When we’re not writing about cricket, we’re watching it. When we’re not watching cricket, we’re playing simulations of it. And when we’re not watching simulations of it, we’re reading about it. But like computer games, the England ODI team and our usual output, not all cricket books are great. The first two books featured in this retrospective feature were interesting: Robin Smith’s analytical autobiography and a weird collaboration between two weirdos, but the third is overwhelmingly not.
Purchased for £1 in a local charity shop (reduced from £6), we really ought to have spent the money on a sausage roll instead. As mentioned two years ago, Henry Blofeld divides opinion. But he seems a good egg and is likely to know how to spin a tale, so we thought his “Cricket Year” might be a decent page-turner, especially as 1999 is frankly ancient history for people like us who can’t remember last Friday, let alone the last millennium. But alas, no. It’s a bit of a stinker and we suspect it ponged at the time of publication too.
Predictably, within the first few pages we get references to PG Wodehouse, vineyards and his old muckers from university. And these subjects are liberally sprinkled throughout the 13 chapters. Indeed, the book should probably have been titled “It’s Not Just Cricket”, such are the lengths of Blofeld’s ramblings into non-sporting territories. The first chapter is predictably not about cricket at all, rather it focusses on his very serious heart surgery. At a guess, he survives.
Once the cricket is introduced, there is a lot to cover, which results in monotonous recollections of England being shit. There’s quite a lot about Geoffrey Boycott being a terrible c**t, which either one or both of them seem to have forgotten judging by their friendly commentary stints on Test Match Special these days. Across a section describing Boycott’s retrial for beating his girlfriend with a stick of rhubarb, the accused is repeatedly named as GLY (i.e. the Greatest Living Yorkshireman). Despite the best efforts of Max Clifford, Boycott was found guilty as before.
There are some moments in the book that remind the reader of what was happening in cricket in that period, and these are the most interesting points. The scale and scope of the match-fixing allegations and subsequent inquiries that have since been somewhat glossed over are one example. It’s also nice to recollect that the forerunner of the Champions Trophy was originally meant to have been held in DisneyWorld.
However the cricket often takes a supporting role to Blofeld’s adventures with his chums, which are nauseatingly dull, even though the author clearly sees himself as some kind of bon viveur. And the detail he goes into about his life! Take this passage for example, and try to reach the end without wanting to stab yourself in the eye with a rusty screwdriver:
“Before lunch on my first day (in Christchurch), I had already found a good copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a reasonable one of Noel Coward’s Middle East Diaries published on poor paper in 1944 and an excellent A Pelican at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse with the incomparable dust-jacket by Osbert Lancaster depicting that arch bounder Alaric, Duke of Dunstable, wearing bright yellow pyjamas with a coronet and the letter ‘D’ on the chest. He has a bottle of Vichy water in his right hand. Although he normally preferred stronger stuff, he was about to use this as a blunt instrument to bean Lord Emsworth, who had strayed into the Duke’s room during the night wearing an elderly, hirsute dressing gown and, tripped up by a cat, had knocked over a table.”
There’s also a chapter on New Zealand vineyards that rivals Morrissey’s Autobiography as being the literary publication most in need of an editor ever. So if you do want to refamiliarise yourself with what happened in cricket in 1998 and 1999, just read an old copy of Wisden. If however you want to find out where to get “extremely drinkable top-of-the-range Chardonnay” (page 224), “the most exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine” (page 225) or “remarkable Mas de Daumas Gassac” (page 226), this is definitely the book for you.