The stereotypical image of the writer – or any intellectual, for that matter – is of the retiring, unathletic figure. This idea is not a new one, and it must have goaded enough writers into putting down their pens momentarily, to pick up their bats, balls and wicket stumps to form the Authors cricket team in 1891. The team had such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, and PG Wodehouse, to name some. After the First World War, the original team evolved, losing some old players, picking up new ones, and so it has been since.
At present, the torch is being proudly carried by Charlie Campbell, literary agent and captain of the Authors Cricket Club. He has led this team of writers in over 130 games, and they have faced the Rajasthan Royals, the Vatican and the national team of Japan along the way. Their book, The Authors XI: A Season of English Cricket from Hackney to Hambledon, was shortlisted for the Cricket Society MCC Book of the Year Award. Campbell was present, along with team-mates Anthony McGowan, Alex Preston, and Richard Beard in a light-hearted, interactive panel titled “Of Googlies and Chinaman”, moderated by Khademul Islam.
The discussion kicked off with a general discussion about the recent cricket matches between England and Bangladesh, and Alex Preston garnered hoots and cheers when he declared “Never have I ever cheered as hard as I did for a team in a match against England.” To which Anthony McGowan, author of two literary thrillers and a slew of books for young adults, quipped “You're such a suckup, Alex!” This of course prompted a series of digs about McGowan's game, with Charlie Campbell and Richard Beard ganging up with Preston to provide anecdotes.
The rest of the panel continued in a similar vein, peppered with hilarious anecdotes about the team's travels around the world and their matches (and spectacular losses!) against the unlikeliest opponents. One such story worth mentioning was their match in the Vatican. “Two of our players met the Pope, who was minding his own business, expecting us to talk about religion, and suddenly he's got two cricketers giving him a cricket cap” said Campbell. Apparently, the Authors lost that match. “It was the only game where we were beaten and then forced to pray with our conquerers. That hasn't happened in a while” he added.
Themes such as sports writing, and how the nature of the cricket – with its nail-biting moments and moments of mind-numbing boredom, is beneficial for the writers, were explored. Many of the questions from the audience centered around sledging, and the answers, mirthful as they were provided some insight on the egos, insecurities and emotions of the writers. There was also some musing on the role of cricket in alleviating political tension, and building communication between teams and nations.
This wonderful, fun-filled session ended on a positive note, with the team expressing their wish to return to Bangladesh for an opportunity to play with our league teams, to explore places like Chittagong and the Sundarbans, and certainly to attend more literary festivals.