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Masterful piece of writing,
This review is from: The Real Jeeves: The Cricketer Who Gave His Life for His Country and His Name to a Legend (Kindle Edition)
Few cricketers have been afforded the honour of a biography after a career that encompassed a mere two seasons of first-class cricket and only fifty matches. Percy Jeeves is far from a household name among cricket followers, although that surname, appropriated by PG Wodehouse after seeing him in action at Cheltenham in 1913, is of far greater literary fame.
Having said that, Jeeves' story is one that thoroughly deserved to be told and it is apposite that I am reviewing it on Armistice Sunday, the player having lost his life in the carnage of the Western Front on 22 July, 1916. Only two years earlier, he was starring for Warwickshire after being overlooked by his native Yorkshire and was making a great impression on the English county cricket scene.
In those fifty first-class games, he played several hard-hitting innings and made 1200 runs, although his average of just sixteen was perhaps not a true reflection of his talent. He was a fine fielder too, with a good pair of hands and a strong arm, but it was as a bowler that Jeeves looked set to hit the heights.
In those two summers he finished with one short of two hundred wickets at a shade over twenty runs each. Bowling right arm, somewhere between medium and fast, he was probably over-bowled but looked set to be the fulcrum of his side's attack for years to come. He got movement, often extravagant and late, but was very accurate and took many of his wickets through clean bowling batsmen, often when they were well set with a ball that had extra nip.
He was only 26 at the outbreak of war and, having qualified for Warwickshire, doubtless looked forward to a long career. His name was already being mentioned in terms of national selection and his ability to bowl long spells without losing hostility made him hugely popular with the county supporters.
Then came the war and Jeeves, who played his last game for his county in August 1914, volunteered to serve in the October, one of 100,000 men who rushed to enlist in the first weeks of the conflict. They said it would all be over by Christmas, but that was far wider of the mark than any delivery bowled by the player.
After training, he was sent to France and soon, with thousands of others, discovered the true horror of perhaps the worst-ever conflict. Waist-deep liquid mud, rotting corpses, infestations of rats and lice became the daily challenge, along with nights spent under a single damp blanket for 'warmth'. The true horror can only be imagined, but the author does an equally fine job in conveying the daily nightmare as he does in recounting the everyday life of the pre-conflict cricketer.
It is a wonderful book, worth far more than most of the formulaic cricket autobiographies you might pick up on your travels. The author shows a keen eye for detail and the benefit of considerable research that brings the player, his life and times together in a memorable, if ultimately heart-breaking read. A number of the protagonists who flit across its pages died in the same conflict and one is left with a considerable feeling of loss by the end.
Percy Jeeves is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial near the Somme battlefield. His body, like that of many more, was never found as he moved from the cricket field to the Elysian equivalent in a forlorn and hopeless attack on a fortified German position. He died in the attack alongside 231 colleagues of his regiment, a man cut short in his prime like so many others from all walks of life.
Brian Halford's book deserves a wide audience. I'd go as far as to say it NEEDS to be read. Percy Jeeves won plenty of cricket matches for his county, but gave his life for his country.
It was the ultimate sacrifice and the author has made a major contribution to cricket literature with this memorable book, that is deservedly among the contenders for the 2014 Cricket Book of the Year.