Modern day cricket, akin to modern day life, rattles along at a fearful pace. In a consumerist cricket world, there is perpetually another series, another tour, another competition. Consume and move on, not even time to digest. Events that seem fantastical at the time are soon consigned to the past to the point where they can often seem further into yore than reality dictates. Thus, reading a book from an event that took place over twelve months past could be deemed as going against the grain but the magical, gripping finale of the 2016 County Championship is very much brought back into the present by Duncan Hamilton’s tome The Kings of Summer.
The first surprise the book offers is its actual size. Little larger than a pocket diary it is the epitome of bijoux and waif-like in thickness. Fronted by a jacket featuring the image of Toby Roland-Jones’ hat-trick delivery, and Championship winning, celebration in the mock early to mid 20th century style of artwork that has become de rigueur, one cannot help peer inside to check the number of pages; 117 the total. Some would likely scoff at such a short tome but immediately one is impressed by the obvious lack of filler or bluff just to extend the book to a uniform size. Hamilton tells the tale of that dramatic final match and it ends where it ends. If that dictates a conclusion at little more than one hundred pages then so be it. In some respects it would prove the ideal book to take to a day’s cricket itself. Small, compact and easy to fit in a bag without taking up too much room, one could easily stow it away in a pocket for an opportune moment or a break in play.
Post some early context setting Hamilton indulges in a marked criticism of Lord’s and the experience a day at the ground offers. For some this would be heresy, for this reader the comments largely confirm what he has always expected.
Hamilton soon takes the reader through the first day at a leisurely pace. The danger in recounting such events is that said recounting soon becomes little more than a mundane newspaper report but Hamilton deliciously describes the play in such a manner that one instantly begins to picture the action in one’s mind’s eye, the art of telling the story whilst enabling the reader to visualise what is happening making for a much more enjoyable experience. Rather adeptly, the text is written in the present tense so that the reader better feels the growing sense of drama.
The second day begins with the author mulling over the subtle routines of watching Championship cricket and the delight that such moments and nuances can bring to the experience. This reader discovers a kindred spirit in such matters; Hamilton’s extolling of purchasing a scorecard and watching the play from different sections of the ground particularly resonate. Hamilton’s cursory thoughts on the future of the format do provide food for thought though.
Nevertheless, the author’s ability to tell a tale without descending into the humdrum, to pick a vignette of intrigue from the minutiae of the day continues to prove intriguing and fascinating. It is Hamilton’s indulgent mini-essays, such as that on Tim Bresnan, which adeptly knit the passages of play together. Such is the brevity of the text that one feels almost guilty in reading too much for fear that the experience might reach its conclusion too quickly.
Any whimsy soon disappears though as the drama surrounding whether Yorkshire can collect the final batting point on offer increases the tension levels.
Inevitably, the real drama doesn’t emerge until the final day. The detail is preceded by another pleasant mini-essay, this time on Marcus Trescothick, the delicately described cricketing of a mating dance as the two captains surreptitiously sort out an agreement and some declaration bowling along with a lament from the author on the continued marginalisation of the county championship despite such a fascinating denouement.
As has been the case throughout the preceding three chapters, Hamilton’s command of absorbing prose proves just as intriguing as the story itself though, beautifully describing the twists and turns, the vicissitudes and the shifts in momentum during that dramatic last forty overs as both counties chased glory culminating in that finale, that hat-trick and that seminal picture of Toby Roland-Jones, roaring in sheer delight as he charges maniacally across the square. Somewhat fittingly, Hamilton concludes his book with just a few words post the final delivery, succinctly summing up the setting in a manner similar to the whole book itself. Good things do indeed come in small packages.
Nota bene: Over 20,000 people attended the four days of the contest at Lord’s despite the match being played during the week. Food for thought for those claiming that nobody watches the much maligned county championship.