The match between the Authors and Publishers has been played for over 100 years, first at Lord’s and then at Vincent Square. In the 1950s, the Authors turned up with a side packed full of ringers to play the National Book League. Australian test legends Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller opened the bowling for the Authors, with Denis Compton at third slip. Richie Benaud, Len Hutton and Douglas Jardine also played, with the likes of Edmund Blunden, Neville Cardus and EW Swanton making up the numbers. More recently it has been played at Dulwich College, which has a fine literary pedigree of its own. PG Wodehouse turned out for the First XI, though the likes of Raymond Chandler, Graham Swift and Michael Ondaatje did not trouble the selectors and Dennis Wheatley was expelled for early investigations into the occult.
The Authors’ 2019 line up had no Satanists, nor former Test stars. The science writer and broadcaster Adam Rutherford was making his debut and took the gloves. And we had the World Cup to thank for the presence of John Sutton and Digvijay Kathiwada, over from Australia and India respectively. On a beautiful day, the Dulwich First XI pitch looked a better track than any England have seen recently and the Publishers’ wily captain Richard Beswick won the toss and chose to bat. What followed wasn’t pretty for the Authors.
The Publishers’ scorecard could be seen as a reflection of the book industry today, in which one superlead title sweeps all before it, getting seven-figure advances and every penny of the marketing budget. In cricketing terms, I can tell you that their opening batsman Jack Baverstock (from the Hachette special sales team) made 163* in 109 balls, out of a total of 207. Two other batsmen made 13, three were dismissed in single figures and five didn’t bat. Jack took a particular liking to our seamers, driving them straight, hard and often. When he did offer a chance he responded by hitting the next ball for six.
The Authors needed 208 in 35 overs and some Wheatley-style sorcery was required. Richard Beard settled in for another long stay at the crease but at the other end Tony McGowan played around a straight one and Matt Thacker was uncharacteristically quiet. Diggy and Sebastian Faulks struck some fine shots but then the horror started. Literary agent James Gill has played every recent Publishers game, mutating from a fine left-arm quick into every batsman’s nightmare – the lob bowler from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Story of Spedegue’s Dropper. Jim tossed them up, higher and higher, luring our batsmen down the wicket and to their doom. He took a sharp catch to dismiss Sebastian, then enticed Adam to hit his own wicket and had Ben Falk stumped. A couple of terrific catches in the deep by Jack (who else?) and Jim had his five wickets. Our chase was over. Tom Holland appealed in vain for the Society of Authors to intervene. But once again, writers had to content themselves with crumbs from the publishers’ table. It was a joyful day of cricket, however, and the first of four terrific games at Dulwich this summer.
Publishers 207 for 4; Authors 141 all out. Publishers win by 66 runs.
Rathbones moment: Sebastian Faulks’s front-foot pull for four