The British Empire Library

Cricket in the Backblocks

by Colin Imray

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by W.A. Dodd (Tanganyika 1952-65)
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.

British Empire Book
Colin Imray
The Book Guild Ltd.


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