Book of the Week

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It's Just Not Cricket! Henry Blofeld's Cricket Year

Simon and Schuster pounds 16.99

HE IS one of this country's prized exports; the archetypal Englishman, from his trademark bow-tie and rich plummy tones to his eccentric observations ("And there's a seagull, drifting by, No, no it's a sparrow. Well I never!") during his commentary stints for Test Match Special. He is quite the national treasure. He is Henry "My Dear Old Thing" Blofeld.

As a regular contributor of authoritative, analytical comment on Test and county cricket and the game's politics to the Independent and Independent on Sunday, Blowers reaches parts of the sporting public others would envy.

Now he has produced a wonderful tome on a momentous year , not merely in cricket, but in his life. It's Just Not Cricket (Simon & Schuster) may look a dear old thing itself at pounds 16.99, but rest assured this is a great read as it looks back on 1998-99.

Few escape Blofeld's penmanship, from Geoff Boycott to the Pakistani World Cup final team. He introduces a host of old friends to the reader, including a Vice-Admiral and numerous winemakers, winery owners and restaurateurs.

It does begin rather gravely: "This book came within a whisker of not getting beyond what is now Chapter Eight," reads the opening sentence. And Blowers goes on to recount the onset of angina which led to three heart operations before Our Man in the Panama was back on his feet.

But even when describing his brush with death - there was a problem kick- starting his heart after by-pass surgery - he maintains a certain dignity: "I came uncomfortably close to putting my cue in the rack for the last time."

There is a flavour of Wodehouse in the gentle understatement and often outrageous simile, imagery and metaphor. That is no surprise, since he turned to PG Wodehouse while in hospital. But he does get a title wrong, referring to Life of the Bodkins, when it was Luck of the Bodkins.

Never mind. Blofeld's book is a triumph of the diary-of-a-season genre and what makes it all the more refreshing is that is not merely a procession of matches.

More often than not this eloquent, elegant Englishman finds himself the guest of this winery or that vineyard, or speaks at one dinner or some get-together, and the reader is treated to some extremely good comment on wine and food, not to mention some witty and frequently acerbic asides on the people he ambles across in his travels.

This work is evidence of how close we came to the premature loss of another in a long and distinguished line of witty English writers. Blowers should take up humourous writing full-time.

David Llewellyn