Alex Massie

The Days When the Composers Took on England’s Finest.. And Other Halcyon Times of Yore

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Americans or, for that matter, anyone unfortunate enough to know little about - and worse, care nothing - for cricket may be advised to pass by this post. You've had your warning.

As a kid I used to spend rather more time playing imaginary games of cricket than might have been considered wholly healthy. Actually, to say I was playing is inaccurate. I was selecting teams that would do battle for hours on end in my own modified - and more complicated - version of Dice Cricket (modified in part to take account of different ground conditions: thus a test at Headingley would take place with a grid more thinly populated with run-scoring opportunities than one prepared for the more comfortable batting enjoyed at the Oval).

Some of these teams would be obvious: England's All-Time XI vs Australia's for instance (though the selection meeting could drag on for hours, involving much internal debate and, I'm afraid, indecision as well as frequent recourse to reference works). Other XIs were also uncontroversial: surnames beginning with H vs  surnames beginning with P for instance. (The Hs' were especially formidable - Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Headley, Harvey for the batting; Hall, Hadlee and Holding for the bowling; Healy keeping wicket...)

Then I began selecting teams of Novelists to play their rivals from the Composers XI. In the absence of statistical records documenting these players' cricketing prowess, many hours of contemplation were needed before a final selection could be made. Scott Fitzgerald was clearly a dashing middle-order batsman (part Frank Woolley, part David Gower I liked to think) but where to put Tolstoy? Clearly he needed to be included, but could he really be expected to stand up to the shorter length and zippier pace of the modern game? Hemingway fancied himself as a devastating all-rounder, but it would take a strong captain to use him properly while also having the strength to get the ball out of Papa's hand. Wodehouse, of course, batted at number 11 while dazzling the opposition with his unconventional wrist spin.

I suppose it started to get weird when the Novelists or the Philosophers would start to play the West Indies or the Cs. I'm pretty sure Wally Hammond once knocked off a double century against the Composers. Furthermore, many of these matches were duly recorded (in excruciating detail) in proper cricket scoring books (similar to baseball ones, should any American readers be daft enough to have got this far).  God help me, I still have many of these books somewhere.

All of which is by way of getting to the point that the other day I was delighted to discover that I'm not entirely alone in indulging in this sort of caper. Even better, it seems there's no age limit to it. Cricket fans should visit Norm to pass judgement on his team of "cricketing writers". Norm's selection criteria is as strict as it is ingenious.

a) It must be a proper, balanced team

b) Each player's surname must be shared by a worthy cricketer and a worthy writer

Thus Derek (Clyde) Walcott keeps wicket for a side skippered by Steve (Evelyn) Waugh. You get the point. I particularly applaud his choice of 12th Man.

A couple of observations, however: I trust that the good professor will not think it unkind of me to suggest that his batting line-up would be improved by the selection of Rosemary (Herbert) Sutcliffe and Stephen (C.B.) Fry, while greater balance could be brought to the attack by substituting leggie Margaret (Tommy) Mitchell (just five tests, but nearly 1500 wickets at 20 for Derbyshire) for Heinrich (Peter) Heine.

More excited by all this than I really should have been, it seemed time to select a proper Village Cricket XI. Thus, taking the field for the Village All-Stars, we have:

1. Matthew SLATER


3. Eddie PAYNTER

4. Seymour NURSE

5. Robin SMITH

6. Keith MILLER (Capt)

7. Jim PARKS (Wkt)





XII Man: Bruce LAIRD

Can't play on Sundays: David SHEPPARD*

Only available for fixtures in Yorkshire: Jim POTHECARY

*On account, of course, of becoming Bishop of Liverpool

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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