Cricket companion proves another masterpiece

DUNCAN HAMILTON has won so many prizes that you half-imagine that if he tried to buy a lottery ticket Camelot would instantly go on red-alert and shut down its terminals pleading malfunction.

Memorable deliveries: Matthew Waite. Picture: Steve Riding

Three William Hill Sports Book of the Year Awards (the first person to achieve that feat); the only writer to have won the Wisden Cricket Book of the Year three times; a two-time winner at the British Sports Book Awards.

Those are just the accolades we know about.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Put simply, if the former Yorkshire Post deputy editor writes a book, he is invariably consigning himself to having to write several acceptance speeches on top of it.

If there is any justice, he will have to get some more ready after this latest offering: One Long and Beautiful Summer: A Short Elegy for Red-Ball Cricket.

In a way, it is a bit like listening to a new album by your favourite band in that you know what you are going to get (peerless quality) and that you’re going to love it (because you always do).

If, like me, you scribble for a crust, you also know that by the time you’ve finished it and reluctantly put it down, you’re going to wish that you’d written it yourself (no chance).

From the book’s title – or, more accurately, from its sub-title – you can probably guess where Hamilton is coming from in this latest masterpiece by the sportswriter nonpareil.

Why, it is roughly the same place where he came from in A Last English Summer a decade ago, to which this book is a companion volume.

It is the place that both worships and seeks to protect traditional cricket and all that it stands for, and which is fearful and suspicious of concepts like The Hundred.

“About as appealing to me as a lukewarm bath,” he writes of the 100-ball tournament, which will feature games between Northern Superchargers and Manchester Originals as opposed to Yorkshire versus Lancashire, adding: “Had he not been cremated, Neville Cardus would be rising from his grave.”

From behind glass windows high in a press box, far removed from the chatter of the boundary, you can often miss the critical minutiae of a day’s cricket, something best observed from the stands, in fact, where you can fully soak up the sights and atmosphere.

This book captures that minutiae superbly, with the overall experience – as opposed to who wins or loses – all important.

An appreciation of this really distinguishes the true cricket lover from, say, the average football fan who sees everything through a parochial prism and for whom – much like the players and coaches – the result is all.

For Hamilton, the game itself is king and it serves to remind him of these three verities: “How blessed I am to have been born here. How I never want to live anywhere else. How much I love cricket.”

Hamilton’s extraordinary eye for detail, which colours his prose as surely as the cover-drive coloured a David Gower hundred, is brought home by the fact that one of the games he watches for the book – Yorkshire versus Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge – he recalls solely for two shots played by Chris Nash off Yorkshire’s Matthew Waite.

The first was Gower-esque in its splendour as it sped through the covers while Nash held the pose; the second – off the very next ball – an ugly edge through the slips to the boundary.

“The first shot evoked Woolley or Hammond or Gower. The second made Nash look like a tail-ender who hardly knew which end of the bat to hold. Such is cricket. Those few minutes are how my memory chooses to remember the whole of that match,” he writes.

As with A Last English Summer, Hamilton travels the country watching everything from the epic Ashes Test at Headingley to his local Yorkshire village team, painting a vivid picture of the sport before the Armageddon promised by The Hundred.

Although that fate has been delayed by the pandemic (every cloud...), he says that “the game I adore is about to experience a paradigm shift” and “may never be quite the same again”.

It would be interesting if the author went back every 10 years and repeated this exercise. How will the game look in 2029? Will the Championship still be alive and kicking in 2039?

Whether he would want to write about whatever remained, however, is a different matter.

One Long and Beautiful Summer: A Short Elegy for Red-Ball Cricket by Duncan Hamilton is published by riverrun, priced £16.99.