Zimmer Men, The trials and tribulations of the ageing cricketer

Marcus Berkmann, Zimmer Men, The trials and tribulations of the ageing cricketer, Little Brown, £16.99.

Cricket is the most inexplicable of games. There is no other sport at which utterly useless and incompetent players persist in turning out week in and week out in the expectation that somehow, just this once, they will bat like Botham or bowl like Lillee. After all no one turns up at the local tennis club every Sunday if they can’t get the ball over the net and any footballer not able occasionally to pass the ball to his team-mate three yards away would soon find themselves permanently on the sidelines.

Cricket, though, is different. It is the Masochist’s game par excellence. As the optimistic batsmen see their wickets shattered and journeyman bowlers are thrashed into the long grass every weekend, their hopes may be dashed but only for a week of thinking about the next game and how it will be different.

Moreover, people are willing to expose their inadequacies to the world. Berkmann has the cricket drug and has it bad. He is on his own omission a terrible cricketer, compounded by the fact that he is such a sad bastard that he knows his all time average, a ‘smidgeon over 5’ thanks to a lot of ‘not outs’. (I know about such sad bastardy: I used to detail my every run for many years and the tattered pieces of paper remain in my filing cabinet in the section headed ‘vital papers’, and I still keep an annual tally on the computer just to see if I am improving or declining.) Actually, its worse than that. Berkmann knows what it is down to rather more decimal points than is meaningful and he notes that he played precisely 285 games for his former club.

Since Rain Men, his highly successful cricket book written a decade ago, Berkmann has left his team, the Captain Scott Invitation XI, as they were getting too serious and created a new outfit named after his book. Berkmann has, as it were, dropped down a division or two, which takes him into the real bowels of the game, the bad village sides. Some of his fellow players dream of hitting a four – just one four – and to others getting into double figures is a lifelong ambition.

There are some better cricketers hidden in there but Berkmann prefers to concentrate on the failures and the nowhere men, rather disguising the fact that although the Rain Men didn’t win a single game in 2003, they don’t do quite as badly as he implies, However well they perform, Berkmann’s role seems to be confined to the odd sturdy 3 not out and even though he is captain and fixtures secretary, he puts himself in at number ten or eleven. Maybe he is just being modest, but then, in terms of cricketing ability, it sounds like he has a lot to be modest about. And one is left with the nagging feeling that Berkmann couldn’t possibly cope with success.

Fortunately, Berkmann’s skill as a writer is in inverse proportion to his ability at cricket. Even though in many respects this is the same story as the Rain Men, an account of that bottom rung of the cricket ladder that is the heart of the game, he engages the reader continuously with a rat tat tat of pithy tales and amusing asides that ensures the book coasts along in a way that poor Berkmann never does when batting.

He is, though, feeling his age but frankly, as a fellow addict of failure who plays in a side, the Beamers, that sometimes sports six over fifties including two in their sixties, I reckon Berkmann has a cheek trying to claim the excuse of age while not even 45. Get a grip, man, you guys are not even approaching old and you may have another 20 years of failure ahead of you which hopefully will provide rich material for another book. And you may achieve your ambition of getting your life time average to 7, though with 300 previous games, that will require lots of double figure scores. We’ll give you a game and show you what real oldies can do!

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