“God what an outfield” he says. “What a left field” He looks up at me and I look down at him. “This must be heaven” he says. “No, it’s Iowa” (W.P. Kinsella – Shoeless Joe)

It is still early April, but the County Championship is into its first round of games. Last week the ICC accredited a ground in Spain for ODI games which in theory means that European teams could be playing for 12 months of the year. Covid still haunts us but there is a glimmer of light. It is cold, properly cold, but the sun is shining and that is enough to make us think of cricket.

If you are lucky enough to be close enough to your local club and stay within the travel limit, I am willing to put a small wager that you have dropped in “just to see how it looks”. All over social media these days groundsmen are posting pictures of their outfield and squares, beautiful lines and shading. Photos appear of work parties painting and cleaning the facilities, sprucing up the club as the season gets ever closer. The draw of a cricket ground is universal and crosses all ages. All over the cricket world, cricketers wander out to the middle wicket and essay a beautiful cover drive, the likes of which they are unlikely to be able to replicate in mid July with a 5 ½ oz ball winging its way to them, but never mind, the dream is allowed in April. Followed inevitably, by a roar from the groundsman’s hut telling you to get off the square. Do bowlers dream of the perfect ball before the season begins? I certainly hope so; it would be disappointing if the game only produces delusional batsmen.

There are no spectators allowed at the County Championship but there is a YouTube channel which is covering all the games. With some Irish interest, it has been a nice distraction. One wonders just how cold it must be at these games, in such places as Durham or Leeds where at the time of writing snow has stopped play. Early season games can be a trial, both player and spectator, in all honesty. But let’s face it, you would rather be there than anywhere else. Instead of heading to the sunny spots of the ground, your seating position is more likely based on whether you can hide from the Easterly wind blowing in off the Bull Island. Conversations left off in September are picked up immediately and while the result might not matter, you will hang on for as long as you can still feel your hands and toes. Prepare well for the early season, spectators as well as players.

If the opening quotation seems familiar it might be that you have seen the film Field of Dreams for that film was based on Bill Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, from which the lines are borrowed. If you want to be really pedantic that novel was based on the earlier short story, Shoeless Joe comes to Iowa. Kinsella was a Canadian writer who was probably best known for his baseball fiction. Many of the obsessions closely associated with baseball also are found in cricket and Kinsella captures them beautifully. None more so than the beauty and mystic of the ball park and yet he could be writing about a cricket ground too. Karl McDermott (right) once of Clontarf and now of Kensington used to describe Castle Avenue as his “field of dreams” and I fancy that amongst his profession, he is not alone in that thinking, every groundsman takes enormous pride in their own patch of green. Of course, Karl now is custodian of world cricket’s field of dreams and what a story that is.

This Easter holiday, I have had genuine cause to break my 5km limit (Leaving Cert actually, no not me) and in doing so I passed along Claremont Road and the “For Sale” that haunts that thoroughfare at present. It is impossible to see the sign and not wonder at the emotions the members of YMCA CC must be feeling as they walk onto their hallowed turf in what may be their final season at the ground. We all hope that this story has not yet finished and that the ending will be a happy one.

For all the writing that exists on cricket there seems to be little cricket fiction of any great consequence. PG Wodehouse of course wove cricket into his work and Hugh De Selincourt’s The Cricket Match is a gentle reminder of a bygone era. More recently, Joseph O’Neill’s brilliant Netherland details the hidden cricket world in New York. O’Neill himself was a cricketer who represented Holland at the 1983 International Youth Tournament in The Hague while his younger brother David played for Trinity CC and North Leinster while studying at Dublin University.

That other great Trinity man Ger Siggins has an element of cricket in his Sports Academy series and maybe it is time for his rugby playing character Eoin Madden to discover that cricket has a long history in his native county. Of course, cricket has a walk on part in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but is there any other cricket fiction with an Irish context? I know Peter Prendergast’s protagonist in his novel When Kindness Fails finds an unorthodox use for a cricket stump but that’s not really what I mean.

For something that we, Irish, as a society spend so much time obsessing about, sport seems to play a relatively minor role in our fiction world. Admittedly, football is a regular device used to entice young boys into reading but does it appear much in adult fiction? I can think of Sam Hanna Bell’s The Hollow Ball who uses the game to tell the story of Belfast in the 1930s. Perhaps there is more and I am happy to be pointed in those directions. All recommendations welcome, though I hope to have less time to read as we head into the 2021 season.

Footnote: the title of this article is another WP Kinsella short story set during a player’s strike in which baseball fans enter a baseball park, unbeknown to the management, at night and replace the Astroturf surface with real grass …a man after my own heart.