Cricketers and cricket commentators will soon be thumbing through the index of what must be the most unusual book on the sport to be published.
Cricket’s Craziest Teams features over 800 genuine international players selected for teams picked according to the absurd criteria of their names.
It’s the brainchild of writer, Mark Slattery, who says: “I grew up watching my dad play cricket every Saturday, and scoring for his team. I also grew up listening to BBC Test Match Special and love the warmth and humour of the sport. After years of being bombarded by Botham not quite getting his leg over, and the bowler Holding the batsman’s Willey, I thought there must be something pleasing in the poetry of names.”
Hence, the book’s 50 teams collect together properly balanced sides with players whose names are based on birds, trees, the landscape, restaurant terms, age and youth, numbers, motoring, and many other equally irrelevant criteria.
“We all love to play selector. That’s why fantasy cricket has been so popular. I even worked with the man who won the Telegraph’s fantasy cricket and the prize was many thousands of pounds so popular was the appeal.
“But I am the Monty Python of selectors. I can justify my selections with absurd reasoning, such as choosing my Birding XI according to plumage, not talent.”
The book features most of the commentary teams, with some lines thrown in for the likes of Rob Key and Mike Atherton and their colleagues.
“I remember when Phil Salt made it into the England squad, David Lloyd could hardly contain himself. Social media exploded. I was in there too, offering Salt my condiments.
“Each team has a match reporter so I’m able to get Nasser in, Bumble, plus stalwarts like John Stern (former Wisden editor), John Woodcock, Ivo Tennant, and Huw Turberville (editor of the Cricketer).”
Slattery – who lives in Hertfordshire and follows local team Middlesex, is a regular at Lords, Merchant Taylor School and Radlett grounds. He works for the company that built the new Lord’s Members’ stand and before that, the Mound Stand, plus, Headingley Carnegie Pavilion.
He has written for the cricket joke book (“I produced the line: ‘Have you heard about the cricketer whose answerphone insisted he was not out?’”) and written unique statistical features for the Cricketer.
He says combining the two is the way to a nerd’s heart. “The fact is, you can make jokes about names, but this is a book about cricket, and all the facts have to be correct: the initials, the career summaries, the stats.
There are rules. Each team has to be a properly balanced side with players in the same roles they had in real life. Each player can only appear in one team. All players must be internationally capped.
“Cricket audiences demand attention to detail and authenticity before they will politely snort or chuckle. And by God, with the help of Closey and a few others, I intend to make them chuckle.”
Joe Root finds himself in the Trees XI, alongside recent India coach Ravi Shastri; Rory Burns is in the Illnesses and Ailments XI which also stars the man who was to captain Australia – wicket keeper Tim Paine.
At long last, the well-known trio of Lillee, Willey and Dilley, who combined in a classic dismissal in 1979, can take the field together alongside other rhyming names like Stokes, Foakes and Woakes. Aaron Finch appears in the Birding XI.
Jos Buttler is part of a Fine Dining XI, where he combines with Jack Hobbs, Richard Spooner, and Graeme Cremer. (“They will feed nicely off each other.”) Other teams are made up of body parts, animals, construction and tradesmen, players whose names are counties, landscapes, macho, numerical, dogs, cars, or even drinks.
One team Slattery says he is pleased with is his Festive XI. “This is really a quirky gift book, so I thought a team based around Christmas would be fun to try. I managed to get players like Jacques Rudolph from South Africa into that, with Kenny Carroll from Ireland, you don’t want him turning up on your doorstep, plus there’s Kiwi spin bowler Paul Wiseman. I’ve been following him on Facebook but he mainly goes East. I’ve got some women’s players too. There was the marvellously named England women’s ‘keeper Betty Snowball. Imagine her chances of selection. But how could I leave her out?”
Rory Burns and Moeen Ali appear on the cover – as cartoons – Burns putting out a fire with a hose while Moeen is mowing the lawn for the Gardening XI.
“I’m hoping Rory and Moeen will get to see the fantastic cartoons of themselves, drawn by a former Cambridgeshire cricketer called Patrick Latham who has worked for the Barmy Army. He also drew a brilliant one of Pakistani cricket boss Ramiz Raja as an actual ram. My other cartoonist is American, and knew nothing about cricket. He found it all very strange, but I felt that brought a touch of even greater absurdity to the book. His cartoons are just hilarious.”
Slattery says the recent choice of Travis Head to bat in Australia’s middle order jogged a memory. “Chris Woakes got him out LBW in the last Ashes and the headline read: ‘Woakes Traps Head.’ I thought he’d had an horrific injury.”
Cricket’s Craziest Teams is now available from Amazon.