The Grade Cricketer: recommended reading

Grade cricketer_bookcoverBased on the cult Twitter account of the same name, “The Grade Cricketer” tells the story of a mythical 30-something Grade cricketer and his club, as he struggles from minor success to failure every Saturday, summer after summer.

As you can probably imagine, I’ve read a lot of cricket books in my time… a lot of them. But here is a book I wanted to write about especially, as it really stood out for me. “The Grade Cricketer” is unique for two reasons. Firstly, because it unmasks the often forgotten engine room of Australian cricket, known to those that play it, simply as “Grade.” Secondly, because it dances a cheeky and at times crude jig in the face of the new, highly-marketed image of Aussie cricket. Let me explain what I’m getting at…

Since they began around the turn of last century, Australia’s Grade Cricket competitions have been the breeding ground for most top cricketers in the country’s various state capitals. This is where Australia’s players sharpened their teeth, where the first step is made towards the Baggy Green. From Sir Donald Bradman to Steve Waugh to Michael Clarke, anyone who is anyone in Aussie cricket has gone through this baptism of fire.

Countless foreign players have headed to Australia for ‘a bit of Grade’ in the off-season, only to head home licking their wounds as they struggled with the severity of competition. Still, despite this level of infamy, the number of books written on Grade Cricket that really make it to the mainstream have been few and far between.

But if you were expecting an epic documentary here, steeped in rich history and tales featuring the biggest names of the sport, you’d be disappointed in this book. Instead, here, Grade Cricket is portrayed in a humorous, but brutally honest light. This is a place where one’s physical dominance or ‘alpha status’ is key, and where interactions between players are brief at best – and downright nasty at worst. And that’s just with members of your own team.

The book is confronting at times – not just through the crude language used by its protagonists – but also through the sexism and chauvinistic attitudes on show. But, this is an issue that still plagues the competition today and the authors do little to shy away from it.

Still, the sheer silliness of it all – where the reader often ends up wondering how grown adults could ever act in such a childish way – is laugh-out-loud funny. Be it the long description of how to properly execute a really masculine handshake or teammate Nuggsy’s in-depth analysis of a Grade club’s typical – but complex – social heirarchy, the authors have an uncanny knack of hitting the nail right on the head.

The book is written as a faux-autobiography, by David Edwards, Sam Perry and Ian Higgins. The trio’s Twitter account (@gradecricketer) has already got them hero status in Australian cricket circles, with witty one-liners like: “I couldn’t tell you what colour my girlfriend’s eyes are but I’ll never forget that one glorious cover drive I hit in 2006” or “Things that make me happiest: family, friends, opposition overthrows.”

In contrast, the book delves a little deeper and explores the insecurities of being an (almost) top level cricketer Down Under. As the book goes on, our strangely likable protagonist regularly catches himself wondering whether life may be slipping him by, as he spends half of the weekend on almost empty cricket fields in the middle of nowhere. The focus here is the slow realisation that a promising junior cricket upbringing, is now giving way to a very average cricket career.

But even with the sense of foreboding, it’s easy reading. Edwards, Perry and Higgins regularly break the somber mood with forays into wonderful tale-telling. The description of the central protagonist and his dad absolutely destroying a Christmas lunch with a cricketing showdown that spirals out of control, has to be read to be believed.

This book isn’t just a chance to poke fun at the macho world of Australian cricket though. It also comes with a lesson for cricketing tragics everywhere: make sure enjoy the game, stay true to yourself and play for the right reasons. That is a truly international theme, which cricketers should be able to understand wherever they play.

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