English-cricket enthusiast extraordinaire Emma John: sui generis, product of a together if not altogether supportive home (author photo: copyright Justin John Doherty)
A mere 48 hours away at this writing is the 75th anniversary of the start of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. How the Yankee Clipper came to accomplish it puzzles the will. I have no intention of soliloquizing: What more need I or anyone say? I want to talk about cricket, English cricket, when Joe D.’s streak was being celebrated during its golden anniversary, and about some memorable writing on the subject.
I was treated to a book by my long-ago CCNY mentors, now permanently residing in the UK. In Following On, journalist Emma John writes with sly humor and wisdom about her teenage obsession with cricket: specifically, English cricket during its early 1990s nadir.
My co-writer Martin Rowe is a half-generation removed from John: a fellow-traveling sufferer; the age-difference inconsequential. Among the many joys of treating him to his first baseball game mid-’90s style at the old Yankee Stadium, was observing him virtually revel in the atmosphere of a rejuvenated franchise. Like Martin and John, I had endured several not merely fallow seasons with the New York Yankees (the 1980s), but the putrid period of my Wonder Years: 1965 into the 1970s, when winning was a novelty.
I much recommend John’s book to baseball fans. You need know nothing about her sport to get it as she recalls, for example, days-long countdowns to TMS. John slices to the heart of fandom: Why do we feel ourselves inside the bones of these athletes who don’t have a clue regarding our existence? (What is he to Hecuba? someone asks.) From the topsy-turvy clutter of root-root-rooting we reach up to the Promised Land of the championship, with our team in tow—not the other way round. At forty, John finds that golden time in her life also a wonder.
John writes with the authority of a perfectly placed comma. Here are the men who brought respectability first, then pride back to the UK-cricket scene: Gooch, Alec Stewart, Tufnell, Ramprakash, Crawley, Jack Russell, others. Her hero, Michael Atherton—flying over and thro all the words, he might as well be Joe D. himself—is held back till he presents….(For the reader never finishes John’s sentences before she does, and in homage I stop thus: also, no spoilers here.)
John’s clear-sighted observations of her adolescent heroes and a few villains are apposite: “Thanks to the miracle of human optimism, each new failure remained both surprising and disappointing. Growing up, I had been taught I was capable of anything; becoming a grown-up meant learning I wasn’t.” Mentors and mentors….