Taking a break from Scandanavian crime fiction, here is a book I received for Christmas – a perfect present for a cricket fan who hails from the north of England. Slipless in Settle is a journal of Harry Pearson’s summer of 2009, which was spent watching northern league cricket. Cricket is one of those sports that has always enjoyed a very high standard of writing about it – I would argue that cricket journalism (think of John Arlott and Neville Cardus for starters) is amongst the best sports journalism there is. Perhaps as a cricket fan I would say that, but if you get the chance to visit the library at Lord’s (and fortunately i get to go there regularly because of a research project I’m involved in), then you’ll see what I mean.
But Slipless in Settle is not one of those cricket books that documents the great feats of famous sportsmen. Northern league cricket has always been played to a very high standard with amateurs playing alongside professionals (some of the great names in the game also played northern club cricket alongside turning out for their counties and their countries) and Harry Pearson’s book is a nostaligic, even sentimental, homage to northern club cricket, its culture, its history and its players. It is part sports history, part social and cultural history, part whimsical reminiscence and also a bit of obsessional statistical analysis that cricket fans love so much. It is also a very funny book. Pearson has a wonderful sense of irony and a keen observational eye. He is also of the North himself and understands it. The humour is warm and affectionate, never condescending.
For me, this was the world I grew up in. My dad played northern league cricket, captaining and opening the batting for Denton in the Manchester League in the fifties and early sixties, and although Denton doesn’t get a mention, the place where I spent my childhood from the age of five (Bolton) is and the grounds and teams he describes are very familiar. So this was a nostalgia trip for me too, in part, and I found it reassuring that the local teams that I watched as a teenager in the seventies are still going strong today and the inter-club rivalry that existed then is alive and well. Of course this is not a book for everybody. Those who do not understand cricket, or are indifferent to it, will be baffled by the book, I expect. But for those who love the game, and especially those who are familiar with the particular culture of northern club cricket, it is a wonderful read. And that is why it was such a perfect present for me!
And I’m writing this review on the day that England won on unlikely victory against South Africa in the Cricket World Cup!