Neville Cardus was born in Manchester in 1888, the illegitimate son of a woman described as a ‘genteel prostitute’; hardly the auspicious birth for a man who became renown around the world for his wonderful skill with words. Cardus wrote a number of books and anthologies, primarily on his two loves of cricket and music. The first book of his that I read was ‘The Summer Game’, and probably cause it was my first experience with Cardus, it remains my favourite.
Cardus only went to school until the age of 13, then leaving to take up employment as a clerk. He read widely and was attracted to writing about both cricket and music from an early age. Cardus was first able to write for a living when he started work with the newspaper the Daily Citizen, however, his skills with the pen meant he moved onto bigger and better things with the Manchester Guardian.
The Summer Game was written in 1929, and like all of Cardus’ work, features wonderful prose. He obviously knew the game well, and had great knowledge of the actual players. However, it was his skill to bring the game to life that separated him from so many other writers. Cardus was a great analyst, and could dissect a day’s play, but he could also highlight the frivolous parts of the match to counterbalance too much seriousness. ‘The Summer Game’ contains a wonderful variety of stories. It touches upon the great players of Cardus’s past such as W.G. Grace and Victor Trumper, as well as more contemporary cricketers including Wilfred Rhodes, Ted McDonald and Jack Hobbes. One of my favourite parts of the book is semi-autobiographical, with Cardus examining his time working as the Assistant Cricket Coach at Shrewsbury School in Shropshire around 1912.
The great commentator, John Arlott, summed up his views on both Cardus and ‘The Summer Game’ with this quote;
"I owe almost everything to Neville," he said. "I remember reading 'The Summer Game' when I was in my teens. Suddenly, my eyes were opened to this semi-mythology of cricketers and always said to Neville that any success I had was due to the imaginative stimulus he gave me.”
Cardus wrote a number of other cricket books (such as Days in the Sun) that are justifiably remembered as classics of the genre. However, ‘The Summer Game’ remains my favourite, and is one that I re-read every now and again just to sample Cardus’ magical way with words. Perhaps one of the greatest tributes comes from Gideon Haigh, probably the best current writer on the game, who used Cardus's title for one of his own books. Highly recommended – it can be found in second hand bookshops if you search hard enough.