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Sunday 29 July 2012

Settling The Score

There may be some older cricket fans reading this who remember a little gem of a play on television called Arthur's Hallowed Ground. Written by ex-Derbyshire cricketer, Peter Gibbs, it starred Jimmy Jewell as Arthur, the groundsman whose life's work is spent maintaining the perfect pitch on which to play cricket and then hating it when cricketers turn up to play on it, ruining his creation.

In Settling the Score, Peter gives us a similar character though only in a minor role. Here it is the three day game between an imaginary Derbyshire team and the home team, Warwickshire, which takes centre stage on the placid Edgbaston ground. That and the rivalry between two brothers vying for a place in the England team. Not so placid however, are the antics of the members of the team after each day's play. Set in the late 60s, when an evening at a strip club or drinking to the early hours was more common for professional players than perhaps it is now, there are fights and disclosures that play a major part on the field of play.

Peter pours all his knowledge of the game into this rare work (for there are few pieces of fiction in the cricket world) and the result is an engrossing novel based on a nail biting cricket match, determined by the off field events and revelations as much as the action on the field itself. The plot seamlessly joins the events on field and off and those who have played the game will recognise the truth of it. Those who follow the game may also recognise many of the characters (despite the usual disclaimer). Both will enjoy the vivid description of the play, the comical banter and the sometimes bitter rivalry.

If there seem to be the odd cliche here, it is because Heaven's only sport is made up of them. Impossible catches follow farcical run-outs, bad balls take wickets, good ones clear the ropes and a three day match boils down to the last half hour, the last over, the last ball. That's what makes cricket such a wonderful game and what makes Settling the Score such a wonderful book.

With the tension of a great Test Match, this is a first class read which every cricket lover should own. I for one, cannot wait for the return match.


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