Cricket Books – Simon Hughes

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simon-hughesWhether its his dickey knee, his living in run down apartments in Pretoria or his frustration at not being able to get Tania, the 21-year-old Auckland travel courier into the sack, Simon Hughes search for hard and fast pitches and even faster girls, makes his cricketing tales some of the best going around.

With rain interrupting much of the third Ashes test at Egbaston, it is a good time to consider other ways of keeping yourself entertained for those times when you’re waiting for the clouds to clear and the outfield to dry out. If you’ve ever been sitting in a ground eagerly anticipating a riveting days play only to see drizzle set in after half an hour you’ll know how endlessly frustrating this is for spectators, let alone players.

Such times can present the perfect opportunity to pick up one of the many books that are published each year on cricket. While a lot of cricket books are usually little more than prosaic accounts of cricketing tours and players careers – and are usually thought of as nothing more than stocking fillers – every now and then along comes a truly funny and interesting account of the game that is so engrossing you don’t particularly mind if play’s delayed a little longer. When I think of such books, one of the first that comes to mind isn’t even written by a test cricketer.

Yakking around the world: a cricketer’s quest for love and utopia by Simon Hughes is a hilarious account of his travels around the world as a cricketing journeyman. Hughes was a useful county bowler in his time, though in many respects he lived for the English winter when he would pack up his kit and travel abroad in the hope of finding some decent beaches, taking a few wickets, and having a bit of luck with the native females, or as Hughes puts it: a life of sun, seam and sex.

In Yakking around the world Hughes plies his trade in Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. His model for judging a country is to score its people, beaches and local cricket out of ten and then multiple this total by the number of catches he had (of the female variety).

While Hughes’ encounters with the ladies makes for some hilarious reading (especially when he stays with Carol and Chris in Sydney and finds out that Carol is more than accommodating once her husband has left for work), Hughes’ insight into the cricketing character of each nation is both savvy and genuinely informative. His experience in Australia is a case in point.

Playing in Perth for Fremantle in the 1980s, Hughes often came into contact first-hand with the totally uncompromising Aussie attitude towards the game. On one such occasion he had a batsman caught behind but the batsman stood his ground resolutely and the umpire also remained unmoved. The next ball the batsman edged again and this time the umpire rightly raised his finger. Hughes exchange with the departing batsman struck him as typical of the Australian cricketing ethic. ‘You hit the first one as well didn’t you?’ asked Hughes. ‘Yep’ replied the batsman, ‘but we only walk when the fu#*n car’s broken down.’

While Hughes was only playing club cricket in his travels, he makes the argument, and quite rightly in my opinion, that while the Australian system might celebrate too strongly an uncompromising machismo in its cricketers, it is nonetheless a system that quickly rewards talent. Hughes argues that this was in stark contrast to the game in England at the time. ‘The system [in Australia]’ writes Hughes, ‘was as dynamic as England’s was decrepit’. Reading this you get the feeling that Hughes was all to well aware in the mid to late 1980s that England were soon to face a enter a barren period against Australia.

Hughes might portray himself as a lovable loser – he broke no records in his cricketing endeavours or search for nubile blondes in the antipodes (though to be fair he does have his moments) – and it is this side to his story that makes the book so engrossing. It is a sublime mix of insightful travel writing and brilliant cricket writing. Hughes might not have been the best bowler or Casanova in the world but he definitely can write.

Note: Simon Hughes is also the author of A lot of hard yakka, which won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award in 1997

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