First published in 1964, The Ladybird children’s book, The Story of Cricket, was, as it would be for many boys of my age, my first exposure to the history of the game. The Ladybird format was well established and very successful; a page of text would be faced by an illustration bringing the theme of the page to life. The pictures were lively and cheerful, and left the reader with a powerful visual memory. Impressively, out of twenty three pairs of pages, no less than ten are devoted to the very early history of the game. Women’s cricket also gets a feature in relation to the modern game.
The stories told reflects the traditional understanding of the game’s history, however many of the episodes described have since been partially debunked and are sometimes regarded as popular myths. That however should not detract too much from an overall appreciation of an appealing and uniquely influential contribution to the literature of cricket.
I can’t resist this little aside. On 8 July 1976, John Edrich and Brian Close, both survivors from another age, opened the batting against the West Indies at Old Trafford and, to say the least, struggled against extremely fast short-pitched bowling. In the second innings, Close (wearing what looked like an office shirt) made 20 off 108 balls and got hit about 20 times.
A not-so-kindly spectator ran out onto the field and gave Edrich a wider bat, perhaps inspired by the Ladybird illustration.
Neither Close not Edrich ever played for England again. Two fine players, among the best cricketers of their era. My father was a great fan of John Edrich – and they died on the same day – 23 December 2020. RIP.
The book’s importance was recognised by MCC in 2015 when it was the subject of an exhibition on the Lord’s Museum.