Cracks on the surface

In a recent lunchtime slot David Lloyd took a Sky cameraman around the England dressing room. Its occupants were not present, giving the viewers the chance for a thorough nose around. "Oh look, one of the lads has been reading a cricket magazine," he said, beckoning the camera to follow him, before turning hurriedly back - "er, no, maybe not." Happily, we will never know what it was that made Bumble bumble but it is a gentle reminder, for those who might otherwise balk at this novel's premise, that cricket and pornography are not such unlikely bedfellows.

Do not be put off this novel by its title. Knox's combination of humour, suspense and psychological scrutiny demands attention. This is a rich investigation into the secret life of family, using sport and pornography as twin magnifying lenses. When John Brand dies, he is survived by a wife and two sons: Davis, who wants to know more about the death, and Chris, who is too busy trying to save his Test career at the SCG. As the narrative oscillates between John Brand's last days and the Test match that follows them, Knox presents a study of grief in which each member of the family is forced to confront either a guilty past or a shameful present.

Knox has used his many years as a cricket correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald to depict Chris, a veteran batsman struggling for form before the selectors dump him. The self-importance of the press box is also beautifully exploded, and it is worth reading purely for the moment Tony Greig gets caught out live on air. Every element of Test cricket is here for your vicarious pleasure - the sledging and the slip catches on the field, the orgiastic behaviour off it - and the chances are you have never heard them described so well.

Knox's prose is both meticulous and expansive. It is also as tough as the red leather world of machismo it is conveying - even the wicket wears like an Aussie male: "the abrasions, red cherry-skids, blockholes, middle-stump scratchings, cracks, slide marks, sunburnings, gouged bowlers' footmarks, bald spots and rogue eruptions, a cricket pitch's age-wrinkles and moles and scars. But for now its secrets are hidden beneath perfect skin."

Those secrets get everywhere. They riddle the book with their corrosive seediness. But they also bind the disparate members of the family together as closely as their blood ties; at some points they are one and the same. The paradox of family, Knox seems to say, is that you hide the most from those to whom you are most alike.

Rating: 5/5