The Best Loved Game by Geoffrey Moorhouse

IMG_1197 The only season that matters is nearly upon us, not that you need any excuse to read Geoffrey Moorhouse’s The Best Loved Game, a tour d’horizon of English cricket during 1978. It inspired Duncan Hamilton to write A Last English Summer, which did much the same job for 2009 and, although Moorhouse has less of the poet about him than Hamilton, he remains an acute observer. On the Eton versus Harrow match at Lord’s, he says of the toffs drawing strength from their massing near the Lord’s Tavern: ‘This is, for the most part, the assembly of an elite whom history has been overhauling this past forty years. There is comfort in whatever numbers remain.’ The appearance of the Antichrist was the catalyst for Moorhouse’s tome, whose opening sentence reads: ‘This books owes something to Mr Kerry Packer, without whom it might not have been written.’ Moorhouse did not care for the Packer revolution – many didn’t at the time and they may yet not be wrong – and also gets into a tizzy about batsmen’s protective helmets: ‘I am sorry to see cricketers taking refuge in what their predecessors disdained.’ It is now exceptional if a batsman does not wear one and this is not the only point at which 1978 seems like L.P. Hartley’s ‘another country’. However, the flash of genius in whatever era is unmistakeable. When David Gower, then in his first season of international cricket, plays, ‘natural grace exalts the result into the batsman’s finest art’. Quite so. While watching Somerset’s youthful Peter Roebuck batting at Taunton, Moorhouse remarks that his own hero from the county, Harold Gimblett, killed himself earlier that year, ‘another in that extraordinary, hauntingly long line of cricketers who have taken life and death in their own hands’. Several decades later Roebuck himself will add to the list by jumping out of a sixth-floor window rather than face police questions about his colourful, confused private life. Moorhouse writes of Gimblett: ‘He gladdened my youth, and made me wish that I could play like him, vividly, sturdily, but gallantly above all.’ Replace ‘sturdily’ with ‘stylishly’ and that is exactly how I felt about Gower. I also rather admired Roebuck’s writing. What an all-encompassing game.

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