With love from Cuba, Almaty and Tristan da Cunha
On Niue Island "the fielder, high in a coconut tree, throws the ball to one of his 39 team-mates, at ground level, desperate to prevent his opponent completing the maximum sixth run". The annual Casey Day fixture between Australian scientists and others takes place 2580km from the South Pole on February 12. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, they play on a school playground, and the batsman accrues two runs by hitting the ball into the bushes inside the boundary, and lbw is so disputatious that the mode of dismissal has been banned. In 1961 the South Atlantic island Tristan Da Cunha had to be evacuated because of a volcanic eruption, bringing to a temporary end a long cricketing tradition that was happily revived in 1995, using a rounders ball on a concrete pitch.
These esoteric gems are snatched almost at random from Elk Stopped Play. In 1993, under the stewardship of Matthew Engel, Wisden introduced its "Cricket Round the World" section. Reports of cricket in far-flung corners of the globe had featured previously, but Engel's decision ensured that for the last 30 years readers have been able to enjoy reports of cricket in manifold contexts and locations. A friend told me recently that when he gets his annual Wisden, he goes first to the obituaries, and then to "Cricket Round the World". This marvellous book demonstrates why that's a shrewd move.
Elk Stopped Play is edited by Charlie Connelly, an automatic selection given that he is a cricket nut by proclivity and a travel writer by trade. As he records in his introduction, a family holiday to Holland when he was a boy deprived him of his opportunity to watch his idol Lance Cairns on TV (Charlie, Lance Cairns?) but provided an epiphany as he glimpsed a cricket match through trees from the back seat of the car. They play cricket here? Elk Stopped Play is the product of his subsequent fascination with cricket around the world.
Connelly has surveyed Wisden's bulletins from around the globe and, with a writer's eye, put together an anthology that is engaging and entertaining throughout. His introduction provides ten pages of personal cricketing reflection that justify the book by itself. He selects extracts from Wisden and knits them together with narrative and reflection that place the selections in geographical, cultural and sporting context.
A recurring theme, in the background of this book, is the influence of migration. The British took cricket around the world as they colonised it, and have continued to spread the word. A remarkable figure in Elk Stopped Play is Leona Ford, who, having retired from teaching English at university, revived cricket in Cuba. Australians and Kiwis also insist on exhibiting their expertise as they circumnavigate. More recently, Asian people have taken their compulsive love of the game wherever they go.
Unlike its big Wisden daddy, Elk Stopped Play invites reading from cover to cover, but it also rewards the dipper in and out in search of a diverting tale from abroad for a few minutes.
Taken in isolation, these bulletins from elsewhere are in turn charmingly exotic, funny and banal. Taken as a whole, however, they are testament to the extraordinary global reach of cricket. As Michael Palin, no mean traveller himself, notes at the end of his foreword, "there is barely a corner of God's earth where you can walk without at least some chance of being hit by a cricket ball".
Elk Stopped Play and other tales from cricket around the world
Edited by Charlie Connelly
140 pages, £8.99