As I left Lord’s at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon to go to The Lion King European premiere I felt uneasy. Not because I doubted England’s chances of overhauling New Zealand’s apparently modest 241, but because I felt guilty at deserting Bairstow for Beyoncé, Morgan for Mufasa. There was no reason to suppose the remainder of the day’s play would be anything out of the ordinary. I’d been to Lord’s literally hundreds of times and more often than not left the ground simply contented to have spent time in its life-affirming surroundings; it had not really mattered whether the cricket itself had been memorable. Okay, this was a World Cup final — but the last one I had attended at Lord’s had not been a gripper. Having to leave was a drag but I doubted that this was a misjudgment that would haunt me for the remainder of my days.
But duty called. My fault for writing the movie’s songs with Sir Elton in the first place. The wise folks at Disney had clearly not factored the cricket into their plans for the London launch of their latest blockbuster. So by 5 o’clock I was standing in my dinner jacket in a line of A-listers (and lesser mortals) in an increasingly warm cinema foyer in Leicester Square, wishing I had instead attended the Los Angeles world premiere a week earlier. My brother Jo was updating me with the score as Harry and Meghan were introduced to the team behind The Lion King, some of whom I had known and worked with for a quarter of a century, others new to me but, like Jofra Archer, clearly invaluable contributors to the enterprise they had recently joined.
By the time HRH got to me he was glad to be informed that Buttler and Stokes were turning things around, but it only began to be apparent that this was going to be one of the tightest finishes since W.G. Grace was a lad as we took our seats to be regaled with Lebo M’s immortal opening chant to ‘Circle Of Life’.Jo was still loyally sending me the score. With 24 needed off the last two overs, an alert usher — quite correctly of course — told me to switch off my phone. Nearly two hours later I learned what I had missed.
By extraordinary coincidence, my own cricket team, Heartaches CC, enjoyed only our third tied match in 47 seasons earlier this summer. Extraordinary because each side scored 241 (as had England and New Zealand). The opponents were The Authors CC, and at the end of an exhilarating day’s play there was no call for a super over. Both sides were happy to leave things as the fates had decreed. Delighted though I was by England’s triumph, I can’t help feeling that at times the insistence that there must be a winner at the end of a titanic struggle is misguided, and all would have gone home even happier with honours shared.
Playing against The Authors is always a joy. Their team is awash with literary talent, sometimes coupled with immaculate cover drives or probing spin, courtesy of the likes of Sebastian Faulks, Richard Beard (who scored 126 against us), William Fiennes, Jon Hotten or Tom Holland. Supervised and licked into shape by author and literary agent Charlie Campbell, they continue the century-old tradition of maintaining the strong bonds between cricket and literature.
J.M. Barrie was a man of limited cricketing ability but devoted to the game. His famous amateur team the Allahakbarries, founded in 1887, was studded with literary giants of the age. H.G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome, G.K. Chesterton, A.A. Milne and P.G. Wodehouse were among those who played for him. It really was a phenomenal line-up, the creators of Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and Peter Pan united in their love of the drama, excitement, literacy and intelligence of cricket. And at times by the stillness, the inaction, the torpidity, the languid progress of the game — aspects of life that cricket truly reflects amid our turbulent times and our desperate need for instant gratification.
Some of these literary titans were seriously good players, notably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who actually played first-class cricket and once dismissed W.G. Grace. P.G. Wodehouse, a star fast bowler in his Dulwich College days, was pretty handy to have in the 11 too — and of course Wodehouse immortalised the Warwickshire fast bowler Percy Jeeves, an England prospect killed in the Great War, when he created English literature’s most famous gentleman’s gentleman.
I see a lot of myself in J.M. Barrie. Not, I hasten to add, in literary terms — nor in terms of size, for Barrie was barely five feet tall in his socks — but as a cricketer. His skills with bat and ball appear to be similar to mine. The less said about them the better I suppose, but when I bat, to be able to call ‘wait’ is a result. Barrie used to claim that he bowled so slowly that if he didn’t like what he had delivered he had time to walk down the wicket and retrieve it before it reached the batsman. However, through the Allahakbarries he found great companionship, enjoyment and temporary escape from aspects of a wider imperfect world. How reassuring to feel, for a few hours every other summer weekend, that the most serious problems in life are within the boundaries of a cricket field. Hakuna matata.