The Picador Book of Cricket: Ultimate Collection of Cricketing Essays (1800s-1990s)
Before I start writing about what I am here to write, allow me to give the reader some background. During childhood the highlight of my day used to be reading the match reports in the daily newspapers. Especially cricket matches. This instilled in me not only a love for reading itself but also love for sports.
In 2021, I came across Ramchandra Guha’s ‘Commonwealth of Cricket: A long lasting affair with the most sophisticated game known to mankind’. The title was glorious enough to draw me in. After finishing this super interesting book, I resolved to collect other cricket related books by Mr. Guha. The search for more of Mr. Guha’s work led me to discover another bulky book called ‘The Picador Book of Cricket’ about which I am going to write now.
A collection of fine essays by the finest of writers on cricket — that is what the ‘Picador Book of Cricket’ is. The book has been edited by Ramchandra Guha, a life long cricket fan & also a connoisseur of cricket literature. I had great expectations from the book, and it delivered. It more than delivered. Stocked with articles by arguably the best cricket writers such as Neville Cardus, A. A. Thompson, C. L. R. James, etc. and on the many myriad aspects of cricket from six to swing, the book has all the qualities needed to delight cricket enthusiasts.
The first piece is about the first overseas tour of a cricket team. Turns out, the overseas tour was somewhere in Antarctica. Surprising enough? The book is filled with peculiar trivia like this one. My favorite ones were regarding Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and P. G. Wodehouse. The world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes was named after a county cricketer called Shylock. Wodehouse’s Jeeves was also named after a country cricketer called Jeeves. Both of Sir Arthur and Wodehouse played cricket and borrowed names of cricketers for the two of their widely known characters.
Titles such as ‘What’s In A Name?’ or “Donald Brandname” only adds to the appeal of the essays. There are tales about the greatest of batsman such as Hutton, Hammond, Compton, Sobers, Weekes, Constantine etc. to have ever graced the game.
Before you wince and wonder why Don Bradman’s name is not my list, let me tell you that Bradman was equivalent to cricket for the cricket followers of early 1900s. Why bother with putting him on a list? Watching Bradman bat was a lifetime ambition and achievement for many cricket fans of the Bradman era. “The Picador Book of Cricket” contains several writings on Bradman, be it about the experience of watching him live or about the legend’s commercial value.
The lives and achievements of the grandest of bowlers are also highlighted in equal measure in this collection. In 1882, Australia defeated England for the first time ever. This was the match which created the legend of The Ashes. England needed only 85 runs to win in the fourth innings. Spofforth, the fiery Australian pacer made sure the target was not reached. “This can be done”- said Spofforth in the beginning of the fourth innings. He almost singlehandedly tore the England batting apart. Essays on deadly duo of Miller and Lindwall, West Indian greats Valentine and Ramadhin should be made mandatory reading for the bowlers of the current times.
Every essay in this collection is precious. And rare too. Books by authors such as Cardus are tough to find. Ramchandra Guha has been kind enough to compile this collection for the readers.
However, the book is test cricket centric and focuses mostly on cricket before it was commercialized to extraordinary levels. The most recent piece is about a match in 1999 World Cricket Cup. Those who are not endeared with test cricket at least to some extent may find the subject of the essays too antique. Many phenomenal cricket matches have been played in the past 25–30 years. A lot of changes have taken place in the cricketing ecosystem. It might be nice if few pieces on recent cricketing events are added to an updated version of the book.