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Nay, lad: Yorkshire bowler Darren Gough with hands full on "Strictly Come Dancing"

You may remember a few years ago a magnificent rebuke issued to Lord Mandelson by Ken Follett, the novelist, whose wife Barbara had crossed swords with Mandelson in her role as a Labour MP. I cannot recall the feline shift of behaviour that caused Mr Follett to issue the rebuke, but he described Mandelson as having done something that was not very "manly".

Why did this adjective resonate so? The word had a period sheen to it. It was an insult bandied about by our fathers' generation. It became less frequent with the rise of the metrosexual (a realm of which we might suppose Lord Mandelson to be the king, or queen) and, in an age when it is considered appalling for a man not to have a feminine side that is permanently on display, the word is considered irrelevant. Indeed, to be called "manly" now might be interpreted by quite a lot of chaps as downright abusive in itself.

Yet there was a straightforwardness in Mr Follett's use of the term that betokened no cruelty in the insult, but merely an aggrieved statement of fact. Men like him — and me — grew up in the postwar generation believing there were certain rules for the way a man behaved. It did not include some of the circuitous conduct for which Lord Mandelson, in his long and distinguished career, became famed.

The word is called to mind by an enormously jolly, and jolly interesting, book that has just been published by Max Davidson, one of our best and most underrated comic writers. From the book's title — We'll Get 'em in Sequins (Wisden Sporting Books, £18.99) — it might be thought Mr Davidson has written a book of jokes. It is not so, and the subtitle gives us a pointer to his real mission: Manliness, Yorkshire Cricket, and the Century that Changed Everything. As well as not being a comic book (though it has some marvellous jokes in it) it is not simply a book about cricket: it is a book about life, seen — and why not? — through the prism of the nation's greatest sport.

You do not need to be a cricket buff to be aware of the legendary place of Yorkshire in the English game. From the 1880s until the end of the 1960s they were one of the most formidable teams on the planet. Mr Davidson chooses various legendary Yorkshiremen to display the idea of manliness and, indeed, its decline. The title itself may need some explanation. At the Oval in August 1902 England were playing Australia. They had needed 263 to win in the fourth innings and at one stage the game appeared lost, with England at 48 for 5. However, Gilbert Jessop came in and scored 104 in one of the great pyrotechnic innings seen in test cricket, and put England in sight of victory.

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