Nick Hornby's 1992 debut Fever Pitch, itself indebted to Frederick Exley's 1968 meditation A Fan's Notes, made the intelligent fan's memoir a sort of sub-genre. Ever since, it has been difficult to write about one's passion for a sport without inviting some comparison to Fever Pitch. Ask me: I've been there myself with my memoir, You Must Like Cricket?.
My hunch is that this occurred to Lawrence Booth, one of England's funniest and most engaging cricket writers, when he was planning his own book. So he presents his memoir of an English cricket fan not as such, but as an addict's guide to the game, with chapters on the teams, the umpires, the media and so on. He need not have bothered. First, because it's no bad thing to be compared to Hornby. Secondly, because Cricket, Lovely Cricket? is a wry, self-deprecating and amusing look as much at the "world's most exasperating game" of the subtitle as at the most exasperating experience of following it – especially if you happen to be an England fan. And I love that question mark, which encapsulates the dualities that underscore the life of a cricket fan – why, as Booth explains, the sport matters so much and yet not at all.
The anecdotes – and there are many of them – are excellent. Graham Gooch said that the only reason he liked to see Phil Tufnell bowling was because it meant Tuffers wasn't fielding. The gags are funny: England fans stick by their side, Booth tells us, "through thin and thinner"; and "revenge is a dish best served at the temperature of Australian lager". And Booth wages a delightful war against the clichés that disfigure daily cricket writing. Why, he asks, "are young fast bowlers 'raw' when the truth is they are just not very good?"
But Cricket, Lovely Cricket? comes most alive when it turns, through an exploration of how the English follow this game, into a study of Englishness itself. For someone who grew up in the 1980s, following England entailed not merely embracing defeat like a long-lost friend but also being suspicious of success, wary of ambition, and disdainful of triumphalism. This may sound odd given India's clout in the contemporary game, but to someone like me, who has grown up watching India dazzle for decades with unfulfilled promise and be walloped more times than it honourably drew, all this seems remarkably familiar.Reuse content