X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Books

Odd men out

The first game played by the Allahakbarries Cricket Club at Albury in Surrey in September 1887 did not bode well for the club’s future.

16 June 2010

12:00 AM

16 June 2010

12:00 AM

Peter Pan’s First XIWG’s Birthday Party Kevin Tefler

Sceptre, pp.344, 16.99

The first game played by the Allahakbarries Cricket Club at Albury in Surrey in September 1887 did not bode well for the club’s future.

The first game played by the Allahakbarries Cricket Club at Albury in Surrey in September 1887 did not bode well for the club’s future. One player turned up wearing pyjamas, another held the bat the wrong way round while a third — a Frenchman — thought the game had finished every time the umpire called ‘Over’. The Allahakbarries were skittled out for just 11 runs and under the circumstances it seemed entirely appropriate that the team’s name should have been derived from the Moorish phrase for ‘Heaven Help Us’.

However, the team’s captain, the playwright, J. M. Barrie, was far from discouraged. For Barrie, cricket was about something far more important than winning or losing: it represented a return to a pastoral way of life, a world of childhood innocence, untouched by industry, urbanisation or other contemporary blights. In Barrie’s imagination, the line from Albury cricket ground stretched all the way to Neverland.

Over the next few years, the Allahakbarries may not have improved much — a description of another of their games records that ‘Mr Millet carried out his bat for a finely played 0’. However, the team attracted a remarkable collection of writers, actors and illustrators: Conan Doyle, A. A. Milne, Jerome K. Jerome, A. E. W. Mason, E. W. Hornung and P. G. Wodehouse all played for them, as did Gerald du Maurier, father of Daphne and the original Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

[Alt-Text]


Conan Doyle was by far the best cricketer to have appeared in the Allahakbarrie colours. According to Barrie, he knew ‘a batman’s weakness by the colour of the mud on his shoes’. This, however, didn’t make him safe from mishaps. In 1904, Doyle met what must surely be one of the most bizarre fates ever to befall anyone on a cricket field when he was set on fire while batting. A ball hit him on the thigh and ignited the small tin of Vesta matches which he had unwisely put in his pocket.

A. E. W. Mason, author of The Four Feathers, was ‘a fast but somewhat erratic bowler’, while Barrie’s off-breaks were so slow that he claimed he was able to go and stand at mid-off after bowling a ball and wait until it arrived at the other end.

While all, or at least most, of the Allahakbarries seem to have suffered from some form of arrested development, Barrie’s had stalled forever somewhere around puberty. He was a tiny — five foot nothing — man possessed of a chirpily ebullient temperament and a habit of referring to cricket pitches as ‘swards’, and one gets the impression his head must have presented an irresistible target to any fast yet erratic bowlers on the opposing team. When his wife Mary left him for one of his best friends, she noted briskly, ‘J. M.’s tragedy was that he knew as a man he was a failure.’

This is a wonderful book, written with great elegance and affection, scrupulously researched and packed full of terrific stories. Here are all kinds of fascinating details — from the fact that Wodehouse got the name for Jeeves from the Warwickshire all-rounder, Percy Jeeves, to the revelation that Milne called his son Christopher Robin because he wanted him to play cricket for England, and thought two initials ‘would give him a more hopeful appearance on the scorecard’.

Once, in August 1900 in a game at Crystal Palace, Arthur Conan Doyle dismissed W. G. Grace — he had him caught behind after Grace tried to smash the ball out of the ground. David Kynaston’s WG’s Birthday Party, first published 20 years ago, fully deserves its reissue.

It doesn’t claim to be a definitive biography, but gives a crisp yet richly atmospheric account of the match at Lords in July 1898 to celebrate Grace’s 50th birthday. Like Barrie, Grace never really grew up: he had a squeaky voice which would rise to a dog-whistle pitch of indignation whenever an umpire had the temerity to give him out.

The match, which Grace’s team lost, did not signal the end of his career: he played his last game in 1914 aged 66. A year later, having suffered a stroke, Grace was greatly upset by the first Zeppelin raid on London. One of his friends, trying to cheer him up, said, ‘How can you mind the Zepps, WG, you who have played all the fastest bowlers of your time?’ ‘Ah,’ replied Grace sadly, ‘but I could see those beggars. I can’t see these.’

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close