The Best Loved Game

1978

To the uninitiated the sport of cricket must seem like a gigantic incomprehensible chess game played in slow motion.
It’s a game that can last for up to five days and still end in a draw. Those days by the way are very much days; starting at 11 and ending with the last light fades they are a living testimony to the stamina of the players and the fans.
Perhaps this length could be made tolerable to the neutral if the game itself was simple to understand. Alas it is awash with strange jargon.

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If I were to say to you that Botham bowled a yorker that Chappell hit for four past silly mid on, you’re not really going to understand what on earth I’m on about.
Yet this is the tip of the cricketing jargon iceberg. There are fielding positions called ‘Leg gully ‘and ‘Silly Point’ and bowlers who practice ‘Googlys’ at batsman who are keen on ‘Hooking’.
Too add to the excitement/bewilderment at any point a bowler might suddenly scream ‘Howzat’.
Two batsmen running to each other’s wickets make runs. Each time they safely reach the crease they….. oh why am I bothering. I lost you at the mention of googly. But if by chance you happen to be in England for a spell and fancy giving the game a shot I urge you to read the recently reissued cricket classic ‘The Best Loved Game’ by the late Geoffrey Moorhouse.

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Written in the seventies, it beautifully encapsulates this most English of sports by covering both big test matches between international sides and village green cricket games between amateurs and everything in between.
During this era the game was going through a transition from low paid semi-pro sport to a highly re-numerated international spectacle. The book manages to be both prophetic of what the game will become and wistfully nostalgic for a time that the author realizes is a largely fictional reality.
Reading it I was taken back to one of those rare English summer days when it hasn’t rained.
My granddad is seated in his armchair, his pack of rolling tobaccos and cigarette papers resting on one arm. On a small black and white TV screen in the corner of the room the game is slowly unwinding with the sounds of smattered applause and the pleasing smack of a willow bat on leather ball mingling with the birdsong coming through our open sitting room window.
In the end all sport comes down to times like these. Not those moments of individual greatness featured in highlight reels and Nike ads but instead a sense of the game weaving itself into the fabric of our childhood memories.
Moorhouse brings those moments back for those of us, who through an accident of nationality, had cricket play a vital part in their lives.

Viv-Richards

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