A spiritual write-off

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The Independent Online
SUCCESS, as Allan Border will confirm, breeds success. And, no doubt, the immense and deserved success of Nick Hornby's book Fever Pitch, in which he records his enduring obsession with Arsenal FC, has inspired many sporting journalists to switch on their laptops and start recording their innermost pensees with a view to eventual publication, awards dinners, dump bins in Waterstones and sundry invitations to appear on The Late Show.

At least, that's what I was doing until I actually read the book and found that it was far better than anything I could possibly do. Four Leg Byes: The Autobiography Of A Cricket Maniac will not now be gracing the the catalogues of any of London's major publishers, even though my four months of solid toil had taken me well into page two.

The tale of a young boy who became entranced by Abid Ali's innocuous medium-pace bowling when India toured in 1971, and later became obsessed by such towering talents as E J O Hemsley, little Harry Pilling and the great Colin Dredge of Somerset could, I am sure, have been an international best seller, had it not been for that crucial absence of something a bit special, like talent.

The problem with a cricket version of Fever Pitch, though, is that all the most vivid Test-match experiences take place not at Test matches as such, but at home, when you are watching them on television. Go to a Test match and you will be variously distracted by lager, fast food and inane conversation. Wickets only ever fall when you are having a pee. Besides, watching a Test match should be a solitary occupation. How can you concentrate with all those people around you? That's why attendances have not fallen this summer, despite the woeful results. People go to have a jolly day out with their chums. The cricket is mere background.

No, the true maniac will be at home, quietly grinding his teeth at the latest soft English dismissal or rotten umpiring decision. I am indebted here to my old friend Richard who, many years ago, first inducted me into the one true cricketing religion. Coming to stay at my parents' house for a few days, he placed himself in front of the television at 10:55 am and, with suitable breaks for lunch and tea, sat entirely still and silent for the whole day, anxiously chain-smoking. Not once did he pass comment. Not once did he rage at England's inadequacies. He sat in this self-imposed trance for five days, without pause or motion. As this was the Headingley Test match of 1981, you can imagine how impressed I was.

Having thus learned at the feet of the master (who for some reason known only to himself chose to address me as 'Grasshopper'), I have tried since to spread the word, mainly by visiting small towns in the western states of America and teaching all the cowpokes I met the intricacies of the forward defensive. Back in Britain, I am now embarked on an inner journey to spiritual enlightenment, that state of grace in which I can watch Graeme Hick give his wicket away 20 runs short of a century without laying waste to an entire London borough. I have not reached it yet (apologies are owed, in this instance, to the worthy burghers of Hillingdon), but I'm working on it.

All of which means that a cricket book along the lines of Fever Pitch is not really an option. What might be, though, is an altogether more spiritual tome. Zen And The Art Of The Double-Wicket Maiden? Sounds a dead cert. Mr Hornby, I'm on your tail.

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