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February 2009
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The weekend read: Netherland

February 6th, 2009 by TWC in Test cricket

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?
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

What’s it all about then?
A remarkable novel of cricket in post 9/11 New York.

What did we give it?

What did we say?
“You want a taste of how it feels to be a black man in this country? Put on the white clothes of the cricketer. Put on white to feel black.”
Hans van den Broek is that white man in whites, a wealthy financial analyst cast adrift in post-September 11 New York City. Unconsciously traumatised by the experience, he has allowed his marriage to go into meltdown and his ambition to haemorrhage. Cricket is the childhood comfort upon which he accidentally stumbles and which anchors him in his hour of need.

New York cricket, however, is far removed from the genteel Anglophile pastime Hans knew growing up in his native Holland: here it is a seedy subculture played exclusively by outsiders on rough-hewn park wastelands. The straight-batted approach has no place in a society such as this, leaving Hans – an aesthetic moralist of a cricketer, who detests the notion of hitting the ball in the air – lost even as he believes he has been found.

Joseph O’Neill’s remarkable book, Netherland, was described in the New York Times as “the wittiest, angriest and most desolate work of fiction” to have emerged since the collapse of the Twin Towers, yet first and foremost it is a cricket novel, something that an American audience could not normally be relied upon to absorb.

The common theme throughout is Van den Broek’s passive acceptance of the hand that life has dealt him. Like the cricketer he reverts to being, he muses on the missed opportunities that have brought him to this point but he accepts the umpire’s decisions without question or complaint.

And the umpire, it just so happens, is also the tale’s most vivid character. Chuck Ramkissoon is a larger-than-life Trinidadian of Indian extraction, whose motto is “think fantastic” and whose dream is to build a world-class cricket stadium right in the heart of New York City. The first time we encounter him he is staring down a gunman after a disputed decision in the park but by then we already know he is dead – his remains are fished out of the Gowanus Canal on the third page of the book.

Who put him there is less important than the journey that took him there, and it is the same journey that Van den Broek finds himself taking as he tours through New York’s immigrant underbelly in futile search of new meaning to his life. Ramkissoon’s idealism comes across as first infectious but ultimately absurd, as Van den Broek realises the gulf in social strata that is destined to deny his friend his ambitions. “There’s a limit to what Americans understand,” he concedes. “The limit is cricket.”
Andrew Miller, August 2008

What did they say?
‘Despite cricket’s seeming irrelevance to America, the game makes O’Neill’s exquisitely written novel “Netherland” a large fictional achievement, and one of the most remarkable post-colonial books I have ever read.’ James Wood, The New Yorker

Someone must have hated it?
‘The biggest problem is Hans himself. In addition to being much less interesting than Chuck, he tells the story in a determinedly overambitious style. In spite of some fine passages, his elaborate syntax and vigorously yet fitfully Americanised vocabulary finally seem more like a literary contrivance than a plausible human voice.

At times it’s hard not to wonder whether O’Neill, who’s the author of an admired memoir as well as being a long-term member of the Staten Island Cricket Club, might not have done better to write a memoir-essay on New York cricket.’
Christopher Taylor, The Guardian

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 Test cricket | No Comments »

My Favourite Cricketer: Steve Waugh

February 6th, 2009 by TWC in My favourite cricketer

Photograph by Patrick Eagar reader Damith Samarakoon is the third winner of our My Favourite Cricketer competition for his entry on Steve Waugh

Coming from Sri Lanka, it was unimaginable that you lowered yourself to say something positive about the Australians. You would be shunned, sent to the corner and be cast aside like a black sheep.

So it was with great care that I developed my fondness for Steve Waugh. I had to praise him at a distance and in dark alleys where other like-minded ‘traitors’ discussed the Australians.

My interest in Steve was born during the 94-95 Ashes, a strangely unsuccessful series when compared to his later works, but the seed had been sowed.

There were days when I wished the ‘new’ Steve would play like his old self: pulling, driving, slashing bowlers to all parts. Then he would deliver something like Old Trafford in ‘97. He scored centuries in a game Australia needed to win – nearly half the team runs in the first innings and a century in the second with an injury to his hand. You just marvelled at this batting genius.

That was the new Waugh. Scoring runs when it mattered, when his team needed it the most. It was as if he willed himself to a century. It was ugly, it was uncomfortable but there he was, moving across the crease to nudge one to the leg-side, angling one down to third man, all the while scoring runs and putting Australia back in pole position.

However, my most enduring memory of Waugh’s career is not a great match-saving century or those inspirational balls-to-the-walls moments he was known for, but of a single delivery in an ODI.

Steve had altogether stopped bowling in the 90s due to his back problems, so for Mark Taylor, that captain genius, to turn to him meant that it was indeed the last throw of the dice. The great players save their best for when the task seems beyond the call of a mere mortal cricketer. Steve was no different.

The 1996 World Cup semi-final was an opportune time for such a performance.

Ironically, this was a match that all Sri Lankans wanted Australia to win. Having won the first semi a day earlier, all of Sri Lanka wanted to face the Australians in the final. A huge wave of national angst towards the Aussies welled into one final chance to humiliate them on the world stage. It was an opportunity to avenge all the wrong Australia had done to Murali and the embarrassment caused by their not visiting Sri Lanka for their group match.

After collapsing to eight for three Australia had stammered past 200 and the Windies were well on their way to a memorable win. Chasing the ghosts of the 80s, Lara and Chanderpaul carried the hopes of the tiny islands. Lara in particular looked sublime, moving easily to 45. With no options left Taylor threw the ball to Waugh, and he picked up Lara from around the wicket with a ball that came in on the angle and left him slightly to clean-bowl him. It was one of those bits of cricketing genius that makes a life-long impression on a kid like me.

I enjoyed watching him because he played cricket as I thought it should be. Test cricket is a hard, brutal, street fight, whether the ball’s flying by your nose at Perth or spinning past your body in India. It was to be played by men and there was no place for softies.

And Steve Waugh was as hard as they came. Tempered under Border and fine-tuned under Taylor, he was a breed of cricketer that is almost extinct in the modern game.

Damith Samarakoon, a Sri Lankan blogger at, 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].com, subject line ‘favourite’

Posted in My favourite cricketer | 5 Comments »

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