Sherlock Holmes at the 1902 Fifth Test
WH Allen, London, 1985
(price: £8.95; 160 pages)
The blurb on the back:
'Cricket is a mystery to me,' said Sherlock Holmes. 'It is one of the few kinds of mystery with which I have never been inclined to concern myself.' Until now...
History records that Wednesday the 13th of August 1902 was one of English cricket's most glorious days, when England recovered from a disastrous position against the Australians in the Oval Test Match and snatched victory from the very jaws of defeat. However, history does not record that without Sherlock Holmes this sporting triumph would not have been possible. But for the intervention of the Great Detective there would have been no match-winning last wicket partnership between George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes - for Rhodes himself was not at the Oval on the day in question.
Where was the celebrated Yorkshire all-rounder? Who was responsible for the cryptic note that raised fears for his life? And how did an unknown Australian render a service to English cricket that has remained an international secret for over three-quarters of a century?
The answers are elementary...
Bit of an oddity, this one. Watson is away on his honeymoon and the story is told instead by a 23-year-old Australian named John Fairhurst, who has just landed in Britain, hoping to catch the last Test Match in the Ashes Series. Unfortunately his ship has been delayed and he's missed the first two days' play already (Tests were three-day affairs at the time). Even more unfortunately, he's hit by a cab as he crosses the road to buy a newspaper.
Turns out, however, that the cab is occupied by Sherlock Holmes, who takes Fairhurst back to Baker Street to recuperate. It's while he's there that the news comes through that the great Yorkshire all-rounder Wilfred Rhodes has gone missing from his hotel.
The problems with this book are (a) that the story is dull and inadequate, and (b) that Shaw doesn't get the tone of Holmes right at all. Try him on cricketers, for example:
'The skills they acquire - and really, you can acquire a high degree of skill at whittling a stick if you do it every day of the year - the skills they acquire must remain forever unrelated to real life. There is more urgent business to be conducted in life than strutting about in white suits. No, no, no - we shall never agree on this. Watson and I could never agree on it. I could see some sense in it if a man found himself - like the hero chap in Homer - what's his name? - being bombarded with rocks by a giant and had to use keen eyesight and agile footwork to save himself from being brained.' (p.25)
Doesn't really sound like Holmes, does it?
On the other hand, Shaw deserves some credit for pointing out that, given Conan Doyle's love of and prowess at cricket (he once bowled out WG Grace, you know), it's odd that there's no mention of it in the canon. An extra pipe for effort, but it's really just for completists, this one.