In “Test Cricket: The unofficial biography”, Jarrod Kimber has delivered us a book that was long overdue and quite frankly, necessary in the times when cricket’s premiere format is under threat. This book not only deals with the issues that were rampant in the days gone by but also with the stories of how ultimately cricket came out on top.
The opening and closing chapters deal with the loss of Phil Hughes and in his words, urge you to dig in and get through to tea as if saying that whatever be the loss, we must endure, cricket must endure. And in between these two chapters, Jarrod Kimber turns back clocks to the 1700s when cricket was just invented to take us through the ups and downs that cricket has seen. He covers every pivotal moment in cricket’s past. From the first time ever that the round arm deliveries were bowled to the first ever use of protection gears; from the first ever international match to the first ever Test match; from the creation of MCC to the foundation of ICC; from the rise of the English and the Australian teams to the entry of South Africa; from the inculcation of cricket in the commonwealth nations to the loss of Argentina because it wasn’t one. It’s all in here.
Jarrod Kimber deals in detail with the prejudices prevalent in cricket as recently as 1990s. He explains how the class divide reared its head when the Gentlemen were playing the Players. He explains how Jack Hobbs became Jack Hobbs despite that. He laments the fact that the aboriginal Australians like Eddie Gilbert and Jack Marsh were lost because of their birth. But then he rejoices in successes of Learie Constantines and George Headleys as well. He is amused by the fact that in the first ever test series between Australia and an all-black West Indies, the trophy was named after Sir Frank Worrel, the then captain of West Indies. Australia hadn’t yet started counting aboriginals in their census when after conceding the series, Sir Frank Worrel gave away the eponymous trophy to Sir Richie Benaud. He recounts the horrors of the D’Oliviera Affair and the fallout of the rebel tours to South Africa in the apartheid era. The neglect that the Women’s cricket teams faced even in the 21st century is explored too and though the situation has marginally improved, there is just so much more that needs to be done. The plight of the Associates and Affiliates is dealt with as well. The only things I believe are missing are the discriminations based on caste, race and religion widespread in the pre independence, undivided India and erstwhile Ceylone. The Bombay Quadrangular could have been dealt with in a little more detail in this regard. The hardships faced by Palwankar Baloo and the likes, and the plight of cricketers from Jaffna would have only added to the harrowing narrative.
I’m not implying that the book is all gloom. Jarrod Kimber celebrates the fact that cricket ultimately overcame all these social and political divides. He celebrates England’s rise as the father of cricket and Australians sheer dominance in 1948 and then again almost four decades later. He celebrates New Zealand’s series win in 1969 that was 40 years in the making. He celebrates the Carribean kings who ruled for nearly two decades. He celebrates the World Cup victories of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He celebrates Kerry Packer and WSC. He celebrates the inclusion of Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. He celebrates everything until the trifecta of Clarke, Srinivasan and Sutherland held cricket at ransom and divided the cricketing nations into haves and have-nots. It is a divide that cricket is yet to overcome.
Jarrod Kimber gives you anecdotes after anecdotes. He isn’t giving a history lesson. He is just recounting the moments when just for those fleeting moments cricket was more than just a game; the moments that made cricket. Be it the spell in 1882 in which Fred Spofforth unleashed hell on England to deliver The Ashes as a contest to us or that time in 1932 when Ponsford traded countless body bruises for 83 runs in an act of defiance ,and righteousness of being in the only team playing cricket. Be it Kapil’s catch in 1983 or Imran’s speech to his team in 1992 or Aravinda DeSilva’s brilliance in 1996, cricket ceased to be just a game in those moments and cricketers ceased to be mere mortals. It became a nation’s retribution at times and hope at others as the cricketers became heroes. In showing that such moments were interspersed with the social issues of those times, Jarrod Kimber is showing that cricket was and will always be a great unifying force. By asserting that cricket could have avoided many of these issues from creeping into the establishment, he is also showing Cricket administrators the mirror.
He has covered so much in barely 300 pages and yet it feels like another 300 could have been written. While this shows how rich the cricket history is, it also shows how good a writer Jarrod Kimber is. With his inimitable writing style, he forces you to read chapter after chapter after chapter. There is never a dour chapter. Each one is just as captivating as the last one.
I recently saw the documentary,” Death of a Gentleman” that he co-produced with Sam Collins. In that documentary, he investigates, condemns and then resigns himself to the deplorable state of Test Cricket. He started work on this book when he was still making that documentary. All the research he must have done for that documentary finds its way into this book. The words have come straight from the heart. Though he is humorous , he paints a gloomy picture of the future but at the same time, he instills hope by pointing out the numerous hurdles Cricket has overcome.
Jarrod Kimber is not an artist with words. He would never claim that. The world might never disagree. He is just a man passionate about cricket. This book is a work of passion above anything else. It is purely coincidental that this is a work of art as well. Jarrod Kimber might never agree. The world just might disagree yet.