hundred years old."

 
 
Mostly Hamilton's comparisons are sharp and his longing for the eroded joys of the county game shrewdly expressed. Unsurprisingly he reserves his bile for Twenty20, and specifically for the noise and ballyhoo seemingly inseparable from it
 

And, yes, just occasionally, he does get almost tiresomely wistful, straining a shade too far for the right, regretful image. There is, too, the odd misspelling of a player's name to irritate.

Mostly, though, his comparisons are sharp and his longing for the eroded joys of the county game shrewdly expressed. Unsurprisingly he reserves his bile for Twenty20, and specifically for the noise and ballyhoo seemingly inseparable from it. He loathes "the show-off announcers" and the "acts of forced jollity", comparing the experience to "someone at a party constantly blowing a streamer in your face and telling you to enjoy yourself".

Hamilton regards the IPL as "plastic cricket, pre-packaged and oversold". The domestic product, he warns, has already been given undue priority. "Twenty20 is barging in on every summer like an exasperating holiday guest; not only demanding the best room in the house but insisting that everything is run to fit around its whims."

His graphic disapproval of the beer-drinking marathons that have been allowed house room in English cricket will strike a chord with many. He experienced it at the Edgbaston Test and reports his revulsion at the abuse and "rank obnoxious" conduct of the drunks. "If the ECB ignores the drinking culture, or allows it to go unchecked, it will at some stage find itself trying to explain away a profoundly serious incident."

Hamilton starts his odyssey at Lord's, for the MCC v champion county fixture, and ends it at Canterbury deep in September. He is at his best and happiest away from the rowdy throng - at Colwyn Bay, for instance, earwigging on endearing conversations in the crowd, or at Scarborough, where his cricket-watching routines are engrained.

At Cheltenham he reflects how county cricket has lost so much of its character through the steady elimination of outgrounds. He steals a look at a 1978 Wisden and counts 26 that have since disappeared. "It is as if cricket's own version of a flint-eyed and unfeeling Dr Beeching stared at a map of England one summer's day and tut-tutted his disapproval."

Hamilton feared the end of the line for the cricketing time tables he reveres. Most of us join him in hoping he is wrong.

A Last English Summer
by Duncan Hamilton
Quercus
377pp, £20

This review was first published in the September 2010 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print

    A year of triumph and disaster

Martin Crowe: Misbah, McCullum, and the ICC's efforts against chucking were the positive highlights in a year that ended with the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death

    Two fortresses called Brisbane and Centurion

Numbers Game: Australia haven't lost at the Gabba since 1988, while South Africa have a 14-2 record in Centurion

Zimbabwe's decade of hurt

The Cricket Monthly: Ten years ago 15 white Zimbabwean cricketers went on strike. The game has not been the same since
Download the app: for iPads | for Android tablets

    'Lara v McGrath was a great battle of our generation'

Dravid and Manjrekar discuss Brian Lara's adaptability

Would Brearley have picked Cook as captain?

Nicholas Hogg: Cook lacks certain qualities the ex-England captain listed as those fitting of an ideal leader, in particular, charisma

News | Features Last 7 days

The perfect Test

After the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death, this match showed that cricket and life will continue to go on. This time Test cricket dug in and got through to tea.

Kohli attains batting nirvana

Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

Australia in good hands under proactive Smith

The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game

What ails Rohit and Watson?

Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena

Karn struggles to stay afloat

The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

News | Features Last 7 days

    BCCI's argument against DRS not 100% (164)

    Turning your back on a system that the whole cricketing world wants a discussion on, refusing to discuss it because it is not 100%, is not good enough

    Karn struggles to stay afloat (114)

    The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

    Kohli attains batting nirvana (110)

    Virat Kohli's innings on the final day transcended the conditions, the bowlers and his batting partners, and when it was all in vain, he displayed remarkable grace in defeat

    When defeat isn't depressing (57)

    After a long time we have seen an Indian team and captain enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome stronger opposition in an overseas Test

    What ails Rohit and Watson? (50)

    Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena