Both socially and politically, cricket has had an important place in the cohesion and
indeed ideology of the Empire and Commonwealth. Even today the speeches of
Ministers of State from Commonwealth countries are regularly enriched by expressions
such as “steady wicket”, “hit for six”, “close of play” and “a safe pair of hands”.
President Mugabe asserts that “cricket civilizes people and creates good gentlemen” and
the 1998 issue of Wisden carries reports on cricket played in more than twenty former
colonies, including the USA! Yet our imperial historians strangely ignore the subject:
for example Lawrence James in his recently acclaimed Rise and Fall of the British
Empire assigns but one paragraph to cricket and that to the “body-line bowling” crisis of
1933, while mistakenly allocating Harold Larwood to Yorkshire; and the indices of Jan
Morris’ magisterial trilogy on the Empire make no reference to cricket at all.
Colin Imray in his Cricket in the Backhlocks does a little to redress the balance. At
one level his book is the autobiography of a chap from Malvern College who by chance
became a trader in cigarettes in Singapore and then Malaya, a policeman in Palestine
and then the Gold Coast, and finally Assistant Commissioner of Police in Kenya. But
predominantly his book is that of a genial cricket lover, an amusing pavilion bar
raconteur. Patted on the head by W.G. Grace, bowled at by Larwood and spoken to by
Freddie Brown, Colin Imray is a cricket fanatic with a mission who sees cricket as more
than a game, certainly as an ideology and perhaps as a religion. The world of which he
writes is mainly that of club cricket played by eccentrics in tropical climes. It is a world
inhabited by such men as “Sniffy Clark” and “Bloody Mathews”, A.K, A.W. and
R.G.B., Ping the demon bowler and the silent Major Aeneas Quintus Perkins. It is truly
rich in anecdotes, at least two of which must surely merit a place in any anthology of
cricket stories, the gem about the match at Kota Bahru in Kelantan and the one about the
match on Andrew Mustard’s tennis court. All good stuff.
Though this book touches on aspects of colonial life other than cricket, in truth it is
not a book for everyone. Primarily it is a book to be enjoyed by cricket enthusiasts with
a colonial background. As President Abraham Lincoln remarked of another work,
“People who like this kind of book will find that this is the kind of book they like”. And
I liked this one very much.