This is a painfully honest account of one man’s selfish pursuit of playing cricket and his ongoing battle with guilt at the amount of time spent involved in its pleasure. It’s a modern man’s story and I see it echoed in nearly every male married cricketer at every level of the game. Cricket takes time, that’s part of its charm. It takes hours, and then, to do it real justice it needs disseminating, not just in the pub for several pints afterwards but at the end of season awards, and then again and again for seasons to come. This of course, is where cricket accrues its critics, by making it a ‘gentleman’s pursuit’ you ostracize anyone who isn’t part of it, drawing a virtual line between people ‘in the know’ and those that don’t ‘get it’. The line gets thicker and the guilt harder to justify, the ‘Mrs’ just won’t understand and this shared conundrum creates a club of cricketers that conspire together.
This book is about a club cricketer that cannot escape his love of the game but recognises its negative effect on the rest of the aspects of his life.
There are some incredibly moving moments, most notably when he talks about his relationship with his dad or when he agonises over the death of his wife. With his father the story is a common one. A shared love of the game, cricket; the only language that remains between a monosyllabic teenager & a busy parent, helping to maintain a relationship until the ages align again. Rob, choosing to prioritise cricket, is able to play throughout his life; his dad, a butcher who works on Saturdays has to live his cricket through reports on how his son has played. The real tragedy is that the joy they share when they play one game together isn’t repeated and these themes of lost opportunities runs through the book. But ‘this old man, with biscuit crumbs down his front’ is his ‘all-time hero’ and his influence immeasurable.
As with any book about club cricket the characters are unique to the writer but in truth you can find similar players in any cricket team across the country, as in Dan Whiting’s book, The Definitive Guide to Club Cricket, the team are made up of caricatures universally drawn. There are a few times, the recounting of personal experiences led my mind to wander, but they are few and far between and Rob soon brings you back with a thump. He takes you into his confidence and shares a real sense of desperation when he talks about the illness and death of his first wife. There are similarities with Ian Ridley’s book, The Breath of Sadness, where Ian follows a season of county cricket after the death of his wife. The solace for both writers is found in the cricket ground and its importance highlighted within the pages of their grief.
The title Won’t you dance for Virat Kohli is a poignant one. His new wife, taken along to a T20 International, is delighted with the spectacle and the wonderful exuberant celebrations from the Indian crowd, but why is Rob so silent? So serious? Because it is the game he is watching, the battle between bat & ball and its intensity is all consuming. This is a clash of cricket tastes rather than a fusion, and although each may be equally valid, they are poles apart. And this is important because it faces the reasons behind The 100 and the chasing of a new audience head on and leaves the potential problems unanswered. There is a nasty taste in the mouth, nothing is gained. ‘The Mrs’ doesn’t understand his preoccupation with cricket any more than she did before, she doesn’t enter his world because she cannot understand his seriousness, and he doesn’t join with her in embracing her enthusiasm for the sake of enthusiasm.
In short, maybe it’s because I’m from the same era but I found that a book that takes you through a rather unspectacular club cricket career holds far more in its ramblings than you may at first assume. I hope that Rob’s sense of guilt at some point can be replaced by a sense of pride at dedicating his time and a huge percentage of his life to the brilliance that is club cricket.