Gentlemen & Players, by Charles Williams

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The Independent Culture

The distinction between cricket's amateurs and professionals was always inherently unstable; for the first Gentlemen v Players match, at Lord's in 1806, the gents co-opted two leading professionals, and later in the century WG Grace trousered eye-popping sums for playing while still ostensibly an amateur.

Charles Williams, aka Lord Williams of Elvel and, in his playing days for the Gentlemen in the Fifties, CCP Williams, might be expected to mourn the abolition of the distinction in 1962 but he comes down largely in favour of the change. He is clear that by the end the level of "shamateurism", with players employed in doubtful sinecures and/or receiving broken-time payments, had become an embarrassment, and is amusingly instructive about the delaying tactics snobbish MCC panjandrums such as Gubby Allen used to prevent the inevitable.

He says, "in my experience many of the most sportsmanlike players were professional and some of the least sportsmanlike were amateurs", and instances the professional Denis Compton and the amateur John Langridge – "the one flamboyant and the other boringly cautious" – to show up the supposed difference in playing styles for the nonsense it was.

A clear-eyed view of "the passing of the old world… even if the old world never in truth existed".

Published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £18.99