On the Front Foot: Bateman's book a tour de force

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The Independent Online

Why anybody would want to cycle round England, stopping at the headquarters of each of the 18 first-class counties, may never be satisfactorily explained. It is simply the sort of thing that a certain kind of Englishman does, just because they are there, just for the hell of it. Two late summers ago, a group of six disparate pedallers performed this feat in 17 days, starting at The Oval and finishing at Lord's and calling at the 16 other grounds in between. They were assembled, if not necessarily always led, by Colin Bateman, the cricket correspondent of the 'Daily Express'. It took them a total of 94hr 17min to cycle a total of 1,099 miles. Bateman has now written a book detailing their exploits, called 'String Fellows'*, and if, by his own admission, he was rarely at the head of the peloton (until his cycling mates insisted he led them finally through the Grace Gates), his account deserves the yellow jersey. True, there is probably not enough cricket, but then you can have too much of a good thing. There are, however, some corking anecdotes picked up by Bateman on his way to becoming the doyen of the daily press cricket-writing corps. But it is more a tale of the relationships among the sextet, whose ages ranged from 19 to 71, over more than two teak-hard weeks, a description and potted history of small-town England and a shrewd assessment of the country as a provider of tourist services. Neither the ferryman at Symonds Yat, which links Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, nor the chap who runs Aysgarth Falls Café in North Yorkshire will be using Bateman's reports of their sniffy attitude in their promotional publicity. The epic tour raised £8,000 for two charities and deserved to be chronicled, if only because the 18 cricket grounds deserve to be honoured. 'String Fellows' is a strange title because it is really Six Men on Bikes but it is a gem for all that, as the sub-title says, "a cycling odyssey into cricket's heartland".

*'String Fellows' by Colin Bateman (Troubador, £12).

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