Today’s post brought a book from England. My long-suffering wife smiled and inquired politely about it, knowing full well that it would be another book about cricket. More specifically, about players and officials, from anywhere on earth, who have had some fame or infamy in that great game that is a passion for so many of us.
Not a new book, a first-edition published in 1988, it could probably be bought for just a few dollars at any bookshop. But this one is different. It was signed by the subject of the book, Imran Khan. I know that I will enjoy reading through the 200-odd pages and that I will gain some new understanding about the player, the games he played and the period that he played in.
Then I will carefully store it away with the more than 350 other signed first-editions that I have collected over the years. Some are recent, about players and officials who are either still involved in or have recently retired from the game. But many are about great names from past eras dating back to the late 1920’s.
One of my sons once asked me why I bother getting signed editions. He suggested that it must be for some financial advantage if and when I ever sell them (not that there is much likelihood of that happening). There might be a hint of that in my reasoning (or at least in my trying to explain to my wife and family why I keep buying signed cricket biographies), but that is not the real reason why.
When I am holding the books, looking at those signatures (the older ones often in beautiful script in ink, the newer ones often showing poorer penmanship), I get a real feeling of wonder. I am holding books that were actually held and signed by some of the greatest names in cricket. In some very small and obscure way I am able to have a connection with those wonderful characters who contributed so much to the pleasure of so many.
As a friend once pointed out, nowadays it seems that almost everyone who has played test cricket writes or has at least one book written about them. Despite this, most provide a different understanding about the individuals and the games they played, than we cricket fans and fanatics are otherwise privy to. Cricket biographies from earlier eras tended to be fewer in number and mainly about the top champions of their times. These are the names of legendary feats and enduring fame: players who were widely idolised by their countrymen and respected by their opposition players and supporters.
I never cease to be amazed at how each new book provides some new perspectives about the players, the games and the times they were played in. As well as test-level players, I also enjoy reading biographies about some of the officials who helped shape the game — the umpires and senior administrators who have often been under-appreciated.
Signed biographies about cricketers from Australia, New Zealand and England are relatively easy to locate. Those from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the West Indies are more difficult to get. Despite this, I keep searching in the hope that I will come across biographies of players and officials who are not yet in my library.
I don’t see any problems or obstacles with my ongoing passion for this collection, apart from the prices that are now being asked for some of the more difficult to obtain or rarer signed editions. I treasure each and every book that I own – not for their financial value but for thrill of knowing who touched them and for the ever growing insights into the game that I love so dearly.
What will eventually happen to my collection? If none of my sons want to take them on, they will get donated to a cricket association where they may be appreciated by like-minded cricket fans and fanatics.