How did you come to love the game?
Personal encounters of cricket come in many forms: from fierce backyard
rivalries; to village green heroics; to the deeply professional sport we find
ourselves utterly engrossed in.
Perhaps no sport is so suitably
and gloriously captured and enjoyed on the page, and it is not only Wisden
Almanacks and prematurely published autobiographies of fledgling international
careers which can be pored over.
Cowers has been asked to review
many cricketing titles over the years - including Ian Botham's inauspicious
dabbling into the world of carp fishing - but few have captured the magic of
the game at every level and with such aplomb as Jonathan Smith in his latest
'The Following Game' is not, in
fact, a tactless manual into the world of successful stalking as an occupation,
but is about the realisation of a lifelong pursuit of cricketing enjoyment from childhood
through to parenthood, culminating in the fulfilment of the author's dream of watching
the game played on the subcontinent.
In 2006, Smith was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently
put the novel he was working on aside, and embarked on a trip to India with his
son, Ed Smith - of Kent and England fame - in search of a deeper paternal
understanding through his greatest love.
The episodic memoir, published by Peridot Press,
is the outcome of Smith's journey; an affectionate, almost wistful,
recollection of the way his life was flooded with the engaging and enthralling
influences of cricket and literature.
The resulting tale is one of reflection and
nostalgia about growing up watching the likes of England's Tom Graveney (pictured below, back row, fourth from the left) plunder runs at
Gloucestershire's County Ground, and marvelling at the insatiable brotherly
rivalry between Ian and Greg Chappell on their way to forming an equally
intense passion for 'smashing the Poms'.
Smith's penchant for adopting an almost John
Allott-esque delight in marrying cricket with poetry as if entirely natural
partners in prose, sees him laud in almost breathless disbelief the mastery of
Graveney's double-century against West Indies at Trent Bridge in 1957, then
turn swiftly to regaling the reader about the literary works of Indian writer
Vikram Seth with equal gusto.
Smith finds similar poetic brilliance in both the
unfurling of a cover drive, and the fine works of R E Jones on the page.
"Re-reading it feels a bit like facing one
of Bob's fast short balls in the nets, as it rears up and hits me just below
the heart," Smith says of the esteemed poet, before moving on to examine
the sheer magnitude of Brian Close's unwavering courage at the crease.
Smith finds a way to convey the complexity of
his paternal pride in his son Ed's sporting prowess, from slamming back throw
downs in the family garden to caressing drives to the boundary with an England
cap sitting proudly on his head.
author himself learned the game in the 1940s at Patchway Elementary School in
Bristol, bowling a red composition rubber ball in the deserted playground and
engaging in gruelling head-to-head battles with older brother David, who
delighted in trialling his own form of Douglas Jardine-inspired 'leg-side
theory', also adopting the role of Harold Larwood to terrifying effect.
This modest, candid and disarmingly personal
account has a way of demonstrating a parent's immense pride at his son's
sporting accomplishments, while keeping firmly in perspective the social
standing of sport, both as an art form and as a worthwhile pursuit.
But there is
not an ounce of self-indulgence as Smith recounts the achievements and
development of Ed, while sharing equal relish in the coaching of his
young charges as a school teacher.
Rightly the reader is left in no doubt
about the intangible, but utterly priceless, value of affording children the
opportunity to play sport: at every level, in every age group.
It would be
almost negligent if the ECB, among other cricketing and sporting authorities, were
not to take heed of the many principles and core values established by Smith as
being essential to the development of children everywhere.
The message is
bold and clear: cricket should be, as with every sport, about pure and simple
enjoyment of the game. There are few stronger uniting forces that can exist between
a parent and child.
'The Following Game' by Jonathan Smith. Published by Peridot Press.
What is your favourite book on
cricket? Whether it be an autobiography, a memoir, novel, captain's diary,
historic or journalistic account - post your personal choices below, and Cowers
will review the most popular choice...