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The Authors XI, by The Authors Cricket Club


It could all have gone terribly wrong.

The idea of reviving the Authors Cricket Club, who first played in 1905 (opening batsmen: PG Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle) before packing it in seven years later, and then having the players write a book about their season, ran the risk of becoming an exercise in sugar-coated whimsy, a sepia-tinged nod to the so-called “Golden Age” of cricket before the First World War spoiled everything.

Happily, nothing could be farther from the truth; by a felicitous choice of both fixtures and authors, each contributing a chapter based one of the matches, The Authors XI is by turns funny, feisty and affectionate.

The ever-excellent Jon Hotten ruminates on the changing nature of commentary as they face the BBC’s Bushmen; the historian Holland brothers, James and Tom, respectively explore the joy of creating a village ground and why age need not wither you; while The Independent’s own Amol Rajan has some typically spiky views on the Establishment and cricketer/politicians as the side take on the Lords and Commons CC.

In his account of the game against a Publishers XI, Sam Carter quotes Neville Cardus’s bon mot that it is wise not to be rude about cricket autobiographies, as “you never know who has written them”, but here the equation is triumphantly reversed; the team may be mixed ability on the field, but they sure can write.

Four of the Authors XI – Hotten, Rajan and the Holland Bros - also appear in a new Wisden quarterly magazine, The Nightwatchman (Wisden, £9).

Its premise is that in the mainstream media there is “a dearth of long-form writing on cricket”, which they seek to rectify.

Certainly the first issue justifies their ambitions, with essays  exploring topics as diverse as Wally Hammond’s Bradman complex, the perverse joy of England batting collapses, the illogicality of the nightwatchman’s role and Surrey’s least successful captain.

It also has a strong international flavour, so often lacking in Britain’s sports pages. The second issue is just out; on this evidence, I’ll be buying it.