Monday 1 November 2010

WG, Jubilee...

As a kid, I found an ancient but well preserved copy of Ranjitsinjhi's Jubilee Book Of Cricket in a junk shop and bought it. I can still see the cover now, the gold leaf of the title receding into the light blue hardboard covers. It was a great doorstop of a thing, almost entirely ghosted by CB Fry*, and I didn't read too much of its densely-set type, but nonetheless me and Ranji [and CB] connected because, essentially, the game is the game, in that century and in this.

The pictures were amazing. Because of the limitations of Victorian photography, the subjects had to stand still during the exposure. Thus the famous 'under leg shot' [ironically just about to be outmoded by Ranji's newfangled leg glance] saw a batsman balancing precariously whilst trying to look like he'd just raised his leg and belted the ball under it, and the man chosen as 'a bowler illustrating a doubtful delivery' looked like someone chucking wooden balls at a coconut shy. It was ace, and remains the only book I've ever owned that was written by a prince [or at least by a prince's mate].

There is obvious comedy about the game in that era, and obvious parallels with today too. It's what makes WG Grace Ate My Pedalo - a contemporary publication that in the interests of full disclosure was sent to me for nothing - demonically funny. The idea is slap-your-forehead simple: write about the modern game in Victorian style. You need to be good to get away with it, and Alan Tyers is. Thus he can pull off something like 'Letter From Oscar': 'My dearest Bosie, your sonnet was quite lovely, like sweet wine to me, as was the newspaper report of your 6-73 against Leicester. To read of those rough brutes groping in vain for your googlies was an exquisite joy', and also, on the book reviews page, nail 'No Boundaries, By Mr Ronald Irani': 'His views are as sickening as his prose, and indeed his medium paced bowling'.

The illustrations, by the enigmatic Beach, are superb, too - some of the 'Wisden Cricketer' covers are minor works of art. Send me one and I'd gladly hang it next to my picture of 'Bowler Illustrating a doubtful delivery'.

* It's obligatory to mention the essential CB Fry fact: his party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece. Not even AB de Villiers can do that. Neville Cardus called Ranji 'the midsummer night's dream of cricketers', too. That's good.


Tony said...

For nothing? I had to buy mine. I am never buying another book.

Tony said...

Or is that a slight over-reaction to an imagined slight?