Paul Edwards has more time on his hands than is good for a man....
A cricket writer had an ambition: he wanted to cover an Ashes tour in Australia and write a book about his visit to the country. He asked an honest friend for his advice. "It's a good idea," he was told at once. "Go there, travel as widely as you can, write your book - and then leave out all the cricket."
Such an anecdote is not, perhaps, what one expects to read on a website devoted to the summer game, but its underlying point has merit. It is often the varying social environments in which cricket is played which make its literature memorable; cricket books about nothing but cricket can be deadly dull. Think of a young Test player who "writes" his autobiography on the strength of a hundred or two. The heart sinks.
By contrast, the good biography of a player understands the man; indeed, the author knows that until he fathoms his subject's character, he can't really write about the way he plays his cricket. Likewise a book about Australian cricket needs to be as much about the country as the game. Immediately, we are in C. L. R. James territory and Hove offers as fertile territory as any county headquarters in England for such researches.
"First and foremost, it is a seaside ground, a mixture of the regency and the raffish," wrote Alan Ross - yes, him again - and although that assessment must be more than a decade old, it still holds good today. Britain's large coastal resorts remain an enthralling mixture of the unashamedly palatial and the downright seedy.
Thus, Brighton this freshly-washed and brilliantly sunny morning: Adelaide Crescent, Palmeira Square, King's Lawns and the Royal Pavilion - reminders of the town's status in the early 19th century as the most fashionable place in the land outside London. Wise tourists officers or proud owners have ensured that these glories have been preserved too: the white-painted mansions retain all their architectural glory some 180 years after many of them were built on the instructions of some of the wealthiest people in the kingdom.
Let us look more closely though. The facades of the big hotels around Hove's First Avenue are exactly that. View them from Brunswick Lawns and they look stylish indeed. Amble down the sidestreets and the paintwork is peeling. The streets at the back of Brighton and Hove are a mighty contrast to the opulent squares. One is reminded that, like a seaside holiday itself, a life in Hove can bring both joy in the morning and tears by bedtime
Perhaps this mixture of styles is what has attracted so many writers to Brighton. Dr Johnson loathed it while Thackeray loved it. Jane Austen used it as one of the settings in Pride and Prejudice, cleverly delineating the stupidity and superficiality of Lydia Bennett in a place where appearance is everything.
But if one wants to understand the way in which seediness coexisted with style in 20th century Brighton, one could do no better than to read Graham Greene's Brighton Rock or or the first volume of Patrick Hamilton's Gorse trilogy, The West Pier. Then, one could explore the area around the station and see what, essentially, had changed.
What has this to do with cricket? Never nothing and sometimes everything. The Hove ground, although still a delight, is not as Alan Ross knew it. A mighty new stand emblazoned with the one word "Sharks" has been built. A venue which was once the epitome of unhurried, leisured ease was changed for last night's game into a sweaty arena into which as many people as possible were crammed. The famous blue-and-white-striped deckchairs used for Championship matches were, for yesterday evening's thrills and frills affair, swapped for bucket seats, which occupy less space. The number of bums on seats is the bottom line.
Brighton and Hove, then. A book in itself or indeed, themselves. And cricket at Brighton? Last night, it was a series of swift duels between red and blue on green, the quick drama illuminated by the lights of ten pylons.
On other days, a different tempo. More adagio than allegro con brio. More like this, I often hope: "Today Langridge pushes the ball for unfussed / Singles; ladies clap from check rugs, talk to retired colonels. On tomato-red verandas the scoring rate is discussed."
Photo: PA Wire
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