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For eight decades, a group of major London-based writers regularly got together to play cricket. The longevity and significance of this phenomenon has never before been commented upon, let alone studied. These writers’ love of cricket is usually characterised as a whimsical footnote in their lives. But by putting their cricket centre-stage and treating their “literary” matches as a cultural ritual, we can view these writers and their context in a new light. The network linked enduringly popular writers such as J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G. Wodehouse, A.A. Milne, Siegfried Sassoon and Michael Morpurgo: what was it that they all gained by participating? 

Cricket had immense symbolic power, as well as practical networking advantages for its players. By choosing to take part in a literary-themed cricket team, each writer was making a cultural statement about their attitude to society, literature and Englishness. This was true even though the precise things that cricket was signifying changed over time. Cricket also served a useful, heavily gendered, role in gatekeeping within the literary world. Even today, bringing up cricket in a group setting will immediately create an in-group and an out-group. This project, it could be said, is about cricket for historians who don’t care about cricket. 

This cricket circuit had identifiable effects on these men’s lives and careers. Viewing the players through the prism of cricket also brings fresh insights to familiar literary figures. And a study of literary cricket offers a fascinating case study for the ways in which society changed, and insider networking stayed the same, over eight decades. I use aspects of social history (examining these men’s memoirs and letters) and literary history (examining their published output) in order to underpin my work in the field of cultural history. By answering the question of why cricket held a unique attraction for London’s literary scene, I hope to illuminate the way these writers thought and behaved. In order to consider them in the round, we have to re-integrate their leisure activities with their intellectual endeavours. Cricket had a major role to play in both. 

Ollie Randall studied Ancient and Modern History before completing a Master's degree in Creative Writing, both at the Queen’s College, Oxford. He then worked for four years as the freelance historical researcher for a former leader of the House of Lords, collaborating on two history books – William Simpson and the Crisis in Central Asia (2020) and Bobbety (forthcoming). Ollie has written articles for several publications including the Times Literary Supplement and Christie’s. He also works as a tour manager on cultural tours, and he moonlights as a cartoonist at weddings. He started his PhD project in 2022.

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