Monday, July 22, 2013

Book review: The Vincibles, by Gideon Haigh

On a lazy summer afternoon with the cricket coverage in the background I completely galloped through this incredibly entertaining work by Haigh. Within pages the fortunes of the Australian test team paled into insignificance as I desperately read onto the next chapter in the life of the ‘Yarras’ 2001-02 season.

As the title suggests Haigh at no stage sought out to write a serious cricket book about a motivated sporting club. Instead a true reflection of what the ‘pitch-in’ life really is like in a local cricket club. Can you imagine David Warner sitting down weekly typing up the club newsletter, or Nathan Lyon acting as chairman of selectors (actually he may put his hand up for that)? In humorous prose Haigh describes what it is like for the true lovers of cricket to just get a game. I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments that he gets more joy from a cover drive than Mark Waugh ever did, owing to genuine surprise and elation at its execution, so do I.

I found myself giggling at most of the ups and downs in the life of the ‘Yarras’, and in a number of places being reduced to tears. Others will find differing points of greater hilarity to them but I lost it reading the description of Wombles’ stewardship and transfer protocol of the clubroom keys. The description of the elongated selection negotiation, finally requiring that whoever chose player Y (the champion) also was required to take player Y (the duffer) as well gave me much hope for the world. Middle aged men reduced to rationale more at home in a primary school yard.

Contrast this to the tedium experienced in picking up the second piece of cricketing literature ‘100 not out’, edited by Rod Nicholson. The genesis of this book review existed when these two works lay side by side, one the story of the triers the other of the champions, what a great ability to contrast those two people groups and hopefully find that common thread of passion for the greatest game[1].

I do believe the passion of Haigh’s comrades extends through to what is ultimately the third tier of competitive cricket below country & state, albeit with a few ‘A’ teams & development squads hanging around, but you wouldn’t feel it from what is ostensibly a reference book written by Williams and Nicholson for an incredibly niche audience.

What appears to ‘100 Not Out’s’ writers (and maybe many at the up echelons of cricket) is that ultimately it is a game that transcends any individual, facts and statistics only bearing importance inasmuch as they help the game’s story reach greater heights. The mountain of centuries Bill Lawry scored for Northcote pales into insignificance compared to that one century ‘Moof’ scored helping the 3rd XI to victory in the grand final.

As you can obviously guess my clear preference is for ‘The Vincibles’ over ‘100 Not Out’  - and a lot of the cricket books I've read.

[1] There is one instance of crossover between the books where Haigh describes a former Prahran first grade cricketer deciding to join the ‘Yarras’ ranks being confronted immediately at his first training session by the eccentric ‘Space Cadet’ who informs the new arrival that his vocation is teaching Tibetan throat singing.

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