Book Review: Michael Simkins “Fatty Batter”

fatty batter Fatty Batter: How Cricket Saved My Life (Then Ruined It)

Is there any sport which divides people as much as cricket? There are those who don’t understand it and don’t care; then there are those who do understand it and still don’t care; and then there are those who see the whole of life through leather-on-willow coloured spectacles. Cricket is not just a game, it’s the Ultimate Metaphor. A friend of mine told me the problem with the Middle East peace process is that everyone’s bowling left arm over the wicket. So that’s that sorted then. He recently got divorced, or, as he put it, he recently “declared on 17 for 2”. That’s 17 years and two children. It’s a miracle his wife has never gave him a taste of his own medicine and hit him for 6 (months in intensive care).

Cricket brings out the Dan Brown in certain Englishman (and we’re talking mostly the English and mostly men). It’s the Knights Templar of competitive sports – there’s the esoteric language which doesn’t quite make sense to the uninitiated (“silly mid-on”, “lbw”, “an England victory”), the mysterious numerology (4 for 32),  the immensely powerful secret names bestowed upon its members (“Johnners”, “Athers”, “Boycs”). No wonder freemasonry never really took hold in England. Who needs to roll up a trouser-leg when you can take off a jumper and give it to some bloke to wrap round his middle over 6 or 7 other jumpers?

Michael Simkins’ book is an entertaining example of the Nick Hornby fat-lad-chosen-last-for-the-football-team genre of autobiography (NevergotpickedLit?), only for “football” read “cricket” and for “fat lad” read “obese ahead of his time” (his parents owned a sweet shop). The books saving grace (W.G?) is that Simkins (nom de cricket: Simmo) may be an average to poor cricketer, but when it comes to wit and telling a good anecdote, he’s as sprightly as Gary Sobers in his prime (was Sobers sprightly? – I’m not sure, but you get the point).

Young Simmo was inspired to take up his bat when he saw Colin Milburn on the telly, one in a long line of England cricketers who were undoubtedly sportsmen but whose waistlines challenge you to describe them as athletes. That, plus the fact that it’s easy for anyone with a full set of teeth and a working upper palate to make the sound of a cricket ball hitting a bat (usually accompanied with an appropriate mime, the air bat being as accessible as the air guitar to the English public schoolboy).

We follow his obsession into adulthood where he runs a Sunday team of similarly devoted nutters. The anecdotes and quirky characters hurtle down at you like yorkers bowled by a fast bowler that I’m not quite knowledgeable enough to name, but, like other good examples of the genre, the book isn’t really about cricket. Set against an English idyll that’s fading away (now more Abi Titmuss than Fred Titmuss as Simmo puts it), it’s more about men and how they deal with lives that didn’t quite turn out how they dreamt they would through a combination of back-slapping camaraderie, drink, nicknames and jokes (Doctor, Doctor! My wife’s swallowed a cricket ball! – What?! How’s that? – Don’t you start!). An entertaining read indeed, or as my recently divorced friend might say, Enjoyment wins by an innings and 79 runs.

This article first appeared in The Sunday Times.

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