You have to write in some detail when you do a book review, but in our eyes there are two main types of books. There are books that you enjoy and there are books that you have to force yourself to read.
We enjoyed What I Love About Cricket and as long as we don’t feel like we’ve wasted time on a book, we’re happy with it. Now for more detail. Some of the following may seem negative, but bear in mind that these criticisms are from a perspective of having liked the book.
The concept behind What I Love About Cricket is a bit flimsy and to be honest, despite the title and the near-constant theme of cricket, it’s not actually a cricket book. It’s about Sandy Balfour and what he thinks of his daughter. If you think of it like that, the book as a whole makes a lot more sense. Essentially, Balfour tries to get his daughter’s boyfriend interested in cricket because he wants his daughter to be interested in cricket.
To be honest his motives get a bit lost and at times you’re reading a passage and you think ‘what’s this book about again?’ but you just have to go with it. It’s an enjoyable read even if it can seem a bit pointless. Pointless sounds harsh, actually. We’re sure the point would be abundantly clear if we had a daughter, but we don’t, so that’s how we felt about it.
There are moments where Balfour describes his daughter and her boyfriend in romantic terms and we found some of those descriptions borderline uncomfortable. A writer can describe his leading man in poetic terms, but when that leading man’s going out with the writer’s daughter, it can seem a bit weird.
The daughter is always referred to as ‘my daughter’ and the boyfriend usually as ‘the boy’ but we still couldn’t help but wonder how they felt about the book; about having their personal lives mulled over and those thoughts put into print. Maybe there’s a large degree of fiction in there, but that could make it worse.
The cricket’s a blend of factual accounts of Test cricket and the cricketing philosophy of a certain sort of follower of the game. The factual stuff adds relatively little if you follow the game, as you’ll know a lot of the events reasonably well. Presumably they’re aimed at those who don’t really know the game, which would also account for the passages about Test Match Special and watching cricket on Teletext. But this is a book with ‘cricket’ in the title and which mentions the game on virtually every page. Surely you should assume the reader has a certain level of knowledge?
The other cricketing element, Balfour’s philosophy about the game, tends towards the sentimental. There’s a lot about Lord’s in there, which always leaves us cold as we’ve never really bought into the whole ‘home of cricket’ thing. It’s nice, friendly, gentle cricket; a view informed by Test Match Special.
Better are the segments about Balfour’s own club cricket performances. These are funny without being self-indulgent, as is often the case with this sort of thing. You don’t get to know every single person at the club. You don’t get every close match described in detail. Also good are the few descriptions of growing up in South Africa. These too are funny and more intriguing for being unfamiliar.
If we have one final criticism, it’s for the world’s book publishers. Please can we have no more cricket books by middle-aged South-East media types in which they describe the tribulations of their respective club sides and the characters who play for them. After TV producer Harry Thompson’s Penguins Stopped Play; actor Michael Simkins’ Fatty Batter; scriptwriter Marcus Berkmann’s Rain Men; and now TV producer Sandy Balfour’s What I Love About Cricket, we’ve had enough.
Good book though. Buy it from Amazon if you’re so inclined.