BOOK REVIEW: Third Man in Havana
IF TOM Rodwell was not as bent on cracking the corniest jokes — the title of Third Man in Havana: Finding the Heart of Cricket in the World’s Most Unlikely Places is the best of them by far — and had put more effort into getting his facts straight and finding a decent editor, he would have produced a far better work, or at least one that will not be remembered for being irritating.
The subject matter is admirable. A bunch of philanthropic Poms and assorted others spend a good deal of their time and whatever funding they can secure to spread the cricket gospel in places as incongruous as Panama and Israel. Often, the players they work with are disabled or new to the game, or are from a cricket-playing country but are too poor to play what is an expensive sport.
So this is not a story about the exploits of famous players, although West Indian great Courtney Walsh wrote the foreword and was involved in the project’s work. Instead, it tells how people who have the means to bring some happiness into the lives of others can have a lot of rewarding fun doing so.
All good. Then the first clanger hits: "Cuban bats are highly prized even in the American NBA…".
Why would players in the National Basketball Association need bats? Try the MLB — that’s Major League Baseball.
Or this: Ken Livingstone’s "love for sport, in this case cricket", is highlighted. On the next page, we learn that "Ken is not a renowned sports lover".
During a coaching session with children in a Bedouin village in Israel, "there were a few dodgy bowling actions, certainly, but nothing as dodgy as Muralitharan and Malinga…". Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action was the focus of much suspicion but it was cleared by the International Cricket Council and he is celebrated as Test cricket’s record wicket-taker. Lasith Malinga’s action is unusual, but he bowls with a dead straight arm slung from above, albeit marginally, his shoulder. That means there is nothing remotely dodgy about his bowling action. And so on.
Rodwell’s dodgy writing could be overlooked if it didn’t have a smug flippancy he could blame on his background in advertising. But there is no excuse for getting it wrong so obviously and so often. He also has a worrying tendency to note the race of someone only if they are black. All of which detracts from a worthy tale of how people who do not possess anything and have nothing more than an ordinary talent for playing cricket are nonetheless able to do the game a great service.
This review is being written in the press box at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, on the first day of South Africa’s match against Kent. All around this gracious place, men and women who would probably have a great deal in common with Rodwell are keeping a more knowledgeable eye on the game than would be the case at many other venues. It is teatime, and close to where these typing fingers are working, a slice of apricot and almond cake waits as a reward. Nothing could be more civilised, as Rodwell and his chums would no doubt agree. They would do cricket a favour if they stuck to loving it and refrained from writing about it erroneously.
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