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The weekend read: Fatty Batter – How Cricket Saved My Life

January 30th, 2009 by TWC in Miscellaneous

Every Friday we’ll be picking a classic cricket book that has been reviewed in TWC to help you pass the weekend. Make your recommendations in the comments below.

What is it?
Fatty Batter – How Cricket Saved My Life (Then Ruined It) by Michael Simkins (Ebury Press)

What’s it all about then?
The actor and Guardian columnist, Michael Simkins, hilariously and evocatively remembers how his early love of cricket turned into a lifelong obsession.

What did we give it?

What did we say?
This is so funny and shrewd, self-deprecating, evocative, observant and laugh-out-loud-true that any reader will ration its reading to make it last while desperately hoping the author may turn out to be a long-lost cousin.

In 1966, aged 10 and while consuming a chocolate bar with gourmand intensity, young Simkins happens to see Colin Milburn on television coming down the pavilion steps. “He barrels down, two at a time, his huge stomach wobbling up and down each tread like a giant blancmange, the flesh straining against the flimsy buttons of his cricket shirt. He seems an amalgam of every fat kid who has ever sat in the corner of a school changing room having gym shoes thrown at him by his classmates.”

From this fatal attraction grows a fixation, initially fuelled by solitary games of Owzthat between players he names, (for sweet-related reasons) Callard and Bowser. With a plastic beach bat he learns the rudiments of the game in the stock room of his parents’ sweet shop. The story of the acquisition of his first flannels could be by Dickens out of the Brothers Grimm. Cricket inspires him to get into grammar school and slow down on the creme eggs.

In real life, he also says, he is so bad at it it’s funny. Except the chapters where he becomes a ball-by-ball commentator, passes for an MCC member, invents and organises a Sunday team and finds himself a plaything of Hardyesque gods, caught between the last day of the final Ashes Test of 2005 and a nice little earner in a TV drama with Martine McCutcheon, seem cumulatively to suggest he’s rather better than he’s letting on.
Gillian Reynolds, July 2007

What did they say?
‘An instant classic’ – Stephen Fry
‘Once you’ve read this account of one man’s love affair with cricket, you’ll never want to read another ghosted autobiography again’ – Michael Atherton

Someone must have hated it?
Overly fond of sweets, it wasn’t long before Simkins became addicted to cricket. Unfortunately, he also quickly discovered that the real pleasure to be had in playing cricket depends on who you are playing with – and that many cricket teams are full of childish, dull, reactionary half-wits.

Misogyny plays its part too, as anyone restrained enough to make their way through the whole of this book without stabbing it with a fork will find out. If you like stories about sweaty, middle-aged men revelling in their own inadequacies, you’ll love this. A truly suburban effort.
Tom Tomaszewski in the Independent, who gave it 2/5

Why not tell us what your favourite cricket book is, or which book you’d like to see in ‘The weekend read’ in the comments below …

Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

My Favourite Cricketer: Ray Price

January 30th, 2009 by TWC in My favourite cricketer and tagged , , reader Alex Fensome is the second winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition for his entry on Zimbabwe spinner Ray Price

I can’t remember exactly when I became infatuated with Zimbabwean cricket. It was a while back. They are all heroes to me, from Flower and Streak through to blokes who never even wore the falcon. They played in places called Matabeleland and Kadoma, Kwekwe and Chimanimani. They were tough men who shot animals and attended boarding schools and despite never being able to match the rest of the cricket world man-for-man they never gave up. They hated losing, even if they lost more often than not. For me one player more than any other typifies them.

Ray Price should never have played international cricket. He is partially deaf, caused by meningitis caught as a premature baby which he beat the odds to survive. The operation he had at six to restore his hearing affected his coordination so badly it took years of effort to reach even a normal level. Yet he became an international cricketer, and a good one, a miser from Mashonaland. As a dyspraxic, knowing someone had faced a worse coordination-affecting condition- far worse- gave me new hope. He inspired me to work harder at cricket, to never give up, to always try to play the game I loved. I followed his career unstintingly; he became my hero, a human counterpart to Andy Flower’s astronomically distant feats.

It helped that he was a lot of fun to watch bowling. Any Price spell is full of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, theatrical gestures, laughter, glares, perplexed looks as one of his stratagems fails to defeat his foe. He is a good bowler. But he could make himself out a genius. As the nation plunged into the abyss and all hopes for the future of the sport there disappeared, he raged against the dying of Zimbabwe’s light as much, in his way, as Flower did. He still does even now, taking 4-22 and hitting 24* to scramble a victory over Bangladesh, and continually tying down the best in one-sided contests in front of sparse crowds . He once said he hated to lose and didn’t like drawing; you can tell in everything he does. And like most of his countrymen, he never, ever gives up until it’s all over. They still haven’t given up even though hope seems to diminish with every passing day.

Ray’s finest hour was typical of Zimbabwe. It was 2003, the first Test against the West Indies, and a declining Zimbabwe had matched their opponents over four days in the shadow of Mugabe’s palace. Left with a day to bowl the Windies out, Ray twirled away almost without relief to take four wickets (he had taken six in the first innings), his celebrations mounting; ever more determined to prove the doubters wrong and show them Zimbabwe could still hack it.

As the sun began to set on the beautiful old ground, he took the ninth wicket. But Zimbabwe would pay a cruel penalty for a freak accident; on the third morning, a ball had dribbled under the roller as Robin Brown prepared the pitch, costing two hours of play. In failing light Heath Streak was forced to bowl the unthreatening Trevor Gripper, and no matter what Ray did he couldn’t break through at the other end. The Windies tail survived. God knows how Zimbabwe felt walking off that pitch. John Ward wrote at the time that they “paid the penalty for living in a country where nothing ever seems to go right”. For his part, Ray said he would have traded all ten of his wickets just to take the last one. I didn’t need to read that to know it.

Alex Fensome wins a year’s free subscription to The Wisden Cricketer

To enter submit no more than 600 words on your favourite cricketer to [email protected], subject line ‘favourite’

Posted in My favourite cricketer | 3 Comments »

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