Sunday, 10 July 2011

I'll remember Aigburth

I went to the last one-day international between England and Sri Lanka at Old Trafford yesterday with my dad. Watching cricket is as much a ritual as playing the game itself. I never cease to marvel at the extent to which groups of men, despite having paid forty pounds each for a ticket and over the odds for countless pints of inferior lager with a fake German name, will spend the entire day doing almost anything – playing bongos, making towers out of empty plastic beer glasses, screaming at Robbie Savage in the executive boxes to try to get him to wave – rather than watch the unfolding spectacle in front of them. I am sure this is not what C.L.R. James meant when he famously said, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’

I think my two favourite books about cricket are Mike Marqusee’s Anyone But England and one I have just read, Duncan Hamilton’s A Last English Summer. Marqusee’s has a memorable description of how, as an expat American attending his first cricket match, he became entranced by the strange, pointless beauty of the changing field arrangements at the end of an over. Hamilton’s is a journey around the cricket season in the Ashes summer of 2009 (inspired by Geoffrey Moorhouse’s The Best Loved Game which does the same for the 1978 season) covering everything from the Lords test to the Lancashire League. I was pleased to see that there is a chapter entitled ‘Yes, I’ll remember Aigburth’ – where I live – about Hamilton’s visit to Liverpool Cricket Club when Andrew Flintoff was appearing for Lancashire to prove his fitness to the England selectors, and where ‘the sun appears briefly, as if wanting to see for itself whether Flintoff is fit’. Hamilton, whom I knew previously from his brilliant biography of Brian Clough, has a lovely turn of phrase, from his account of Leary Constantine ‘hold[ing] the shot, as though posing for a sculptor who is about to strike his chisel against a huge fresh block of stone and free the shape concealed within it’ to his description of ‘the gasometer [at the Oval], rising and falling like a concertina’.

Hamilton also mentions a 1953 film, The Final Test, scripted by Terence Rattigan, in which one of the characters, a poet-cum-playwright played by Robert Morley, says, ‘Of course it’s frightfully dull. That’s the whole point. Any game can be exciting … the measure of the vast superiority of cricket over any other game is that it steadfastly refuses to cater for this boring craving for excitement. To go to cricket to be thrilled is as stupid as to go to a Chekhov play in search of melodrama.’


  1. But of course, cricket has always had the capacity to be gripping. The last test I attended at Old Trafford (with my dad) featured Monty Panesar at his best, and was greatly entertaining. The spectacle was spoilt for me by the endless, and I mean endless, procession of people moving up and down, going for more overpriced lager, and doing anything but watch the bloody cricket. Yesterday sounded exciting on the radio.

  2. Well talking of cricket books have you read "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill - an American novel, written by a man who is half Irish and half Turkish (who grew up in England and Holland and now lives in New York) about playing cricket . . . in New York. Fab!

  3. We left before the really gripping bit of the Old Trafford match - partly because of said endless procession.

    I'd heard of Netherland but hadn't got round to it - thanks for the reminder.

  4. nice post, thank you for sharing!

  5. Have just found your blog - looks interesting!

    I have to agree - although it is a few years since I went to see test cricket - mainly due to overpricing of tickets for which one is entertained by your aforementioned spectacle of non appreciators of the fine game. Whilst I agree completely with freedom of choice and expression of one's individuality there are forums for this and the test match ground is not that of the city centre on a Saturday evening!

    Having said that - yes the beauty of the craftmanship, the elusive fielding system and the general ambience of the appreciative crowd all lends itself to a fine day out.