The Guardian (c) 2012.
The author of Chinaman's favourite cricket books.
It isn’t surprising that a sport that goes on for days, often without result, inspires this much writing. There are as many tomes on cricket as there are dot balls in a test series.
Some examine the game’s history, wallow in its scandals and or bask in its Zen-like aura. Others fetishize stats, turn players into Gods or use cricket as a canvas for socio-political philosophizing.
This isn’t a greatest-cricket-tales-of-all-time list. It’s a top-10-indispensible- books-if you’re-researching-a-novel-about-a-drunk-sportswriter-on-a-madcap-quest-to-find-a-forgotten-Sri Lankan-cricket-genius list
A selection of books that I’ve loved, studied and stolen from.
CLR James – Beyond a Boundary
“What do they know of cricket, those who only cricket know?” The great West Indian theorist uses the tools of social science to link nationalism and cricket. And to analyse the game as if it were a Greek tragedy. He reveals that the gentlemen’s game isn’t really a game, and may not be all that gentlemanly. Well worth a reread.
Rain Men – Marcus Berkmann
Far too much cricket humour isn’t actually that funny. This includes joke books from the 1980s written by has-beens from the 70s. Rain Men is splurt-out-whatever-you’re-drinking hilarious and provides honest and often depressing insights into the amateur game. As Ian Hislop puts it, “A very funny book about some very sad men.”
Armball to Zooter – Lawrence Booth
An entry-level guide for the uninitiated and a source of mirth and trivia for the diehards. It’ll give you the basics, demystify the slang and shower you with useless but fascinating information. There are entries on Albania, John Travolta and the revelation that the first test ever match was played between America and Canada in the 1800s. True fact.
War minus the Shooting – Mike Marqusee
Sri Lanka’s finest moment written like the thriller it was. The 1996 World Cup may not have had the controversy or the homicide of subsequent tournaments, but it did deliver the game’s greatest ever underdog triumph. The literary equivalent of re-watching Ranatunga smash that six off Warne in the final.
Essaying Cricket – Michael Roberts
Charts Sri Lanka’s journey from whipping boys to world champions with incisive essays from an all-star cast of cricketing brains. As well as rare photos of Sri Lanka’s gentlemen cricketers of yesteryear and of Sanath Jayasuriya with a full head of hair.
Don Bradman – The Art of Cricket
Worth it just for the unsolvable puzzle at the end. I believe it involves calculus and complex algebra. Essentially a coaching manual from the great man, it is filled with sage advice, physics diagrams of different deliveries and an innocence of tone and earnestness of purpose that is all but extinct from today’s game.
The Meaning of Sport – Simon Barnes
This may be cheating. It’s not strictly a cricket book, but then neither was the enchanting Netherland, which was widely acclaimed as one. If I had my way, Ed Smith’s What Sport Tells us About Life, Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch and George Plimpton’s The Curious Case of Sid Finch would be cricket books, simply because they allowed me to write one.
Simon Barnes, the poet of British sports writing, suggests that sport could be a glimpse into the soul of man. Which of course it is. And there’s sufficient gushing over the 2005 Ashes win to justify its inclusion. A brilliant read.
A Lot of Hard Yakka – Simon Hughes
Journeyman county player turned champion commentator gives us a peep into the life of a professional cricketer. It also reveals what goes on in the dressing room: mainly pornography, drinking, politics and tedium by the sounds of it. Funny, self-deprecating and filled with anecdotes and quotes. My favourite is cricketing analysis courtesy of England spinner John Emburey, “The f***ing f***er is f***ing f***ed
By his own hand – David Frith
A disturbing treatise on the dark side of the game. Frith ponders why cricket attracts a disproportionate number of suicides and profiles over 80 of them. They include tortured geniuses, alcoholics, hypochondriacs, depressives and one man suspected of being Jack the Ripper. The introduction was written by Peter Roebuck, who 22 years later, jumped to his death from the 6th floor of a South African hotel.
All Round View – Imran Khan
There are probably better cricket biographies. Ones that are better written, funnier, more dramatic or more revealing. But who cares?
For a kid growing up in Asia in the 80s, cricket heroes didn’t come much bigger than the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. It was also the first cricket book I’d come across that have several chapters dedicated to Sri Lanka. Even though they were all about what big cheats we were.
Shehan Karunatilaka’s novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew won the 2012 DSC prize for South Asian Literature and is shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. www.shehanwriter.com