The Rules of Backyard Cricket reviewed by Annie

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I am not big on sport, particularly cricket, so the title of this book did not grab me. But the publisher’s blurb had me curious – two sons of a single mother, observations of masculinity and humanity, likening it to Peter Temple’s work. Another young, female reader had reviewed it and felt similarly before reading it but was pleasantly surprised.

To Darren, older brother Wally was ‘my idol, and yet my inverse in all respects other than our shared obsession with cricket. He is a purist and a respecter of rules, a methodical, ambitious bore with an insistent need to take everything – and I mean everything – literally. Insufferable … But I still worship the guy. I know it doesn’t make sense’.

As boys they are referred to as ‘very spirited’ and ‘remarkably competitive’. Darren couldn’t see then that they were ‘forming an obsessive antagonism, an entanglement placental in its depth’.

Wally, the first born son, was the conservative one, while Darren was the risk taker, doing things ‘for the sheer joy of it. Busting free, sending my blood roaring in the knowledge I’d flouted the rules and disappointed expectations. The problem for me is that the more times you do it and the more you get caught, the lower the expectations become. Correspondingly, the lesser the thrill’.

As Darren goes down this path, I found myself begging him to stop, to take the opportunities offered to him, and not stuff them up, to make better choices.

Alongside the elite cricket they both compete in, Wally is a ‘graduate in sports science with a diploma in business administration and a master’s degree in sanctimonious bullshit’. He seems to be Mr Perfect, aside from the little accident of getting his partner Louise, pregnant. The birth of Hannah, rewires Darren ‘in subtle ways I can’t place’, alongside a period of relative stability, steered mainly by having girlfriend Honey in his life.

In cricket they continue to be compared. Wally with the good temperament could be a future national captain. A columnist says ‘he’d pay to watch Darren Keefe because something amazing might happen, but he’d bet the house on Wally Keefe, because the necessary will happen’. Wally is ‘newsworthy for not being newsworthy. …No tantrums, no binges’. Darren can’t help himself and does all the things that Wally doesn’t. He calls his brother saying ‘you’re throwing your career away and making a public spectacle of yourself, and it reflects on me’.

Darren’s choices come back to bite him, and he ends up bound and gagged in the boot of a car, and it is from there that he reflects back on his life.

It is always good to read out of your comfort zone, and this did push me there a little. At times I found it overly cricket orientated and a bit blokey, but I persevered. I could relate to the sibling rivalry.  Although being brought up with sisters, this was still there, but not displayed in quite the same way.

The family relationships between the brothers, and their mother ‘the centre of our solar system, the single deity in whom all powers are vested’, and the impact of the absent father were authentic. The portrayal of sportspeople in the media was relevant and thought provoking, and the reflections on perceptions of good and bad played out through the book until the surprising end.

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