John Arlott’s gentle nostalgia for the pleasures of a postwar summer strikes something of a chord now for those of us wondering, at least a little bit, what cricket, normal life, will feel like as and when it returns. Quite what a generation who had come through six years of war were feeling as they watched cricket again is something known by those who were there; but in other respects Vintage Summer relates a season with a rhythm largely familiar to those when the book was published twenty years later.
Much of it is a comforting, happy, narration which starts with the South African tourists at Worcester. A five test series, won by England, and a 26 game county Championship won by Middlesex followed, with Dennis Compton and Bill Edrich dominant. Arlott saw cricket almost every day that summer, which he described as the happiest of his life, reaching its finale at the Oval bar in September; from which the book’s epilogue:
‘We had known and felt the untrammelled delight of cricket and, if we could not define it – and who has ever been able to do so with precision? – we knew it the more surely for our realisation that it was too richly complex for analysis.’
Something of this sentiment comes across in Jon Hotten’s book, albeit that his appreciation of the game, the wonder of it, comes from knowing how hard it is, rather than anything especially dreamy or poetic. It is a lively read, largely post the Arlott-era; the author’s playing experiences, which advanced to the point of a trial net with Hampshire, a starting point for his understanding of the stresses faced by the game’s pros. A take on the inside if not an insider’s take.
Mark Ramprakash finding ‘redemption’ in 100 first class centuries, the difficulties faced by Graham Hick in adjusting to Test Match cricket, bowlers with yips, flag up how brutal it can be psychologically for those who are, or who become, anxious and then rather ambivalent about their career trajectory heading downwards.
This is not always an easy read, although it is not difficult to sympathise with those experiencing personal agonies . More happily there are of course the careers that went the other way after difficult starts. Graham Gooch bagged a pair in his first Test, was dropped after his second and might have been dropped again, quite possibly ending his England career. At the end of a series in which he struggled Ian Bell made no runs in the epic Ashes finale in 2005: eight balls in the match, one on the last day with England aiming to bat out time.
In analytical, micro-managed times, the book prompts well on what part talent what part chance, luck, plays in careers, and brings to mind Richie Benaud’s 10-90 ratio. There is a lot else in it, a primer on the game’s early development, amateurs, humour in various places: a key bowling machine carried round in the back of a horse box en route to an Ashes series win. Those for whom Arlott was a formative influence in taking to cricket were lucky to be sure; and from one who did a stint on the May’s Bounty scoreboard, 330/7 at the close.