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Fatty Batter

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Post-"Fever Pitch" memoirs by amateur sports fans and players are getting to be quite a substantial genre and not restricted to football. Cricket, with its arcane and complex rules, eccentricities and associations has produced several fine examples such as Marcus Berkmann's "Rain Men" (featuring this website's esteemed creator in its cast) and the late Harry Thompson's "Penguins Stopped Play". However, Michael Simkins' "Fatty Batter: How Cricket Saved My Life then Ruined It" was nominated for the Costa Biography Award in 2007, suggesting it might be one of the best examples of its kind.


Simkins, an actor by trade, does everything right. The son of Brighton confectioners, he naturally develops an addiction to sweets at an early age and we first meet him as a rotund 10 year old in the mid-1960s. Being the languorous sport that it is, cricketers can be on the large side for sportsmen and Simkins is first attracted to the game upon seeing the swashbuckling yet portly England batsman Colin Milburn in a televised Test match. The flames of his nascent addiction are fanned by his Jack Hobbs-adoring father and by the discovery through a school friend of the dice game "Howzat!" a forerunner of the kind of fantasy games so popular today, which he becomes so obsessed by it almost ruins his education.


Simkins is determined to become a cricketer and so sheds weight but, like the authors of many books in this genre, discovers he has little aptitude for the game, with his bowling action in particular being a source of much derision. Nevertheless, he eventually forms his own team, Harry Baldwin's XI (Baldwin being a luxuriantly moustachioed and tubby Victorian cricketer), which he turns out for most weekends for more than 15 years and assorted match reports form more than a third of the book. Some are almost catastrophic, such as the match which results in him missing his wedding anniversary dinner, and some sublime, like the one in which he scores his one and only century, or when the director Sam Mendes, a very talented cricketer, turns out for the Baldwins and his partner, Kate Winslet, charms all concerned out of a potentially sticky situation.


All this is related with a comic charm but Simkins also handles more serious events very sensitively, particularly his mother's declining health and eventual death and it is perhaps this element which sets "Fatty Batter" apart from the pack.

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