It wasn’t the Oval
- My Father’s Fortune: A Life by Michael Frayn
Faber, 255 pp, £16.99, September 2010, ISBN 978 0 571 27058 3
Why is cricket so appealing to playwrights – English and Irish ones anyway? Samuel Beckett represented his university against Northants. Harold Pinter, who wrote wistfully of seeing Len Hutton in his prime, captained a team called the Gaieties XI. Simon Gray, David Hare and Ronald Harwood are or were known to be keen on the game, too. And Tom Stoppard, another follower, has a striking set-piece in The Real Thing in which a playwright, explaining dramatic technique, says: ‘What we’re trying to do is to write cricket bats.’ If Tom Frayn had had his way, his son, Michael, would have joined this company of enthusiasts or, better still, have opened the batting for England at the Oval. Many hours were spent on back-garden coaching but the boy proved a serious disappointment. Looking back, seven decades later, he blames the ‘mangy tennis ball’ they used and the ‘feeble mockery of a bat’, too short and frail even for a five-year-old. But the essential problem seems to have been ineptitude: at school, whatever the sport, Frayn – weedy and bespectacled – was always last but one to be picked. His only success came with rounders, a ‘girlish alternative to the manly carnage’, when he amassed an impressive score once during a school lunch break. But rounders isn’t cricket and his father wasn’t there to see.