Marcus Berkmann

The elegance and humour of Neville Cardus

Concentrating on characters rather than statistics, Cardus developed a style of cricket commentary that was refreshingly novel

As a fully paid-up, old-school cricket tragic, I astound myself that I have read almost no Neville Cardus. How can that be? He was, in his lifetime, the doyen of cricket writers, mainly because he effectively invented the form. Before he started writing for the Manchester Guardian in 1919, cricket journalists reported the score and little else. And what little else, you could probably have done without. As Duncan Hamilton says in his biography:

Before Cardus, there were cricket writers who still called the ball ‘the crimson rambler’, referred to the wicketkeeper as ‘the custodian of the gauntlets’ and saw the ball speed ‘across the greensward’, as though the vocabulary of Merrie Olde England had never gone away.

Cardus swept all that aside. He was only marginally interested in the score, and statistics held no appeal for him at all. He wrote about the often deeply eccentric characters who played this weirdest of games, about the weather, about his surroundings, about all the things that, less than 100 years later, make Test Match Special special. And he wrote in an unashamedly highbrow literary style, encouraged by his editor, C. P. Scott, who believed that if his readers did not know a long word or recognise a recondite literary reference, they could look it up.

His style, it turned out, was contagious. Within a dozen years almost every serious paper in the empire had its own Cardus, or Cardus-lite. It’s essentially down to him that cricket has such a broad and deep literature. Cardus was eventually knighted, and died in his eighties; but as with so many writers, his reputation declined after his death. As Gideon Haigh says in his introduction to A Field of Tents and Waving Colours, a selection of Cardus’s work: ‘For a long time, Sir Neville Cardus was regarded as cricket’s greatest writer; then he wasn’t.’

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