Baseball-style gimmicks: Cheerleaders show off their pom-poms at Lord's
At this time of year, when the next cricket season seems so far away, those of us for whom the game is important take refuge in its vicarious manifestations. As a child that always meant cricket books — for there was no satellite television beaming in the latest match from Sydney or Bridgetown, though I do remember those half-hour highlights programmes from Ashes series in Australia, shown way after my bedtime.
Cricket books seem usually to be aimed at boys rather than men, because they are in large part so unspeakably awful. Of the scores published each year, maybe two or three are worth reading. Most retail the brief life stories of the latest England Test sensations, most of whom are far less interesting off the field than on it, and who seem inevitably to have the sort of personality that blocks drains. The more one focuses on the people who play cricket today, the more one realises that the world has changed. Cricket has changed and, like the world, not for the better.
The outstanding cricket book of this year was Graeme Wright's Behind the Boundary: Cricket at a Crossroads (Bloomsbury, £9.99). It is an account of Mr Wright's progress around the 18 first-class counties during 2010, and how he found these disparate businesses trying to survive when people have other things to do than to watch cricket. Mr Wright is no ordinary cricket writer. He used to edit Wisden, has written several other thoughtful books on the game, and addresses its existence with a philosophical sense of scrutiny. He understands the elementary nature of cricket in our culture, and suggests towards the end of the book that just as so many people have lost an idea of England as a nation, so too they have lost a conception of one of the many things that created a national identity: cricket. The point is made in the very last line of the book: "It's the nation's heritage you're keeping alive."